Episode 5.15: “Bash”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

“Bash” has a strong “Very Special Episode” vibe to it, something that, remarkably, Glee has heretofore mostly managed to avoid, saving the odd exception like “Choke.” We begin with a song, vigil, and street memorial for Russ, a neighbor of Rachel and Kurt who has suffered a homophobic assault and ended up hospitalized. Those of your playing along at home may be wondering: who the fuck is Russ? I don’t know. We’ve never seen him before this episode. In fact, we don’t actually see him in this episode either outside of his dorky-looking photograph. It brings to mind the quintessentially bad exemplar of the Very Special Episode genre, the Family Ties episode “‘A’ My Name is Alex,” in which Alex mourns the death of his best friend in the world, who had never before been seen. “Bash” doesn’t quite reach that level of misguided pretentiousness, but it comes close. It gives us a near-death scare for a never-before-seen character, a near-death scare for a main character, and a, um, racism scare from a main character.

The one “normal” storyline here is Rachel’s struggles with her conflicting NYADA and Broadway schedules, something that probably should have been addressed long ago. I wasn’t even sure she was still at NYADA. She only barely manages to get permission from Sidney, her producer, to get time off from the show to perform her “mid-winter critque,” only to blow it when she performs a duet with Blaine instead of the required solo. Carmen Tibideaux threatens to flunk both of them, but finally agrees to allow them to reschedule and try again. That’s fine for Blaine, but Rachel doesn’t think she can get the time off from Funny Girl again. She confronts Carmen about this, in a scene that finally comes close to justifying the show’s casting of Whoopi Goldberg. Rachel says that she is already living out her dream and she doesn’t need NYADA anymore, Carmen says that Rachel is too cocky and reluctant to take direction, and needs the structure that NYADA can provide if she is to be successful throughout her career. Rachel and Carmen both make great arguments and sell their points well, but in the end Rachel decides to withdraw from NYADA… and that decision sticks to the end of the episode.

I like this because it’s another big step for Rachel and because it’s still framed as a questionable decision. I had been asking myself for a while why Rachel would still be enrolled at NYADA while starring in a Broadway show, but Carmen’s arguments suggest that Rachel is going to face issues in her Broadway career that a NYADA education could smooth out. It will be interesting to see how she navigates her career without the smoothing effect that NYADA could have had… and how long she does so.

Meanwhile, Kurt sees some assholes beating up a gay guy in an alley and he runs in to defend him. The prior victim hightails it while Kurt gets beaten into unconsciousness. This leads into the other standout scene of the episode when Burt visits his son in the hospital. Mike O’Malley and Chris Colfer elevate any scene that they share, and this one was very good. Burt asks all the obvious questions. Why didn’t Kurt just call the cops? Why did he run in and try to help at all? Does he care that the prior victim just ran away and was never heard from again? Kurt answers that he did was he had to do. “You would have done the same,” Kurt says. “I played football!” Burt responds. “So did I.” “As a kicker!”

Burt’s anger is justified: Kurt acted like an idiot. And yet, despite the fact that Kurt is not really an idiot, it’s all totally in character. Kurt is ruled much more by his heart than his head — he is, after all, the man who accepted a marriage proposal from someone still in high school. He has also fought against homophobic bullying for the entirety of the series, going so far as to switch schools to get away from a bully in season two. His immediate visceral reaction to the assault in the alley was exactly the kind of thing I would expect from him.

What hurts this plotline is not the character bits, which are spot-on, but the setup and execution of the story. The attack on Russ, who the audience has never heard of before (let alone seen), with the ultra-dramatic phone calls to Kurt’s friends to let them know about his hospitalization, the coma and faux death scare, and the bedside song from Blaine all mean that melodrama runs a little too thick throughout. It’s just too slick, too obviously designed to pull at the heartstrings. It would have been more powerful if it had just been told as a story, without being designed to manipulate.

Meanwhile, Sam and Mercedes get back together, despite the fact that they still don’t have a lot of chemistry together. Their “cute” date while walking along the river was more awkward than anything else, to say nothing of the bizarreness of them French kissing in front of their friends in a vain attempt to convince them (and the audience) that “Samcedes” is a thing. There’s just nothing there, and it’s all the more obvious in bits like this where they try to build on the idea that there has been something there for a long time.

But let’s move on to the elephant in the room. Despite the fact that Sam makes a complete ass of himself in front of Mercedes’s friends/backup singers when he joins them for dinner, they only have one objection to him as a boyfriend for Mercedes: he’s white. Their argument is that, as a black female artist, dating a white man would be bad for her image and could turn potential fans off. There may be some truth to this, and I kinda believe that Mercedes’s backup singers would place a chance of success above a relationship or even human decency (Hollywood is a tough town). However, when Mercedes buys it and blows off Sam in favor of her career, it’s much less easy to buy. Nothing about her character, from season one’s “Home” all the way to season four’s “Wonder-ful,” has suggested that she would compromise her principles in this way, much less betray a friend to the degree of telling him that he’s the wrong race to date her. Everything about this plotline screams artificiality. Mercedes acts the way she does just for the sake of the lesson. This is a perfect example of exactly what’s wrong with the “Very Special Episode” sensibilities of the 80s. The focus isn’t on characters or even story: it’s on moralizing.

They try to save Mercedes’s character by having her reluctance to date a white man stem from concerns about her career rather than a genuine feeling that a black woman dating a white man is wrong, but she doesn’t really come out looking like anything but a racist in either scenario.

This wasn’t a bad episode by any means, but it was a definite misstep.

Musically, there wasn’t much to complain about, but nothing was really spectacular. “No One is Alone” was very good on its own merits, but in context it’s hard to get behind such a display of emotion for a character of the week who ended up in the hospital before the episode started. Mercedes’s “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman“… Well, it’s a nice number, and it’s always good to hear Mercedes belt it out, but it again suffers from context. Sam and Mercedes never earned this much ado as a couple before, much less within two episodes of becoming a thing again in season five. Rachel and Blaine’s “Broadway Baby” was excellent, and didn’t try to be anything more than a great number. In fact, that was kinda part of Carmen’s point in berating them, since they were showing off rather than trying to improve themselves. The surprise highlight of the episode was Blaine’s remarkably earnest, simple, and heartfelt “Not While I’m Around” (Fox’s video cuts off the intro for some reason, which is a big shame). Darren Criss’s a capella performance sells every emotion that Blaine is going through, and almost manages to elevate the episode above its manipulative soul. Mercedes’s “Colorblind” was a good performance, but a shallow song. She might as well have sung “I’m not really racist” over and over again. Kurt’s “I’m Still Here” was quite good, and an excellent statement of strength from a character who’s earned it since day one, not just in this half-baked episode.

Other thoughts:

What was up with that lady who scolded Sam for throwing things in the river?

I have to ask again: everything wrong with Sam, and the only problem Mercedes’s friends have with him is that he’s white?

Sam on the diverse members of the glee club: “gay, straight, black, white, Tina…”

Note to Burt: neither “Die Hard” nor “Braveheart” is a person.

I hereby dedicate this review to Russ. Whoever the fuck he is.

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