“Heart” wasn’t as good of an episode as last season’s terrific “Silly Love Songs,” but it was pretty good for an oft-confused third season of Glee. I don’t know if I’ve just accepted that the show is kind of trashy and awful now and decided to take my pleasures where I can, but “Heart” made me laugh quite a bit, and I liked most of the songs. Also, it didn’t actively offend me. That this translates to a B+ on our current grading curve is probably a travesty of some sort, but I’m mostly agreeable, so I don’t care, those of you who enter to tell me that I’m wrong. The show continues to wheel out plot devices by the boatload, and it seems to believe that what it needs more than anything else is even more characters, which is patently untrue, but this has always been a show that’s sloppy at long-term storytelling. It just used to be a lot easier to ignore when the paint on it was fresh.
One of the reasons Valentine’s Day works as a holiday for Glee is because it instantly translates into a type of song: a love song. And love songs are great for musicals because they pretty much do all of the work necessary in terms of expressing inner emotions and moving the plot forward. Somebody’s in love with someone else. They sing about it. The other person either accepts or rejects them. Or, alternately, someone used to love someone else, and now they’re singing about the good times. The other person sadly walks away. “Heart” utilized both versions of this schematic over and over and over, but where other episodes mostly seem to cram songs in just to have them there, every song in this episode had a clear emotional and plot purpose, outside of the obligatory closing number, “Love Shack.” And that one at least allowed us to see the strange monstrosity that was Cory Monteith taking to the camera and dancing idiotically while framed by two necking ice swans. So that was nice.
The episode didn’t have a plot so much as it had an organizing principle. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, as some of the show’s best episodes have been organized more around a general theme than any sort of character or plot arc. (“Duets” is a nice example.) The organizing principle here was “greatest love songs ever written,” and this was one of those episodes where Will wandered in to say what the episode’s theme was, then mostly wandered off to do whatever he does when he’s shoved into the “unused characters” box with Mike Chang, Sr. (who’s doing well, thank you). This meant that the focus of the episode was the many, many teenage pairings in the show’s universe, from the over-exposed (Finn and Rachel) to the under-exposed (Brittany and Santana) to the completely new and forced (Artie and Rory fighting over Sugar). It also made room for Kurt and Blaine, Kurt and Karofsky, Mercedes and Shane, Mercedes and Sam, Mike and Tina, and Puck and an entire sorority. Not too bad.
If there was a “story” running throughout the episode, rather than a series of smaller vignettes, it was the idea that everybody thinks Rachel and Finn getting married this young could prove to be a catastrophe. Thanks to time-honored TV logic, however, they’re not expressing this to them directly, outside of the members of the glee club, who all but come armed with statistics on the perils of young marriage. (I went to a small town high school; when one of the girls would become engaged at 17 or 18, it was inevitably cause for excitement, not earnest lectures on the teenage divorce rate.) All of this goes to prove a burgeoning theory I have about Quinn (about which more in the comments), but it also gives Will his obligatory moment to act concerned about his kids, when he asks if they’re sure they want to do this. They being teenagers on TV are, of course, dead certain.
Now, I suspect that the people who don’t like this episode are going to have one big reason for not liking it: Jeff Goldblum and Brian Stokes Mitchell as Rachel’s dads, Hiram and Leroy, respectively. I’ll be honest here: I thought the two were a lot of fun in these parts, which were written to be just a little keyed-up and annoying, so you got a better sense of how Rachel got to be the way she was. Their plan to get the two to break off their marriage plans by talking earnestly about teenage lovemaking is very, very creepy and just a little unsound, but I sort of like that it suggests to me that, yeah, this is who these guys are. They love their daughter very much, and they like letting her make up their own mind, but they’ve also never met a wacky scheme they couldn’t pass up. They’re goofy sitcom characters, unlike, say, Finn’s mom or Kurt’s dad, but this is a world that’s full of goofy sitcom characters, so it worked for me.
Their plan doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it results in the episode’s weirdest scene, in which Finn tries to interrupt Rachel’s evening routine to poop, and then they have a long argument that basically boils down to how Rachel sees Finn as her cheerleader and how the two of them are very different and will be forced to live together but is also, on some level, about Finn pooping. As I am 14, I found this very difficult to let go of. Anyway, then the two of them resolve the conflict offscreen—something that happens a lot in this episode, since there’s got to be extra time for all of the songs—and we’re right back to them thinking marriage is just a hunky dory idea, even as the Mr. Berrys are trying their darnedest to use reverse psychology to force the teen marriage genie back into the bottle, just like most everybody else, except Puck, who wants to know when the baby is due.
There were a few other storylines running throughout the episode, but none of them rose to the same level of plot development as the Rachel/Finn story (which, I’ll remind you, had its climactic scene occur offscreen). Santana and Brittany are being hounded by Principal Figgins—whose grave intonation of “TEENAGE LESBIANS!” was a very funny moment in the episode—about their hallway kissing, and the show gets in some nice, insider-y type joking about how it’s still much harder to have a same-sex kiss on a broadcast network than it is to have Rachel and Finn neck disgustingly. (I also liked Figgins saying, “Finchel.” I am a simple man with simple pleasures.)
