Episode 5.17: “Opening Night”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

In many ways, this episode represents the end of Glee‘s journey, insofar as Glee is a show about Rachel Berry. She began the series as a wannabe star who posted videos of herself singing on MySpace, to universal scorn. Now, she’s starring in a Broadway show on opening night, playing her dream role. People go go their whole lives without accomplishing as much as Rachel has managed to accomplish barely a year out of high school.

Is it too soon? Was it too easy? Characters are supposed to earn their happy endings, and, while Rachel has paid a lot of dues over the years, it’s hard to argue that she’s earned the position of “Broadway star.” It wasn’t all that long ago that her method of dealing with competition was to send them to a crackhouse.

Early on in this episode, Rachel forces herself to deal with all the negative press that the previews have generated, finding every bad thing said about her in print or on the Internet and drowning herself in it, everything from professional criticism to YouTube comments. This leads to all her friends (including visiting Tina) trying to cheer her up and build up her confidence, and ends with a lovely scene between Rachel and Santana, whose line “You suck at so many things, but not this” sounds perfect coming from her. This plotline works as far as it goes, but what’s annoying about it is that it sets Rachel up as a victim without having to establish a villain, and she gets to be built up without actually doing anything wrong. The show essentially throws a pity party for Rachel and we’re all invited. It’s a lazy way to give a character confidence.

One could also argue that Rachel’s confidence is one of her defining characteristics and that it seems wrong for her to suddenly fear that she actually sucks. “Choke” suggests that maybe she had reason to worry, but even there she never doubted to talent. I tend to be more forgiving of the character change here what with the major move to Broadway, but they didn’t sell it all that well, and it probably should have come up at least a few episodes ago.

Santana’s speech almost makes this plotline worth it, and Lea Michele sells the whole thing for all its worth. I also have to admit to enjoying the whole thing, from beginning to end, since I’m a sucker and all. But, objectively, it rings false because of how it’s structured.

Worse than Rachel’s faux breakdown was the fact that she ended up getting rave reviews. I kept waiting for some note about her greenness, some criticism of her unpolished performance, a suggestion that a veteran actress might have done better. But no, apparently she’s a superstar right out of the box. Again, I admit to enjoying this. Rachel has worked her ass off her entire life to get to this point, but… if she’s achieved her dream at age 19, where does she go from here? Her story can’t be done, there’s another season and some change of this show left to go.

Actually more enjoyable than the beginning or end of this story was the middle: the performance itself and the celebration. I particularly loved Rachel being recognized at the club. It was also nice seeing everyone having fun together, much more fun than seeing them all trying to cheer Rachel up.

I guess that brings us to… *sigh*… the half of the episode with Sue in it. What the hell were they thinking here? Sue insults New York City on TV, her Ohioan viewers care for some reason, so she goes to NYC to prove her point and instead finds love… What? No seriously, what. This feels like something they came up with just to work Sue into the episode somehow, as if she had any reason to be there. It was somewhat satisfying seeing Rachel stand up to her, but it’s not something that we’ve never seen before. Mario was a complete waste of space, an almost totally generic character. Their relationship was simply boring and pointless. The whole subplot dragged the episode down. Way down. I don’t know what even made them think that this belonged here.

Also appearing in this episode: Will. Despite the implication in “New Directions” that he was being let go from the school, apparently he wasn’t. He’s still there, and he travels to NYC to be at Rachel’s opening night (with Sue, because… who cares), only to immediately travel back to Lima when Emma goes into labor. That’s pretty much his whole story. His scene with Rachel was quite nice, but otherwise they didn’t give him much to do.

Overall, this episode was all over the map. There was a lot to like, but there were just as many tragic missteps and moments that made me wonder what the hell they were thinking.

Musically, this episode was on much more solid ground. “Lovefool” was an absolute blast, and, aside from being extremely trippy, was a nice way of selling Rachel’s anxiety: as a residual of her struggles back in high school. “NYC” was a great performance, and I loved the stage-style dream sequence… but it had no place in the episode. It brought the plot to a grinding halt. “I’m the Greatest Star” was wonderful: it was good to see Rachel owning the stage. Despite how questionable it was, from a story perspective, to give Rachel so much success so fast, this was the highlight of the episode. “Who Are You Now,” on the other hand, was on track to be the highlight of the episode until it shoehorned Sue into the number. I mean… really? We’re going to invite comparisons between Rachel’s relationship with Finn and Sue’s one-episode relationship with Generic New Yorker #188? That’s unforgivable. It utterly destroys my ability to enjoy what is objectively a very good number. “Pumpin’ Blood” was a ton of fun, just pure joy.

Other thoughts:

Why was Shakespeare on drums?

Rachel’s producer seems awfully good at saying exactly the wrong thing to his star.

Apparently Sue’s marriage to herself didn’t work out and she ended up divorcing herself. … Thanks for reminding me of that mess.

The running gag about Tina’s relationships all being with gay men was kinda tiresome, but I did find it kinda funny that she failed to realize the DJ at a gay dance club was gay.

The newsstand guy’s response to a bunch of teens showing up at dawn to buy a copy of the New York Times: “They’re gonna email you the New York Times in three minutes.”

Will’s son’s name: Daniel Finn Schuester.

In case you forgot (because I did): Sue has a daughter.


Episode 5.11: “City of Angels”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Welcome to “The Quarterback Part II.” Er, I mean “City of Angels.”

This was probably the second-best episode of the season, even if that’s not a very high bar. At the same time, it feels like the culmination of several storylines that we haven’t actually been following, especially considering that we’re looking at the end of a school year that began all the way back in season four, 33 episodes ago. Will asks Sam to step up as the leader of the glee club, even though that’s not something we’ve seen him evolving towards (and didn’t “Puppet Master” establish Blaine as the leader anyway?). We see Marley antagonizing over her career as a songwriter, even though we never knew before that she was pursuing it outside of school (and she’s a sophomore in high school for God’s sake, this feels awfully rushed). We see Mercedes suddenly super successful in Hollywood, even though she hasn’t checked in since last season’s “Wonder-ful.” We see a continuation of mourning for Finn, even though we’ve seen very little of it since “The Quarterback,” 8 episodes ago (and it’s weird for Rachel to not be involved). We see the final confrontation with a rival glee club we’ve never interacted with before. And, finally, we see the glee club unceremoniously disbanded, despite not really knowing it was in true danger. This really isn’t the Sue we used to know, the one who personally made sure that the club got another chance at the end of season one.

