Recap: 'Glee' - 'On My Way'
'Glee' crashes and burns in its winter finale
No no no no no no.
You don’t get to do that, “Glee.” No way, no how. Even by your standards, that was patently ridiculous.
Watching tonight’s episode, “On My Way,” was like watching a schizophrenic car wreck, moving in both slow motion and the speed of light. It was a PSA…and it was an extended karaoke performance…and it was a ‘roided-up 1950’s melodrama all at once. I’m not sure how to even critically analyze those final moments, since that ridiculousness wouldn’t fly on “Falcon Crest,” nevermind a 21st-century comedy. (“Glee” is a comedy, right? That’s what The Emmys keep telling me.)
But let’s back up a moment before Quinn “I Win All The Awards Now That I’ve Gotten Into Yale Against All Odds” Fabray got Michael Vaughn-ed at the end of the hour. Let’s back track to that first half hour, which were shamelessly manipulative but in a way that’s somewhat excusable. For all its faults, “Glee” finds a way sometimes to touch a raw nerve in the psyche of its students (and, I imagine, a good chunk of its audience), usually around the subject of sexuality. So the moments from Karofsky seeing his vandalized locker through his attempted suicide note were fairly powerful, especially when augmented by Blaine’s performance of Young the Giant’s “Cough Syrup.” If “Glee” has done one thing consistently well this year, it has created musical montages in which various events unfold underneath the performance of a song. Rather than stop the show dead while someone sings, related action happens at the same time elsewhere in the show’s universe to underline dramatic relevance. It’s a simple thing, but it’s effective nonetheless. Blaine’s performance wasn’t anything terrible special, but the upbeat nature of the song played against Karofsky’s despair effectively.
OK, I’m building up to this, because I want to be clear about what offended me so much afterwards. On one level, I initially viewed the next thirty minutes or so under false pretenses, because I missed the part where Figgins said Karofsky only attempted suicide. (The perils of taking notes during a live airing.) Honestly, I was flashing back to “The Shawshank Redemption” so hard during Karofsky’s ritual of laying out his best clothes that I mentally finished the picture in my head during the commercial break. The teachers’ reaction, coupled with that of the God Squad, coupled with my keyboard drowning out Figgins’ qualification, framed everything through the finale of Regionals in this specific, erroneous way. I chucked out a lot of my notes on that sequence upon realizing my error, but my problems essentially still remain.
What are those problems? Well, they primarily center around the fact that “Glee” missed a tremendous opportunity to frame Regionals in an impromptu, rather than accidentally serendipitous, way. Blaine notes to Kurt during his initial performance that the theme for Regionals in “Inspiration.” That’s something that probably should have informed every week of rehearsal since Sections, but I’m not going to worry about that right now. (Nor am I worried about Sebastian the Slushie Sniper suddenly turning into a saint in the aftermath of Karofsky’s attempted suicide. Those ways lie madness. As my HitFix cohort Alan Sepinwall might says: “Glee” is like Chinatown, sometimes.) Rather, I take issue with the fact that “Inspiration” existed as a concept before Karofsky’s attempt, rather than something created by all the groups as a way to both honor him and create the type of awareness that the show so nobly wanted to do.
After all, what kind of monster would I be to criticize raising awareness of the ill affects of the closet on teenagers? But “Glee” so often fails to plan long-term for its musical milestones that this was a perfect chance for them to justify throwing out all rehearsals and doing something from the heart with little to no time to prepare. Then again, “Glee” never plans for the long-term anyways: Karofsky has been a blip on the radar all season, with his appearances impactful but intermittent. Still, having him in the Valentine’s Day episode set up the emotional impact of tonight as well as can be expected for this show, which only leaves the problem of the Regionals’ theme. Imagine if the theme had been something trite, like “Today’s Youth” or something equally vapid. And then, after Karosfky’s attempt, the three teams decide to make the competition into a celebration, rather than do the nominally noble thing of cancelling the damn thing altogether. This wouldn’t be like pulling performances out of thin air in Season 1, or writing songs the night before Nationals in Season 2. This would be an assignment that would have merit, meaning, and emotional importance for all involved. It would erase all the rehearsals all year in an instant in order to serve a higher purpose, both moral and narrative.