This all got tied into the episode’s other ongoing plot, which was one of those things that the show seemed briefly fascinated by before mostly letting it go for the bulk of the running time. Mercedes, CHORD OVERSTREET!, Quinn, and some new kid who I gather is someone from The Glee Project are in a religious group called the “God Squad” (which was the name of the youth group at the church I went to as a kid, so clearly, ripped from the headlines here), and they decide to raise money by performing vocal Valentines for the students of McKinley, because New Directions rejected Will’s idea of performing for all of their classmates. (As well they should. Couldn’t the concert choir pick up some of the slack here? Couldn’t piano guy walk around with an accordion and entertain the populace?) Anyway, they perform a song for Rachel—which features, I shit you not, a rapping CHORD OVERSTREET!—and then Santana’s all, “Can you perform for my girlfriend?” and she makes sure to let them know she’s a total lesbian. This is a conflict introduced entirely so we can watch a new character decide if he’s okay with gay people over the course of a couple of scenes, since we already know how the other three kids are going to shake out. It’s surprisingly undramatic, and I already don’t care about the new kid, but the group’s version of “Cherish” was nice and understated.
Honestly, though, that was one of the weirder things about the episode. I get that the show needs to develop new characters and phase them in if it’s going to have long-term prospects, but it’s done such a haphazard job of things that when, say, two guys are fighting for the hand of Sugar—who’s still irritating but is at least written (and, I should add, fearlessly performed by Vanessa Lengies) that way—it’s hard to give much of a shit about the one of them that’s not Artie, and even then, you’re wondering why he can’t just run off with Quinn or something. This is a problem every high-school show has faced at one time or another. Most of them just suck it up and follow their characters to college, but this one continues to try expanding the world. It’s telling, I think, that the two tertiary characters I responded to most in this episode were Shane, who didn’t say anything but gave good cry-face, and Karofsky, who goes to another school entirely and is having a whole, well-realized plot arc at that school that exists only in my head.
I realize that all of this sounds like bitching, and it kind of is. But all the same, I thought the episode worked because it did the things Glee still does well: It had fun performances, it had some funny jokes, and it found one or two moments of emotional truth. The idea of doing an episode all about the best love songs was a good one, and it allowed for more flexibility in the story structure. Where other episodes might have tried to force all of these stories to come to a point of closure, this one was content to let everything breathe a bit more easily, letting the stories feel more like vignettes and less like forced arcs. I liked the parental guest stars, I enjoyed most of the story resolutions, and Blaine returned as a weird, sassy pirate. I don’t know if that’s “good TV,” but it’s about as good as we’re going to get from Glee at the moment.
- So, listen: Would any of you be shocked at all if it was revealed at the end of the season finale that all this time, Quinn was a copy editor for the local newspaper who went undercover at the high school to write about how it really is for kids nowadays? I can see it now. She graduates. She goes home. She pulls off her cap and gown and changes into sensible business attire. She gets in a dumpy little car. She drives over to the paper. Inside, there are but two people, an editor and a janitor, endlessly vacuuming. “I have the story!” she says. “Fabray?” says the editor. “Didn’t you get fired with the rest of the copy desk?” “I’ve been on assignment all this time!” “But… we outsourced our copy editing to India…” “You monsters. I let a high schooler impregnate me, and for what? For… for the LIMA TATTLER?!” End season three.
- Glee back-assedly stumbled its way into a Whitney Houston tribute because if you’re going to do a “greatest love songs” episode, you’ve got to figure that “I Will Always Love You” will be in there, and Mercedes will sing it. But Amber Riley did very well with it—my wife and I both thought she outsang Jennifer Hudson’s Grammys cover—and even if the final “We Will Always Love You” dedication on the episode felt a little bit like a weird parody of this sort of thing, the song was a touching moment in the Mercedes and CHORD OVERSTREET! story and a touching moment for real life.
- Just tell us how the songs were, VanDerWerff, God!: Pretty good, actually! I couldn’t, for the life of me, tell you what many of their names were, but I liked most of them on a performance level, and I have a weird affinity for “Love Shack,” so even that entertained, even though it was so obviously awful that director Brad Falchuk tried to distract us with dancin’ Cory Monteith.
- Straight guys, talkin’ ‘bout Glee: This was a good night for all of the comely young lasses of McKinley, right up to the extras from Puck’s sorority o’ love. The exception to this, oddly, was Heather Morris, who just looked strange with that star on her face. Also, the logistics of the Brittany/Santana relationship worry me more and more, since they’re obviously in love, but Brittany also puts “Purple People Eater” on a romantic playlist. Also also, Quinn looks 45.
- The foundations of the Family Berry: honesty, respect, dance.
- After hating her for most of the first part of the season, I’m honestly not sure what to make of Sugar, who seems to exist in another series entirely. I will say I’m baffled by Artie and Rory being that attracted to her, that quickly, but I’m still baffled by Rory as a character, period. I just don’t find the actor terribly charismatic, which leaves the character’s sole trait as “Irish.”
- Look, I felt bad for Karofsky there, but what did he honestly expect to happen? I get that he’s just trying to be honest about his feelings, but Kurt’s with Blaine. He can’t just magically change that by being open and true about who he is. Also, where’d he wrangle that gorilla suit on such short notice?
- I will say that for all of my complaints about how it seems like the world of Glee seems to cease existing when we’re not looking at it (unlike the more persistent worlds on better shows), I’m impressed with the fairly deep bench of supporting characters the show has, even as I don’t like all of them. And they haven’t brought back the annoying Jewish journalist stereotype once this season!
- I liked Santana telling Rachel that she was totally cool with her plan to spend the rest of her life being unhappy with Finn.
- I also liked when Sugar asked Rachel for a drum roll and got the worst drum roll ever. I like incompetent but trying hard Rachel so, so much.
- Just one more episode—regionals!—and then we’re on to a lengthy hiatus, which, frankly, I could use. Couldn’t you?