Which, again, is not to say this this episode wasn’t good. Long-time readers of this blog (I know you’re out there) will recall that I am a sucker for competition episodes, so extra points for that. But there is something lackluster about it. It exudes an aura of going through the motions. As with the other episodes since the hiatus, it’s like we’re just trying to get to the end of this high school bullshit so that we can move on. When Sue tells Will that she’s cutting the glee club, Will resignedly asks if he should even fight, and it’s obvious that even the characters recognize the producer-mandated plot twists for what they are and are just going along with it. Will seems to know that he’s in a part of the series that is just no longer relevant.

It was nice to see Burt and Carole again, though I’m not sure exactly what they contributed to the episode. Again, outside of “The Quarterback,” we haven’t been a witness to their mourning, so it’s hard to connect their actions here to any kind of character development. And what did they really do? They encouraged the club to compete for Finn, they almost walked out of the competition because it was too emotionally draining, and then they came back at the last minute to cheer them on. I guess they’re going to be okay? I wish we could have seen more stuff with Kurt and Burt, like the lead up to the final number in “Love Love Love.” First of all, those scenes are always great. Second, it would have given us some insight into how the Hummels are coping with Finn’s death as time passes, and would have given context to their actions here.

The nationals competition in general felt oddly low-key, especially compared to season three’s very high-energy “Nationals.” Of course, it’s the second time we’ve been here, and it’s the first time in the show’s history that it was impossible for the club to do better than they had done before. The first nationals win was a culmination of events that started with “Pilot.” “City of Angels” simply doesn’t have that gravitas. In many ways, having them win second place instead of first was the easy choice. Having them win first place again would not only have been boring, but it wouldn’t have left any room for a lesson. Here, they learn that having full hearts, amazing skills, a history of success, and a righteous cause doesn’t necessarily mean that winning is certain.

It doesn’t help that many of the characters in the club are newbies who haven’t been developed that well and who we don’t care about all that much. The characters we care about already got their nationals championship. The newbies didn’t even get more than a few lines in the past two episodes, so even the writers don’t seem to remember why they should give a shit.

I’m not sure what they meant to do with the subplot relating to Marley’s songwriting. Mercedes encourages her to not give up, and that’s about it. It reads almost like they’re trying to set up Marley moving to LA, except that Marley is a sophomore in high school and the show is clearly moving its focus to New York City. Maybe this is meant to be a way of saying goodbye to Marley, in which case it rings pretty hollow. I can’t get too emotional about the possible future career of a girl in tenth grade. It almost would have been better to try to resolve her love triangle. What if Ryder, Jake, and Marley actually all three sat down and talked about their problems like adults? That would have felt like growth and resolution on a scale that would have made sense for the characters.

Throat Explosion and their leader Jean-Baptiste made for generally dull villains, despite the superficial flashes of humanity from Jean-Baptiste. They came out of nowhere and acted like assholes for no good reason. I was pretty amused at the casting, though, since Skylar Astin, who plays Jean-Baptiste, also played Jesse (a good guy) in the Glee-influenced (no matter what they say) musical film Pitch Perfect. It could be interesting to see more of Jean-Baptiste, but I doubt it happens.

Sam didn’t get to do a lot as “leader” of the club, and this was a subplot that really needed some more weight behind it. Sam makes a lot of sense as someone to pick up Finn’s mantle, but it needed a few prior episodes to establish it. As it is, not only did this come out of nowhere, but it did nothing.

From an in-universe logic standpoint, Sue’s cutting of the glee club makes little sense. What high school would cut a program after two years in the top two in the nation? High Schools kill for programs that compete at the national level. It makes Sue look like an idiot, though she’s looked like one plenty of times before in her role as principal this season. As I alluded to above, it just feels like the characters are doing what the producers need them to do. Why are the producers even doing this? I don’t know. Maybe it’s a good way to convince the audience that we can forget about the newbies (if they’re not singing, why ever move the focus back to Ohio?). Maybe it’s a way of moving Will to New York City, so he can participate in a few more storylines before Matthew Morrison leaves the series at the end of the season. Maybe it’s a way of cutting the umbilical cord, of signaling that the series is moving on.

I don’t know.

I will say that the lack of emotion surrounding the cutting of the glee club is bizarre. Remember “Journey to Regionals,” when everyone thought the club was going to be cut and everyone got together to say what the experience in the club had meant to them and sing “To Sir, With Love?” One could argue about the effectiveness of that bit (I happen to have loved it), but at the very least it showed that the characters cared. In “City of Angels,” they just seem tired and resigned.

If it sounds like I’m ragging on the episode, I’m really not. It is a competent competition episode, even if it doesn’t ascend to the lofty heights that we used to expect from this kind of episode, and the music was well above average.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about the music. “I Love LA” was a nice way of establishing some energy and enthusiasm for nationals, something that has been very lacking the past season and a half. “Vacation,” the requisite number from the also-rans of the competition, was good, but could have easily been cut. “Mr. Roboto/Counting Stars” was fantastic, and established the high bar that the New Directions had to live up to. Skylar Astin is an amazing performer, another reason I’d like to see him back. The highlight of the episode however, by a hair, is “More Than a Feeling,” a wonderful number that sold the emotion of performing in the first show choir national championship since Finn’s death, and one that he helped train them for. “America” followed through with high energy, and was also very good and a lot of fun. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” was quite good, but I think they oversold this one a little, especially with Carole’s line about Finn’s favorite songs at the beginning of the number. Still, it was fitting as a final tribute, and the flashbacks to Finn, if cloying, were not misplaced.

Other thoughts:

I liked the recap gag about the glee club needing to find “three band members stat” since they didn’t have enough people to compete, and Sam managed to recruit “three hot cheerios” to round them out. So much for Joe and Sugar, I guess.

The glee kids seem to be two to a room at the hotel in LA. On school trips back in my day, they packed us in four to a room. Just sayin’.

A line late in the episode establishes that there were sixteen teams at nationals. It’s nice they established that, since last time it seemed like there were only three.

Kurt coming out to deliver the line “It’s over” felt like a way of both passing the torch on to the NYC half of the show, and of continuing to try to convince the audience that glee club is totally cut for real this time.

Episode 5.07: “Puppet Master”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Up to now, season five has mostly been mired in mediocrity, but now we have our first genuinely awful episode of the season. “Puppet Master” is slow, boring, unfocussed, bizarre, and absolutely 100% pointless. If you haven’t seen it yet, my advice is to skip it and let the recap guy remind you of anything that might have accidentally been important.

