Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The RBI Report: "Original Song"

Hello, friends!  It's Regionals time!  This time last year, babies were bein' born, the Glee club was destroyed then re-born, and Jonathan Groff lost two-thirds of his body weight in sweat!  Aw, nostalgia.  Competition episodes always bring out the best in Glee, and this Regionals didn't stray too far from that pattern.

"Original Song," written by Ryan Murphy, directed by Bradley Buecker

This episode had its fair share of successes, most of them directly related to the central notion of the show: that even though this slightly dysfunctional band of misfits gets made fun of and put down, together they can achieve their dreams if they just believe in themselves.  Sure, it's a bit sugary sweet, but who the hell cares?  I defy any of you to watch any of New Directions' performances without the biggest grin on your face.  You can't keep any of these kids down, and it makes me love every single one of them.  They even busted out the foam finger Ls and confetti-slushie, in some mind-boggling self-reference!

Let me deal with Dalton first, though.  Something very interesting happened within the first act of the episode, and no, it wasn't the self-aware shout-out to the fact that Blaine is something of a solo hog, even if unintentionally.  Rather, the bird died!  O Sweet Pavarotti, symbol of Kurt's time at Dalton, keeled over in his designer-cloaked birdcage.  It shook Kurt's foundation a bit, which in turn shook Blaine's.  I must say, it was plain as day during "Blackbird" that Brad Buecker, the show's editor, directed this episode.  Who got more facetime during that performance - Kurt, or Blaine?  It was not about Kurt's performance, but rather Blaine's reaction to it, and seeing Blaine's sweet little face overcome with emotion during that number helped bolster the scenes to come.  Good directing, Mr. Buecker!

"Original Song" will probably go down in Glee history as the Episode Where Kurt and Blaine Finally Kissed and the Peasants Rejoiced.  (Some probably didn't, but that's okay too.)  It was a lovely little payoff to Kurt's character that Blaine made the first move, and it makes me feel all gushy inside that somebody really wants to be with Kurt.  And how lovely was their interaction during Regionals and Pavarotti's funeral?  I love that Blaine forced Kurt into the spotlight, which, in a single action, represents the role that Blaine is playing in Kurt's development as a young gay teenager trying to find acceptance in Middle America.  Kurt should be in the spotlight; he shouldn't be kept down from who he truly is: a lead.  I must commend Ryan Murphy for successfully and naturally keeping Kurt connected to the emotional theme of the New Directions, even on a different team.

Unsurprisingly, but certainly not undeservedly, the rest of that emotional theme was devoted mostly to Rachel Berry, and the fairly consistent ill treatment of her character by her peers.  After having watched thirty-eight episodes of Rachel being generally treated as an irritation, it was tremendously fulfilling to see her not only overcoming those put-downs through self-expression, but also being embraced and recognized for it.  Her MVP acceptance speech damn near made me cry.  Rachel Berry is not an irritation.  Where so many people on that show want to fit in with everyone else, Rachel wants to feel special.  She wants to feel chosen.  She wants to stand out.

"Get it Right" was the most glorious musical embodiment of everything Rachel Berry as a character represents.  She is fundamentally good, with the best intentions, and the empathetic desire to be accepted and treasured as an individual.  If I had to nitpick one thing about the episode, it would be the hinted suggestion that "Get it Right" has anything to do with Finn.  It really doesn't.  And that unfortunately speaks to the writers' inability to do anything with Rachel without relating it back to her boy troubles.  While Quinn told Rachel that she was never going to get it right, "it" being her happy ending, I think we need to understand what that happy ending is.  Because it's not Finn.

It's acceptance by her peers.  The fact of the matter is that Rachel is an individual, wholly and truly, even down to the fact that no one seems to get her, accept her, or stand up for her.  She is isolated from her classmates, no matter how hard she tries to be a part of something - and she tries hard.  "Get it Right" speaks volumes about that struggle.  Rachel Berry, in every way, is her own Original Song.

The third Big Player this episode was, interestingly enough, Quinn Fabray.  It's no secret that I'm extremely protective of this character, and have very strong opinions about how she should be wielded and developed in the storylines.  This episode was sort of a mixed bag for Quinn.  Early on, "Original Song" rather clunkily devoted a large narration to Ms. Fabray wherein she declared her somewhat desperate intentions to claim the title of Prom Queen with Finn on her arm.  I admit, I wanted to vomit a bit at the writers' seemingly complete dismissal of the development they gave this character in episodes previous.  I may have thrown something, I won't lie to you - especially when it was designed that Quinn would seek out Rachel in an effort to keep her away from Finn.  Because, yes!  Fake friends are exactly what Rachel needs!  Scenes with girls where they fight over boys is exactly what should be happening on my screen!

