06 October 2012

‘Glee’-nalysis: Relationship Troubles

Alone together.
This and all screen caps from the indispensable AfterElton.com.

Watching Glee on a regular basis is a lot like having a difficult boyfriend, I have decided. Just listen to the way people complain about the show! (But change the pronouns a little.)

“He’s so cute and fun!” “His mood swings are driving me crazy! It’s like I don’t know who’s going to show up for our next date!” “He really knows how to make me laugh.” “His taste in music is so variable. I mean — rap? It really doesn’t work for him.” “Either he’s got amnesia or he’s got ADHD. He can’t stick to any subject.” “He can be really naïve, and he really doesn’t know how to make good use of his assets — if you know what I mean.”

And then of course consider how so many people brag about having broken up with Glee. “Oh, are you still watching that? I gave it up ages ago — I outgrew it.”

But breaking up is hard to do. Glee ended its back-to-school mini-season with one of its smartest, most deeply felt episodes yet — and the subject was breakups. Even as it sometimes felt I was watching Invasion of the ‘Glee’-Snatchers (“Where did this wonderful show come from?”), “Breakups” built on preexisting strengths, even to the novel extent of remembering prior episodes, and pointed to ways in which this season’s almost maddening Lima/New York split might actually work.

Heather Morris as Brittany S. Pearce.
What started as a dance turned into a joke that turned into an emotionally powerful story.

The first thing we have to understand is that Lima, Ohio, is blessed both with a first-rate train station that links directly to New York City (as witnessed by Rachel’s departure at the end of last season) and with a major airport served by airlines offering really, really cheap last-minute fares both to New York and to Los Angeles. This will help to link the multi-city plots in future.

But as we welcome the potential benefits, please note that they do come with a price tag, in the form of suspension of disbelief. Not only must we believe that Finn, Blaine, and Rachel could simply zip back and forth at will, or that Kurt could leave Lima a single day after deciding to give New York a whirl, but also that Puck could fly in from California for a surprise meeting with the half-brother he’s never heard of, stay for five minutes, and then leave again.

Presumably Mr. Schuester paid for this. On a teacher’s salary. Which is totally believable because my high-school teachers were always buying me plane tickets. As I’m sure your teachers did for you.

There have been token acknowledgments that our Lima lovelies are freakishly adept at finding cheap fares, just as there have been other acknowledgments that Kurt and Rachel’s vast New York apartment is “in a sketchy neighborhood,” so that we know the kids aren’t suddenly millionaires. But it’s more plausible to think that Santana simply drives home from Kentucky on weekends, as this week we learned that she’s been doing just that.

Acting! Naya Rivera, brilliant as Santana.

Nevertheless, poor Brittany feels left behind, to the point that she’s joined a club dedicated to the Christian apocalyptic Left Behind novels. Running the club is new head cheerleader Kitty, not with a whip but with an arsenal of Bitch Goddess behavior that makes her this season’s heir to the crown sometimes worn by Quinn, and sometimes by Santana. Because we really, really don’t like cheerleaders. (Except in Bring It On: The Musical.)

And since motherhood has taken much of the bite out of Sue Sylvester, we have a New Sue in the form of Cassandra July, Rachel’s pitiless dance teacher at NYADA. She has the advantages of being better motivated and less irrational than Sue (remember the David Bowie disguise?), and she’s played by Kate Hudson, but thus far I find her meanness too monotonous. With little to do but victimize Rachel, she’s one of the principal victims of the show’s bipolar “focus” this season.

Likewise Kitty’s primary nemesis, a new student named Marley (Melissa Benoist), whose freshness and singing I like. Here, too, the constant Lima/New York back-and-forthing means that her character remains largely undeveloped: she’s just a nice girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Likewise Unique (Alex Newell), a transgender student introduced last season, who sings like a powerhouse but has thus far been given little else to do.

What made this week’s episode special was that the multiple storylines were brought together over something basic and recognizable and true. Drawing on several years’ worth of plotting and aiming for an emotional center, the show’s writers advanced the characters, incorporated smart musical numbers, and wound up with a winner.

Ladykisses: Santana and Brittany.
Are boykisses more controversial? Guess so.

So when Blaine wanted to express his conflicted feelings about his relationship with Kurt, he didn’t sing any old song, he sang the very first song, “Teenage Dream,” with only a piano and no Warblers to accompany him — and who knew a song so dumb could be so emotionally resonant?

Four couples confronted similar but not identical predicaments, all predicated on the challenges of long-distance relationships but evolving in different ways. The two gay relationships were treated with exactly the same respect as that accorded to the straight relationships — instead of the comic relief or side-kickery one usually sees — and the cliff-hanger ending, beautifully staged as a musical number that, through spotlighting and arrangement, is nothing like an ensemble but instead eight anguished solos.* Every one of the actors responded with a spectacular performance, all night long.

Speaking of anguish, though, I’m disappointed to see that my beloved Jayma Mays is now listed as a guest star. Nevertheless, Glee will have a hard time persuading me that Emma won’t work things out with Will. I’m persuaded already that Finn would return to McKinley High to get his groove back: the glee club was the first and only place he’s ever been able to understand himself. Which does suggest that he and Rachel are finished — freeing her to be something other than the Drama Queen with a clingy crush on the Football Captain. Fine by me.

Really, it’s the camera angle. Kurt is not licking Blaine’s cheek. Believe me, they don’t do stuff like that.

The two other relationships may be determined by forces outside the narrative universe of Glee: Naya Rivera needs to get on with her career, and since Santana decided to go to college after all, it will be harder to incorporate her character into either the Lima or the New York storylines. Easing her out of the picture would give Brittany a chance to put the “Questioning” into the show’s LGBTQ agenda — and Sam seems eager to assist her.

Since Kurt and Blaine are portrayed by Chris Colfer and Darren Criss, their futures may depend on situations most likely to generate iTunes sales. Given how invested viewers are in the almost-perfect love of these characters, however, any lasting breakup is virtually guaranteed to provoke a backlash.

What’s certain is that Glee won’t be able to sustain the kind of coordination and conviction we saw this week. When the show comes back, it will screw up. Start with the fact that this year’s musical is Grease, obliging us to forget how many of the best numbers from that show Glee has already featured in previous seasons.

So, yeah, our bad boyfriend Glee has screwed up yet again. But look! He also brought us a big bouquet of gorgeous fragrant flowers to make up for it! See? He really wants us to stick around until November.

Should we break up? A quandary that should last about five weeks.
(Because, like other bad boyfriends, sometimes Glee disappears for weeks at a time without writing or calling.)

*NOTE: The exception to the show’s egalitarian treatment of the gay and straight lovers is P.D.A. While Santana and Brittany got to kiss quite a lot this week, Kurt and Blaine barely got a hello peck on the cheek, and the lack of physical contact between them — since the episode last season when they began having sex — becomes increasingly difficult to understand.

1 comment:

Prabarna said...

I think this episode was genuine enough to make feel less as a silly teenager and more as a young adult, trying to find her footing in a difficult world. I love your piece! And I am glad you mentioned the discrepancies with the way characters are moving between Lima and NYC. Anyway I cannot wait to know what is store for us next!!!