Way back in season one, I stated my theory that Glee was actually TV’s saddest show, not its happiest one, as proclaimed by a then-current Entertainment Weekly cover. The evidence seemed so clear to me. Here was a show about kids who were really into the performing arts, with big dreams of getting out of their podunk little town. Here was a show about a man trapped in a failed marriage, funneling all of his energy into trying to revive the glee club that had been such a boon to his own adolescence, perhaps because he couldn’t think of anything better to do with his time. Here was a show about a little town out of a Bruce Springsteen song and the people who either lived in it or were trapped by it. Granted, the show didn’t apply all of these plotlines consistently (or sometimes at all), but they were all there, and they provided a nice ballast to the goofier song sequences and light-hearted moments. The show had both sides of the bittersweet coin, and that made it all the better.
I’m starting to think the show has taken the idea of being “the saddest show on television” too much to heart, though. Okay, I’d think that if I actually thought anyone on the show gave a shit what I thought (they don’t), but at this point, pretty much every character who’s not Will is mired in depression or trapped by circumstances beyond their control (or sometimes well within their control) into a spiral of misery. I guess the exception here is Brittany, but she’s been regressed back into a one-dimensional stereotype of a dumb—yet weirdly malevolent—cheerleader, so I’m sure that, like, duckling decapitation lies in her immediate future. Santana’s been rejected by a beloved family member and forcibly outed. Kurt has lost everything. Puck has gotten trapped in a horrifying love triangle. Rachel’s been taken from the thing she loves best. Finn is sad because he bears the misery of the world for some reason. Even Quinn is trying to have a baby again because she doesn’t know what else will make her happy. And poor Coach Beiste is trapped in a love triangle with Sue. Sue!
But before we get into that, let’s talk about something that’s really important. Let’s talk about Puck’s hair. Specifically what is up with it.
Seriously, what’s up with Puck’s hair? I usually save this sort of thing for the stray observations, but good God, who on Earth thought having him grow the mohawk out and occasionally spike little bits of it up and then also grow it slightly down his neck so it looks like he has a rattail was a good idea? I assume this was all Mark Salling’s idea on some level, since I highly doubt there’s a hairstylist in Hollywood who would do this of their own volition unless they secretly hated him or something, but the whole thing is becoming weirdly horrifying. When he’s on screen, I have to force myself to stop staring at the Lovecraftian beast spouting forth from his head and pay attention to what’s going on in the scene because… just try and stop looking at it, would you? It’s practically impossible! It’s like a Tribble is eating his head but just the center of it or like he’s the end result of that storyline in “22 Short Films About Springfield” where Lisa gets the bubblegum in her hair, if Lisa somehow grew up into a 35-year-old man who was still attending high school (and I think the show’s trying to sell him as a junior now or something?).
That out of my system, let’s return to the whole saddest show shtick. On the one hand, I’m sort of impressed by the show’s forthright turn into the grim. Sometimes, things don’t work out. Sometimes, the teenage boy you’re banging tries to turn your relationship into more of a thing and you realize, Jesus Christ, I’m risking everything to bang a teenage boy. Sometimes, you’re outed, and even though you make the best of things, you’re still rejected by someone you love very much. Sometimes, you throw your all into a political campaign and you’re beaten by someone who promises things they can never achieve and hauls out meaningless buzzwords. Any one of these plotlines would be more than excellent in terms of the show tackling them. Hell, tackling all of them at once over the course of five or six episodes would be awesome. But Glee is burning through plotlines faster than it possibly ever has at this point in its lifespan, and it’s doing so in ways that inspire whiplash. “Well, what’s different about that?” you might say. “Glee has always burned through plotlines like it’s half-drunk, and it’s always had wild tonal whiplash. If you’re just getting tired of it now, you’re being a bit disingenuous.” And I guess I wouldn’t disagree with that, but at the same time, everything feels amped up this year, to the point where the songs and jokes—the things that kept things from getting too sad, just as the sadness kept the songs and jokes from getting too empty—seem to fly in out of nowhere, then leave just as abruptly.
