“Asian F”

Posted on October 05, 2011

NOW do you believe us when we say that Glee season 3 heralds a return to greatness for the show? We’ll even be magnanimous and admit that we were wrong when we predicted that this season would be all about the four main characters of Finn, Quinn, Rachel and Kurt. Happily wrong; because the long-neglected Mercedes got her moment in the sun. And not only was it a spectacular moment, it was a series of them and the episode ended with the promise of more to come. Even better, it wasn’t just an all-Mercedes episode (although we would have been fine with it if it was). The show managed to look in on and advance the stories of Brittany, Mike, and even Emma.

But it wasn’t a great episode because they checked a few neglected characters off a list. Sure, it was great that they did that, but what really struck us was how tight the script was and how well the songs were integrated into the story. Rather than trying to turn the show into a factory of downloadable songs for teenagers, the creators have returned to the idea that story matters most and when you give the characters believable moments you can get your audience swept up in the emotions of it all without resorting to cheap, maudlin tricks like killing off a minor character with developmental disabilities or having Rachel learn an Important Lesson from a quadriplegic. It’s as if the creative team sat down, looked at what had and hadn’t been done with the characters before, and realized that there was quite a bit of untapped dramatic potential there. What a concept.

First up: Mike Chang, a character who basically had no character up till this moment. We’ll leave it to people more qualified than us to answer the question of whether the script went too far with the Asian stereotyping, but we found ourselves unexpectedly choking up when Mike danced with his mother. It was a beautifully rendered quiet moment in a show that has never been very good about doing the quiet moments. Props must be paid to Harry Shum, who’s never shown much talent in either acting or singing prior to now. He nailed the feelings of fear and confusion a teenager in his situation would naturally feel and it all came out in his spectacular audition for the school play. We love West Side Story as much as the next 2 queens, but we always cringed at the idea of gang members doing ballet, but that was the hottest version of “Cool” we’ve ever seen. If nothing else, you’ve gotta applaud Glee for introducing Sondheim to a generation of kids who’d probably never be exposed to his works otherwise.

And speaking of dancing, MAN is that Heather Morrison a freaking dynamo or what? Her number was the best thing we’ve seen on this show in ages. The girl can out-Beyonce Beyonce, for god’s sake. And once again, kudos to the writers for making it hard for us to take a side on the whole “who should rule the school” debate. Both Brittany and Kurt make compelling arguments, but unfortunately for Kurt, Brittany makes you want to jump out of your seat with a fist pump and a “FUCK YEAH!”

But as much as we enjoyed the work being done on other characters, it’s the Mercedes story that really made this episode. The show has too often glossed over the undeniable fact that Rachel Berry is not the only powerhouse in New Directions and having Mercedes act as her backup singer is a disservice to her and one that increasingly made no sense. No glee club would feature people like Quinn and Finn in competition and leave a talent like Mercedes’ in the background. Do we love the idea that the only black character in the club is now the angriest character on the show? Maybe not, but in this case, her anger is quite understandable. Everyone really does tiptoe around Rachel in that school and Mercedes has every right to be fed up about it. “Out Here On My Own” was a beautifully sung and edited number, but from where we were sitting, it was pretty clear that Mercedes nailed the number in a way that Rachel didn’t. It’s time for the adult characters to start asking themselves why they play down her talent so much. When Emma and Beiste informed Schu that Mercedes was neck and neck with Rachel for the part of Maria, he was surprised and slightly irritated by that fact. He needs to be called on that more often and someone needs to tell him that he’s favoring Rachel because she sings the kinds of songs he likes the best: showtunes. There’s a subtle racial component to the story but you’re not being hit over the head with it; namely, that Schuester is favoring “white” culture (such as showtunes and classic rock) over African-American culture (like R&B and classic soul).

And we were so caught up in the surprisingly deep storylines and fantastic numbers that we never even saw the final scene coming, even though it makes the most sense. NOW we understand why the writers introduced a second glee club to the school, as nonsensical as the idea seems on the surface. Having Rachel’s rival switch to the team being led by her biological mother is going to make for some fantastic conflict – especially since Rachel knows Mercedes is right.

Oh, and one more thing about Mercedes: we never really got into this before but we always hated the way the character was costumed. Why was such a self-proclaimed diva wandering the halls of McKinley in such hideously ugly outfits and no makeup? Why wasn’t she dressing the part? Now we know: because up until now, she never really believed she was the diva she said she was. We’re not sure we love the idea that Mercedes has self-confidence now because she has a boyfriend, but if that’s what it takes to get this character to look and act in a consistent manner, we’ll take it. She never looked prettier than she did in this episode.

And finally, there’s Emma’s story. We DETEST the idea that Will is going to “fix” her through the power of love and singing. That closing number was, unfortunately, a terrible way to end what had been an almost perfect episode. But we suppose we should look on the bright side. The show has always treated her OCD almost solely as a joke up till now. We don’t want them to turn towards a melodramatic examination of her disorder, but we’re happy to see it treated like a disorder at all instead of just as a joke. There are ways you can do both and we think this episode managed to straddle that line. You can still have funny lines like “Honey, would you like me to iron some bacon for you?” while at the same time acknowledging the seriousness of her affliction. That this script managed to do both, as well as managing to introduce so many plotlines that intrigue us and make sense for the characters only reinforces what we’ve been saying about this season: we’re seeing not only a return to greatness for the show, but the possibility that it’s going to reach new heights this season. For the first time in a long time, we’re excited about Glee.

[Photo Credit: Fox]

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