(Spoilers lurk below.)
In this episode, Glee goes back to being about relationships, the theme that kept the very strong season two afloat. Unfortunately, most of the stuff in this episode feels pretty old and tired. The focus here is mainly on Will/Emma, with Finn/Rachel providing the B plot, and Sam/Mercedes and Artie/Becky trailing behind. Shannon/Cooter was established but brushed aside early, in a strange decision to resolve it completely offscreen. That in particular reminds me of “Asian F” when Santana rejoined the glee club, after having been banned, with minimal explanation. Brushing aside established subplots is a longstanding Glee tradition, so I guess I won’t complain too much, especially since I really didn’t want to see the Shannon/Cooter subplot developed anyway.
So the day after I basically said that Will has become a background character, they decide to try to build an episode around him. It’s hard to neglect a character for as long as they’ve neglected Will and then come back to him like this. Will/Emma is also one of the oldest established relationships in Glee, so building an episode around it requires bringing something new to the table. The idea of Will proposing doesn’t really seem like enough of a new angle. Will and Emma are already living together, so they’ve already expressed interest in a long-term relationship with each other. After that, marriage doesn’t seem like that big a deal, dramatically speaking. It may be a big deal for the characters, but for the viewers, not very much will change.
Will’s desire to make a big production of proposing also seems very artificial, though I am completely willing to buy the idea that Will sees the glee club as his family. No, my problem is that proposing marriage is inherently a private thing, and I think it takes a real drama queen to make it so public. I don’t see that in Will, and I certainly don’t see that in Emma. That’s more like the way I’d expect Kurt to propose to Blaine.
Will acts like an idiot a couple of times in this episode. First, he decides to be old fashioned and ask Emma’s parents for permission to propose marriage. This is stupid because Will has met Emma’s parents, and he knows that (a) they’re completely insane and (b) Emma does not get along with them. Why would he think that it’s a good idea to involve them in his proposal plans at all? The second idiotic thing that Will does is that he takes the Pillsburys seriously when they ask Will if he really wants a nut like their daughter for a wife. He sits down with Emma and asks her if she’s really going to be able to deal with building a family considering her crippling OCD. This is insensitive because it suggests that her OCD will lock her out of living a normal life and it disrespects the fact that Emma has been in therapy and on medication trying to get better, for the first time in her life. Talking about the logistics of living with someone who has a disability like OCD is one thing, but Will at one point, in discussing living with Emma, says, “Sometimes, it just seems so hopeless.” That’s just about the cruelest, most heartless thing someone could possibly say to someone with a disease that affects other people who is trying her level best to get better. It undermines all the efforts she’s gone through in the past, all the efforts she’s going through now, and all the efforts she will go through in the future. In one sentence, Will tells her that she’s just not strong enough to beat her problems and possibly not strong enough to be his wife.
You know what I said about Will’s dark side being pretty much gone? Apparently I lied.
To be fair, some evidence of cracks in the relationship was dramatically useful because it lent tension to the proposal scene. I honestly did think there was a chance that Emma would say that she wasn’t ready to make such a commitment to a guy who only a short time ago had insinuated she was too crazy to raise a family.
Of secondary interest in this episode were Finn’s issues. He decides to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the Army after graduating. However, Burt is counting on Finn to run his auto shop while he’s in DC. On top of that, Carole confesses to her son that she lied about his father’s “war hero” status. (Incidentally, it was never chronologically possible that Finn’s father died in the Gulf War. Finn would be at least 20 now if that were the case.) While Finn’s father did serve in the Persian Gulf, he actually came home alive. However, he was never able to re-accustom himself to civilian life and eventually turned to drugs and died of an overdose. That’s a lot to lay on someone who always thought of his father as a hero, and Carole does it none too artfully and in front of Burt and Will. Finn has gone through a lot this season, and this is particularly hurtful because it takes his past away from him not too long after his future (football) was taken from him. That leads into Finn complaining that he always wanted something special in his life, and Rachel doing a song in which she basically volunteers to be Finn’s something special. It’s a sweet scene, but we’ve seen so much Rachel/Finn that, even though they’ve showed restraint in season three up until now, it still doesn’t pack much of a punch.
