Glee season 5 overview; or, a tale of two series

(Spoilers lurk below.)

One of the few consistencies in Glee has been its changeability. For those of you keeping score at home, talking about that has been a running theme in this blog, because one of my consistencies is belaboring an obvious point. Anyway, season 5 manages to both avert and go with that changeability. On the one hand, it makes one of the bravest and best choices in the run of the series when it decides to jettison the Ohio half and move entirely to NYC. On the other hand, it didn’t get that show on the road until the halfway point, and prior to that we had to endure the laborious continuation of what they started in season 4, utilizing a style and tone that virtually matched the prior season beat for beat. That’s literally never happened before in Glee, every season has felt distinct from the others until season 5 came along.

And that’s the way they drew it up, which is what is so strange. Season 4 ended with a regionals win for the McKinley kids and an ambiguous Broadway audition for Rachel. A cliffhanger and the middle part of an ongoing story. That seems designed to lead into a new season much like the old one.

However (and yes it’s time to talk about this again), Glee was dealt a bad hand shortly before season 5 even started filming when Cory Monteith tragically died. Glee obviously had big plans for Monteith in season 5, as he was supposed to be Will’s TA, working under his mentor and continuing to help the newbies. I’ve seen it suggested that season 4’s conflict between Wade and Ryder was dropped because Finn had been meant to mediate it in season 5, and I can believe that. If season 4 was about Finn flailing around and failing to find himself multiple times, season 5 was meant to show him finally finding success: the culmination of a character arc that started in season 3.

Monteith’s death, in addition to robbing the world of a heck of a nice guy, also robbed Glee of what I’m sure was intended to be the glue that held season 5 together.

Unfortunately, I can only review what I was given, so let’s dive in. As always, this overview will use a format I call “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” The “Good” section will talk about things that the show did well this season. The “Bad” section will talk about things the show did badly. The “Ugly” section will talk about things that just made me go “What the fuck?”

The Good

Let’s start with how the show directly dealt with Monteith’s and Finn’s death. Their treatment of the deceased actor and character, both in “The Quarterback” and in other episodes, was respectful, poignant, and it allowed the show to connect with the audience. This would have been one of the easiest things to fuck up, especially considering how close in time Monteith’s death was to the beginning of the season, and how close everyone in the show was with Monteith, especially Lea Michele, about whom I can’t say enough good things.

Finally pulling the trigger on NYC was a great move, even if I’m unsure of the scorched earth approach in disbanding the WMHS glee club. I guess it takes away the temptation to backslide and go back. Letting go of the newbies had to be difficult too, but it was the best thing to do. They had their moments, but there simply wasn’t enough room in the show while the focus was split, and nothing to do with them afterwards. The show now has something to grab ahold of moving forward, giving me hope (scant though it may be) for season 6.

While one could easily argue that Rachel achieved success too fast, it’s hard to argue with the way they handled what they decided to do. Her opening night was a pleasure marred only by Sue (see below), and her quick dissatisfaction with the life of a star and her almost ruining everything by trying to deceive her producer and seek something else spoke volumes about her youth and inexperience, and Carmen Tibideaux’s parting words to her, though not referenced directly, have a lot of relevance to Rachel’s mistakes.

Uh… what else. I like that they finally allowed themselves to blatantly portray Will as an idiot, while at the same time not undoing his status as a good choir teacher and role model. That’s actually not easy.

Is that really it for the good stuff? … Moving on.

The Bad

Season 3 may have lacked focus, but at least it had (misplaced) confidence. Season 5 had neither focus nor confidence, timidly stepping from storyline to storyline and character to character, always looking for something strong enough to replace what they lost in Cory Monteith, and yet apparently even more afraid that they would find it. I will warn that I’m going to say some things regarding the show’s treatment of this that could be considered insensitive. I feel like I have to judge Glee as art outside of what happens off the set, and outside of the personal feelings of the people who made it. That’s not to say that those things will not figure into my analysis, just that I can’t accept them as excuses for subpar work. This isn’t scruples or journalistic ethics or anything: this is just the only way I know to analyze something. By being rational and unemotional.

Rachel’s struggles to move beyond are touching but scarce outside of “The Quarterback.” Aside from the tattoo and a brief chat with Mercedes about moving on, they didn’t really touch on it. I originally thought when Rachel was being such a jerk to Santana over the understudy thing that they were going for that as a treatment of Rachel’s loss of Finn, a sign that she was losing it without her anchor. But they never went there. Rachel chatting that out with Santana would have added a sense of closure to Rachel’s mourning of Finn and helped mend Rachel and Santana’s relationship by giving us a good reason that Rachel lost her shit. As it was, this plotline resolved only slightly more artfully that Rachel and Mercedes’s feud in season 3. Which is to say, it wasn’t really resolved at all.

