Let us make a list of things that should not work. On this list, we would almost certainly have to place the idea that Finn would take Rachel to see his paralyzed friend so that she would get a better sense of how she doesn't actually have it so rough, now that she's lost her voice. In this scene, we would also have to cope with seeing Finn's friend talk about how things are tough for him and have Finn stand around smugly while he thought about the wonderful lesson he was imparting to Rachel. At the same time, we'd have to watch Rachel's slowly sinking confidence as she realized that, yeah, she DID have it pretty good. And then she'd offer to give him singing lessons after he admitted he'd like to sing and Finn said he was pretty good.
But I'll be damned if almost all of this storyline didn't work, and if it didn't play up some of the ways that Glee is slowly figuring out what does and doesn't work for it.
Glee, increasingly, is about the line between reality and fantasy. Well, it's not really about that, but that's certainly a rapidly developing theme of the show. All of the musical sequences, for the most part, take place in a sort of reality that's about 15 degrees off of what's actually happening. Glee, of course, takes place in a hyper-real universe, which means that it can get away with things like pitch-black snark or abrupt tonal shifts into blatant sentimentality. But even that hyper-reality has an extra level, when the show dances from just being a high school comedy to being an actual musical. In the first 13 episodes of the show, one of the series' weaknesses was that it wasn't sure how far it could proceed in making the musical sequences simultaneously fantasy sequences. Even though the production on the songs was studio quality, meaning lots of sharp, clean vocals and even more AutoTune, the series shied away from suggesting most of these performances weren't actually happening.
Now, the show is much more willing to take chances on this kind of stuff. Rachel can start singing with Finn's friend in his room in her normal voice, have her performance dissolve into a fantasy sequence that unites all of the glee club members in a more typical number, then return to her and the guy just singing sweetly in his room, her holding his hand. It's a surprisingly moving cut, and it underscores that the show's occasional left turns into sentimentality can be very effective when done well. Furthermore, this storyline should feel offensive but mostly skates away from actually being so because it treats the paralyzed character with a great deal of respect and because it's clearly more of a take on how Rachel's massive ego can occasionally use a little deflation.
But Glee is also reaching the point I love in a show's first season: the point where it's realized what its cast members are and aren't good at and decides to give them material that plays to their strengths. In the first 13 episodes, Rachel could be kind of an irritating girl with a great voice. Now she's an irritating girl with a great voice, but she's also played by Lea Michele, whom the show has realized has a great gift for comic timing and for underplaying emotional scenes like the one she was handed at the end. The show has been giving Michele more and more over-the-top, goofy material in recent weeks than she was given in the whole of the first 13, and the way she bombs on "The Climb" or gets caught in some sort of insane parody of the film The Conversation made for a fun bit of the episode.
But the best thing about this episode is that it focuses on some of the supporting characters and doesn't condescend to any of them. Will and Finn are present in the storyline, but neither dominates it, and Rachel's storyline is less about which boy she's going to date and more about how she's going to learn to win friends and influence people. The bulk of the episode that wasn't devoted to Rachel was taken up by another story of Kurt and his dad, one that, perhaps surprisingly, picks up exactly where we left them two weeks ago in "Home." Kurt's still trying to figure out how to relate to his dad when his dad and he don't share a lot of common interests. This leads to some amusing stuff where he tries to be more like the kind of guy he thinks his dad would like by singing Mellencamp songs and making out with Brittany, but it also leads to a very well-written scene between Kurt and his dad, where the two talk about how they love each other. These scenes keep hitting the same beats over and over, but damned if they don't work every time, and it's a credit to the believable father-son chemistry that Chris Colfer and Mike O'Malley have built up and the writers' sensitivity to both characters.
On the other hand, Puck dating Mercedes kind of came out of nowhere. I'm not going to say I didn't like the storyline, because any time the show can take us inside Puck's head for him to toss us some voiceover, it's usually a good thing. But I did feel like the storyline came out of nowhere, then never bothered to grow or resolve in a believable way. It seems like the largest number of storylines Glee can handle convincingly in one episode is two, which is a problem, since the show always wants to do three storylines in any given episode. I'll never be too mad when the show gives Mercedes and Puck material, since they're fun characters, and this was quite a bit better than the rest of Mercedes' misbegotten run in the Cheerios, but it needed at least two or three more scenes to make the relationship convincing. (Though, if we're being honest, that "Lady Is a Tramp" number did a pretty good job of doing this all by itself.)
A couple of weeks ago, I was worried that Glee was trying too hard to have more songs and more snarky one-liners and so on. But after "The Power of Madonna," where that was true, I'd say the show's bigger danger is that it's trying to veer too suddenly from sarcasm to sentimentality. It's one thing to veer from those tones from episode to episode, but within a single episode, it's a tough trick to pull off. Fortunately, I'd say these last two episodes have done a better job of balancing both the tones of the scenes and the number of songs relative to the number of other things going on. Glee still has its inconsistencies, but it's getting back to the show I so enjoyed last fall.
- I think my favorite episodes for musical choices are the ones where the show just throws up its hands and tosses together a bunch of songs that have basically nothing to do with each other. As such, I enjoyed most of the musical numbers in this one, even if I never wanted to be reminded of "The Boy Is Mine" again.
- Far be it from me to go against Sue Sylvester, but I'm pretty sure Kurt singing "Rose's Turn" was pretty much the culminating point of the evolution of television. After that, I'm not sure we need to ever watch the medium again. Might as well move on to YouTube shorts or something.
- In retrospect, once Jesse started dating Rachel, Finn singing "Jesse's Girl" was inevitable. How did I not see it coming before now?
- "I feel like that guy that lost all his hair and lost all his strength." "Samson?" "Agassi."
- "What's the point of living when I suck so bad?"
- "Get ready, black girl from glee club whose name I can't remember right now!"
- "There are so many lyrics."
- "It's Cincinnati, so it's barely the major leagues, but still."
- "There's never an excuse for stirrup pants!"
- "So you're obsessed with showtunes. Doesn't mean you're gay. It means you're awful!"
- "I came home to find this note on your doorknob. 'Do not enter under any circumstances. I'm making out with a girl.' And I just thought it was the start of one of your murder mystery dinners."
- "That and majority ownership in a tire store, that's all we got."