I realize that what I expect from most shows is not what I should expect from “Glee.” That doesn’t mean that I will stop trying to expect it, but I understand on a rational level that I set myself up for disappointment for expecting things like “general cohesion” and “relatively consistent characterization” to enter into my nightly television entertainment. In no way do I think (or want) the show to operate under the principles of “Terriers” or “Sons of Anarchy,” two shows that I love but operate under separate rules (even from each other). But not expecting those in particular doesn’t mean I expect nothing from the show at all, either.
“Special Education” occurred in the same basic space as most “Glee” episodes: in a narrative vacuum from which only a few strains of previous events had yet to be removed. The show once again reminded us of the Finn/Santana hook-up last year, and also found John Stamos and his plot sitting under a pile of papers in the writing room. And yes, to the show’s credit, they didn’t try to re-enroll Kurt back from Tolerance Hogwarts in between episodes and pretend like “Furt” was only a fever dream.
At times, having “Glee” just do its “Glee” thing for an hour without much connective tissue between what came before or what will follow isn’t ideal but perhaps expected, and something that can be enjoyed for what it is. But “Special Education” featured one of the two events that, no matter what else, should be signposts for the show throughout the course of the year. The show can veer off into whatever world it wants to on a weekly basis, but should always keep Sectionals and Regionals as two, ready-made points along the road. Each week could be tonally in its own universe if built around the central conceit of constructing the best possible setlist/performance at these two events.
That’s not to say that’s the part of the show I find most interesting. Far from it. But if these two events are to have any meaning in episodes such as this (and they ARE supposed to, given the panic that various people express over it throughout the hour), then retroactively revealing a relatively organic build-up to what happens onstage is a chance for “Glee” to prove it’s simply not throwing out ideas for the next show soundtrack. Rather, it could reveal a concerted effort to use the season-long intra-squad competitions/theme weeks as excuses for having lots of songs that reflect what individuals/groups are going through in their personal lives as they approach seemingly important but actually insignificant events such as Regionals. (It’s like John Lennon once said: “Regionals is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.” Right? I think that’s what he said.)
That’s why the Rachel/Kurt stuff stood out most profoundly, and most effectively, tonight. For the life of me I can’t figure out why “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” would be Rachel’s funeral song, nor why that resonated enough with Kurt to use it as his solo audition for the Warblers, but using that song as a springboard towards a better appreciation of each other as individuals represents “Glee” as its best. Was it a little after-school special? Sure, but I’d rather take Rachel The Human Being over Rachel The Walking Talking Migraine Inducer any day. Plus? The interactions made sense in light of “Furt,” in which New Directions as a whole took a stand to not simply seek to defend, but befriend, Kurt. If winning singing competitions are the nominal thread that holds strangers together in order to reveal things about themselves and each other, then the Kurt/Rachel material tonight was a prime example of how that could work.
So “Glee” CAN do these sorts of things when they want to do so. But they also break up the dynamic of two-thirds of the groups performing in Sectionals mere days before competition and then show that it’s no big deal at all to do. Then again, if the Warblers do things like The New Directions, it wouldn’t matter much, because the set list would simply be constructed the week of the competition based on the overall demeanor of the group. So bringing Lauren into New Directions or Kurt into The Warblers isn’t really a problem, as the rest of the semester is spent staging plays that aren’t seen and taking care of canaries. Plus? Lauren thinks show choir is stupid and useful only for extracting free candy. And thanks to the tie between the groups, no one suffers at all! Excuse me while I take the tape from Rachel’s mouth and put it over my own before I scream.
None of the ideas that Will had for his group were particularly wrong: Rachel/Finn DO hog the spotlight; Brittany and Mike ARE underutilized; Santana can own the stage when given the right song. “Britney/Brittany” and “Duets” proved both of these points nicely, but rather than take these discoveries and sprinkle them throughout subsequent episodes, the show tucked them into a closet and brought them out only when needed in a particular plot. “Glee” treats character development like seasonal china that way.
I haven’t brought up the Emma wedding yet, because honestly, it’s part of that “adult” world of the show that’s simply uninteresting at this point. John Stamos’ dentist has barely registered to this point, so this revelation barely registers. He’s a plot component, not an actual character, and his wordless appearance in the show’s final montage was totally jarring. But at least he got face time this week, unlike Sue, who apparently spent the episode roaming the hallways unaware that Kurt had transferred to Dalton Academy. Will didn’t learn a thing from his “Rocky Horror” experience, as evidenced by asking Emma to Regionals as his plus one, and since he’s apparently dumber than a bag of hammers, I don’t care about his heartache.
(Apologies to all of the bags of hammers currently reading this review.)
The show ended with Florence + The Machine’s “Dog Days are Over,” which functioned more to remind people at home that “Eat Pray Love” is available now on DVD rather than ironically comment on the state of things in the world of the show. Were New Directions totally oblivious to the world of crap outside the auditorium, such a number could have some power. But like always, the healing power of performance makes people in the group temporarily forget they largely hate each other’s guts at that particular moment. Such a façade makes sense in Sectionals, when they had to perform for a crowd. But alone? A sign from Rachel or Finn that their relationship had just ended wouldn’t have hurt. Instead? Finn flirts onstage with Santana mid-number as Rachel frolics with Puck. If they did so to anger the other? Fantastic. But it’s the type of “music…makes New Directions…come together” moments that Madonna (and myself) usually enjoy, but felt horribly out of place as a send-off for the hour.
Next week? “Glee” potentially ruins Christmas. Bah, humbug.
Some random bullets:
*** I am no fan of “The Living Years,” but giving The Hipsters barely thirty seconds of screen time? Sacrilege.
*** “You care about the Santana of it all!” I feel like my inner “Mean Girls” wants to come out and tell “Glee” to stop trying to make “the Santana of it all” happen. Especially when Rachel’s apparently long-standing feud with her started around Minute Three of tonight’s episode.
*** Brittany goes to motorcross practice? Of course she does.
*** I give the show three episodes before Kurt sings Nelly Furtado’s “I’m Like a Bird” while tending to his canary.
*** “You look like a cheerleader zombie whore.” Great, Artie, now I wanna see “Confessions of a Walking Dead Cheerio” get greenlit by Showtime, AMC, and FOX.
What did you think of tonight’s episode? Did the tie make sense to keep the schools in competition or just reek of the show trying to have it both ways? Did the competition stand up to last year’s version?
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