Imaginary sequences are something that has been with this show since the beginning, but they are very dangerous. By showing the audience something that is only happening in one character’s head, the show cuts out actual plot time and real character interaction for… what? Imaginary sequences have to do a lot to justify themselves. When it’s just a musical number, as they usually are, one asks that it be entertaining and thematically relevant, and that imaginary musical numbers not take too much time out of the episode as a whole. “Britney/Brittany” is an example of an episode that went overboard on imaginary musical numbers: they were entertaining, but there were too many of them and they were thematically shallow. On the other hand, there’s imaginary plot time. “Props” actually handled this fairly well, as the body-swap bit lasted a single act and told us something about Tina. “Puppet Master” is the worst of both worlds: it has the imaginary musical number overload of “Britney/Brittany” along with imaginary plot bits that, unlike the one in “Props,” sprawl all over the episode. Also unlike in “Props,” the imaginary bits in “Puppet Master” are completely pointless, and bleed into the real world in a bizarre and uncomfortable way.

What the hell happened to Blaine? He wasn’t the most well-adjusted kid in season two, but he wasn’t insane, and he had some kind of people skills. I could go on at length about how the Blaine of later seasons differs from the Blaine of season two, but the Blaine of “Puppet Master” differs greatly from any other Blaine I’ve seen in the series. He’s controlling, antisocial, uncaring, and clearly mentally ill. At least he increased the creepiness level of his relationship with Tina to match hers. So anyway, the plot is that Blaine tries to take control of the glee club, but they don’t want to be bossed around by him. Then he has a hallucination about everyone in the club as puppets (due to a gas leak, apparently) Then he makes a puppet of Kurt, and has it confiscated by Sue. Then he gets detention for a week when Sue catches him trying to steal the puppet back (while wearing a lone ranger mask for some reason), and so he can’t make it to Kurt’s band’s first gig. So then he doesn’t call Kurt to let him know this and Kurt gets mad. And then everyone decides to do what Blaine wants to do anyway, a message that Tina delivers to him while discovering that he’s having a conversation with a Tina puppet who is wearing the very same dress Tina is wearing at that moment.

Um… what? What the holy hell did I just watch? Do I even have to review that mess? I’m pretty sure that trying to add anything to it would be like trying to add to the Mona Lisa of Shit: it would only detract from its perfection as a monument to awful plotting, characterization, and use of musical numbers.

Early on, it was obvious they were setting up a parallel between Blaine and Kurt, as Kurt tries to control his band the way that Blaine tries to control the glee club. Of course, the difference there is that Kurt actually is the leader of his band while the glee club has no official leader outside of Will, but whatever. In the end it doesn’t really seem like Kurt learns anything, since his decision to play at that dead venue gets them noticed through pure luck, and Blaine claims he learned that he wants to be more of a leader than a bossy person, but the actual character development got lost somewhere between the imaginary musical numbers and the puppets. Blaine and Kurt’s relationship drama doesn’t help matters any either, especially since Blaine is so incredibly wrong and stupid beyond anything he’s ever done before. He doesn’t call Kurt because why? He doesn’t want to hurt him? So instead of calling to explain his absence he just doesn’t show up? And I don’t even know what to make of Blaine giving everyone puppets of themselves because a) how is that supposed to be a resolution of anything, and 2) where did he find the time to make all those? Seriously?

Speaking of Kurt’s plotline, Dani and Elliot were in it, but didn’t have a whole lot to do. Were they planning on giving those people some characterization and spotlight time anytime soon, since they’re kinda major guest stars and new characters who promise to be important in the future? Past experience suggests… no.

Also, there is a subplot about Sue trying to become more feminine, because some guy she has a crush on mistakes her for a dude, and instead of chalking him up as a moron she decides that it’s her fault. This begins with her wearing high heels and stumbling around like a drunken lemur, leads into her asking for help from Will (who offers advice more cryptic than Mr. Miyagi: something about Ginger Rogers and dancing backwards in heels), and then finally ends with Sue getting a makeover from Wade… because clearly Wade can put all Sue’s school-sponsored bullying aside in order to help her just because she makes a pathetic request and no apology. And in the end, Sue still ends up getting shot down by that guy.

I dislike this on two levels. First, of course, it’s objectively dumb. Second, it takes Sue, a strong female character (about the only good thing I can say about her character at this point) and turns her into a woman who just wants to become what a man wants her to be. If they’d examined this character trait of Sue’s it could have been interesting (it showed up before, to an extent, in season one’s “Mash-Up” with her crush on Rod Remington), but as it is it just makes her look weak. She could even have gotten some help from Wade on that, considering that, her fashion and makeup skills aside, Wade is all about not being what society wants her to be.

The genesis of Sue’s subplot also features something that I recognize as a sign that a show is running out of ideas: showing the origin of things. It features a flashback that shows how Sue decided to dress and cut her hair the way she does today: because she couldn’t intimidate students with long hair and a dress for some reason. The makeup department also made no attempt to make Jane Lynch look any younger for the flashback, something they emphasize by cutting directly from past Sue’s face to present Sue’s. I don’t understand why this show does things sometimes.

Also happening in this episode: Bree has a pregnancy scare and suddenly becomes human, à la Quinn in season one. Jake, meanwhile, has a manwhore scare (Bree apparently feels high and mighty enough now to lecture him), and tries to recapture monogamy with Marley by offering a damn good attempt at a sincere apology. She still shoots him down, though. I like this because it hints at real character growth for Bree and Jake, but not enough plot time was devoted to it to do much. God forbid we cut out any of the puppet dream sequences or imaginary musical numbers.

I don’t really know what was up with Figgins in this episode. He sure was… there.

This was just an awful episode. I am dumber for having watched it, and you are dumber for having read about it.

The music followed the pattern of last week by being shallow, with the additional weakness of being completely imaginary. It was pointless, and none of it actually happened. Great. “Into the Groove” was fun, but I don’t see any good reason why they couldn’t have moved it to their band’s actual first performance, where it would have had more plot impact and carried the additional pathos of seeing them perform in front of an audience of one. “You’re My Best Friend” was okay, but totally pointless. “Nasty/Rhythm Nation” was easily the highlight of the episode on the merits of the number and performance alone, but I also liked it because it looked like Jake and Marley were actually communicating with each other. It’s the first time we’ve seen anger and some sassiness from Marley on this subject, as opposed to depression, disappointment, or sadness. But, it was all in Jake’s head, so who cares. “Cheek to Cheek“: pointless, except for the rare treat of hearing Jane Lynch sing. “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say)” is… just… what? What the hell was the point of that? I mean, aside from “it’s a popular song right now and we need iTunes sales.” I don’t usually criticize Glee for that, but come on. There was no reason for that song to be in this episode.

Other thoughts:

The puppets reminded me of the Sesame Street parody, which is much better than this episode. And Sesame Street’s Will puppet looks more like Matthew Morrison than Matthew Morrison does.

Sue’s doing a lot of leaning on the fourth wall lately. She questions the glee club’s budget because of the costumes in “Applause” from “A Katy or a Gaga,” as well as the “bullet train” that the glee kids must be using to go back and forth to New York City.