Speaking of Santana, her continuing search for what she wanted to Do With Her Life mirrored Finn’s arc in season 4, and I wish they had drawn that parallel a little more sharply. Hell, draw a line between Santana’s loss of Finn and her going off the deep end with Rachel. Give us that parallel between her and Rachel. Santana more or less admits in “The Quarterback” that she saw Finn as a role model, even if not a close friend. Maybe if he had been there making good for himself after struggling so much, Santana would have had something to latch onto, something to give her hope.

I’m already imaging such a great end-of-feud conversation between Rachel and Santana that never ever happened, one in which they both admit that losing Finn was hard on both of them in very different ways. I’m treading pretty close here to criticizing the show for not being what I wanted it to be, but my main point here is that Rachel and Santana’s story arc felt like it was missing something, and I think this was it.

The whole first half of the season leading up to nationals was a mess. The way the competition season straddled TV seasons reminds me of the way movie studios are splitting movies in two/three so that they will have more blockbusters (eg Kill Bill, Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, The Hobbit). Essentially drawing season 4 out from one season to a season and a half may have given us more use of the leadup to nationals, more use of characters who would otherwise have graduated and left, etc, but it also caused the larger story arcs to drag considerably, and the climaxes to fall flatter than they should have because we had been waiting so long for them. Breaking Bad dragged one year out into four season, but that show was dense enough to merit it. Glee is a lot of things, but dense it ain’t. Ending the school year in season 4 would have improved both that season and this one.

Their treatment of Kurt and Blaine’s relationship was far too facile. They got back together too easily, and Kurt forgave Blaine too easily for everything instead of directly addressing his insanity. I like that they can portray a couple as remaining together despite major problems, but they failed to make it realistic.

The Ugly

I just don’t understand Sue anymore. I didn’t like her character in previous seasons, and I didn’t understand her use in the show, but at least I understood her. Her atrocious treatment of Wade doesn’t jibe with her prior anti-bullying stance. Her firing of Will after a second-place nationals win made no sense. Her entire stint as principal has been defined by a lack of direction, as if she wanted nothing more out of the office than prestige and power… which, even if it did match her characterization, is boring. Finally, her entire NYC plotline at the end of the season was insulting. I’m tired of putting Sue under this heading every season. Get rid of her (sorry, Jane).

The series’s bizarre didactic tendencies were back with a vengeance with “Bash” and “Tested.” They need to shut that mess down on the quickfast; it does not fit the show.

I just don’t get this whole TV series thing. Uh, I don’t mean the Glee TV series, though I often don’t get that either, as you may have noticed. I mean the TV series being created in-universe centered on Rachel… which actually may end up being Glee after all. I’m… confused. But we’ll have to see how that plays out in season 6.

Speaking of which, I’m totally going to try to catch up with the current season. I haven’t seen any of it yet. I intend to do that, and then go back to do the season 5 top ten musical numbers. We’ll see if I can follow through on that. See you soonish.

Episode 5.20: “The Untitled Rachel Berry Project”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

This is how the fifth season ends, not with a bang but a blugh.

Blaine’s lie to Kurt, which should have been a major turning point in their relationship because of how symptomatic it is of how messed up Blaine is, is casually brushed aside, with Kurt almost assuming blame for it. Sam and Mercedes’s relationship, established and strengthened over the course of just the past few episodes, is unceremoniously and with little emotion brought to an end. And the development of Rachel’s TV show is treated as a joke that I don’t feel like I’m supposed to get.

First up we have Rachel’s TV show. The network has sent writer Mary Halloran to hang out with her in order to get to know her and develop the script. Mary is eccentric to the point of being bizarre, doing things such as interviewing people while lying under their desk, putting a doughnut in her bra during another interview, and picking the chocolate glaze off another doughnut despite being offered a plain one because she “prefers the misery of doing it this way.” I guess all this is supposed to be funny, but it’s mainly awkward and weird. Meanwhile, her contributions to the concept for Rachel’s show include upgrading her two gay dads to “two gay NASA dads,” and changing her friend’s names to such anonymous monikers as Slaine, Jam, Cert, and Blartie. When she finishes the actual script and gives it to Rachel and company to read over, it’s a bizarre mixture of teenage text acronyms and hashtags (“Hashtag hashtag hashtag hashtag hashtag…”), nihilistic musings, sex/art gallery foundings, and speeches about what characters are like. When Rachel confronts Mary about her script sucking, Mary insists, “People want antiheroes. They want chubby girls who can’t keep men and men who kill people,” which doesn’t make much sense as justification since her script has none of that. Eventually Rachel convinces her of her ideas with the power of song, and Mary agrees to try writing s script that might make someone happy.