Case in point: Santana bumps into a sophomore athlete guy, who’s seen the ad that outs her (again, made by a pizza magnate as part of Sue Sylvester’s campaign for some reason), and he tells her that he’s glad she’s around because he views her, as a lesbian, as a challenge, as something that he can straighten out by showing her what she’s missing with his awesome sophomore penis. (I have to say that if Santana had any lingering doubts about her homosexuality, this douchebag probably tore them to pieces and tossed them into the flames.) All of the girls in the cast come up behind Santana and tell the guy that he’s a douchebag and that being a lesbian is not a choice and that even though they’re not lesbians, it’s not like they’d sleep with him. As a bit of drama, this is perhaps a bit too show-and-tell, but as a part of the show’s constant mission to inform the world that gay kids need friends to stick up for them, it’s perfectly welcome. (A bit weirder is Finn’s fear that Santana might kill herself, though he’s always gotten a bit too invested in these sorts of things.)
However, from there, the show transitions into the execrable Katy Perry song, “I Kissed A Girl,” with Santana all smiles and giggles. Setting aside the fact that this song is almost certainly only in the show to sell iTunes singles and setting aside the fact that Tina apparently has no problems with everybody else taking over her audition song (or with the fact that she’s no longer a character), there are at least three things wrong with this. 1.) Why is Santana so happy? Even if her friends stood up for her—which would make anyone feel good—she’s still been faced with the sort of outrageous bigotry she’ll have to put up with for the rest of her life. 2.) Why does the song follow up a scene meant to indicate that being a lesbian isn’t a choice with a song that’s all about straight girls choosing to put on lesbian costumes to titillate their boyfriends? 3.) Why does a show that’s been so good about not playing Santana and Brittany’s relationship for the usual “lesbians are primarily there to arouse straight guys” bullshit immediately turn what should be a big moment—both sad and glad—for Santana into a musical number seemingly designed to play up the potentially arousing aspects of lesbianism? Why, in fact, does the point-of-view character for this number seemingly become Finn—who sits in the audience with a big ol’ dumb grin on his face and nods his head, as if he’s thinking about how awesome it would be if Rachel started making out with Santana then and there?
Now, I suppose this could all be excused—not really, but sort of in that “I’m excusing this because it’s Glee” fashion—if the rest of the storyline made any sense at all, but the rest of the storyline, save one scene, seems to be about people trying to make Santana feel better by singing at her. Finn breaks out his concerned face so he can sing a slowed-down, acoustic version of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” with the other guys in New Directions. He also writes “Lady Music Week” on the whiteboard (which sort of amused me). Puck goes to the Melissa Etheridge, but that has to do with his own wretched plotline. All throughout, Santana’s attempting to express her own feelings, but the whole thing turns into a vehicle for other people to foist their own concern on her. Santana’s storyline keeps getting hijacked by other people, to the point that when she says her parents were okay with her coming out, it occurs at the end of an offensive number (though it at least explains why she’s so damn happy) but it also occurs off-screen. The Santana storyline has been one of the best things about the back half of season two and this front half of season three, and the scenes that should be its emotional crux are occurring in our imaginations.
That said, the show gives Santana one fairly nice moment, when it has her go to her grandmother to tell her that she’s a lesbian. Grandma doesn’t take kindly to this news and kicks her granddaughter out, and it’s a moment that’s played with a sort of bracing honesty and moving empathy for what she’s going through. The problem, of course, is that the whole scene is obviously there because Grandma is going to reject Santana for being a lesbian. There’s no other reason to include it, since we’ve already had the “good coming out” scene with Burt. And the second problem is that we’ve never met Grandma (or, I should say, Abuela) before, so her action just occurs in a vacuum. She loves Santana, and then she wants her out of her house. Will we ever see her again? On another show, we might. Here, it’s just another way for Santana’s storyline to get hijacked by other characters. (And I’m saying all of this about a scene I thought was, in general, the best in the episode.)
All of this might be okay if the other storylines weren’t utterly stupid as well, but they were. Puck’s relationship with Shelby is something the show wants us to take seriously, but it’s literally impossible to get invested in it because the series hasn’t bothered to make them a believable couple or invest much time in them at all. Instead, they hooked up, he showed up when Beth was at the hospital, then they broke up. That was about it. Then he told Quinn for no real reason, and now she gets to be upset about that and plot. And the worst thing about it is that it dragged down another scene I really enjoyed, where Puck and Quinn talked about how messed up she was, and I thought the show was briefly digging into the problems its had with the character again. I loved the way that it acknowledged that all of her actions are driven by a deep, sucking need to be loved, a need she’s never gotten filled and thinks she can fill with another baby, and I loved the way that Puck gently told her that she was better than that, that she could put herself together again. And then, of course, it just turned into more pointless Puck/Shelby/Quinn drama. Ugh. Weren’t we supposed to be over that?