That said, the scene in which Finn proposed to Rachel was actually well done, and it introduced something new into the dynamic of their relationship. Even though Rachel does see her relationship with Finn as long-term, Finn’s proposal broadsides her in several ways. First, they’re still in high school and it’s early to be thinking of that kind of commitment, even if they really do love each other. Second, Rachel is highly concerned about the results of her NYADA application. Domestic life isn’t exactly the part of her future that she’s concerned about at the moment. What’s also funny is that Finn’s simple proposal comes right after Will’s elaborate one, and I think the Emma and Rachel probably would have preferred each other’s style of proposal.
Sam/Mercedes still has the reek of a subplot that the writers wanted to pick up at the beginning of the season. Now that Sam is back, we can apparently go ahead with his subplots as if he were never gone. I think we also need a little more explanation of what went on between them over the summer aside from a performance of Grease‘s “Summer Nights.” (And why the hell did they originally want to keep their relationship a secret?) That said, if this was the only excuse for the scene in which the girls performed “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face” and flash back to the first time they saw their significant others, it almost justifies itself. That scene was really cute. However, I need to see Sam and Mercedes play off each other a little more to have any chance at believing that they are meant for each other, and I need to know where their relationship came from.
Artie/Becky was one of the most awkward subplots of the series. The first thing I’d like to say about this is that giving Becky’s inner monologue the voice of Helen Mirren may have been funny, but it strikes me as incredibly disrespectful to the character. Voiceover, as much as I hate it, it kind of a mainstay of the series, and just about every character has had extended voiceovers in one or two episodes. Becky, however, was not allowed a voiceover performed by her own actress, Lauren Potter. Her voiceover was intended to establish Becky as a sexual being, as she tries to figure out who she wants to date and then tries to get over Artie’s rejection of her. By giving the voiceover to someone else, the director showed no confidence in Potter’s ability to develop her own character. Essentially, by taking the character out of Potter’s hands for the voiceover, the director is saying that a character/actress with Down Syndrome has certain insurmountable limitations. I simply think that if you’re going to go to this place with this character, you have to go whole hog. Have the confidence in your actress and your character to let them develop without bringing in a reliever.
Aside from all that, the episode tries to set up a parallel early as Artie tries to ask out Sugar and is blatantly rejected because he’s handicapped. Artie then has to face the situation of rejecting Becky because she’s mentally handicapped. It should go without saying that those two situations are not analogous. A major problem for Artie and Becky, for example, is that Becky may actually not be legally capable of giving consent to sexual intercourse. And thinking about that kind of thing is just a bit uncomfortable. So in the end, I kinda wish that they hadn’t brought the whole thing up.
This just wasn’t a very good episode. They made far too big a deal of the Will/Emma thing, Will was way too much of a jerk, Sam/Mercedes was underdeveloped, and Artie/Becky was just awkward. The one thing I liked here was Finn’s drama about his future, and I wish that that had been closer to the forefront of the episode. Glee should follow its instincts and keep Will as a background character. His proposal should have been a B plot, not an A plot.
Funniest moment of the episode: Santana guessing at how Will proposed to his first wife: “‘Hey Terri, I want to make a fake baby with you!'”
One really nice thing in this episode: Sue was almost a normal person throughout, verging on underplayed. Keep her like that and she won’t drive me completely up the wall.
The songs were all good, though “Moves Like Jagger/Jumping Jack Flash” stood out as the most forgettable. “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face” was a nice reminder of all the relationships that work in Glee, and I was also glad that they didn’t make it all about Finn and Rachel like I thought they were going to. It was also really nice to hear Jayma Mays sing again in “Wedding Bell Blues.” And the production for Will’s proposal, as much as I thought it was overwrought and didn’t fit the characters, I have to admit I enjoyed quite a bit (though since it came as a last-minute suggestion from Sam that Will apparently loved, I do have to ask why exactly the idea was so much better in water than on stage). As much as I hate to admit it, I think that the musical highlight was “Summer Nights.” It’s just such a fun musical portrayal of high-school-type relationship gossip, and Amber Riley and Chord Overstreet really knocked the performance out of the park. Another cute thing I noticed was that Kurt was with the girls while Blaine was with the guys. It’s a small thing, but it shows attention to detail because that’s exactly the division I would expect.