This is what I mean about a joke that I don’t think I’m meant to understand. I mean, I guess I get that TV has gotten darker and edgier in recent years, but what the hell was the original script supposed to be parodying, and what was up with Mary Halloran? I somehow get the idea that this is all very funny to people who were around when Glee was being pitched, which I think is an example of the kind of inside joke we can look forward to for the entirety of this plot arc. I understand the idea that Glee is a show that is different from anything else on television, and that part of that is its enduring optimism, but I’m not sure what other point this bit is trying to make. I’m afraid it makes Glee sound a lot more revolutionary than it is. Plus, they seem to have forgotten how dark Glee was in season one.

Also, as I may have mentioned before, if season six ends up being all about the meta-creation of Glee within Glee, I quit. For real.

Probably not really.

Anyway, Rachel and the gang are pleased with Mary’s new happy script, she sends it to the network, and by the end of the episode Rachel has gotten the call that the network has ordered a pilot. So much for Fanny Brice, I guess. I can’t wait to see the scene where she tells Sidney about this.

Meanwhile, Blaine decides to cut off this multi-episode arc about him lying to Kurt about June wanting him in her showcase by suddenly blurting out the truth. Kurt is understandably hurt, and walks out. Then later, he comes back and not only forgives Blaine, but tells him that he’s not even angry. Then they go have sex. The biggest problem with this resolution is that it does not address the deeper problems with Blaine and Kurt’s relationship. Blaine cheated on Kurt in season four, he became wildly jealous of Elliot in season five to the point that he confronted Elliot in his own home in “New New York“, he lied to Kurt about the cheating in “The Break-Up” and about being able to go to Kurt’s band’s opening night in “Puppet Master,” he became unbearably clingy to the point that they both have to back off in “New New York,” and he displayed crippling insecurity and an eating disorder brought on by his issues with his and Kurt’s relationship in “Tested.” And now there’s this. Blaine again lies to Kurt, and shows that he is having major issues maintaining a healthy relationship, and it’s again just shrugged off. Given the multi-episode nature of this story, it felt like this should have been some kind of tipping point. Instead, it was just a big anticlimax.

Anyway, Blaine invites Kurt onstage during the showcase anyway, against June’s wishes, and they are such a big hit that June has to admit that Blaine was right to do it and forgive him. Once again, Glee gets to have its cake and eat it too.

Then there’s Sam and Mercedes. Mercedes is about to go on tour and Sam is starting a gig working with a very attractive female photographer. Mercedes is not worried that Sam will crack and cheat on her, but, oddly enough, Sam is. He eventually has a moment of weakness and kisses the photographer when she comes onto him, after which he immediately leaves and goes to confess to Mercedes. She forgives him, which is more believable in this case than in Kurt and Blaine’s case because Sam confessed immediately, because he wasn’t the instigator of the kiss, and because he left the situation as soon as he could. This leads into Sam and Mercedes mutually breaking up, as they are about to be apart for a long time and Mercedes doesn’t think it’s fair to keep asking Sam to wait.

Suddenly, all that time they spent selling “Samcedes” the past few episodes seems kinda pointless. They just can’t not break up, apparently. It’s like they have on-and-off-again breakups instead of a relationship.

In the end, Sam successfully completes his photoshoot somehow, and ends up nearly naked on the side of a bus, at long last achieving his lifelong dream. With that, he decides to go back home to Ohio, because NYC apparently just isn’t his style. How long has he been there, a year at most? Probably not longer than a few months. Seems like he’s writing himself out of the show.

Speaking of which, Santana is conspicuously absent from this episode. It’s explained that she is in Iowa shooting a commercial, which is weird because that’s not the direction it looked like she was going back in “Old Dogs New Tricks.” There are a lot of rumors going around about why Naya Rivera was excluded from the finale, and I don’t know what’s true and what isn’t. I’ll refrain from commenting on that (as I usually do regarding offscreen drama), but Santana’s absence is pretty awkward, especially since Brittany is back. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Santana and Brittany in the same room at the same time. Maybe they’re actually the same person.

All in all, this was not a terrible season finale, but it was underwhelming. And, as usual, I have no idea what the fuck is going to happen next season.

Musically, things were not bad, though there may have been a song or two too many. Original song “Shakin’ My Head” had a nice beat but ludicrous lyrics. It was fun, though, and I can believe it coming from Mercedes. And it was nice seeing Brittany dancing again. Heather Morris apparently told all that baby weight to go fuck itself. Blaine’s “All of Me” was good, and a decent lead-in to his confession to Kurt. “Girls on Film” worked as a way of showing the temptations of Sam’s new career. “Glitter in the Air” was good, but it was a little much to ask us to believe that it melted Mary’s black cynical heart. “No Time at All” was quite good. I could stand to see more of Shirley MacLaine next season, if only for performances like this. “American Boy” was so good that it almost made me believe June’s sudden turnaround on the subject of Kurt. “Pompeii,” loath as I am to admit it (because I don’t like the way this episode ended in general) was the highlight. It sold the characters’ feelings about how things keep changing, yet how things are still, well… pretty okay.

