Every time you watch any episode of television, you have to agree to go along with some of the stupid things that episode of television asks you to accept. It’s called suspension of disbelief, of course, and every work of fiction ever has had to utilize it to one degree or another. This is particularly true for Glee, a show where the very enjoyment of same usually has to involve accepting that reality just works differently in the show’s universe, and if Ryan Murphy says that gravity in that world actually repels smaller bodies from larger ones, well, then I’m willing to go along with the idea that the only thing that keeps the characters attached to the Earth is a secret anti-gravity machine Figgins has installed in the basement. To that end, I’m willing to go along with the idea that Brittany believes in leprechauns, that Puck continues with his pool cleaning service and it’s apparently successful, that Burt’s going to dive into a Congressional race without a second thought, and that the proud parents of a faux-autistic student (who uses the condition as an excuse to act irritating) would essentially buy another glee club for their daughter, a second glee club that would somehow lure Mercedes, Santana, and Brittany to join it. I will accept this because it put the girls in bright blue costumes, and like a small child, I love vibrant colors.
But there are places I draw the line, even with this show, and one of them is the idea that Quinn’s behavior in re: getting her baby back is supposed to be somehow heartwarming or an intriguing expression of her character. I’ve said this many times in these reviews before, but I, myself, am adopted, and that means the show is able to get me readily with the “Rachel meets her birth mom” stuff, but it also has a harder time sneaking this business about Shelby bringing her daughter back into the lives of her biological parents in there. So I may be slightly unfair to this whole ordeal. All the same, the idea that Shelby would leave Beth with Puck and Quinn for the night, while patently ridiculous, is exactly the sort of horseshit I’m prepared to swallow to enjoy this particular television program. The idea that Quinn is going to leave a bunch of potentially damaging shit laying around Shelby’s apartment for Child Protective Services—who are going to wait two weeks to check in on a woman who may be planning to sacrifice her child, according to their report, I would assume, because of a backlog—to find is a move that takes a potentially good character, played by a fine actress, and just guts her. There’s no way back out of this. She’s being an awful person for entirely selfish reasons.
Look at it this way: Indiana Jones can outrun a boulder. The Millennium Falcon can outrun the explosion of the Death Star. But Indiana Jones can’t outrun the explosion of the Death Star. Similarly, Santana can do very bad things to break up the glee club and win Brittany all to herself—up to and including abusing the new Irish exchange student's Irishness—but because the stakes here are relatively small, all things considered, it doesn’t make us hate Santana. Instead, it’s an interesting expression of how far she’s willing to go to get what she wants. (Okay, maybe not interesting, but it’s certainly more or less consistent with her character.) Similarly, Burt Hummel can embark upon a Congressional race entirely to protect his own son and the things he loves, but because he’s doing it from a place that’s pure of heart and in keeping with who he was, it feels like something that expresses new facets of his character and like he’s someone worth rooting for (as I would hope we all are).
Much harder to do is having someone do something both terrible and huge. Terrible and tiny? OK. Benevolent and huge? Sure. Benevolent and tiny? Yep. But terrible and huge is hard to walk back from. Even when Friday Night Lights’ Landry killed a dude in a way that was entirely keeping with his character, it took the show essentially abandoning the plotline entirely to recover itself from the weirdness of the situation. And Landry was basically a good kid who accidentally killed a guy for mostly non-evil reasons. Glee’s tap dancing like crazy to say, “Hey, Quinn’s doing this because she’s really sad about giving up her baby, the one perfect thing she could never screw up!” all the while ignoring that if she gets her kid back from her mother, that’s exactly the sort of life path that would end up traumatizing the kid. Worse, I kind of expect she’s going to get away with it, since CPS will almost certainly show up when Shelby and Puck are in bed together or something. (CPS taking the baby away and giving it to Quinn for some reason? Another thing I’m willing to overlook in favor of just enjoying myself.)
It’s hard to explain just how much I hate this storyline, just how much I wish it would go away and stop ruining a character I rather like. Yes, I think that it’s valuable to consider how having a baby and giving it up has changed Quinn. Yes, there’s probably a way to do this by bringing the baby back in for Quinn to see and coo over. But Beth, instead of being an important character moment for both Shelby and Quinn, has been reduced to, essentially, a baby prop, a way to give both women something to want and a normal life for the even-more-oddly-haired Puck to lust after. Even that might not be so bad if the show were really willing to commit to the gravity and seriousness of Quinn’s actions, instead of just acting like it’s another “wacky” comedy beat. But, no. The goofy music is playing as she does all of this, followed by the treacly “you should cry now” music when she has her monologue about how she needs something perfect in her life. And then she’s singing “Last Friday Night” with the other glee kids. Ugh.
Letting complex characters do bad things is, of course, a hallmark of our modern era of television, and it plays out across all genres and networks, as show creators realize that we don’t always have to find characters admirable to find them likable. (Even Leslie Knope is basically corrupt, though she smiles her way through it.) But Quinn—for all the show’s stabs at making her so this season—is far from complex, and the show doesn’t ever trust us to parse all of this out on our own. It doesn’t treat any of this with the seriousness it deserves, nor does it let us make our own decisions about her behavior, always coming in with the score to let us know that what we’re watching isn’t something we should be all that worried about. C’mon. Teenage birth mothers always try to get back their children via wacky, corrupt schemes!