The bit with Blaine talking to Brad the piano guy was pretty funny.

Odd that it was Tina who got to tell Blaine that he earned a leadership and starring role in the glee club, considering she’s been there longer than him.

Becky is sounding more and more with each passing day like she’s reading her lines from a card. They’re just not giving her natural dialogue.

Marley looks really concerned about what the fox says.

Episode 5.05: “The End of Twerk”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

This episode matches the plotless rambling of season three with the ultra-dramatic tonal shifts of season one with the odd moralizing and relationship drama of season two. Add a dash of season four’s New York (sans Santana for some reason), and I guess you’ve got… this. That’s not to say that “The End of Twerk” is a bad episode, it’s just very Glee, and probably more Glee than is good for it. This is an episode that just doesn’t give a care about the mainstream and goes nuts. Unfortunately, it would have been a lot better if someone had reined it in. Of all the things it borrowed from the various seasons of this show, it did not touch season two’s control, and that’s a shame.

There are several unrelated subplots co-mingling here, and nothing really ties it all together. Will (because he’s an idiot) has decided that twerking is the key to a nationals victory, and the glee kids all start working on their twerking skills under the protests of Principal Sue. Wade struggles with what bathroom to use, as an anatomical male who identifies and dresses as a female, and who faces bullying no matter where she goes. Marley finds out that Jake cheated on her with Bree… because Bree just flat out tells her. Rachel and Kurt decide to get tattoos, and the artist screws Kurt’s up.

If that sounds like the synopsis of a season three episode, that’s because it felt like one. Their focus was all… crocus.

Will’s fight for twerking was bizarre, and the whole thing was very reminiscent of season two’s “The Rocky Horror Glee Show,” in which Will fought to put on a play that was clearly inappropriate for a high school setting. At least that was the narrative: there was room for argument in “Rocky Horror.” Twerking, on the other hand, is just extremely sexually suggestive dancing, and Will looks like an idiot standing up for it like he’s some righteous crusader. The episode even sets Will up to look like an idiot with the performance of “Blurred Lines” (about which more below) and Will’s confusion about the song’s meaning both immediately before and immediately after the number. Given all that, were we supposed to be rooting for him? His cause is stupid, his arguments are stupid, and he is stupid. I’m on Sue’s side on this issue. High school kids should not be dancing like that at the behest of their teacher. We never really got any good argument’s from Will’s side, and the “first amendment” claims ring hollow. Will’s presentation about the history of dancing was slick, but ultimately hollow. None of the kids stepped forward with any real arguments either. The whole thing just made Will look dumb.

The other crisis Principal Sue had to deal with in this episode was Wade’s bathroom conundrum. Sue continues to pointedly refer to Wade as “he,” and Sue’s initial solution to the problem is to set up a unisex bathroom… in the form of a porta-potty painted with question marks bolted to the floor of the choir room. What happened to the Principal Sue of season two who fucking resigned before she tolerated bullying? I know that she doesn’t see transgender kids the same way she sees gay kids (it’s a cruel double standard that is believable), but she just seemed so much more professional and idealistic during her prior service in the office. Now she’s just Coach Sue abusing her power, and she is carrying out the very bullying that she would never have stood for in season two. Never mind how she feels about transgender people: she’s creating a dangerous learning environment and just begging for a lawsuit. I can’t see the school board tolerating this.

These plots come together in the end when Sue agrees to give Wade a key to the faculty bathroom if Will will give up twerking in the glee club. And thus did he trade something stupid and indefensible for something nice and heartwarming. It’s like the ending of “The Rocky Horror Glee Show,” except dumb and without any kind of lesson. The tonal shifts between Wade’s ultra-serious problems and Will’s ludicrous twerk fight were also pretty hard to navigate, though of course far from impossible for a Glee veteran.

Will’s chat with Wade before he let her into the faculty bathroom for the first time was nice, but it was hard to see what he was getting at except for “hang in there, kid.” He didn’t actually offer any concrete advice, though I know that that is hard in Wade’s case. I can’t imagine anything more difficult that being teenage and openly transgender. The bullying Wade faces in this episode, though ultimately mostly non-violent, was worse than anything else we’ve seen her go through in two seasons and some change. It feels like a crisis like this should have taken place long ago.

Of course, I’m still waiting for my Wade-centric episode. This was not it.

They tried to sell Kurt and Rachel’s adventures in tattooing as some kind of reaction to Finn’s death, but I didn’t buy it. Kurt says that he’s been in a trance since Finn died, which is all well and good except for the fact that he started a band just in the last episode. That is not the action of a man in a trance. As a response by Rachel it could have been a little more believable, except that Rachel was barely in this episode. The segment became all about Kurt as soon as he saw that his “It gets better” tattoo actually read “It’s get better” (his own mistake, it turns out, as he gave the tattoo artist a piece of paper for reference that contained a typo). The tattoo artist (who was a lot of fun and an interesting character in his brief appearance) corrects the mistake by changing it to read “It’s got Bette Midler” (which Kurt loves for some reason) and throwing in a free tongue piercing.

Rachel denies that she got a tattoo, saying she backed out at the last minute. But, in the final moments of the segment, she looks at her tattoo in the mirror and we see that it simply reads “Finn.” All together now: awwwwwwwwwwwww. Again, however, it didn’t really feel like a reaction to Finn’s death because of how little Rachel had to do in this episode. We felt her sorrow in “The Quarterback,” but we’re getting little sense of how it’s continuing to affect her.

Meanwhile, Marley finds out her shitty boyfriend is a shitty boyfriend and she sings a song about it. Actual conversation and character development on this matter will apparently have to wait for a future episode.

This was not a great episode and it had zero focus, but I have to admit it was reasonably entertaining. I’ve probably just been watching Glee too long.

Before I say anything about any of the other musical numbers, I have to talk about “Blurred Lines,” which was easily the highlight of the episode. It’s so over-the-top ridiculously inappropriate for the setting that it comes all the way back around and is awesome. The best part is that we don’t even have to enjoy it ironically, because it’s clear that they meant it that way, thanks both to the way it was shot and the way Will clearly has no idea what the song is about: “You do realize that ‘Blurred Lines’ is a song about date rape, don’t you?” “Haha, no it’s not.” I just wish the entire episode had maintained this tone and thrown drama to the wind. It could have been really funny. Anyway… Rachel and Paolo’s “You are Woman, I am Man” was very good, but there wasn’t much point to it. It might help if we knew a little about Paolo. Hell, I only know his name because I looked it up on Wikipedia. Wade’s “If I Were a Boy” was very good and was sold very well. It was also a long time coming. It took over two seasons for Wade to be given a heart: she was used as a sideline comic relief character for far too long when her problems are very real and she should be struggling a lot. “On Our Way” was a nice upbeat number to end on, but not fantastic. Marley’s “Wrecking Ball” was okay, but seemed like a pretty poor song choice after what she just found out. It just didn’t feel right.