And this is to say nothing of the episode’s other love triangle, that between Sue and Beiste, who were both warring over Cooter. Why on Earth is this happening? Dot Marie Jones is one of the show’s greatest gifts, one of the actors in the cast who really gives everything she’s handed her all, and this is what they’re handing her? Fighting with Sue Dynasty-style over a recruiter for Ohio State? Was it fun to hear Beiste sing “Jolene”? Sure. But did I need a direct repeat of the story where Beiste was afraid to tell Cooter how she felt when the previous storyline resolved with her being quite clear about how she felt just so the show could give Sue something malicious to do? Not at all. There’s a better show here than one that keeps getting dragged down by the adults’ escapades.
I came into this review fully intending to give this episode a higher grade, despite the general anger about it on my Twitter feed. But as I’ve written about it, the more I’ve realized that a ton of it just didn’t work and that a troubling amount of it seemed blithely ignorant of its characters’ feelings or thoughts. The A.V. Club’s Carrie Raisler said tonight that if she ignores the storytelling and just goes with the music, sans context, then this is still an enjoyable show. And maybe that’s what you have to do. Because the more I think about this show—a show I really enjoyed at one time and still hope to really enjoy and a show that seemed to be on a solid upward trend just a few weeks ago—the more it infuriates me. There are always scenes I like—the coming out to grandma and the first half of the Quinn and Puck scene tonight—but there are also always so many things that drag those scenes down into the darkness with them. Increasingly, it’s impossible to ignore that the show’s amped-up storytelling method has gotten so scattershot that for every step forward it takes, it takes 500 steps back.
- So. Will Schuster, in addition to his teaching duties, has somehow campaign managed a random small-town mechanic to victory in a Congressional election by running on no party’s ticket and basing his victory entirely on write-in votes. He also beat a heavily favored opponent. My question to you is this: How is Will not a political virtuoso on the cover of Time magazine by now? Or at least appearing on MSNBC as a talking head?
- Also: WHY IS BURT’S VICTORY PARTY BEING HELD AT THE SCHOOL? WHY ARE ONLY FIVE PEOPLE ATTENDING?
- That’s right, Burt Hummel won his Congressional race, while his son lost the student body president race to Brittany, thus apparently dooming his attempts to get into NYADA, even though we know Kurt will get into NYADA. (Okay, this season of Glee, he might not get in, and when he doesn’t get in, the rejection letter will be attached to a mailbomb that kills Blaine.) I’d have cared about either of these plotlines more if the show had invested in them at all, but in the last episode, the student body election, especially, seemed to be treated by the writers as if they’d just thrown their hands in the air and wandered off to do something else.
- Also, Rachel “pulled a JFK” by trying to stuff the ballot box for Kurt, but she was really bad at it, and Figgins nearly expelled Kurt, before he expelled Rachel. On a better series, this would be a crippling blow to New Directions right before sectionals. On this series, Will’s only just now realized that sectionals are next week, and he’ll probably make everybody write a song about how they miss Rachel.
- Is there a way the show can realistically make the Trouble Tones winners here? Without resorting to the “you’ve tied!” gimmick it used last year? Remember, Dalton’s still out there, and New Directions has to do at least somewhat well for the back half of the season to have any kind of structure.
- Just tell us how the songs were, VanDerWerff, God: Some of them were okay. I liked the final “Constant Craving” number, particularly the more montage-y elements, and I always enjoy when Puck sings. But the story placement of many of them was… uh… bad, to say the least, so it was harder to just turn off my brain and enjoy them.
- Straight guys, talkin’ ‘bout Glee: This segment is on hiatus this week because straight guys are assholes. I learned it from watching Glee.
- I did enjoy the abrupt awfulness of the scene where Puck and Shelby kinda sorta broke up. They had sex, then she asked him to leave, and then they were talking about their long-term future. It was like Ryan Murphy was standing offscreen with a stopwatch, letting them know that he was just about ready to move along to the “Shelby gets fired” plotline, so could they hurry it up already?
- Seriously, how many plots has the show set up and burned through already this season? And is it some sort of record?
- Remember: If one of your friends is outed by a pizza magnate as part of a political campaign, the way to make her feel less awkward is to focus all of your attention on her all of the time.
- "They're all so lost in their own worlds that they can't see how important this is to me."
- "That song was mainly about babysitting for me."