Other thoughts:

Brittany has apparently been stuck in the airport “Like Tom Hanks in that movie.” “Cast Away?” “Big?” “The Money Pit?” “Okay, it was Cast Away.

I hate the stereotype that all “serious” writers use a typewriter, and not just because I’m typing this on a brand-new MacBook Air.

Rachel and the gang make a pact to meet back in NYC in six months, no matter what happens. I hope that that vow lasts longer than the one she made to remain in the City for two years with Kurt and Santana.

Uh… did Sam go back to high school?

Hopefully I’ll be back shortly with my season overview.

Episode 5.19: “Old Dog New Tricks”

(Spoiler lurk below.)

This episode was written by Chis Colfer, who inspired the creation of the character of Kurt and has declared himself to be Lea Michele’s biggest fan. Maybe that’s why “Old Dogs New Tricks” feels like a bad fanfic. I’d be the last to deny Colfer’s skills at acting: he’s arguably Glee‘s greatest asset in that regard. But as a writer, I’m afraid he’s a flop. The plot is by the numbers, the guest characters are cardboard, and Kurt, already often accused of being a Mary Sue for Ryan Murphy, seems like a Mary Sue for Colfer himself. Kurt manages to come across not only as the hero in his own story, but as the hero of Rachel’s story and the hero of several tertiary characters’ stories. Sam and Mercedes manage to escape his gravity well, but their story, while easily the best of the lot, is not all that strong either.

We start with Rachel trying to find some way of repairing her reputation, as the rumor that she is considering leaving Broadway for Hollywood has somehow gotten out. What she comes up with is sponsoring a dog rescue, a plan that she gets help with from Santana, who decides for some reason to act as Rachel’s publicist. Despite the fact that the genesis of this plotline is Rachel’s possible TV career, it feels oddly disconnected from the story arc that began in the prior episode. We don’t hear anything about her pilot at all after the first scene, and nothing in that plotline advances. In the second-to-last episode of the season, we’re suddenly just largely fucking around instead of advancing the story. I get the feeling this would have been better placed beforeBack-Up Plan.” That way, the last two episodes of the season could drive the story all the way to the end.

Anyway, there are some funny shenanigans involving Rachel walking six dogs for a photo op and getting dragged a few blocks, and then Rachel refuses to allow a kid to adopt a three-legged dog because she needs it to pose with in order to give her reputation the biggest possible boost, and finally she learns not to be so self centered and to be more Kurt-centered, as she supports Kurt by going to his show. It’s a pretty by-the-numbers Rachel story, and doesn’t offer anything that we haven’t seen a dozen times before.

Arguably more interesting is Santana’s story, as she seems to find her niche working as Rachel’s publicist, something she really seems to enjoy. I say “arguably” because, while the story is good, Santana herself feels… off. She comes across as mechanical and lifeless, like she’s just reciting lines, doing her best to pretend to be Santana but not quite succeeding. I don’t feel any subtext in Rachel and Santana’s relationship, despite their long and interesting past. I don’t get any sense of satisfaction from Santana for getting a lead on a career after so much wandering. She seems to exist just to serve Rachel, her reward being the one bizarre moment when Rachel gives publicity to her publicist while giving an interview to a TV reporter.

Again, these are elements of a bad fanfic.

Kurt, meanwhile, decides to throw himself a pity party since nobody likes him and everybody hates him and he guesses he’ll go eat worms. Actually never mind the worms. He just gets himself an old lady for a friend just like Blaine did. Maggie, from a “home for retired performers,” wanders into the diner one day, and Kurt ends up telling her everything about his life, then later drops into her retirement home to watch them rehearse their production of Peter Pan. When their Peter loses the part due to missing her cue and also dying, Kurt volunteers to fill in for some reason, and also expects his friends to be excited for him for some reason. This whole plotline, top to bottom, feels engineered to make Kurt seem both pitiful and honorable. Pitiful because none of his friends care about what he’s doing, honorable because he’s helping old people. Kurt sure is a saint, you guys. And on top of all that, he even reunites Maggie with her daughter Clara, by showing up at Clara’s office and telling her about how much Maggie misses her, and about how Kurt lost his own mother when he was eight, and shouldn’t Clara be glad that she even has a mother? Clara tells the typical story about how Maggie used to forget her birthdays and neglect her, but she still shows up at the play just in time for maximum dramatic effect. Speaking of which, all Kurt’s friends show up for the play too. And after the play, Rachel invites all the old people to perform at her dog rescue event.

