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.

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Episode 5.13: “New Directions”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

This is it, the final farewell to the high school half of the show. And a truly good riddance it is, right? Despite the fact that they have done some good things with it in latter days, it’s mostly been a monkey on their back since season four began, struggling as it did with half-baked carbon-copy characters that no one cared about and the far more interesting goings-on with our better-loved friends in New York. We’re well-rid of it, really. And yet… it’s still sad to see it go. Glee was built on this. The thing that fascinated me most about this show, way back in “Pilot” and beyond, was that it allowed for ambiguity in the social status of high school students. Going against the grain, it suggested that maybe you could be captain of the football team and a member of a show choir, that the head cheerleader could be friends with a nobody who just showed her a little kindness, while still fighting to maintain her social status, that, overall, people were complex enough to serve more than one master. And now high school, that handy analogy for life as a whole, is exiting the show. We’re saying goodbye to where we began, and moving into the unknown future. It’s a graduation, in a way: something that the writers do not miss.

Things are changing all over the show. At long last, our fourth/fifth season seniors are graduating. Santana breaks away from her old life, quitting the musical, making up with Rachel, and deciding to run away with Brittany (because Dani was far too underdeveloped a character to make a good girlfriend anyway). And Will faces the end of his career at WMHS, as Sue tells him that he was a “terrible history teacher and a worse Spanish teacher.” On the one had, this is odd because we hadn’t seen any prior evidence that Will was being fired from his regular job, but on the other hand, he probably really did suck at it, so fuck him.

My Podcast co-host, J. (who does not watch Glee but enjoys reading these reviews for some reason), retweeted a comment about this show, which I saw before watching it, that said something along the lines of “A tribute to Will Schuester, history’s greatest monster.” I thought that that was pretty funny, and I started a series of tweets celebrating #SchueFacts, things our hero had done that don’t seem particularly heroic, like suspending a bulimic girl for refusing to wear revealing clothing and belittling his mentally-ill girlfriend’s attempts to get better. As I’ve mentioned on several other occasions, Will is kind of a dick. But I honestly don’t think that that fact demeans the power of the tribute the kids put on for him, or the magical performance of “Don’t Stop Believing” that saw Will finally get a chance to join in. The fact is that Will is a deeply flawed man, but that he has also managed to accomplish amazing things. That Will has built a national powerhouse show choir out of nothing, inspired so many of his students, and did it all fairly and honestly (mostly) despite being, in many ways, a self-centered douchebag, is actually testament to the ability to overcome one’s handicaps. He may not be the saint that he’s sometimes portrayed as, but neither is he literally “history’s greatest monster.” He’s simply a flawed man who has managed to accomplish a lot despite his shortcomings.

In the end, Sue tells Will that she got him an interview to be the coach of Vocal Adrenaline, the New Directions’ former arch-nemesis that has apparently fallen on hard times ever since Shelby left them. As Sue points out, it would give him the chance to head a real program with support and a budget, and one could see him thrive there. He may have been a bad Spanish and history teacher, but when it comes to music, he often does amazing things.

It was good to see Rachel being the one to extend the olive branch to Santana as, despite Santana’s recent foray back into evilness, Rachel was originally the one in the wrong in their feud. Her offer of 10 shows to Santana was a remarkable peace offering, and a good sign that Rachel has finally remembered how to share the spotlight, something that she has been learning over and over again since way back in the third episode of season one (“Acafellas”). That Santana refuses it, and, in fact, quits the show entirely and runs away with Brittany is… weird. Santana’s arc since she dropped out of college in season four has been one of trying to find herself, and, since she went back to serious dancing in “Lights Out,” she has seemed pretty satisfied with the goal of becoming a star on Broadway. It would be one thing if she had finally discovered her passion, but she seems as directionless as ever. Again, I won’t say I didn’t like it… Brittany and Santana are probably Glee‘s most entertaining couple, and they have a lot of competition. But the storyline didn’t seem that well thought out.

Tina’s plotline, in which she agonizes over whether or not to go to New York without a plan up until the decision is made for her when she finds out she got into Brown, was pretty much a waste except for the spot-on Friends parody. Didn’t I make that joke already? I do wish they’d gotten the rights to the actual theme song. That would have sold it so much better. But it was still pretty funny.

But anyway, Tina has finally been written off the show. I’d miss her, except she never did anything.