It’s such a simple thing to do, and would have dramatically reframed what felt, quite honestly, like an unearned jubilee. Never mind the fact that this year’s competition featured A JUDGE WHO IS A VAMPIRE: simply performing Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” in its original form was offensive enough. For the show to feature a song with a chorus with the line, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is on the nose, but not inherently awful, inside an episode with an attempted suicide. That is, unless said song is performed without a trace of self-awareness. Then it’s terrible. We’ve seen “Glee” re-arrange songs in surprising ways in order to evoke interesting emotional responses. (Kurt’s “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” comes to mind.) For the ladies of New Directions (including the mysteriously re-appearing extras from The Troubletones) to sit down and perform a stripped down, ballad-esque version of “Stronger” wouldn’t have given the show the flash it wanted. But it would have given the episode the gravitas it needed.
But whatever: “Glee” doesn’t actually care about Sectionals, Regionals, Nationals, Internationals, Intergalacticals, or whatever else they have planned for future seasons. It’s just something that the show has to get through before apparently killing someone late for a wedding that should never have been arranged in the first place. I’ve actually defended the wedding plot this season, because it’s been stupid for the right reasons. The show never pretended like it thought it was a good idea, yet managed to keep the integrity of Rachel and Finn relatively intact. Neither of them is particularly smart, but they are too stupid to know they are wrong. They are teenagers! It’s fine! Well, not fine, but at least the show didn’t hold them up as an unimpeachable couple.
But using it as an excuse to create a life-or-death cliffhanger involving Quinn? That’s such a storytelling foul that I’m not sure quite where to begin. For one thing, it comes out of absolutely nowhere: After 50 minutes of Karofsky, Sectionals, and a lengthy segment about feeding Rory peanut butter (it involved something about dreams for the future, but it was certainly more chunky than smooth as a segment), the final ten minutes dealt with Quinn getting her life together just in time to potentially have it ended. If the first twenty minutes of the show were a PSA about teenage suicide, then the final five were a PSA for the perils of texting while driving. Unbelievable.
Let’s look at this another way: Quinn Fabray got struck by a car in what looked like Smallville from the original “Superman” film. It’s a section of town that we’ve never seen. It’s shot in a way that looked like nothing else in the show’s history. In fact, you’d be forgiven if you momentarily thought that “Glee” was slicing in footage from an unreleased Dianna Agron film. Nothing about the final sequence was particularly suspenseful. All of it was nauseating. Why? Because not for one second did anyone think anything other than what actually transpired would actually transpire. As such, it wasn’t a sequence of suspense so much as torture, as we could only sit helpless and watch the metaphorical car wreck that is “Glee” turned into a literal one before our eyes.
True story: I walked away from the computer for ten minutes in between that last sentence and this one. I had to walk away because I think this show is trying to kill me in the ways that it’s apparently trying to kill Quinn, Karofsky, and happiness as we know it on this planet. What was once a show about a small town girl (living in her looooonely wooooorld) has turned into a phantasmagoria of excess. If this show were about spectacle and pure pulp emotional exploitation, then this evolution wouldn’t be much of a problem. But I suspect we’re actually supposed to care about what happens to this people, not simply look at them through a glass like animals in a Ryan Murphy-owned zoo. (I imagine Will would stare back at me and pump his fist like he did during that R. Kelly/Nicki Minaj medley.) We should feel horror for Quinn, but I suspect we mostly feel horror at ourselves for continuing to support this show in any fashion.
(I just realized that I didn’t even deal with Sue and her pregnancy, mostly because I’m terrified that the show is going to claim it was an immaculate conception. I’d rather cross that tracksuited-laced bridge when I get to it.)
But hey, we’re now on an extended hiatus so “Breaking In” can come back and then probably get re-cancelled. So maybe by the time Christian Slater leaves my television on Tuesdays, I’ll be in a better mood. Since “Cougar Town” airs on this night now, I’ll at least be drinking a heckuva lot more wine on this night for the foreseeable future. In fact, I think I’m gonna load up my Big Carl now and drink until I forget this ever happened.
What did you think of the “Glee” winter finale? Did they handle Karofsky’s plight with grace, or was it disgraceful? Do these competitions mean anything to you at this point? Will you be back in April or is this the curtain call for the show for you? Sound off below!