There’s so much feel-good in this story, it makes me ill.

Meanwhile, Sam adopts a dog and proceeds to allow it to run wild all over the house and chew up Mercedes’s shoes and hair. He adopts the dog, which he names McConaughey, because Mercedes mocked the idea of getting a pet because she has her hands full taking care of Sam. He wants to prove that he can take care of a dog, as part of his attempt to prove himself husband material to Mercedes. It doesn’t go so well at first, obviously, but he finally buckles down and trains the dog via the magic of a musical montage. Mercedes then tells Sam that she’s impressed, but that keeping a dog wouldn’t be fair to the dog, as she is about to go on tour and Sam works odd hours. I liked Sam’s explanation of how he wants to prove that he can be responsible and he doesn’t want to be seen as a joke. It almost comes across as Sam rebelling against his status as the resident idiot, a role not thrust upon him until season four. He even references season three, when he took care of his family after his dad lost his job (hey, whatever happened to his family anyway?). Sam and Mercedes’s conversation also felt like a real, adult conversation, and it definitely helped sell their relationship as a real one with ups and downs.

If nothing else, the tail end of this season has done more with “Samcedes” than the entire rest of the series has.

To sum up: Mercedes and Sam’s plotline was decent, but everything else was cloying, clichéd, predictable, and melodramatic, with characters that rang false and, to be blunt, writing that is amateurish in the extreme. Sorry, Chris.

Musically, things were decent. “I Melt With You” suffered from a really artificial setup, and I think it undermined the harsh realities of running a dog shelter a bit (for instance, not all the animals are liable to be nearly that friendly), but it was okay. “Memory” I’m going to call the highlight of the episode mainly because I actually really missed Kurt’s high-falsetto “girly” singing voice, and this was a good use of it. In context, it was pretty ridiculous though. “Werewolves of London” was quite good, but I’m really not sure what it had to do with training a dog. Except that werewolves are like wolves, and wolves are like dogs, I guess. It’s as if they picked the song by playing word association. “Lucky Star” was awful: painfully faux-cool and “modern,” so hip it felt like I was in the 90’s again. It actually would have been about 50% better without the shades, a cliché so painful I can only imagine the entire crew needed ibuprofen during shooting just to get through it. “Take Me Home Tonight” was nice, and actually a good choice for a dog adoption event.

Other thoughts:

What the fuck happened to Santana’s hair?

“Pillsbury” was an odd choice of a nickname for Kurt, considering it’s already the last name of another major character.

Good thing that the rest of Kurt’s band left town so that he was free to throw his pity party.

What did that doggie obstacle course have to do with keeping McConaughey from chewing on shoes and pooping on the rug?

What was with the nurse at the retirement home just telling Kurt all Maggie’s business?

How did a freshman at a film school get the school to lend him a bus?

Despite Rachel learning a lesson from the kid and mom’s reaction when she doesn’t let them adopt the three-legged dog, she still poses with the same dog at her event.

Rachel and Santana probably should have researched marketability before they chose the name “Broadway Bitches” for their rescue.

Episode 5.18: “Back-Up Plan”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Last time, I pondered what the show was going to do with Rachel now that she has achieved her dream. Well, they didn’t take long to answer. In “Back-Up Plan,” Rachel has become disillusioned with working in the same show night after night, despite having only been with it for a month or so. She has everything she ever wanted, but now she has to live happily ever after… and she’s not satisfied. Oscar Wilde once wrote, “In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” Here, Rachel experiences exactly what is meant by that. Meanwhile, Blaine forges a friendship with a woman who is a Broadway powerhouse and wants to make Blaine a star (but who doesn’t give a rip about Kurt), and Mercedes gets some help from Santana finding a single for her album, and tries to get Santana to record with her for the actual release, against the advice of her producer and even Santana.

There are a couple of themes running through this episode. One is that of goals and what one is willing to do to achieve them, as well as what happens after they are achieved. Rachel barely barely gets what she wants before she already wants something else. Blaine and Kurt have an agreement that wherever the other one goes and whatever the other one gets, they will share in it… but what if that’s not possible? Can one of them let go of their dream just because they can’t take the other one with them? Mercedes has to face getting help to achieve her goal, after which helping the person who helped her becomes part of her goal.

Another theme running throughout is that of friendship and relationships and what they mean to us and our goals, and what we mean to them and theirs. Rachel makes a very stupid decision, and her career and reputation are only narrowly saved when Santana, of all people, steps up to help her without expecting anything in return. Santana was trying to destroy Rachel only a few months ago, but it seems she has changed (again). Blaine faces the question of what to do when he’s offered a chance to, essentially, leave his fiancé behind in exchange for the stardom that they both want. He doesn’t say no, but he can’t bring himself to tell Kurt about it either. And Mercedes rekindles what friendship she has with Santana to aid her singing career, and shows that she means what she says by taking Santana with her into the recording booth, possibly to the detriment of her own career… because that’s what friends do. This even teaches Santana something, which brings us back around to Santana and Rachel.