Holly and April’s ridiculous plan to save the glee club by integrating with some unrelated club was just dumb, and not all that funny either. They could have at least made it look like they were trying to make some kind of real connection with these other clubs. What exactly did the song “Party all the Time” have to do with animal husbandry? It also sure exited reality quickly, what with the imaginary dance club. Anyway, their plans fail miserably, and Will has to tell Holly that he’s ready to let the glee club die. Lesson learned: give up.

Enough with the plot, since it wasn’t really the point. Let’s talk about the music. As with every other episode to feature the number, first there’s Don’t Stop Believin’,” and then there’s everything else. This is the third time that Glee has reprised this iconic number, and the second time in two seasons, but would you believe that this is the first time that Will has actually participated? That added a new wrinkle to the emotionality, as Will took part in the number that originally pulled him into the glee club. As he says goodbye to the club and goodbye to one important phase of his career, there’s still a lot of hope. This is still essentially an optimistic show. The way this number was directed and choreographed was brilliant. Starting with Rachel, the star and the one who began in “Pilot,” moving on to Kurt, honoring but not mimicking Finn’s performance, allowing the rest of the original five to come in, turning then to the rest of the crew from season one, then the season two crew and newbies walking in… and then Will takes it. The performance is full of visual references to the original number, other performances of it, and even a few other numbers. It’s an amazing tribute to the end of an era, and by far the highlight of the episode. I don’t think, by a longshot, that this is the last we’ve seen of this number. I continue to believe that it will be present at the end of the series, just as it was here at the end of the series’s childhood.

I am Changing” was a decent number, and a nice reminder that Mercedes and Kurt were, like, best friends way back in season one, but I don’t think that it had the emotion that Rachel seemed to imbue it with. Party all the Time” was disappointing: generic and devoid of context. “Loser Like Me,” the only other reprise in the episode, was so good it almost made me feel an emotion for Tina. And hey, since it’s an original song, Glee finally can’t be accused of stealing the slower, sadder arrangement… right? “Be Okay” was nice, and a decent way to mend fences between Santana and Rachel. “Just Give Me a Reason” was 100% worth it if only because it allowed Quinn to sing the lyric “I let you see the parts of me that weren’t all that pretty,” because damn… she’s been through hell, and it’s nice to see that she’s okay now. Seeing as how she has a propensity to backslide, hopefully Puck can keep an eye on her.

This was a good episode, and I look forward to seeing what they can accomplish with this part of the show excised.

Other thoughts:

So much for the newbies, I guess.

Blaine got into NYADA. We never saw his audition, nor saw him agonizing or even talking about waiting for a response to his application. Drama, that’s how it works.

I just want to reiterate how fantastic that Friends parody was. Check it out here starting about 3:20.

According to Brittany, lilies are the “lesbian of flowers.”

Quinn and Puck establish in this episode that they never actually officially dated before. Well, that answers the biggest question I had regarding the Glee relationship master list that I attempted to maintain once… You can try to find that if you want. I’m not linking to it, since I stopped updating it in season two.

What is the portmanteau couple name for Quinn and Puck anyway? Quuck?

The nicest thing said about Will during the tribute, by Sue: “No matter how talentless, misshapen, ugly, miserable, or sexually ambiguous you are, he will still love you unconditionally.”

Close second: “Sand dollar.”

Episode 5.12: “100”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

One hundred episodes of Glee. Wow. Say what you want about the quality of the show and whether or not it’s gotten worse or better, but for a television musical to last this long is amazing and wonderful. “100” is a celebration of that, as well as a love letter to the foundation this show was built on. Glee has been doing reprises more and more as it ages, and now we have a two-part episode that is almost entirely dedicated to them. Part one works, and then some. “100” is short on plot, but the story is really just an excuse for the musical numbers (as in many of the best episodes of Glee), and the musical numbers here carry a ton of weight, both from a narrative and an emotional standpoint. It helps that all our old friends are back (including the much-missed Dianna Agron), but that’s not the only reason that “100” feels like vintage season one Glee at its best: this is an episode that is all heart and no brain, but the heart is so strong that it’s more than enough.

Speaking of vintage Glee, the producers’ choices about what to reprise and what to reference say a lot about when Glee‘s golden age was. Returning guest characters are April Rhodes and Holly Holliday, both last seen in season two, and the songs reprised are all from either season one or season two. It’s almost as if they’re admitting that it’s been all downhill ince then, as they look back with nostalgia to when this show was capable of producing entertaining programming most of the time.