But once "Original Song" delved into the nuts and bolts of Quinn and Rachel's dynamic, we got the episode's most compelling scene.  Now, those of you who have read anything I've written know that the Quinn-Rachel dynamic is perhaps my favorite on the whole show.  There's so much genuine development that could occur for each of those characters simply by interacting with one another, and the fact that the writers have ignored this for 25 episodes makes me endlessly ranty.  But that scene in the auditorium?  Now we're talking.  That scene had so much substance, and for once, the writers allowed Quinn Fabray to let her guard down.  

Quinn and Rachel's dynamic is not that they want the same boy and have to fight over him.  They want the same life.  They share the same ambition.  Dianna Agron turned in an A+ performance in this scene, because of this:

Do you want to know how this story plays out?  I get Finn.  You get heartbroken.  And then Finn and I stay here, and start a family.  I'll become a successful real estate agent, and Finn will take over Kurt's dad's tire shop.  You don't belong here, Rachel.  And you can't hate me for helping to send you on your way.

Lord have mercy.  That is a beautiful piece of dialogue.  It changes everything.  Because it starts rather vicious, much like our current interpretation of Quinn, and then suddenly becomes sad - something we didn't expect.  The pieces fall away from Quinn and as soon as she states her future in Lima, we realize that she does not want that.  It's highly suspect, based on that mini-speech, that Quinn Fabray wants exactly what Rachel Berry wants: to leave this cow town and really make something of herself.  And that, my friends, is compelling.  I really do have to applaud Brad Buecker's careful direction and Dianna Agron's performance there.  Plus, extra points to Buecker for keeping Quinn present throughout the whole episode - there were plenty of pan-over, cut-to, and rack-focus-to moments that allowed us to keep Quinn on our brains in the narrative.  Because she interacts with the episode's theme in an interesting way.

Now, riddle with me for a second as I overanalyze things.  At the beginning of this episode, Pavarotti, O Sweet and Innocent Symbol of Kurt's time at Dalton, dropped dead.  This was no accident.  The writers killed that bird for a reason.  And I thought, "Well, I'll just wait to see why that is," and I waited and waited for a moment of symbolism with Kurt, or Blaine, or even Rachel, that lined up with Pavarotti's death.  And yes, Dalton's run at competition season is over - that's valid.  But I was expecting some deeper meaning in Pavarotti's death, for better or for worse.

And truth be told?  The character easiest to describe as trapped in a cage to the point of death is Quinn Fabray.  Kurt, and Rachel, and all of the Glee clubbers expressed joy in this episode.  They stood in the spotlight, owned their individualism, and claimed their tickets on the First Train out of Lima when they graduate.  You know who's relegating herself to a plastic tiara and a white picket fence and doesn't seem all that happy about it?  Quinn Fabray.  She could easily be that bird, trapped in a cage of what's expected of her, only to die in captivity.  Just a thought.

Presumably, this Quinn-Rachel dynamic will be continued in the coming episodes, and I do hope the writers get their ducks (or canaries) in a row concerning these ladies' similarities.  It'd be lovely to see them relate in ways that don't always have to do with Finn.  I understand that he's a big part of both of their lives and those relationships need to be honored, but there's only so many times the Glee writers can fail the Bechdel Test without getting irksome.

As for the rest of the episode, I must say I unexpectedly enjoyed the original songs put forth by the Glee club ensemble.  It was an intelligent idea to construct songs perfectly suited for the actors' voices, and as a result got songs completely tailored to the vocal sensibilities of Naya Rivera, Mark Salling, and Amber Riley.  Lovely!  And, it allowed for some seriously excellent comedic moments.  "Trouty Mouth," "Big-Ass Heart," and "Hell to the No" had me cracking up.  Plus, we discovered that Brittany's favorite song is the Rachel Berry seminal classic "My Headband," and that is always a valid use of screentime.  (I am not being sarcastic, though.  It is.)

Regionals didn't disappoint, either, with some excellent numbers from Dalton, and some solid comedy from the judges.  I love that the captions were back for each of the washed-up judges, and Sister Mary Constance may be my new favorite character.  She doesn't like being pandered to, guys, and she didn't even when she was a stripper.  Hilarious!  I do think that scene was a bit awash because we didn't get a clear idea of the conflict or any real sense of stakes with what the judges were going to do.  We all knew ND was going to win Regionals, though, so why make a big deal of the drama?  Let's just skip to the trophying so we can all hug each other and cry.

As for Sue, I mostly want to ignore her involvement in this episode, because it denied her the opportunity to be likeable.  Remember last year when she went to the mat for New Directions at Regionals?  Remember how great that was?  Well, this year she lost to them and punched out the Lieutenant Governor's Wife.  Not a good color on Sue, I must say.  The writers really need to find a new outlet for the villainy of Sue Sylvester, and preferably one that does not involve physical violence.

