Last week, my friend and fellow critic Alyssa Rosenberg came down harshly on Glee, even more harshly than I did (or would have done), with an article arguing the show has become immoral. While I didn’t immediately agree with the headline, I did think Alyssa was on to something with how the show’s tonal shifts—which have always existed—make it difficult for the series to tackle larger, more serious issues and problems. The attempts to deal with important social issues—as opposed to just generalized sadness about graduating and leaving your friends behind forever—have all been clumsy this season, and they were mostly clumsy in the past (give or take a Kurt story arc). But I wouldn’t call the show “immoral,” as such, because I don’t know that anyone there gives much thought at all to the messages they’re trying to peddle, outside of on the most generic level possible. I offer as my case in point tonight’s episode, where we’re apparently supposed to be upset with Quinn for trying to walk again. Lesson to be learned: If anybody you know is ever paralyzed, and then they get physical therapy, and then they save the “I can walk!” moment for maximum dramatic impact, they are a liar.
In a way, I can see why Finn’s so upset, I guess. Rachel’s had a shitty week, and he’s got a weird sense of personal nobility. He apparently thought Quinn would never walk again, so he was going to be a nice guy and campaign with her, the better to help her end a terrible year in a nice way. When he found out she was taking active steps toward being able to walk again, he snapped, because he could have been spending that time with Rachel, and he felt misled. I mean, I guess I can see all of this, even if it makes Finn seem like a bigger asshole than I think anybody intended. And if the story had just stopped here, if Quinn had decided that she had used false pretenses to win and had tossed the victory to Santana or something, fine. Whatever. It would have been dumb, but there would have been a weird internal consistency to it.
Instead, Santana and Quinn rig the election so Rachel can win. Which, what? Look, I like Rachel. I think Lea Michele is doing a great job in the part and is often handed some pretty thankless stuff to play. She almost singlehandedly made the despair the character felt at failing her NYADA audition palatable here, and even though she spent most of the episode whining about how she’d never be on Broadway (because she hasn’t moved onto the Plan B phase of her grieving), Michele found some nice notes to play in it. Considering there was a whole musical number dedicated just to Rachel feeling sad for herself—a musical number that didn’t have a lot of bearing on much of anything—I was impressed this worked as well as it did. But having Quinn and Santana decide it was time to give Rachel the prom queen title for no apparent reason? And everybody else just kind of being okay with it? I’m picturing a young Pauline Kael, sneering, saying, “Well, nobody I know voted for Rachel Berry!”
Outside of the weird Rachel triumphalism and the way the show wanted to make us mad at Quinn for no good reason, there was some good stuff in “Prom-asaurus.” I mean, not really, but at least the episode didn’t introduce some element it was completely unprepared to deal with. Much of the first half of the episode consisted of things like Brittany pointing out that she hasn’t had a line in something like seven episodes and Becky waging an odd war against xylophones. None of it had anything to do with anything, but at least I was laughing fairly consistently, something the show hasn’t always been able to make me do this season. It was even a good episode for Sue, a character the show’s pretty much forgotten how to use this year, and I liked everything from her pep talk for Becky to her little dance at the punch bowl at the prom.
I don’t know. My standards for this show have fallen so far that any episode that doesn’t make me want to destroy all human life on the planet is an unqualified success, so I can’t tell you for sure if I really liked this episode, or if I was just happy it wasn’t as tone deaf as last week’s. Brittany did a dance with a bunch of cheerleaders wearing dinosaur heads. I thought that was fun (mostly because, hey, you’re not going to see that on Smash). Puck crowned Becky the queen of anti-prom, then walked in with her at the real prom, and that was kind of sweet. Mike Chang got really excited about the dinosaur prom theme, and that made me laugh, because I like dinosaurs, too. There were so many Will and Emma reaction shots that it felt like Jayma Mays was trying to do an E-story entirely with her eyebrows, and that amused me. The show briefly remembered how Kurt turned last year’s prom into a weird triumph, but still had that really nice moment where he’s just horrified that he’s been written in as prom queen again, and the close-up on Chris Colfer’s terrified face was great. (Nice work, Eric Stoltz!)