There are a melange of subplots here, mainly serving as excuses to get into musical numbers. Everyone is back in town to honor the glee club as it shuts down forever, despite, as Brittany points out, some of them having two full time jobs and being enrolled full time in school (Rachel). April and Holly are also back (they know each other through “a Facebook page for people who were guests of glee club”), and they’re determined to save the club. Quinn has come into town with her asshole boyfriend Biff, whom Puck does not like. Brittany is suffering from burnout after having nothing to do but math at MIT and not dancing anymore, which Santana is concerned about. Mercedes and Rachel finally decide to carry on their rivalry last seen in season three and decide who is (was) the best singer in the glee club by having a diva-off, because apparently high school never ends (no they didn’t do that song, but I wish they had).

Biff is the perfect example of a Glee villain in the classic style: he doesn’t have any redeeming qualities and is only there because Quinn is lying to him and to herself. He thinks it’s interesting to see how poor people live, he spends the entirety of Brittany, Santana, and Quinn’s performance of “Toxic” (in cheerleading outfits) texting, which also brings up uncomfortable questions about his sexuality, and he calls Quinn a slut when she finally comes clean about her troubled past, telling him about her baby and the nosedive spiral her life took that she clawed her way back out of. He offers no understanding, no remorse, not even a cogent argument. He barely has a personality. He’s there for Puck to punch in the face and toss in the dumpster, so that Quinn can realize that she was fooling herself with Biff and that she should really be with Puck. And damned if it isn’t effective. I didn’t feel anything about Puck and Quinn’s relationship when it suddenly appeared in season three’s “Goodbye,” but that was largely because it came out of nowhere and I didn’t understand Quinn’s assertion that Puck was a good person at heart. But Puck has grown a lot since then, we’ve had a season and a half or so to mull over the idea of Quinn and Puck as soulmates, and Puck’s concern for Quinn’s denial of her past seems very real.

In a rare show of subtlety, the episode never comes right out and overtly draws a connection between Finn’s death and Quinn’s desire to rewrite her past, but it’s there. It’s underscored in Puck’s performance of “Keep Holding On,” a song that was originally sung largely for Quinn, right after Finn assured her that everything was going to be okay when it came out that Quinn was pregnant. Quinn claims that she doesn’t want to remember the past (“Until you sang that song, I had actually forgotten about it … I’d rather look forward”), and it’s not hard to infer that not wanting to face dealing with Finn’s death is in play for her. It even connects with Quinn’s non-appearance in “The Quarterback.” Her acceptance of Puck, and by extension her past, constitutes an acceptance of Finn’s death, especially considering how important Finn was to Puck. Quinn and Puck’s one direct discussion of Finn is also quite good, as Puck wonders if Finn ever forgave them, and Quinn assures him that he did a long time ago.

The plotline worked very well. Damn, I’ve missed Quinn.

Mercedes and Rachel’s renewed rivalry felt pointless for a large portion of the episode, but then came Santana’s scathing rant at Rachel, and Mercedes deciding to mend fences and comfort Rachel. Santana was in the right at some point in this rivalry, but since then she’s morphed back into the bully she was in high school, and Mercedes knows how much that can hurt. That the “diva-off” ends in a tie was predictable, but it really isn’t the point. Mercedes and Rachel’s rivalry is in the past, Santana and Rachel’s struggle with each other is in the future. Some people can move forward, and some cannot.

Brittany’s struggle with being a math genius was pretty silly, but, again, the plot wasn’t the point as much as the characters were. Santana gets Brittany to dance again, and Brittany admits that she still feels something for Santana. Their kiss was legitimately surprising (though I’m sure it shouldn’t have been), and it puts Santana in a pretty awkward situation. She says that she spent a lot of time getting over Brittany, and we know that it’s true — one remembers Santana’s sad relationship rants as Mrs. Claus in “Previously Unaired Christmas.” She also has a girlfriend now, and asking her to choose between Dani and the love of her life is inherently unfair. I honestly don’t know what she’ll do, but I hope that she remembers why she broke up with Brittany in the first place way back in “The Break-Up.”

Meanwhile, Will and April try to save the club by pointing out that April funded the auditorium, and as such the club should still be able to meet there. However, Sue finds out that the funds that April left for the auditorium have all been used up (thanks to Will’s extravagant musical numbers), and that April is under indictment with her assets frozen. Oops. Holly shows up and sings a song, but other than that she becomes fast friends with April, and the two decide that they are going to save the glee club (after they finish their wine). This will apparently be resolved in part two.

Will’s scene with the kids in the auditorium in front of the pictures of Finn and Lillian Adler was legitimately emotional, and I could feel the power behind what Will was saying. This was something on the level of what we got in season one’s “Journey to Regionals,” and which I said was missing from “City of Angels.” One only has to remember season one to recall how much this club means to Will, and we’re reminded every episode of how much it means to the kids.