Lastly, I have to give shout-outs for "Original Song" remembering what happened in "Sexy."  We got a picture of what Santana and Brittany's relationship is like in the wake of last week's confession, and we were reminded that Will is indeed dating Holly Holliday, even if he probably shouldn't be on his cell phone in school.  I take this to mean there's more coming from both of these situations!

So, "Original Song" presented us with some pretty great moments that validated our main characters, reminded us why we love all these damn kids in the first place, and surrounded them with a little bit of plot here and there that will hopefully develop into something meaningful and beneficial for the characters involved.  It's perhaps too soon to say, and we unfortunately have to wait four weeks before we get any answers.  In the meantime, revel in the joyousness that is "Trouty Mouth," say a prayer for Dear Departed Pavarotti, and tough out the hiatus.

Oh!  I should also announce that I will be devoting the hiatus to another character study - hopefully two, if all goes well!  So stay tuned.  I'll try to make the break go faster for everyone by writing thousands of words about the characters we're missing so dearly.  See you on the flip side!

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: A
Dance Numbers: B
Dialogue: A
Plot: B

Characterization: A-
Episode MVP: Rachel Berry


  1. My thoughts exactly. I loved this episode. For all the reasons you've described.
    On a personal note, I love how the show made reference to the fact that Rachel is an only child (As is Lea, in another art imitating life parallel). As an only child myself, I know from experience how an absence of brothers or sisters affects one's childhood and adolescence - particularly within the context of interacting with peers. While the scene was primarily used for humor and to demonstrate Rachel's development as a songwriter, and successfully so, I see the fact that Rachel is an only child as indeed a huge part of who she is. Acknowledgment of this this fact added an interesting layer of complexity to her storyline. It was a great touch.

  2. Basically, we need to see more of Rachel's family life, and stat! Her dads clearly aren't as present as we'd like them to be, although that may just be a result of the writers purposefully deciding not to show them.

  3. Hmmm. You know, as soon as the episode started with that awful voice-over from Quinn, I thought, "it's over. It's all over. This is going to be terrible." But I, like you, found myself moved by the episode.

    The original songs, which I was worried would be terrible, were actually quite funny (if they were supposed to be) and quite good (for the regionals selection). Hell to the No is extremely catchy.

    And oh, oh Brittany. "My Headband" being her favorite song. How does she even... what is... oh goodness. I love it.

    I knew it would happen, but I was a little conflicted by the Kurt/Blaine kiss. Honestly, I'm not sure how I feel about it. At first, I thought, "After how reserved their relationship has been in the past 5 or so episodes, to suddenly have Blaine fall all over Kurt in this episode...!" But then I thought about it, and realized that their relationship has been completely weird for the past 5 episodes, so what the heck do I know?

    I can't shake the feeling, though... that THIS episode should have been LAST season's season finale. The big build-up, the "Loser like me" realization that they can make it if they work together, the self-referencing with the glitter slushies and the foam fingers, Quinn's regression to being Finn-focused, Rachel's breaking out of her box. It all fits perfectly at the end of last season, not midway through season 2. Which frightens me for two reasons. One, it means that in the writers' eyes, the characters haven't developed past where they were half a season ago, and two, it means there are some serious problems of ordering and progression in the storyline.

    It really has me wondering if Glee wouldn't be more coherent and satisfying if you swapped the back 9 of last season with the front of this season....

  4. Oh, I choose to forget that VO when I think of this episode, haha.

    As far as Kurt/Blaine goes, I think the past 5 episodes have done more to progress (or at least set up) their relationship in a healthy way. I like that Blaine just kind of fell for Kurt, a bit unexpectedly. It's sweet, and I like that Kurt's in a relationship where he's not fawning all over the other person disproportionately, y'know?

    And you have a really good point about shifting the emotional payoff the this episode to the end of Season 1. But the Glee writers have no concept of how to construct a larger whole out of individual episodes, so I can't say I'm surprised. Their timelines are often nonsensical. ;)

  5. Hey, this is probably going to sound a little 'toot one's own horn' (and I apologise for that), but your recent musings of the piano scene greatly influenced me as I was preparing a mix CD for the scene and for the implications of Quinn's words, so I'll just leave this here for you to check out if you want...

    Thanks again. Keep up the musings, because I am thoroughly enjoying reading them. Cheers.

  6. Ah, this is so cool! Thanks for linking me to it! I love the quote from The Unknown Terrorist - I've never read it before, but it's such an apt description for Quinn right now. Makes me sad. Quinn needs a hug. :(

    Thanks again!

  7. Great blog! I enjoyed Original Song, though I preferred Get It Right to Loser Like Me. It was nice to see Rachel triumph - as irritating as she can be, I do have a soft spot for her.

  8. Julia - thanks very much! Get It Right was definitely more powerful than Loser Like Me, but I enjoyed both.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...