Other thoughts:

When did Ryder get on Wade’s side? And wasn’t he going to quit the glee club? Does anybody else remember the season four finale? Anyone?

I liked how Tina was in favor of the porta-potty. That was honestly pretty funny. “What? It’s convenient.”

I liked how incredulous the school board was that Will is the reigning teacher of the year. It added to the feeling that the episode was making Will look stupid on purpose.

What the hell was up with the bathrooms turning into a rave club scene under Wade’s voiceover? That seemed like something that belonged in the pure comedy version of this episode… but it went as quickly as it came.

Was it just me, or did short-hair Rachel bear a striking resemblance to Mary Tyler Moore?

Episode 5.04: “A Katy or a Gaga”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

The Quarterback” contained a lot of references to Glee‘s first season, something treated almost as sacred by the legions of Glee fans. Back then, it was the little show that could, despite being so bizarre that even the producers were sure it would be canceled after thirteen episodes (seriously, try to watch “Sectionals” and tell me that wasn’t meant as a series finale). It was dark and edgy and it was sometimes downright cruel. The references to that season in “The Quarterback” were well-chosen and they were appropriate, both because Finn’s tribute episode revived the darkness that permeated season one and because a lot of the defining moments in Finn’s life happened back there. However, when you get right down to it, a lot of season one just seems misguided and lost next to the later successes of season two and even the better episodes of seasons three and four, when the show finally found its voice. This means that going back to season one for source material is problematic, because it can create a disconnect. Sometimes it works, as with Shelby’s reappearance in season three and the aforementioned “Quarterback.” And sometimes… well, that brings us to this week’s episode: “Theatricality 2: Electric Boogaloo” … er, I mean “A Katy or a Gaga.”

“Theatricality,” for those who may have forgotten, was an episode in the back nine of season one that served as a Lady Gaga tribute. It featured outright adulation of Lady Gaga, outlandish costumes bizarrely worn in public, identity crises, and performances so overproduced that even Kurt was probably thinking “tone it down!” Sounds familiar? “Theatricality” remains perhaps my least favorite episode of the series, so to see an episode blatantly lifting plot and style elements from it here in season five is not at all amusing. One could argue that the similarities between the two episodes are superficial: I’d argue that that’s part of the problem. Both episodes are largely superficial, despite thinking that they have something important to say and saying it with a bludgeon.

The titular dichotomy between Katy Perry and Lady Gaga arises from the club’s terror at having to face the latest double-entendre-named force to be reckoned with on the show choir circuit: Throat Explosion. This is one of the groups the club will have to face at nationals (and what’s with the list of three clubs at nationals? Both prior nationals episodes implied more like dozens of competitors), and, unlike the workmanlike robots of Vocal Adenaline, they are creative, theatrical, and viewed as outsiders — something that the New Directions prefer to view as their niche. They are compared to well-known music goddess and possible savior of mankind Lady Gaga, with the “opposite” of Lady Gaga being established as Katy Perry. Will asks which students view themselves as being “Gagas,” and takes for granted that the ones who don’t raise their hands are therefore “Katies.” Ryder’s legitimate question about whether or not there is a third option is ignored. Will then assigns the Katies to do a Gaga number and the Gagas to do a Katy number, in order to… I don’t know.

As I look over this whole plot, I struggle not just get invested in it, but to find the point of it. I’m reminded of the moment in “Theatricality” when, near the end of the episode, the kids ask Will what the lesson was, and he says that he doesn’t know (though in reality, “Theatricality” actually does have a pretty clear message). I get a similar vibe here, with Will pulling a lesson out of his ass without really knowing why he’s doing it. Is the message to be yourself? Is it to expand your interests? Is it to challenge your limitations? Is it that weird inappropriate costumes really seem to piss Sue off? Let’s review the actual results of this whole fiasco:

  1. Sam tries to appeal to Penny’s “edgy” taste in music by inviting her to his Gaga number, and she doesn’t like it. They both realize that they are actually Katies and start making out. The lesson seems to be to be yourself.

  2. Marley refuses to go along with her part in the Gaga number because she isn’t comfortable with it. Instead of wearing the “seashell bikini” that Sam assigned her, she dresses up like Katy Perry with a pink wig. Will, intent on retaining his title as biggest dick on TV, suspends her for a week, on the spot and in front of everyone, for daring to not put her body on display as a part of a stupid competition despite knowing about her struggle with bulimia and ongoing body image problems. In the meantime, Jake cheats on Marley with Bree because Marley isn’t willing to let him touch her boobs. The lesson seems to be to challenge your limitations, because being yourself just gets you shat on by life — or at least by your shitty boyfriend and asshole teacher.

  3. Sue suspends the entire club for a week for wearing those costumes to school, because the area of cracking down on dress code violations was clearly where Figgins failed as an administrator. The kids respond defiantly by performing “Roar,” a slap at Sue and statement of strength that comes across as a pale imitation of season two’s “Loser Like Me,” by far their best original song. I don’t even know what the lesson here is, except that Sue is back to being firmly established as the villain. Whoop-de-doo.

This was a lost, confused plot for the most part, a tired take on the interclub competition bit that has been done better so many times before and a blatant self-cannibalism of their style in “Theatricality,” with as muddled a message as the series has ever had. The best bits were the arguments among the Gagas about their Katy number, which were honestly pretty funny. “I tried breaking into the zoo to get us live tigers. Plot twist: Lima doesn’t have a zoo! Why’d we think it does?”

Meanwhile, in the B plot, Kurt has decided to start a band, and the first thing he apparently needs is as many singers as possible (you’re not a band if you don’t play instruments, Kurt). He gets Santana and Dani on board (and Dani actually does play guitar, as previously established), and Rachel is convinced to join later after she suggests the band name Pamela Lansbury, which Kurt immediately latches onto (despite the objective best choice being Santana’s first suggestion: the Apocalypsticks). He holds open auditions for the rest of the group, but the only person to show up is Elliott “Starchild” Gilbert (Adam Lambert), whose amazing costume and somehow overproduced performance feel threatening to Kurt, who takes a while to decide to accept him into the group. I had trouble identifying with Kurt’s feelings of failure, though I did understand his fourth-wall-tapping concern about being the funny gay sidekick instead of a main character in his own life. It was also hard to fathom why Elliot was so keen on getting into Kurt’s loser four-singer one-guitarist/singer band considering his obvious talents, but it’s true that New York is a tough town.

