Where has Glee been keeping Rivka Sophia Rossi? According to IMDb, “Trio” is her first credit, and I have no idea how closely what aired resembles her screenplay, but this is the funniest, most interesting Glee episode in ages. It’s still Glee, so bands, friendships, and families stand shoulder to shoulder under that big thematic umbrella that’s really an excuse for a fun set-list, but so what? Will and Emma go through the typical screenplay bullshit in their quest to have a “successful emission,” er, a baby, but the only truly wearying part is how Jayma Mays is stuck playing sad and nervous the whole time. Even the hideous final-scene fake-out comes with a funny fake-pregnancy callback. And that’s just one of the ways that Glee is not only marking its old age but letting go. As it approaches 100 episodes, Glee is really, finally, truly moving on.
Suddenly, I feel awful for the juniors. It was never their fault that they couldn’t compete with characters who had a three-year headstart. At least they’re not just the adoring audience for the seniors. Kitty, of all people, made me laugh with a delivery of a line to Unique that could not be more exhausted. Hopefully Jake and Marley and everyone get to show off one last time at Nationals in Los Angeles before Glee moves to New York full-time. But you never know who will wind up in a thankless part on Glee. Sam got written off before somehow making the long haul. Lauren Zizes didn’t have it nearly so good. Tina interrogates Sam about when he last spoke to Mike and Puck, and the way he says he can’t remember highlights how arbitrary the relationships on Glee are. Santana and Rachel aren’t each other’s closest girlfriends in New York because of their innate predispositions. They’re friends because they’re the female leads on Glee. Santana says how rarely she feels the urge to talk to Quinn. Remember Quinn? For that matter, remember Nurse Penny? “Trio” is explicit: Status doesn’t just float on the wind at McKinley. It’s literally subject to the whims of an authorial god. Tina’s important right now, but ask again in a few weeks.
Still, the silliness of Glee’s production can’t help but make things interesting within the universe of the show. Here’s an episode about Tina, Blaine, and Sam—and not Artie because, again, arbitrary—going through their little high school rituals to assure each other that they’ll be friends forever while their friends who have already graduated draw lines. Ever since April Rhodes showed up—in fact, ever since Will Schuester showed up—Glee has been obsessed with the disparity between high school dreams and real life. As the series embraces a life without McKinley, that’s becoming the its central idea. Yes, Glee is about longing and identity and taking insult comedy so far into its decadent phase that every script is like an advent calendar filled with Jennifer Lawrence’s garbage-scented nail polish, but each of those is an expression of how life actually isn’t just like high school, no matter what Santana says.
Back to Artie, at the end, when Tina, Sam, and Blaine hug, Artie wheels past muttering about how gross they are. Even though they all love each other, as characters keep saying, there are actually friendships within friendships and even romances within friendships. People try to paper over it, like when the trio invites Artie to form a quartet for the final number, but it takes more work than that. Sam can’t just turn off his attraction to Tina. As the New Yorkers show, it takes communication. The scene where Rachel and Santana realize they’re each other’s closest female friend is fascinating. In spite of the barbs, they actually start to thaw the ice, but when the rest of their group shows up, the scene is no longer just about their friendship, and they remain frozen. Not even Wilson Phillips can bring them together.
That scene is also just plain funny. Rachel admits that she doesn’t have any other girlfriends, Santana tells her to take that as a sign, Rachel points out Santana’s living in a glass house and gives her this delicious pity smile. Lea Michele and Naya Rivera are hilarious playing diva: Rachel’s entitled whine, Santana’s elaborate plan to take her down, Rachel reminding Starchild of their anti-Santana fatwa. When Starchild takes her in, Rachel’s already playing mean girl. He makes his couch for her but she just looks over wistfully at his bed instead. Cut to Rachel tucking Starchild in on the Rachel-sized couch and plopping down on his enormous bed. Rachel and Santana’s faceoff, set to Laura Branigan’s “Gloria,” dramatizes the feud. At the start they agree to take turns so Starchild can see who’s better, but Santana refuses to cede ground and a visibly desperate Rachel keeps taking over. Her pissed-off background dancing is the highlight of the episode. I almost thought they were going to drive all the customers away. Starchild refuses to rule, so allow me: Santana. No contest.
Maybe it’s the humor coursing through the whole hour, but the music in “Trio” feels tighter than usual. For instance, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” is an anthem of unexpected high school friendships (for people older than me and way older than McKinley’s seniors), so it heightens the feeling that we’re just a few episodes away from saying goodbye to McKinley ourselves. “Jumpin’ Jumpin’” is just whipped cream, but it does serve as a probably accidental illustration of the imbalance theme with Tina and Blaine so smooth and Sam grunting and flexing like he’s in the gym. Tina and Blaine are always playing, but Sam always really means whatever he sings and dances. “Danny’s Song” is so spare and sweet it makes a perfect curtain for a montage of Will and Emma preparing to have a baby. And “Hold On” takes the standard closing celebration—in this case, the graduating seniors performing a song that acts as a laugh-line for the juniors—and filters it through Rachel and Santana dealing with their breakup. “The Happening” is a fun number, too, but it takes an all-queer band on the assless chaps of television and wastes it on matching suits and The Supremes, which rightfully belong to the original three Cheerios and/or the Troubletones anyway. But for better or worse, it looks like Rachel and Santana won’t let them stay a trio for long.
- The comedy begins early, with Will patiently explaining The Donner Party to his class and then, at Emma’s beckoning, rushing through the climax on his way out the door.
- Anyone else get motion-sickness from all the zooms in Sue’s office?
- Beiste uses a she-goat idiom to counsel Will. “That’s a saying where I come from.” Sue: “And where do you come from? Seems like a dude ranch on a nuclear waste site.”
- Okay, one more Sue line: “And I regret to inform you that I am canceling this event, due to budget cuts, safety concerns, and, I don’t know, let’s say Obamacare.” Tina’s reaction alone justifies her spotlight. She slumps to the ground and just loses it. You can barely make out what she says when she screams, “The lock-in was cancelled.” Blaine and Sam are standing there trying to comfort her, and she’s just writhing on the floor, ugly-crying, her hair all over her face.
- I get Blaine’s concerns, but that lock-in was leading to a hook-up one way or the other. Before Becky showed up, we were this close to an Y Tu Mamá También situation. Also Becky’s lock-in looks way more fun than what they were doing beforehand.
- Something Will is made to say: “The only work of art that belongs in here is the one we’re gonna make together.” Pray for Matthew Morrison.
- Will also picks out the name “Gandharva,” meaning “celestial musician,” for their child. Emma summarily nixes it, a perfect encapsulation of how Glee gets to look open-minded but still do whatever the hell it wants.
- Santana: “Okay, can we just talk a second about how you used to have an entire drawer dedicated to scented candles?”