In case you couldn’t guess, I liked this episode quite a bit. This is the first unqualified success of the new Glee.

I mentioned when Rachel quit NYADA that Carmen Tibideaux’s warning about Rachel’s roughness and inexperience loomed large. Despite it not being overtly mentioned here, we are definitely seeing its effects. Rachel is bored with being a star after only a month, and wants to parlay her stale 15 minutes of fame into a TV or movie career. Her agent tells her that she “has a face for radio,” that the best she can hope for is to play Fanny Brice to 10 or 15 years. She’s kinda resigned to this until the dean from Community… er, I mean Lee Paulblatt from the Fox network, shows up and offers her an audition for a new show called Song of Solomon in LA. It’s a testament to Rachel’s inexperience and naïveté that she asks absolutely no questions about the show or the part she would be auditioning for: she just accepts and calls in sick to Sidney, her producer, in order to fly to LA and audition. Said audition is an absolute disaster: she starts with a song, but is then told that the show is not a musical, and then she stumbles through a reading using a script she’d never seen before and which she clearly doesn’t understand or like. She immediately regrets the whole thing and calls Sidney to reaffirm her commitment to the show… only to be told that her understudy has hurt herself and Rachel needs to get to the theater ASAP, flu or no. Too bad she’s still in LA.

Santana pulls her fat out of the fire by showing up and acting as the understudy’s understudy. The truth comes out about what Rachel did, of course, but at least the show goes on. Rachel’s scene with Sidney chewing her out was a great companion piece to her earlier confrontation with Carmen. Here, she’s screwed up in exactly the way that Carmen would have predicted. Sidney calls her an “ambitious, irresponsible child,” and it’s not far from the truth. He comes within a hair’s breadth of firing her. He gives her another chance, but promises that if she ever does anything remotely similar to that again, he will fire her and torpedo her reputation, making sure she never works onstage again.

And Rachel immediately proves to have learned nothing when she receives a call from Paulblatt, right outside Sidney’s office, and accepts an offer for a TV show to be developed around her… with no details even extant yet. One can almost see Carmen sadly shaking her head in the background.

Meanwhile, Kurt gets a gig performing at a NYADA event for well-known socialite and donor June Dolloway. He insists on having Blaine perform with him, because they’ve promised to always share in each other’s success. The performance goes well, and June takes an immediate liking to Blaine. They pal around and become friends, and June finally tells Blaine that she wants to develop a project for him and make him a star. Despite Blaine’s recommendation, she has no interest in bringing Kurt onboard. When he says that he can’t do the show in that case, June tells him that she doesn’t even think that Blaine should be engaged to Kurt. One’s first love is just practice, she says. She doesn’t deny that their love is real, just that it’s forever. Blaine and Kurt are basically kids, and there are plenty more chances to fall in love.

Blaine’s reaction is interesting. He agrees to do the project, but he can’t bring himself to tell Kurt about it. When Kurt finally wheedles it out of him, Blaine lies and says that there is a part in it guaranteed for Kurt.

This will apparently be resolved in another episode, but Blaine has really cooked his own goose. Kurt is going to end up angry not because Blaine is doing a show without him (I’m pretty sure he could have accepted that), but because Blaine didn’t trust him enough to tell him the truth. Blaine’s trust issues have popped up several times before, most notably in regards to Elliot. He has also lied to Kurt before, when he failed to tell Kurt that he couldn’t attend his show in “Puppet Master.” Both of these could have some relationship to when Blaine cheated on Kurt (“The Break-Up“): the unfaithful are always the most jealous, and he would naturally fear Kurt’s ability to trust him about betraying him like that.

One almost gets the idea that their engagement was a mistake.

And finally, Mercedes is having trouble finding a single for her album. She manages to get inspiration from Santana, and, to thank her, tries to convince her producer to turn the single into a duet with her and Santana. The producer comes across as a very reasonable guy, telling her exactly why it’s a bad idea. Mercedes is still trying to find real fame, and her single needs to be all about her. Bringing Santana onboard can’t possibly help her. If she really wants to do a duet, he’s willing to find a big star to sing with her so that she might be able to ride some coattails. He offers to let Santana sing backup, but not co-headline. He even convinces Santana that Mercedes is making a mistake by trying to add Santana to the album.

Despite all that, Mercedes shows up at Santana’s job with a contract for her to sign. She doesn’t care if will help her or even hurt her: she thinks of Santana as a friend and she owes her for the help, so she’s not going to leave her behind if she can help it. She does what Blaine can’t, as she has just enough clout to go against her producer’s advice. And she inspires Santana to help Rachel.

