Glee: Yes/No

Posted on January 18, 2012

About 35 minutes into this episode, during a commercial break, we opined to each other that this looked to be more of a setup episode rather than one that will have any closure to any of its plotlines. Those are always the hardest episodes to write about because there’s no resolution to anything and as the reviewer you have no idea whether or not what they set up is ever going to pay off effectively. But we figured since the show was just coming back from a month off, maybe an all-setup episode was to be expected. Certainly, we would prefer episodes that take the time to establish plots rather than ones where Britney Spears wanders the halls of McKinley.

But then a funny thing happened. There actually was a bit of closure – or at the very least, progression – to some of the plotlines in the last ten or so minutes of the show, and it was, for the most part, kind of satisfying. There’s also an obvious concerted effort here to balance out as many possible characters and musical numbers as they can and to spread the scenes around among the cast instead of having 2 characters dominate an episode while everyone else (almost literally) sings backup. If this had been a bad Glee script full of typical bad Glee script problems, the entire episode would have been about Will and Emma, with Rachel and Finn playing backup and everyone else serving as extras and seat fillers. Instead we got storylines with Mercedes and Sam, Artie and Becky (which led to a truly sweet scene between Becky and Sue), Will and Emma, and a rather major plotline for Finn which ties into the theme of the season (“What do we do after we graduate?”) and offers us an end-development that’s probably going to lead to tears and lots of torchy solo numbers. That’s not bad. Throw NeNe and Helen Mirren into the mix and you’ve got yourself a pretty decent episode of Glee.

So Emma gets the idea in her head – upon finding out that Coach Bieste beat her to the altar – that it’s time for her and Will to take the next step. This is classic Glee, in which characters have no long-term goals or motivations and act wildly on their latest impulses. Emma hears the word “wedding” and that’s all the writers need to spin out from there. There are plenty of reasons for these characters to NOT want to pursue marriage right now, like her untreated mental illness, his disastrous first marriage, which really should’ve sent him into the office of a therapist rather than the arms of a succession of women, and the fact that they’ve only been an official couple for about a year now, after a long and rocky flirtation that had them both seeking out other partners.

But we don’t actually mind the wedding thing. Romance in a TV show isn’t known for being representative of the real thing, so if Emma’s thinking wedding and that leads to a couple fun numbers (especially the “Wedding Bell Blues” one, which is so perfect, we suspect the entire episode was built around that one idea), then we’re all for it. But then they pulled a classic Will move. We swear the writers on this show are completely unaware of how much the show’s fandom seems to despise Will and how badly the character has come off, again and again and again. Sure, he managed to do right at the end, with a proposal so charming it actually choked us up, but the way he got to that point managed to once again make him look like a real shit.

It’s bad enough he once sang to her about how he was going to fix her, a moment we found incredibly creepy and wrongheaded at the time. But now apparently, he’s realized that “fixing” her might be impossible and at the very least it’s going to be extraordinarily difficult, and this is enough for him to reconsider proposing to her. We don’t actually mind that her illness is giving him pause; that’s a mature response and he’d be right to ask himself some hard questions before he buys that ring. But that’s not what he did. He announced TO HIS STUDENTS  that he was planning to marry her and BUILT A CLASS ASSIGNMENT AROUND IT, then he took one of his students with him to buy the ring, and only after he asked her cruel and crazy parents for her hand in marriage and they put the idea in his head did he start pondering what it might mean in the long term to be married to someone like Emma and entertaining the idea of cancelling the proposal. Even worse, he voiced all of this to Emma rather bluntly after she screwed up her courage and asked him about the possibility of marriage. “I like the idea, but wow, you’re kinda nuts and I don’t know if I can handle that.” Never before, with every shitty thing he’s ever done, has Will ever looked this shitty. And we’re sorry, one charming proposal number just doesn’t wash that kind of behavior away.

The writers tend to want it both ways with their characters. They want Santana to spew the most insanely hurtful things to everyone around her (and admittedly, we find her lines very funny), but then we’re supposed to forget all that when her feelings are hurt or when she’s going through something tough. This is largely true of pretty much every single character on the show. Every action they take is meant to be seen as discrete and wholly unto itself. The viewer isn’t supposed to think about all the truly awful things Will has done because we got a great musical number or two out of it and in the end he did the right thing. He didn’t actually show any growth. His position at the end of the episode was largely the same as it was at the beginning, with only a pitstop along the way to acknowledge some misgivings and act like a jerk. Emma’s still OCD and Will hasn’t shown any reason to believe he’s okay with that and will be kind about it going forward. It’s always emotional payoffs on this show but not much in the way of emotional journeys to get to that point, which is why all the characters still feel like dolls being pushed around in a dollhouse rather than real people.

But believe it or not, we thought this was a fun episode, so long as we ignore Will. There were some fun musical numbers (although frankly, “Summer Lovin'” was a bit of a wash) and funny moments. The Helen Mirren bit was gimmicky and could’ve gotten old quickly, but we laughed our asses off. And sure, we should be harrumphing over the idea of a Real Housewife getting her own scene, but we were shocked at how well NeNe pulled that monologue off. She was pretty damn funny, to our big surprise.

The Sam and Mercedes romance is full steam ahead. We had some discussion about how the dating scenarios on this show are so unrealistic; e.g., the hot cheerleader dating the guy in the wheelchair or the sexy bad boy dating the plus-sized girl or even the quarterback dating the theater nerd, but out of all of the unlikely hookups on Glee, we find ourselves buying this one completely. They have a chemistry together and Mercedes never looks so pretty as when she’s flirting with Sam.

And while there’s plenty of reason to still get annoyed with the show for having Sue careen back and forth from villainy to being one of the most empathetic people in the school, we feel they mostly got this balance exactly right this episode. We especially enjoyed the scene where she unleashed a string of insults on Artie and he only rolled his eyes and thanked her. It seems the students have figured her out and realize most of her bluster is an attempt to toughen them up and set them on the right path. Of course her history doesn’t always bear this out, but we think this is the right way to go forward with this character. The “We’re going to get through this together” scene with Becky (who is, we might add, also quite good in her role) was lump-in-the-throat time and for once, we didn’t feel pandered to.

But as always, the Big Drama is reserved for Finn and Rachel. The nice twist this time was that it was Finn driving all the drama rather than Rachel. We’re finding his story more and more compelling as the season goes on and his fear and desperation about a life post-high school is consuming him and making him do some silly, impulsive things. The scene with his mother was truly heartbreaking and she doesn’t get the credit she deserves for being one of the best actors in the cast. Burt Hummel always gets the love from fandom, but Carole is such an EveryMom; she not only looks the part (don’t we all know a Carole?), she brings true depth and emotion to the role when it’s called for. We feared the show would take a hard line anti-military approach to the story, but to their credit, they managed some nuance.

Of course we all know that Finn and Rachel are not getting married or even engaged this season, so this development has us wondering what’s going to happen next, which can only be seen as a good thing, as far as we’re concerned. Aside from the blindspot the writers have with Will and the ongoing problems of character inconsistencies, we thought this was a fairly tight script and a mostly entertaining hour.


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