If there’s another plot that’s trying my believability meter this season, it’s the candidacy of one Sue Sylvester, who’s riding a platform of incoherent rage to prominence. Now, I hear you saying, “How’s that unbelievable, Todd?” And, yeah, there are plenty of real world examples of that just recently. But the idea that Sue’s personal vendetta against the glee club would somehow become this big of a deal, that her private smackdowns of Burt wouldn’t end up on YouTube somehow, that everything she’s doing wouldn’t ultimately disqualify her from the race on terms of general incompetence is just a step too far. Granted, it’s a fine time to be cynical about politics, if you skew that way, baby, but this is one place where the show’s satire seems particularly formless. I like the idea of Burt running against her, and I like the idea of the show pitting its most purely heroic figure against its most purely villainous, but at some point, you have to say, “C’mon.” (Also, at least this whole thing relegates Will to the sidelines, as he’s just Burt’s campaign manager. Yeah. That’s the sort of thing Will can just do in his spare time with no experience in the relevant field. Will’s a genius!)
We also got to meet the Irish exchange student Rory, who’s the latest target for the random animosity of the popular kids of McKinley High. As mentioned, I didn’t mind that Brittany decided he was a leprechaun, and I actually found his attempts to woo her via lying about his magic oddly charming. Apparently, he’s one of the people who won on The Glee Project over the summer, so maybe there was somebody out there who was really excited to see him debut. But at the same time, I was kind of impressed with the way the show just dumped him in there in the very first scene, without really explaining who he was. On the other hand, tossing “Being Green” at him for his first song was a little easy, and I’m really tired of people just randomly getting shoved around for no real reason. The show’s antagonists increasingly feel like complete cartoons, instead of just semi-cartoons, and that robs the show of a lot of its immediacy. Still, he can sing, so he’s in the glee club. Rachel even called him, “magical,” and she doesn’t say that about just anyone.
There was, honestly, a whole bunch of other stuff going on in this episode, to the point where it felt like a mid-season two episode with its lack of focus. And while I liked some of it—again, anything involving Brittany was pretty good—the show’s become so obsessed with the idea of whether the group at its center will stand strong together or fall apart divided (like its weird doppelganger Community) that the storyline of the glee club coming apart at the seams—facilitated by Santana—has already stopped being interesting just four episodes into the season. In general, I like scheming Santana, and I like seeing Finn try out his own brand of dopey heroism, but the show’s reduced them both to such bland, boring polar opposites that it’s hard to remember just why we liked these characters in the first place. “Pot Of Gold” is an episode that tries a lot of things, but it’s in that hyperactive, hyped-up mode that Glee doesn’t always nail, and this episode just produced too many duds.
- Okay, after finding her kind of charming the last two episodes, Rachel was fairly insufferable in this episode, and she barely even did anything! I think being told that Rachel is insufferable so much has become insufferable in its own right.
- Musical highlight: I’m a sucker for Puck breaking out the guitar and singing, and even if there was no good reason to sing Beth to sleep in a way seemingly designed to melt Shelby’s heart, well, I’m not going to complain about it all the same.
- Song most obviously designed to sell iTunes songs: “Hey, guys! We’ve just gone through a really trying time where we saw one of our best friends leave the club! But the magic is back! So let’s celebrate by singing Katy Perry’s ‘Last Friday Night’ for no apparent reason, then selling it on iTunes later!”
- Musical lowlight: That final number by Rory, much as everybody tried to tell me it was magical, was just kind of a snooze.
- Straight guys, talkin’ ‘bout Glee: That “Candyman” number didn’t make a lick of damn sense in the show’s narrative (as does the actual existence of the Troubletones—who should be named “Free Beer,” dammit), but it was enjoyable to me for… assorted other reasons. Again, bright colors, etc. (And I’ve been a fan of Vanessa Lengies since her work on American Dreams, so it’s nice to see her getting something to do beyond just being really irritating.)
- This episode marks the quiet death of the Three Glees theory. I haven’t really been talking about it much lately, especially since this season is room-written by a committee of around 10 folks, like most other shows on TV. But this was the first script solely credited to someone who wasn’t one of the three creators, in this case, Ali Adler, who wrote some pretty solid episodes of Chuck over the years.
- Do you think anybody realizes that Rory looks a lot like Kurt? I hope that all of the Glee Project kids are going to slowly take over the lives of some of the other characters, Single White Female style.
- One nice thing about the show being room-written this season: Aside from Santana not being in glee club, then being in glee club, then not being in glee club, there’s something of an attempt to adhere to continuity, which is something new and fun for the show to try out.
- Rachel says the club should do “Last Friday Night” for sectionals. Have the kids just forgotten regionals entirely? Or have I forgotten a bit of dialogue that waves that whole thing away? (Update: As one of you points out, I've forgotten that "sectionals" come before "regionals." I'm just dumb, as per usual. Carry on!)
- All things considered, I’m impressed that someone in the writers room has heard of Lisa Murkowski.