Santana’s scene with Rachel was very welcome, as we needed the additional closure on Santana and Rachel’s earlier feud. And it was good to see Santana admitting that she needs to work on her relationship skills.

This was a solid episode, and it gives me some hope for the future of NYC-era Glee.

Musically, we were also on solid ground. “Wake Me Up” was a brilliant illustration of Rachel’s feelings of being trapped. The use of repeated images, especially the stagehand taking and dropping off the wig, really sold the idea of living the same thing over and over again. More than anything else in the episode, this made me understand why Rachel would act like such an idiot. This was easily the highlight of the episode. “Doo Wop (That Thing)” was quite good, and, as Mercedes points out, Mercedes and Santana together are always magic. “Story of My Life” was very good. In retrospect, it’s actually possible to see why June might have seen something in Blaine, but not Kurt, though they both did fine. Blaine was more natural, while Kurt might have been trying a little too hard. “Piece of My Heart” was a lot of fun. Shirley MacLaine’s singing didn’t exactly blow me away, but her enthusiasm more than made up for it, and she did a solid enough job. “The Rose” was good on its own merits, but considering that it meant nothing in the context of the episode, it’s hard to argue that it needed to be included. In some ways, it was a parody of an overly-dramatic Rachel Berry showstopper.

Other thoughts:

It seems kinda gauche to make it rain with donated cash at a charity event.

I at first thought that the show was going to drag out Rachel’s Three’s Company shenanigans a lot longer, but she kept up the deception about as long as was realistic.

I’m not sure what they’re going to do with the show that Paulblatt is going to develop for Rachel, but if they do some kind of meta Seinfeld-type thing where they create Glee, I quit.

With that I’m caught up with my reviews… except that an episode aired tonight. I’m gonna try to get back on track here soon.

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 5.16: “Tested”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Glee continues to try to establish its new setting and focus by using what it knows best: copious amounts of voiceover. Hey, it saves actually establishing what’s going on if we just have characters tell us about it, right? In “Tested,” we learn that Artie has become a total player who has two girlfriends and has his eye on a third, that Blaine has gained a crippling amount of insecurity that is both causing him to eat all the time and hurting his relationship with Kurt, and that Mercedes and Sam’s relationship has hit a speedbump because she is a virgin and Sam is a 19-year-old dude. This continues the tradition started by “Bash” of having two plotlines that feel oddly melodramatic/didactic, and one that actually feels somewhat natural and character-based.

Moving to New York City does weird things to a show.

First up, we have Blaine’s inferiority complex and food mania. He just loves New York for the food, the culture, the food, the sights, the food, and the food. He’s enjoying various ethnic foods, ice cream, cronuts, and… cheese puffs… and putting on quite a few pounds in the process. Neither Blaine nor the audience take too long to figure out that his voracious eating is a symptom of another problem. His relationship with Kurt has changed (beyond, you know, them breaking up and then getting engaged and then moving in together and then moving out again). Kurt is comfortable in New York City, almost serene. He’s happy, social, and well-adjusted. That wasn’t the Kurt that Blaine first started dating in season two. Blaine misses the feeling of protecting and guiding Kurt, and has the idea that the new, more normal, Kurt doesn’t need him anymore. This fear not only leads to Blaine’s overeating, but to his being unable to bring himself to be intimate with Kurt, and to the audience getting a little too much TMI information about what’s going on (or not) in their bedrooms.

When Blaine and Kurt finally have a frank discussion about this, Kurt assures him that everything is okay. Their relationship has changed, but they still love each other. Also they both go on a healthy diet.

Blaine has changed a lot since season two, something that I’ve kvetched about once or twice. He’s become whiny, insecure, unconfident, kinda stupid, and all around fairly unpleasant. However, Kurt has also changed a lot. It’s not something that just happened in NYC either, as the episode seems to suggest. It’s been happening throughout the series, but the biggest changes actually happened in season two… way back when Kurt and Blaine first started dating. I’d never really thought to connect Blaine’s changes with Kurt’s before, but it kinda makes sense. Blaine has gone from Kurt’s mentor and role model to, well, his partner. And Blaine has never really managed to adjust to it.

I can’t say I think that this is something they’ve actually been developing over the course of three and a half seasons, but it seems reasonable here. At least it’s some kind of explanation for Blaine’s creeping insanity.

The downfall of this plotline is that it’s just too melodramatic and contrived. Blaine’s voracious eating, inability to face intimacy, and passive-aggressive methods of dealing with his issues (including trying to turn stage combat into real combat) all combine to make this whole thing resemble a Gay Lifetime Movie of the Week. As with “Bash,” the problem is more with the execution than the writing. There’s something here. It’s just dressed up in a way that makes it look overwrought. With the focus more on their relationship than on Blaine’s psychological problems, this would have worked better.