This subplot was entertaining mainly for Adam Lambert’s performance, though he got limited screen time. I’m sure we’ll see more of Elliot in the future, though. He certainly has much more promise than Adam (the character) did as a new addition to Kurt’s circle of friends and a possible love interest.

All things considered, this was not a great way to end the hiatus.

Musically, this episode was surprisingly lean, as well as surprisingly dull. You can say what you want about “Theatricality,” but it had “Bad Romance,” and the performances in “A Katy or a Gaga” were not up to that level. The highlight was most likely Elliot’s “Marry the Night,” which was fun and had enough energy to power Pittsburgh for a week. It was also at least as entertaining for Santana’s mesmerized reaction as it was for the performance. “Applause” was also fun in the same way that season one’s “Run Joey Run” was: it was just so self-consciously terrible and pretentious. And watching Will’s reaction was also really amusing. All the shit he’s seen, and he’s never been more disgusted by anything than Marley’s costume. “Wide Awake” was okay, but seeing Tina singing a mellow song while sitting on a stool brought to mind season one’s “True Colors,” which was superior in every way, especially thematically. “Roar” was good, but, like much of the episode, felt like rehash of stuff they’ve done before.

Other thoughts:

I know I mentioned this twice already, but I can’t get over what a giant douchebag Will was to Marley in this episode. He should be suspended for that shit.

I agree with Sue and Becky about how annoying the whole “Katy/Gaga” thing was. That’s just what high school kids need, more labels.

Jake and Marley seem to have become the old married couple of the group. Their relationship here, with Jake seemingly feeling bored and trapped, reminds me of Finn and Rachel in season one’s “Hell-O,” right before Finn broke up with her. And then Jake has sex with Bree, much like Finn had sex with Santana in season one’s “The Power of Madonna.” And neither of those things were all that original back then either. Somebody send the Glee writers some ideas quick, or I’m just going to start slightly-rewriting my old reviews for publication too.

Penny and Sam don’t really have any chemistry together, and it was just horrible writing when Penny just flat-out started explaining who she is right before she and Sam started locking lips.

Sue makes a crack about the glee club doing a lot of Journey songs… a reuse of a gag they made in season two’s “The Substitute,” where it was much funnier.

Penny’s assessment of the Gaga performance: “I really liked the part where the girl got suspended.”

I apologize for not posting that thing I said I’d post during the hiatus. I got distracted. I’ll get to it eventually, though maybe not until the offseason at this rate.

Episode 5.03: “The Quarterback”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Glee has never felt the need to adhere strictly to the rules of television writing. On several occasions, they’re produced episodes that were little more than long music videos. They’ve done episodes that contained large amounts of experimentation, dropping a parody video into the middle or telling a series of unrelated stories. This week, they’ve eschewed story in order to present a 45-minute memorial to both Cory Monteith and Finn Hudson… and boy, did it work. This was a sweet, meaningful, well-crafted tribute that did almost everything right, in its own Glee kinda way.

“The Quarterback” moves effortlessly throughout its running time from character to character and back again, exploring their reactions to the death of Finn and how they’re moving forward. The manner of Finn’s death is never addressed: Kurt’s voiceover nips this in the bud early by saying that it doesn’t matter how he died, but only how he lived. And that’s what this episode is about: a celebration of Finn’s life and a mourning of the holes he left behind in the hearts of everyone he interacted with. They come close to whitewashing Finn a few times, but in the end they’re not afraid to present him as the flawed person he was, not as a saint. Mercedes even alludes to Finn’s demons when she obliquely mentions the season one baby drama among Finn, Quinn, and Puck. And then there’s the quote on Finn’s newly christened plaque in the choir room, handpicked by Rachel: “The show must go… all over the place… or something.” It’s an inspired choice of words to remember Finn by. He was not very smart or very charismatic, but he had heart and plenty of feeling for everyone around him.

Kurt’s grief is presented as a kind of subdued numbness. He doesn’t have a lot of facial expressions or reactions throughout the episode, but it’s obvious that he’s deeply in pain. At one point in the initial voiceover, he says “This isn’t real. I’m not going home for this. He’s going to be there.” That denial lasts only a second, but it’s a powerful flash of how Finn’s death has affected Kurt. The entire voiceover is delivered in a flat monotone, the words of a man who just doesn’t know how to express what he’s feeling or, as Kurt puts it, who doesn’t even know what he’s feeling. “What can you say about a 19-year-old who dies?”

Later, Kurt helps his father Burt and stepmother (Finn’s mother) Carole sort through Finn’s things. This includes a reference to the “faggy” lamp from season one’s “Theatricality.” Finn threw a fit in that episode and said some things he didn’t mean. I like that they bring it up because, again, it allows us to see the entire Finn, not a saint. He was someone who made mistakes, but who could learn from them. Carole opines that Finn kept the lamp to “prove a point to Burt.” Burt himself has a great monologue about how he thinks he should have hugged Finn more, in a great performance of barely-under-the-surface utter grief by Mike O’Malley. Carole holds it together for a while, but then it all hits her all over again, and she starts sobbing. “You have to keep on being a parent, even though you don’t have a child anymore.”

Puck’s grief is characterized, very appropriately, by anger and rebellion. Puck doesn’t feel that he’s “sad” so much as he’s just so pissed off that his friend has left him alone. He steals the memorial tree planted by Kurt, and he tries to talk Kurt into giving him Finn’s letterman jacket. Puck is so consumed by his own feelings that he just doesn’t know what to do. He finally connects with Shannon, who gets him to tell her that he doesn’t want to cry because he doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to stop. He finally does break down, and Shannon is there for him. This is the scene in the episode that comes the closest to being over the top, but it’s fairly easy to forgive. Puck is a larger-than-life character, and his reactions make sense. Shannon and Puck replant the memorial tree together, near the end of the episode. This is a much nicer scene than the first one, a more subtle approach to what they’re going through. “It was a garbage tree, though. It wasn’t big enough.” “They grow, you know.”

Santana’s grief is also angry, in a more explosive way. She gets into a screaming match with Sue over Sue ordering than Finn’s memorial at his locker be taken down. This leads, later, to a nice scene between the two in which they just talk about Finn. There’s no big makeup between the two of them: they maintain physical and emotional distance throughout the scene. But Sue is able to express that she is grieving for Finn as well, and that she regrets the way she treated him, and, in her own way, she’s dealing with that. By being a bitch, of course. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t really feel something. “There’s no lesson here, there’s no happy ending, there’s just nothing.”

