I know I keep harping on the timing of this season of Glee, but that’s because it has almost no structure, and it’s the worse for it. The ending came in the middle, and it was really the ending to the previous season, and it wasn’t exactly an ending, since most of those characters either have returned or will in the future, according to Ryan Murphy. Then there was a time-jump that skipped over jobs and moves and whittled the cast down to about six main characters. Then one of the mainest of the main characters came back after a vacation with another character, who hasn’t been mentioned since. “Back-Up Plan” takes place three weeks after the previous episode, which takes place several months and weeks after last school year. It’s relative structure. “Back-Up Plan” makes sense only in light of the rest of this whatever season.
The main plot of “Back-Up Plan” resolves within the episode, and it’s a whammy. The other two? Mercedes wants Santana to sing a duet as the lead single on her upcoming album, but everyone just drops it when Santana has to take over Fanny for a night to save Rachel. Mercedes already has a track her producer likes, so I guess this story is over? The Blaine plot doesn’t even come close. June Dolloway, a legendary socialite played by Shirley MacLaine, wants Blaine to break up with Kurt and put on a show. They’re preparing a show together, regardless, but they don’t have an arc in “Back-Up Plan” so much as a set-up. They exist as scaffolding for future episodes. More relative structure.
Speaking of structure, Jenna Ushkowitz’s main cast credit comes before “Guest starring Amber Riley.” But since the move to New York, Mercedes has been one of the six main characters, and Tina has been out of town. Then again, Artie and Sam aren’t even in this episode. Casting position has to do with contract stuff as opposed to creative stuff, but the fact remains: The Glee audience can’t even count on a main cast when it tunes in. There’s Rachel, and there will probably always be Rachel now. But she’s had episodes off just as Kurt and Mr. Schu and everyone else have. I’m starting to worry Brittany got lost on Lesbos.
Actually that moment when Santana confesses to Rachel that this is an example of the kind of friend she’s trying to be made me think Santana’s change of heart was motivated. She says she discovered the world was even colder than she is. I thought that maybe something happened with Brittany to motivate this. Nope. At least, as “Back-Up Plan” curtains, it’s just a ret-con excuse for Santana to be nice to her ostensible friends for a change. And just in time for her to be written out of the season finale and possibly series.
Murphy also reports that season six won’t be New York-centric. It’s early to complain about that, but if season five has made anything clear, it’s that Glee thrives on structure, limitation, grounding. The season’s best episodes revolve around that calendar-motivated goodbye-hello in the middle. As it is, Glee is completely discombobulated, geographically, temporally, narratively. Not to beat Glee with The Sopranos or anything, but Mad Men is similarly bicoastal this season with a fuzzy corporate (cast) structure, in part because of the fractured times. This season of Glee is an ambitious experiment, too, but in service of what? What is this show anymore?
If I breathe into a bag, I can see that “Back-Up Plan” is about five characters facing success and its costs. Really three characters have opportunities, but the other two, Santana and Kurt, face rejection. The main story is Rachel’s, and it’s pretty great. The Hollywood dreams that Rachel suddenly has always had are dashed by an agent who thinks her schnozz is too big, inspiring a powerful rendition of “Wake Me Up” that plays up the season’s timey-wimey weirdness with a superimposed medley of Rachels. Then she gets a visit from Jim Rash as a dry, funny, motor-mouth executive from Fox. He invites her to audition for the new show Song Of Solomon. It’s not a musical. It’s a space opera about a captain piloting across the Andromeda Galaxy with his alien companion, the Rachel role, searching for a magical flute so he can play a song implanted in his head by his father in the hopes of opening a wormhole to his home planet, which sounds awesome and/or hilarious but decidedly not Rachel’s bag (“It’s sort of like Guardians Of The Galaxy meets Game Of Thrones,” says one executive. “Meets Grey’s Anatomy,” adds another). It’s funny, but it’d have more teeth if it were closer to actual Fox schlock. She plays sick from Funny Girl so she can go to LA for the audition, blows it, and then gets a call from Sidney. The understudy broke her leg, so Rachel has to go on, flu or no.
Despite my ranting about the season’s instability, instability is just right for this particular episode. “Back-Up Plan” lives on suddenly changing fortunes. Rachel’s on a roller coaster the whole time, and it ends on a huge question for her future: Does she stick with Fanny and develop her name, or does she take a development deal and star in her own TV show? Santana gets the possibility of a major spotlight on Mercedes’ record, but gets denied by her producer, but then gets to play Fanny for Rachel for a day. Kurt gets exited about the socialite, but then she only wants to get to know Blaine, and then she wants him to break up with Kurt. Life didn’t end with “Opening Night.” That was just the beginning.
And there are a number of great touches, performances, and shots. “The Rose” is another overwhelming Michele performance, and it’s only heightened by Jim Rash’s attempts to cut her off. There’s a cut to Rachel barging on-screen faking sick that’s hilarious. Shirley MacBlaine sings “Piece Of My Heart” while throwing cash in the air at a benefit. I could watch Michael Lerner put the fear of god into Rachel every week, which is actually kind of what’s happening lately. “You’re an ambitious, irresponsible child. But what can we do? You’re a star. We need you.” Now, that’s an interesting idea. Explore that.
I suspect the producers think the Mercedes-Santana plot ends, when it really just tables. Either way, when Rachel shouts for attention, even from across the country, Mercedes shuts up and cedes the floor. It’s Santana’s story, anyway. Mercedes is never at risk of losing anything. And Santana is surprisingly demure this week. How strange to see her run at the first sign of rejection. The Santana and Mercedes I know would be recording a single to knock the producer’s socks off right now, if not resurrecting the Troubletones professionally.
Blaine’s test feels so false as to be a dream, weightless, passing the time between real stories. I wonder if the producers even have the power to reject their shipper fanbase anymore. More power to them if they can actually make creative decisions for themselves, but it’s going to take some work to convince me that Blaine and Kurt are actually in danger as a couple. Not because they’re so obviously in love. Compare Kurt’s ebullient reaction to Blaine’s good news with Blaine’s reaction to Kurt’s at the beginning. “Oh my god, Kurt. That’s amazing. I’m so happy for you,” he says, looking like he just picked up the putrid scent of the sidewalk. But without Finn and Rachel, without Brittany as a regular and possibly Santana too, without Mr. Schu and Sue Sylvester and McKinley High, without even a reliable New York core, Kurt and Blaine are the last bastion of stability on Glee. Come to think of it, that’s practically an argument for why they will break up, isn’t it?
- I know recording music in weird places is all the rage these days, but “Doo Wop (That Thing)” is not what Mercedes says she’s going for. They may be in an elevator, a bathroom, and a construction site or something, but that thing is polished. It doesn’t look like real life. It looks like music-video real life.
- Lots of old Hollywood references, from Montgomery Clift to Fatty Arbuckle. Meanwhile Rachel’s backlot is festooned with cowboys and Native Americans.
- The cut from “Kurt, you have to help me, please!” to Santana waitressing says it all, but actually Kurt hasn’t even gotten there yet. His plan is to get Mercedes and Santana to help him delay the show by a couple hours.