Meanwhile, speaking of characters changing, Artie has become a “film school player,” having unceremoniously broken up with Kitty offscreen. He has two girlfriends who he is consciously just using for sex, but he has his eye on Julie, who he actually likes as a person. It comes to light during a conversation with Sam and Blaine that Artie hasn’t been using condoms because, well, Artie is stupid. Having apparently only recently realized the danger of STD’s (so much for WMHS’s sex ed program), he decides to get himself tested, and finds out that he has chlamydia. It’s at this point that Julie finally comes around and agrees to go out with him.

Artie’s horror at the social stigma of having an STD is believable, but the problem with this plotline, again, is in the execution. Artie’s imaginary STD costume, along with his perception that everyone can tell he’s tainted and is talking about him, make this story seem like the same kind of bad PSA or sex ed video that they bizarrely parodied at the beginning of the episode.

The plotline does take a hard left at the end, when Artie comes clean with his girlfriends regarding his chlamydia. Julie doesn’t care so much that he has an STD as she does that he sleeps around with mindless women, and she tells him she isn’t interested in going out with him anymore.

The other problem I have with this story is that Julie has pretty much no characteristics, but exists only as a symbol of purity to compare with Artie’s shameful fall from grace. In fact, the other two women exist only to be Artie’s poor choices. If Artie is Goldilocks, his girlfriends are the porridge.

The other third of the show accomplishes the impossible: it almost gets me to care about Mercedes and Sam’s relationship. Being a virgin in a relationship is different after high school, even if it’s just a little after high school, and Mercedes’s and Sam’s concerns are believable and feel heartfelt. That Mercedes is a virgin is news but not all that surprising, I guess. As for Sam… he dated Santana, so yeah. Sam’s bumbling about how to approach Mercedes, including presenting her with a clean STD test, feel like exactly the kinds of things that Classic Sam would do as opposed to New Stupid Sam, so that was nice. His reaction after Mercedes tells him that she doesn’t want to have sex until marriage proved that he learned a thing or two from Will the asshole boyfriend. His response to having a relationship with a woman without having sex is “What’s the difference between that and being real good friends?”, which is pretty damn heartless. But, it was his lower brain doing the thinking there. In the end, Sam decides that being with Mercedes is worth abstaining from sex, because that’s not actually the point of a relationship, and they stay together.

This works far better than anything else they’ve done with Sam and Mercedes. It doesn’t assume a past that hasn’t been established, it doesn’t make things overdramatic, and it doesn’t shove everything into the background. It deals with a real problem in a realistic way, and faces it head-on. If they’d done that more often (or ever) with Sam and Mercedes, maybe I would have cared about them a couple of years ago.

Mercedes’s scene with Rachel is also quite good. I like that they manage to talk about Finn without actually having to say his name, and that the issue of Rachel moving on has been broached. She’s clearly not ready yet, but I hope that Lea Michele is dealing with her loss half as well as Rachel is.

Overall, this was an improvement over “Bash,” but we’re still going in the wrong direction. There are some bizarre tonal problems, even for Glee, that make me wonder what they’re thinking.

Musically, there wasn’t much to write home about, but it was decent. “Addicted to Love” was a good performance, and Artie’s harem made me think that maybe I should have gone to film school in NYC… and been paralyzed. Maybe just the first one. In a weak and thin field, this is probably the highlight. “I Want to Know what Love Is” was weird, considering that it was sung as part of a church service and yet seemed to be all about Mercedes and Sam. Shouldn’t she be singing about Jesus or something? I could see this as a spiritual song, but that’s not how they sold it. Good performance, weird context. “Love is a Battlefield” continued Blaine’s descent into madness. The performance and context were good, but what I really loved was the choreography. “Let’s Wait Awhile” was good, but a bit obvious of a choice. It was hurt by the inclusion of Artie, who still thinks that waiting a while means “seven to ten days.” He doesn’t get smacked down until after the song.

Other thoughts:

I can’t even begin to emphasize how ludicrous the amount of voiceover in this episode was. There was probably more voiceover than music.

As incredibly weird as that PSA parody at the beginning of the episode was, my second thought about it was, “Wait, can paraplegics serve in the Navy?”

Speaking of weird choices, what was with Artie’s girlfriends introducing themselves to the audience by talking directly to the camera?

Artie is the new Jake. Discuss.

I can’t imagine that Artie’s “plastic bag in the wind” film isn’t a reference to American Beauty, but they didn’t really do anything with it. They didn’t even emphasize Artie ruining it with voiceover.

Frozen hot chocolate?

Apparently men don’t get anorexic, they get manorexic.

I could be mistaken, but I don’t think that they use sport fencing gear in stage combat classes.

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.