But I just can’t get over the stupidity of the Quinn and Rachel storyline. When Figgins was about to announce that there was another write-in winner (and, incidentally, Iqbal Theba had some great delivery tonight, too), I thought, “Oh, hey, they’re going to say that Becky won, and while that’s going to be slightly overkill, it will still be kind of sweet.” But no. It was Rachel. For no real reason. Because we were apparently supposed to be feeling sorry for her throughout, taking her side when she threw an entirely unjustifiable tantrum in the general direction of a girl who could have been paralyzed for life. (Oh, she also directly ripped off a moment from Election, thus completing the metamorphosis into Tracy Flick that was hinted at in the pilot, then mostly abandoned.)
It’d be one thing if I thought for a second that this was a series that seriously wanted to suggest character complexity or show us people who do horrible things for reasons that make sense on a character level. That would be good writing. But characters on Glee are just whomever they need to be for that particular episode—or that particular scene—and it’s a show that lost any sense of complexity long, long ago. The characters are either there to be self-consciously “bitchy”—in the aims of having something funny happen—or they’re there for us to feel sorry for them. Everything about the Rachel storyline is coded for us to find her to be completely in the right and find the moment when she dances with Finn as prom queen amazing. The cinematography, the editing, the music… they’re all pitched directly at the idea that Rachel was wronged, that Quinn was somehow a bad person for not giving everybody constant updates on how her physical therapy was progressing.
Still, it’s just one storyline, and it’s about something appropriately small-scale, the sort of thing that most teenagers are going to encounter. It doesn’t try to make it a bigger deal than it actually is, and it’s mostly presented as a really nice moment for Rachel to have, even if she didn’t earn it any way, shape, or form. (Maybe the theme of this season is supposed to be, “Everybody should be given exactly what they want, because that’s nice!”) Enough of the rest of the episode was strong, and even if it didn’t earn its “Oh, high school is ending so quickly!” moments at all, at least they were all tacked on at the end. It would have been great if this show had done a great prom episode, but I’m not sure it has one in it anymore. (Hey, at least last season’s prom episode had some thematic daring to go around.) Instead, this one was mostly about damage control, and that’s okay, too.
- It’s the time of the season of Brittany. This was a really great episode for her, even if she seemed to have had yet another personality transplant, so she would become bitchy again. My favorite moment was probably when she called that girl Rachel.
- Speaking of great moments, check out Puck watching Finn and Rachel kiss at the anti-prom. They’ve made him believe in love again!
- Fox’s little Twitter hashtags in the corner of the screen have gotten out of control. Who’s going to sit there and mechanically type in “#mrbroccolihead” when Blaine appears with a giant hairdo? (Actually, I just checked, and a sadly huge number of people did.)
- Just tell us how the songs were, VanDerWerff, God!: Aside from the fact that only Brittany herself followed her own directive to sing songs about dinosaurs, I didn’t mind the songs at prom. I’d hesitate to pick out one over another, but as the soundtrack to the kids having fun, they were basically fine. Also: Brittany and a bunch of cheerleaders in dinosaur heads did a dance number, and it was kind of awesome. I’m turning into Mike Chang.
- Straight guys, talkin’ ’bout Glee: All of the women of Glee had a fine night in their prom attire, but I’m going to give the win to Dianna Agron, who looked suitably stylish in lavender. (I obviously have a future career in fashion commentary.)
- It still sounds so weird when Finn calls Rachel his “fiancée,” doesn’t it?
- Smiley Face Guitar Man was back! I sincerely hope he’s made a regular in season four, and I hope that then he and Piano Man get a spinoff, where Piano Man carefully solves murders by reconstructing brutal crime scenes and nodding at all of the evidence, while Smiley Face Guitar Man stands in the corner and sways back and forth while he smiles and plays his guitar.
- Every time Rachel gets all of the musicians together so she can sing a sad song about herself, all I can think of is when Carrie on Homeland says, “I’ve assembled the group!”
- The moment where Mercedes and her ex shared a little wave was a really nice one and completely true to the high school experience.
- Don’t blame me. I voted for Missy Gunderson.