There are times when I get asked about a certain show the following question: "What episode should I watch to get what it’s all about?" That’s usually a hard question to answer, because most of the shows I tend to love are highly serialized and jumping into a particular episode might leave a newbie lost at sea. Recommending "The Constant" to someone looking to get what the fuss about "Lost" is all about wouldn’t help said person know if the show was for them: they would just stare strangely at the screen and secretly hate me. But for people that want to understand the sum total of "Glee," the extreme highs as well as the frustrating lows, then I would point them directly towards tonight’s installment, "Furt." It’s the Rosetta Stone of the show.
[Full recap of Tuesday (Nov. 23) "Glee" after the break...]
Throughout what I’ve felt has been a frustrating second season, I’ve railed against the show’s insistence on focusing on the adults of this world more than the students. But in watching just about everything related to Burt and Carole, it’s more a matter of "Glee" simply not showing the proper adults onscreen more often. I’m not quite sure what it is about Mike O’Malley that takes the show from maddening inconsistency to almost uniform excellence when onscreen, but if it means the show has to forego Will/Emma/Sue in order to buy him more screen time, well, then that seems like an easy path towards take the show to the next level.
All too often, characters in "Glee" change based on whatever story the show wishes to tell that week. I’ve seen so many variations on Finn, Rachel, and the rest of New Directions (often in the same episode) that it’s easy to lose count. But, to tie things back to the aforementioned "Lost," Burt Hummel is the show’s constant, primarily because his character is so consistent. It should seem obvious that characters need organic character arcs in order to grow, but "Glee" usually doesn’t feel it needs to abide by such rules. However, in Burt the show has shown a steady, sure hand, which grounds everything around him and most importantly gives him a singular place from which to grow.
Even given Burt’s overall awesomeness, I found everything surrounding his nuptials to Carole quite moving. For some, the vows may have been too Kurt-centric for their liking (as was Finn’s best man speech), but those vows were in service to defending him during the worst part of his life. The show can be overly Kurt-centric, to be sure, as a general rule. He often serves as character through which the writers on the show can eulogize/rant, all but breaking the fourth wall in order to directly convey what they feel. But being able to plan that wedding gave him a much needed break from his bullying at the hands of David, and those vows sought to assure him that he would have people who loved him long after that ceremony was over. It worked for me in this case, though I can see why it wouldn’t have worked for everyone.
As for New Directions’ sudden rally to Kurt’s side: you could chalk it up to inconsistent writing, as I normally would, or you can look at it as an instantaneous defense perimeter established upon true recognition of Kurt’s position. While the show sort of dropped the ball on the bullying storyline last week, they didn’t completely forget it, which counts as a minor miracle in terms of continuity on this show. So while this was weeks in the making from our perspective, it came out of the blue for the glee club. Having them rally to Kurt’s side immediately (with Finn the exception) drove home the point established in the season opener: these people have essentially only each upon which to rely, and they need to take that responsibility seriously.
As for Finn’s sudden regression to the semi-homophobic, entirely immature take towards Kurt’s plight at the episode’s start: that was "Glee" having the wedding song in mind and then working backwards in order to achieve that moment.* That’s not a bad way to break down a story in theory, but doesn’t work when you break it in the context of a single episode that ignores character moments that have come before it. Where this story needed to be worked back towards was "Theatricality," when Finn’s slur kicked the tension between the two into the stratosphere…until it didn’t…only to start up again…but then dissipate…only to reemerge just in time for dance lessons for the wedding. Did every episode between "Theatricality" and "Furt" have to deal with the ice melting between the two? Of course not. But having a clear through line between the episodes that now makes sense in retrospect would have taken what was a great moment tonight and turn it into an actually great STORY.**
* That being said, was anyone else weirded out by "Glee" keeping all the female pronouns in "Just The Way You Are" for a song sung to Kurt? Normally I'd chalk this up to the show picking a song that has the proper vibe, if not totally perfect lyrics, EXCEPT for the fact that lyrics in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" were completely twisted and changed to fit the format. A small thing to nitpick, but it really stood out.
** That "Glee" always goes for the moment at expense of its overall story is why so many episodes leave individuals so giddy in the immediate aftermath, even if it leaves people like me who look at the sum total of the show’s output shaking their head wondering what could have been.)
All of this would have been utter crap had the bullying storyline ended with David’s expulsion, as I feared for most of the episode that it had. Seeing David’s dad (another "Lost" connection there, in the form of Daniel "Arzt" Roebuck) escort him out, I got the sinking feeling that "Glee" felt that was a satisfactory conclusion to this little arc. Thankfully, the show decided that actual stakes were needed in this storyline, and chose to allow David to come back in order to introduce something else often foreign to "Glee": impactful change.
How long Kurt actually stays at Tolerance Hogwarts (aka, Dalton Academy) is up in the air at this point, but I choose to look not at when they show will revert back to the status quo so much as admire that they chose to change anything at all. Having Jesse St. James arrive on the scene last season wasn’t a change so much as a stunt, but having Kurt leave at this point does show that, for once, actions on this show have repercussions. Moreover, Kurt’s leaving feels fairly organic: even if Kurt believes in his heart that the club has his back, that’s little comfort to Burt and Carole. (It also gives "Glee" the chance to have David infiltrate Tolerance Hogwarts like the overweight, self-loathing, closeted Voldemort he is.)
Moves like this, both big and small, make "Glee" feel less like something that hits the reset button on a weekly basis and more like a show that reflects the ongoing lives of its inhabitants. This episode not only showed the culmination of several long-gestating issues (primarily, the awkward Finn/Kurt interactions), but also showed it remembered events that even audiences might have forgotten about (Finn losing his virginity to Santana). That doesn’t mean that the show has solved all its problems (Sectionals has always seemed less like something the group has been preparing for and more like a dentist appointment that it’s been delaying), but if I spend review after review railing against the show’s short-term memory, I owe the show recognition when it bucks that trend.
With all the good on the wedding/bullying front, it was downright disappointing to see all of the show’s worst trends on display in Sue’s storyline this week. Everything about Burt/Carole works in a vacuum, but suffers when placed alongside Sue’s desire to marry herself while her Nazi-hunting mother (Carol Burnett, in a thankless role) blows into town to raise havoc. The Sue in that storyline bore absolutely no relationship to the rather levelheaded one in Kurt’s storyline, almost as if one of the shapeshifters from "Fringe" stepped into one of them in order to let Sue seemingly be in two places at the same time. "Glee" either long stopped knowing what to do with Sue or long stopped caring. It’s difficult to assess from the outside looking in. But she definitely falls into the Cosmo Kramer school of characterization that applies to so many on this show: she’s whatever the show needs her to be that week, any relation to previous incarnations be damned.
But Sue’s corner (or Corner, given her local TV role) of the episode didn’t ultimately sink the episode so much as serve as an onscreen contrast to all that was great about "Furt," and in turn, about "Glee" in general. At its best, both its musical and non-musical aspects are transcendental emotional. Often, the show uses music as a crutch to evoke emotion as opposed to a vehicle through which to express it. But "Marry You" was great not because it literally described the scene but provided an outlet for various people in the show to demonstrate character in a heightened yet believable manner. It was the type of sequence that only "Glee" is capable of at this moment on television, and when it actually nails these chances, the whole show soars. Once it throws off the dead weight that’s currently holding it down, this show will truly be something special.
Did this wedding-centric ep stand out for you, or leave you wanting to leave the show at the altar? Did Kurt's departure feel like a stunt, or a smart way to shake things up? Leave your thoughts below!
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