Santana’s own memorial to Finn is a performance of “If I Die Young,” introduced by her with a typically Santana series of loving insults towards Finn. Santana can’t manage to finish the song, and runs crying from the room when people try to comfort her. She later tells Kurt that she’s mad at herself because she meant to actually say nice things about Finn, but couldn’t do it, even though she wrote down what she wanted to say. She can’t even read them to Kurt privately, initially, saying “It’s too embarrassing. They’re, like, really nice.” Kurt follows up with “Do you really think one day, on your deathbed, you’re gonna think ‘Good, no one knew I was kind.'” This gets her to open up a bit, and this is a very touching scene, suggesting that Santana not only learned from Finn, but continues to do so. “He was a much better person than I am.”

An inspired choice by the episode is to leave Rachel out of the proceedings entirely until the fourth act. Her grief is clearly the most powerful, the most meaningful, and by leaving it until near the end it is able to have a tremendous impact, and it doesn’t get in the way of everyone else. Rachel is lost and confused; she no longer has that anchor in her life that has been there for years. We’ve seen in prior seasons that, when having feelings like this, Rachel and Finn had a tendency to drift towards each other, regardless of the state of their relationship or anything else that may have been going on: they were always instinctively just there for each other. But now, Rachel feels like she has nowhere to turn. It’s clear that there is a lot of Lea Michele in this performance, and a lot of her feelings for Cory Monteith are entangled in Rachel’s feelings for Finn. I can’t even imagine how hard this was for her to perform, and I can’t compliment her enough on it. “I talk to him a lot. I can still see his face and I can hear his voice so clearly.”

The episode ends with Will, who has been holding it together for the sake of the kids, walking into his house, sitting down on his couch, taking out Finn’s letter jacket, and just sobbing into it. Emma, who had promised to be with him when he finally fully expressed his grief, comes in and just sits beside him and holds him.

This was a very heavy episode, but thankfully it did have its moments of comic relief, most of which worked. Kurt explaining the memorial tree: “All I did was drive down to Home Depot and buy a tree for 20 dollars.” The quick visual reference to the “Single Ladies” dance from season one’s “Preggers.” Figgins saying “New Santana Lopez is right, Old Santana Lopez!” in reference to Bree. Santana’s reference to taking a “grief siesta.” Puck stealing the tree with his motorcycle. Tina going to Emma for counseling because she’s tired of wearing black (okay, this one didn’t work as well).

The biggest thing missing from the episode is Quinn. She was a big part of Finn’s life for two years, and Mercedes even made reference to their baby drama when she sang “I’ll Stand by You.” The only explanation was Kurt saying that the people going back to Lima consisted of “everyone who can.” I hope they’re able to do something with her later. In not… I guess we can all imagine what Quinn is going through.

Overall, an absolutely fantastic episode and a fitting memorial for both the actor and the character. Glee by nature goes for powerful emotions and big effects, but they didn’t even have to manufacture anything this time. The emotion was all there, intrinsically, from the beginning. This episode just… lets it out. It allows the characters, the actors, and the audience to grieve, together.

The music was wonderful, every single piece. “Seasons of Love” kicked off the episode, asking us to measure his life in love, something that was not lacking for either actor or character. It was staged simply and beautifully, with the newbies starting out alone, and then Finn’s old friends coming in. Mercedes’s “I’ll Stand by You” was the only reprise of a song that Finn sang, and it was a good choice, in more ways than one. Standing on its own, it’s an expression of support for other grieving people. As a reference to Finn having sung it, it calls to mind how devoted he was to his baby (when he thought it was his), how he himself always stood by his friends no matter what, and shit he went through with the ensuing drama: in season one’s “Ballad,” Finn’s mother caught him looking at the sonogram just as this song ended. Artie and Sam’s “Fire and Rain” was a nice expression of loss: “I always thought that I’d see you again.” Santana’s “If I Die Young” was great, and I love that song. I’ve always thought that the image of the “sharp knife of a short life” is powerful, and it works well in this context. Puck’s “No Surrender” was the perfect choice for him, very fitting and full of emotion, if unusual on the surface. “No retreat, no surrender” suggests how Puck thinks they need to move forward, refusing to give in to defeat from sorrow. Rachel’s “Make You Feel my Love” was a lovely way for her to say goodbye, and one of Rachel’s/Lea’s most heartfelt performances ever.

I can’t pick a single musical highlight. They’re all wonderful tributes. I’d feel like I was judging obituaries. Maybe by the end of the season I’ll be able to put them in some kind of order, but not right now.

Other thoughts:

Rachel is wearing a necklace with a pendant that reads “Finn.” Lea Michele has been seen wearing a nearly identical pendant that reads “Cory.” That is a really nice bit of detail.

Glee is officially off the air until November 7, but I have something planned during the hiatus that I promise will be fun and lighthearted. After this, I think we all need it. Stay tuned.

Episode 4.20: “Lights Out”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

This episode features a blackout whose length is only matched by how symbolic it is. The blackout is actually fairly unique in Glee terms in that, while it provides an obvious hamfisted theme and an easy excuse for Will to make up an assignment for the kids, it does it with style and the theme goes deeper than it usually does in these kinds of episodes. If it seems like a stretch that a blackout at a school would last so long (internal clues suggest it went on at least 24 hours) with classes going on like normal, well, it is. But it provides a lovely chance to look at these settings and characters in a different way. With the lighting darker and everyone’s mood different due to losing access to their beloved technology, everything just looks and feels new. Even the New York half of the episode plays along, taking us to the Vogue building, which we haven’t been to in a long time, and a theater which we’ve never seen before, leading into an extended and very unusual performance of “At the Ballet.”

In a way, it’s almost like the blackout was written into the script to force the Glee writers to get back to basics a little bit. Overproduction has been a recurring problem on the show (though not to the same extent as on Smash), and by muting the visuals and cutting down on the instruments, they have to work a little harder on the numbers. Of course, even in an “unplugged” episode they find a chance to deviate, with the imaginary and wacky “Little Girls” and the painfully artsy “At the Ballet.” At the same time, the other numbers moved away from that, and we saw a lot of characters letting their guards down and connecting with each other, both through music and through normal, everyday dialogue.

Like most of season three, this episode doesn’t feature a main plot so much as it features a variety of subplots. Unlike most of season three, they are all united by a common theme and it works. Everyone is trying to figure out who they are and what they want. Ryder continues to be drawn toward his lying Internet girl(?)friend despite getting closer to and getting hit on by the definitely-existent Kitty. Sue has found a new life as a personal trainer at a gym and thinks that it’s what she was always meant to do, even as Becky tries to convince her to try to come back to the cheerios. And Santana is confronted by Kurt and Rachel for wasting her life and talent despite having come to New York Fucking City to chase her dreams.