But enough of that. The plotlines and characters worked pretty well, but what really made this episode fantastic was the music. Glee has never screwed up a reprise before, and they certainly don’t start now.

Raise Your Glass,” a Warblers rather than New Directions number as Blaine points out, had a ton of energy and was a lot of fun. With the atmosphere of an impending end and everyone dancing in the choir room, coupled with the natural nostalgia of the episode, it reminded me more of season one’s “My Life Would Suck Without You” than the actual original from season two’s “Original Song.” This was a great number, if an unusual choice to reprise. The Unholy Trinity’s “Toxic,” reprising the only non-imaginary Spears number from season two’s “Britney/Brittany,” was very good, and a nice way of getting Brittany, Quinn, and Santana back together again, but there wasn’t anything all that special about it. I thought it was hurt by the cutaways to the imaginary version where they were in more elaborate costumes. It was about the three of them reuniting, and it should have been kept simple. Mercedes, Kurt, and Rachel’s “Defying Gravity” (original here) was remarkably emotional, considering that I didn’t really feel the importance of Rachel and Mercedes’s rivalry at this point. This is a perfect example of this episode’s ability to pull deep musical numbers out of shallow plots: there is so much going on between Rachel and Mercedes here (though I’m not sure how Kurt snuck in). Santana’s “Valerie,” reprising her own number from season two’s “Special Education,” was a great choice, as the original was one of the best showcases for Brittany’s dancing skills. It was also fantastic seeing Mike, Brittany, and Jake all on stage at the same time. It’s almost amazing-dancer overload. The highlight of a strong bunch, however, is by far Puck’s “Keep Holding on,” reprising the original, sung when Quinn was in a very low place. My reaction was the same as Quinn’s: this number brought tears to my eyes. Very masterfully chosen, and very well performed. Holly’s “Happy,” the only non-reprise of the episode, was quite good, but it didn’t have the weight of the other numbers in the episode.

Other thoughts:

Alluding to some of the super bizarre weirdness of season one, Tina mentions that April taught her how to “shoplift meat in [her] vagina.”

In a similar allusion, Santana refers to Will’s questionable rapping skills.

I guess April’s auditorium funds fully explain the club’s budget over the years?

The biggest laugh of the episode for me was when Holly thanked April for buttering the floor for her after she made her sliding entrance.

Other members of the “guests of glee club” Facebook group: Blaine’s brother, Rachel’s mom, and “that Mexican guy.”

I wonder what Brittany would think if she found out that Quinn and Santana hooked up in “I Do.”

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 5.10: “Trio”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

What do I even say about this mess? Combined with last week’s “Frenemies,” and with nationals suddenly only a week away, Glee since the hiatus feels like it’s trying to just waste time until it can dispense with the Ohio half of the show gracefully. “Trio” gives us the last hurrah of inseparable threesome (?) Tina, Blaine, and Sam; Will and Emma trying to have a baby (a plot point that carries little weight when you remember that Jayma Mays and Matthew Morrison are leaving the series at the end of the season); and Rachel and Santana attempting to fast forward their relationship with Elliot, since the show forgot to develop it. This is an episode comprised of relationships and plotlines pulled completely out of the writer’s ass: nothing follows from anything else. Add to that a side of shit no one cares about, and you have what has become the essence of season five: something that wanders, wastes time, and fails to make a point. Glee has become a series that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do.

To be fair to the Sam/Blaine/Tina plotline, the three of them do have connections. Sam and Blaine became friends in season four (most obviously in “Dynamic Duets“) and Blaine and Tina also had a kind of awkward friendship, which introduced the world to the term “vapor rape.” As for Sam and Tina, Sam agreed to be Tina’s prom date earlier in season five, only to be unceremoniously dumped when Tina thought she could improve her chances of being elected prom queen. So to say that their friendship comes out of nowhere isn’t entirely accurate. However, it is mostly accurate. So, we established that they were friends(ish), but they’ve never come across as the inseparable BFFs forever that “Trio” portrays them as. They just made that up for this episode. It’s particularly egregious as this apes the emotions that the graduates of season three had to deal with, but, with no friendships with anywhere near the strength of Puck/Finn, Rachel/Kurt, or even Santana/Quinn, it just rings hollow. Add to it the distractions of Sam and Tina making out (for no reason, apparently, as they seem to have no desire to follow up on it), Blaine losing his shit over it for no good reason, and Becky crashing their party (which, when you remember that she once brought a gun to school, becomes much more frightening than awkward), and you get a plotline that just isn’t entertaining and doesn’t accomplish anything.

