“Swan Song” is a snappy episode that splits its time just right, and for the first time, the New Directions are the most interesting part. The Lima kids lose but stick together while Kurt and Rachel eke out some barely-fought victories on the merits of being main characters on Glee. Carmen’s annual Winter Showcase has particularly low stakes for such an extraordinary honor. Kurt tries to gin it up—he’s active on the NYADA blogs—by talking about how Carmen hand-writes and -delivers invitations and how freshmen never get invited. Carmen’s favorites go on to win Tonys and in one case an Oscar. Opera humorously scores Rachel’s invitation. She performs “Being Good Isn’t Good Enough,” Brody calls for an encore, Carmen nods. It’s all so arbitrary, and when Rachel is the first freshman to win—apparently it’s a competition—we golf-clap and move on.
Kurt’s victory is more conflicting. Carmen, who is on such uppers that she actually smiles a few times, suddenly decides to add him to the showcase and gives him just one intermission to prepare. Previously she told him that she sees great talent hidden behind decorative nonsense. “You gave me surface when I was looking for soul.” So he settles on a spare rendition of “Being Alive.” But the camera just Glees around the whole time, slowly but surely, which is a problem considering television is just a bunch of shots in a row. Close your eyes and Glee is having a moment. Open them and feel your blood pressure rise. Could you imagine if Glee had held a shot of Kurt taking the stage, slating, and beginning, the camera just sitting there bored, demanding that he earn our attention? Motion has never seemed more distracting than in this climactic performance, which has been specifically designed so as to refrain from superficial bells and whistles. But no matter. Kurt Hummel, special advisor to Carrie Bradshaw, gets what he wants. He earns it, even if Glee doesn’t.
Meanwhile, the New Directions lose sectionals. It’s an East Dillon moment, though they lose on a technicality. Wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Everyone goes their separate ways, because this is a High School Musical high school where you can’t be in multiple extracurriculars, even though Blaine’s in six superhero clubs and Kitty has been a cheerleader this whole time. No word on Marley’s status. It’s all fun and games and Tina-rage, except for one little moment when Sam asks, “What about those of us who won’t have a next year?” I was rooting for a sectionals loss simply because I find the motivated musical numbers much stronger and more adventurous than the stage show-offs, but the collateral damage is that Tina doesn’t get that senior year Rachel promised her.
The trade-off might be even better, though. After some sad inserts of Finn cleaning out the choir room as the cheerios practice (during Rachel’s fine performance of “O Holy Night”), Finn gets a call from Rachel that puts glee and Glee in perspective. Glee club is more than competition, she says with zero self-awareness. The club and schedule is just a structure for a bunch of different people to come together and make friends and fall in love and become a team and invest in their dreams. So Finn determines to keep holding glee club, and Marley provides him with a rehearsal space they can’t get kicked out of but which they actually totally can: the outdoor lunch area, where it snows beautifully and not annoyingly. Finn breaks into “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” Marley joins, and two-by-two the newest old New Directions rejoin the club (sans Sugar?). It’s the Glee version of the Lions meeting Coach Taylor on the practice field one night, and it’s exactly right. But seriously: Wouldn’t mind an update on Marley’s health. It looks pretty cold out there.
The competition loss has spurred the seniors to embrace a last-chance motto. Sam and Brittany, anyway (and Rachel, who must be active on the McKinley blogs). Sam leaves a trail of upturned cheerios on the floor of a high school for Brittany, hoping to start their romance with all the grandeur and germs she could ask for. They sing together, but when he goes in for a kiss, she doesn’t even turn her head. “It’s not just Santana,” she says. “It’s, like, all lesbians of the nation. And I don’t know how they found out about Santana and I dating, but once they did, they started sending me, like, tweets and Facebook messages on Lord Tubbington’s wall. I think it means a lot to them to see two super-hot popular girls in love.” Funny she should say that, because just yesterday I received a form tweet that went out to a lot of reviewers alerting me to the horrors of Glee putting Brittany in a straight relationship. Second best viral marketing I’ve ever experienced, after the guy who coughed popcorn into my hair during Contagion. Needless to say, since Brittany is not a lesbian, the optics are pretty low on my list of concerns. If the Tweedles bring down Glee, it’ll be because of the dumb dumb-blonde jokes.
- The meta angle of the Sam-Brittany subplot is fascinating. The writers are trying to value a fanbase, plea with them, and ultimately make a case for this new story, but really they’re just wresting autonomy of a character.
- Best moment in the montage of Sue’s takeover: The Individuality poster being sucked down the shredder.
- Sue tells Becky, “I’ve looked forward to this very moment for a long time, and now that it’s finally here, I’m left with a strange empty feeling.” Becky says, “That’s how I felt when I saw Prometheus.”
- “Swan Song” is full of decorative nonsense like “Don’t You Forget About Me,” but contra Carmen, it helps the episode move. I love Sue’s imagined montage of confessionals from the New Directions a few months into the future without glee club. Tina’s chatting with friends but suddenly turns around like she’s in a commercial and announces, “I’m a drug mule in Lima’s crack district.” And Sue indulges either her imagination or a soft spot for Brittany when she imagines her saying, “I’m a finance major at Brandeis. Turns out glee club was really holding me back.”
- Piano Man speaks! “Do you know how demeaning it is when they just turn to you and yell ‘Hit it!’ and you’re just supposed to know what song they’re gonna sing?!”
- Rage-Tina is my favorite. She’s earned more song-and-dance numbers, but I’ll take the wisecracks. “I knew Rachel Berry, I was friends with Rachel Berry, and you, Marley, are no Rachel Berry.”
- In lieu of glee club, Joe has joined an interfaith paintball league “where Christians, Jews, and Muslims can shoot at each other freely.”