Ryder’s issues were short on plot, but long on emotion. One of the reasons he is clinging to Katie, his Internet girlfriend, is that he’s been able to open up to her more than anyone else he’s ever known. Jake rightly points out that maybe he should be opening up to people he actually knows, and Ryder decides to take him up on that. He tells the glee club that he was molested as a child by his babysitter, something that he’d only ever told Katie in his entire life. Everyone is shocked and sympathetic right up until Ryder reveals that it was a 17 year old female babysitter, and Sam and Artie suddenly decide to let their hormones do the talking for them. It sounded horrible when they thought it was a man, but they can’t understand why he would be upset at being felt up by a girl. It’s an unfortunate attitude, but one that is believable coming from kids. Ryder can’t even convince them that he really is upset and traumatized by it. He just “admits” that it was awesome and drops the subject.

I think that sexual assault is one of those disasters that it’s difficult for non-victims to connect with victims about. I can at least understand what it might be like to lose one’s house to arson, or be the victim of a murder attempt, or be robbed, even if none of those things have ever happened to me. But how would it have affected me if I had been molested as a child, by a woman or a man? What difference would the level of violence have made? What if it had had the illusion of consent? I can’t answer any of those questions, so I can’t possibly say how Ryder felt or feels about it, and I’d just have to trust what he says. Sam and Artie, who have never been molested, make the mistake of projecting their current hormone-addled feelings onto the situation, and assume that any guy must feel the same way.

Ryder does reach one person, however. It turns out that Kitty was molested when she was younger as well, and she opens up to Ryder about it as a show of sympathy. She was made the object of derision when she told her parents what had happened and everyone in her school found out and assumed that she was a liar. She connects with Ryder not just because they were both molested, and not just because they both had trouble admitting it, but also because they both didn’t get anything like the response they needed from their friends when they did admit it. It apparently takes really heavy things like school shootings and child abuse to get Kitty to show some emotion, but Becca Tobin really nailed the performance here.

This segment ends when Kitty invites Ryder to join her for lunch, but he refuses because he’s waiting for Katie to come back online. Kitty is really hurt at being rejected for someone who is mostly in Ryder’s mind (“Why would you take an online fantasy over an actual fantasy?”), and points out the harsh truth that Katie is whoever Ryder wants her to be. It’s easy to play people over the Internet. She then sadly leaves him to his computer. I think that this scene actually humanizes Kitty more effectively than either the school shooting scene or the earlier admission-of-being-molested scene. Here, she’s just a normal girl who is really sad that a guy she likes is passing her over. It’s also a lot easier to relate to her in this situation, because we’ve all been there. Again, Becca Tobin proves that she has some acting chops, and I hope that Kitty gets more chances to be a real person in the future.

Santana’s subplot, unfortunately, isn’t nearly as strong. However, it was filled with nearly as much emotion, even if a lot of it was artificial. Kurt and Rachel find out (via Tina, somehow) that Santana has been working as a cage dancer, something that we sadly don’t get any visual evidence of. … But anyway, her friends think that she’s wasting her talent being sleazy and that she should do something, anything, to try to better herself. Santana is the first to admit that she has no idea what she wants out of her life, and she thinks that this is a fine excuse to just hang around and do easy stuff until something better comes along. This very non-proactive approach is challenged when Kurt (who is apparently still working at Vogue.com) gets them backstage at a benefit gala for the New York Ballet and Santana suddenly admits that she used to take ballet. She liked it, she likes “serious” dancing, and by the end of the episode she decides to join a dance class sponsored by NYADA (for non-students) to try to rediscover that “artist” in her.

At the heart of this subplot is “At the Ballet,” which, at over five and half minutes, is a serious contender for longest single performance in the history of Glee. It even goes on for two minutes longer than the intrinsically epic “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” It’s undeniably artistic and emotional, but it starts to lose the plot after a couple of minutes, when it stops being about Santana and takes a long, unnecessary, self-indulgent detour with Sarah Jessica Parker. Plus, it’s ludicrously overproduced, especially for being is an episode that is supposed to be about focussing on the basics. This storyline would have worked a lot better if it had spent some more time developing Santana and her struggles. Santana almost comes across as a tertiary character in her own story, as we spend a lot of time with Kurt, Rachel, and Isabelle. Most of her issues in this episode are not shown, and instead of watching Santana struggle and change, we just have to listen to her tell us about it (That makes me feel angry!).

Sue’s subplot goes nowhere and does nothing. The main character here should have been Becky, who is genuinely struggling with the fact that Sue, her idol, got fired for protecting her. But, we end up spending a whole lot of time with Sue, including a pointless scene at her new job as a personal trainer, and a very weird, pointless, but fun performance of “Little Girls.” We’re led to believe that Becky fessed up to Figgins at the end of the episode, but any consequences are not revealed.

So this was a reasonably enjoyable episode. If it’s not an instant classic, at least it’s classic Glee. It had a lot of emotion, a lot of ambition, and some questionable decisions. That’s Glee for you.

This was a strong episode, musically. Even the needlessly self-indulgent “Little Girls” and and the overlong “At the Ballet” were fun. With “At the Ballet” it was especially easy to forgive it its many sins simply because it was so well done. Even if I feel like it needed to do more to justify its length, and despite all its other flaws, I’d still call it the highlight of the episode. It’s that good. Sam’s “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’” was a nice intro to the simplicity of the music of the glee kids’ part of the episode, as they refused to add in even any imaginary instruments. It was carried by Sam’s guitar playing and the vocals of the club. Ryder’s “Everybody Hurts” was reasonably emotional and a good way to lead into his opening up to his friends. Blake Jenner sold the feeling behind it well. “We Will Rock You” was fun but pointless, which made me wonder why they devoted a minor plot point to Artie being inspired by Sam to set the whole thing up. “The Longest Time” was fantastic, even if it didn’t reach the heights of Glee‘s best a capella number, “How Will I Know” from season three.

Other thoughts:

I’m glad that the recap narrator agrees with me that it’s fucking crazy that Sue covered up for Becky.

When Santana admitted that she didn’t know what she wanted out of life, it was a great moment, well-acted, and the one part of her story in this episode that felt like it belonged to her.

Their attempt to lampshade Blaine’s aborted “sabotage the cheerios from within” subplot by having him mention it was pretty lame.

What was with the flashbacks to people getting slushied during “Everybody Hurts?” That’s not exactly near the level of pain that Ryder was trying to express.

Isabelle reminded me of Holly Holliday in that her attempt to help Santana could have ended up being hopelessly wrong (every little girl wanted to be a ballerina!), but she managed to stumble into success.

So… you reckon they used any autotune on those “unplugged” numbers?