Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Glee: "Theatricality"

Illustration for article titled Glee: "Theatricality"

I think I'm going to have to warn you up front about this: Plots where biological parents and children come together, even when it happens improbably, are the sorts of things I simply can't review with any sort of critical objectivity. I've written a little about my own adoption and reunion with my biological family here before, so I won't elaborate on that point and get in the way of all of the Glee fun. But I continue to think that the story of Rachel's reunion with her mother is very well-handled, another emotional story that the series is mostly nailing the execution of. Again, this could be my own personal experience speaking, and, by all means, tell me I'm wrong. But I'm really digging this story, which is never heading into the sorts of areas that Glee might usually head.

As an example: I was reading a theory last week after the last episode about how there was no way Shelby was Rachel's mother (based mainly on the placement of a poster for the musical Annie in her room). And I found it kind of plausible, since this seems like the kind of thing Glee wouldn't want to tie to a guest star they might have as much trouble getting back in the future as Idina Menzel (who has, let's remember, a pretty hectic Broadway schedule). But this episode went in a much richer direction with the idea: Shelby thought she was ready to know her daughter, but she's not. Every scene between the two works here, even the incredibly bizarre decision to have their first song performed together be "Poker Face," which gets turned into a really well-done, stripped-down version of the song. It shouldn't have worked, but it did, because Menzel and Lea Michele sold it.

I also liked the scene where the two talked about their similarities, and Shelby discussed how never getting fame felt like a "broken promise." Say what you will about the adult stories on this series, but they really tap in to the sense that performing is a need for some people and a need that can't easily be satisfied once they reach adulthood. There's something fundamentally sad about all of this, and it's one of the emotional engines that drives the show. At the same time, I get the concerns that we haven't met Rachel's dads yet, that they seem like weirdly absentee parents as their daughter is off meeting her mom. It does feel a little weird to not have them there, though it also would become a story that would completely take over the show, and that's not something Glee wants, most likely.

Ostensibly, the theme of this episode is "theatricality" (you can tell what the theme is because it's the word they say the most often), and that's expressed by having the episode be centered on Lady Gaga and KISS songs. But I think the real theme of the episode is identity. The producers see "theatricality" as a form of being who you really are, but first you have to KNOW who you really are. The kids on Glee are trying on identities as fast as they can think of them, but so are the adults. The reason Shelby can't be Rachel's mother is as much because she's just not ready to identify herself as a mom as it is anything else, just as, say, Finn isn't really ready to be the guy he's becoming and would rather be the guy he was.

Let's go to the thing in the episode that worked least next, since it's sort of tied to all of this: the bullies. Now, obviously, being bullied is a tough thing to deal with, and it can be hard to see the bullies in your life as anything other than absolute monsters, but the two football players who shoved around Kurt and Tina for wearing Gaga costumes came out of nowhere. The show hasn't used them before, and it doesn't seem likely it will use them at any other time. They're just these two guys that come in out of nowhere and say mean things because the show needs to make Finn feel insecure and Kurt feel his confidence crumble. I bought both Finn and Kurt's reactions, but I didn't buy the abrupt introduction of the characters that pushed them to those reactions. Sue's been the main villain on the show, but she's an abstract villain who can't really hurt the kids. If the show had wanted some bullies, it might have been better to introduce them a while ago.

That said, I really liked the story between Kurt, Finn, and Burt. The story wasn't afraid to get into some of the complicated emotions of the moment, while still realizing that when Finn lashed out at Kurt, it was an ugly, ugly moment. But at the same time, the show let you see how Finn could have been pushed to that moment and how Kurt's attempts to deal with his sexuality might create a situation where Finn felt a little uncomfortable. The Kurt storylines have always had an emotional realism the rest of the show only pretends to, and Chris Colfer and Mike O'Malley (always good together) brought out the best in Cory Monteith, who sometimes struggles with the weightier stuff.


Everything outside of these storylines was a mishmash of bad to OK stuff, like Puck deciding he and Quinn's baby should be named "Jackie Daniels" and then abruptly deciding to announce he would like to name her "Beth" in song (though the scene confirms my suspicions that Will has NO CONTROL OVER HIS CLASS). The "Bad Romance" number was a bit of a fizzle, as it mostly just seemed to be a really, really good karaoke version of the song. (Honestly, if you were going to do a full-out Gaga version of a song and a stripped-down version of a Gaga song, I would have swapped the treatments for the two the show picked.) And the whole "power of theatricality" plot wasn't even a plot. It was just a thing that the kids talked about.

So, yeah, this wasn't the high of last week's episode, but it had some very well-executed moments in and of itself, as well as a lot of very funny lines. I've been thinking a bit about how often Glee hits the reset button at the beginning of an episode to tell the kind of stories it wants to tell. I don't necessarily have a problem with that if the emotions of the storylines remain consistent, and the show has been doing that for the last few episodes, for the most part. It's still inconsistent, and it still seems like it uses its characters haphazardly, but Glee is figuring out its identity, even as its characters struggle.


Stray observations:

  • In the comments section for "Home," someone said that if some teenager took heart at the speech where Quinn told Mercedes she didn't need to worry about her weight and just be happy, it would be worth it. And while the scenes where a character monologues about what they've learned really drag down the show dramatically, I can sort of see their value in that regard, particularly when the show can undercut them (as it did when it kept cutting to the kids in Vocal Adrenaline in their shapeless Gaga alien costumes during Shelby's speech about the REAL meaning of theatricality tonight). I don't think the show should get a pass for these moments, but I can admire the intent all the same.
  • Did Other Asian speak? Or did I hallucinate that? And how have the other two guys of the group not gotten even the half-dimensions of Santana and Brittany?
  • Good Will watching the kids sing moment: Shouting along with the KISS performance. Bad Will watching the kids sing moment: Pretending to conduct the strings. C'mon, Will! You're a teacher, not one of those novelty soda cans that dances when placed near a radio!
  • I'm sure someone will complain about this, but I found the idea of the kids just constantly wearing their costumes to school sort of amusing.
  • Also, I like that the guy who does the "Previously on Glee" voiceover starting to get jokes the most terrific idea in the history of television.
  • Rachel is named after Friends? STOP MAKING ME FEEL OLD, GLEE. I AM 29. FOR GOD'S SAKE.
  • A similar problem to the first 13: I still have no idea what performing at regionals is going to involve.
  • "Is that even a word? Achievable? Achievetate?"
  • "Yes, for several years in my early 20s, I dressed up as Elvis, but he was a Christian, Will, and he did not possess the ability to transform into a bat!"
  • "I am going to put together a pallette that expresses who you are and who I want you to be."
  • "I feel like an Asian Branch Davidian."
  • "Happy Meal, no onions. Or a chicken."
  • "It's weird. Makes my eyes hurt."
  • "You know what, fancy? You don't need an appointment at Supercuts. They take walk-ins."
  • "It's a privacy partition. It's the only one I could find on such short notice!"
  • "He's always just … around."
  • "You're going to let me wear my lady demon clothes."
  • "No, I don't want that. I'm afraid."
  • "The reason I'm here right now in a shower curtain is because of you."