They’ll miss each other. Big deal. You’ve got to give me something more than that, since that’s not exactly an interesting or deep observation about people graduating from high school.

Glee also really needs to reconsider how it’s using Becky. As I alluded to earlier, she is becoming an almost sinister character. Her crashing of the Blaine, Tina, and Sam’s lock-in has a hostage-situation feel to it, not helped by Becky’s prior history as a gun-toter and (let’s face it) a sexual predator.

Santana and Rachel’s feud seems stuck in stasis. Elliot has had very little to do with characters other than Kurt prior to this episode, and now suddenly Rachel is living with him and Santana is calling him a traitor for letting her (though even Elliot lampshades this by pointing out that he “barely knows” Santana). Kurt would have been a much better fit for the role of a friend caught in the middle: placing Elliot there was a strange choice, especially as it doesn’t really seem to establish much if anything about his character. He allows himself to be used as a doormat by Rachel and Santana with apparent goodwill until the very end, when he finally blows up at them. Kurt’s decision to break up the band was a better story decision than anything involving Elliot (especially as it included a character who felt like he ought to be there). Rachel and Santana’s brief scene watching Dani, Elliot, and Kurt singing in harmony and having fun together was one of the two best scenes in the episode, alongside Santana and Rachel’s confrontation when Rachel came back to the apartment for her scented candle. The reason these scenes worked so well is that they featured Rachel and Santana, which was something remarkably rare in a plotline supposedly about Rachel and Santana.

We learn here that Santana has moved past simply being ambitious and catty to actually wanting to destroy Rachel to take her part, and justifies her stance by claiming that Rachel would do the same in her position. Well, maybe she would. Post-Broadway Rachel is a Rachel who has regressed terribly, and is not the person I remember from seasons three and four. Now Santana is regressing right along with her, ditching the personal growth she achieved thanks to Brittany and the glee club in order to become the calculating manipulator we remember from seasons one and two. I don’t think that this is unrealistic in the least, I think they’ve sold it well, and it’s a very tragic turn for both characters.

I just wish they’d focus on it more.

Speaking of stuff they’re focussing on that I don’t care about, Will and Emma are trying to conceive, as we find out when Becky catches them fucking in the faculty bathroom (here’s a tip: if you’re ever having sex in a public or semi-public restroom, lock the door). There was nothing of any value in this subplot. Will and Emma haven’t been interesting since season four’s “I Do,” and babies on TV shows have never been interesting. Part of me thinks that this is meant to be used as a way of saying goodbye to Will and Emma, a way of suggesting that they’re living happily ever after. If so, I’ll suspend judgment on that and wait to see what they do with it. Here, though, it didn’t work.

The music was, once again, okay. “Jumpin’ Jumpin’” might have carried more weight if I had given a shit about the trio of Blaine, Sam, and Tina. But it wasn’t bad. “Barracuda,” aside from giving me Guitar Hero III flashbacks, was okay, but again suffered from a lack of context, since the Rachel/Elliot friendship wasn’t really previously established. “Don’t You Forget About Me” was a number that I had a hard time believing that Glee had never done in the previous four seasons. I just wished they had used it in a better context. Still, it was good. “Danny’s Song” tried to sell the emotion of Will and Emma’s married relationship, but it just didn’t work, since nothing had been done to previously establish it. Songs can’t do the work of narrative. “Gloria,” which on its merits purely as a musical number (and I don’t have a lot more to go on here) was the highlight of the episode, was quite good, but, once again, suffered from a lack of background among Santana, Rachel, and Elliot. Still, it was good to see Santana and Rachel competing at this level, anyway. By that metric, Elliot just got in the way. “The Happening” was good, and at least the second best number of the episode. It was better more for Rachel and Santana’s reactions than for the number itself, mainly because of who were the main characters of the story. “Hold On” was a decent way to end things… and at least they finally included Artie. I actually liked the switches among the various singers here.

Other thoughts:

Really, what the hell was up with all the hate for Artie? “You don’t fit in this episode, begone!”

Boobs. That’s apparently what’s important about Tina.

Santana implies that Rachel was fat during her sophomore year. Um… what?

Why did the cheerios have a female cheerleader uniform that fit Sam, for God’s sake?

Will says that they’re all ready for nationals, but do they even have their songs picked out?

Remember when there were newbies? Me neither.

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?