Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The RBI Report: "Born This Way"

Hello, all!  This week's Glee was bigger, longer, and more epic than ever - without relying on a single artist for their theme!  "Born This Way" was a good fit for the show, because it gave focus to the defining notion that each of these kids embraces what makes them different.  In general, the episode communicated this fact efficiently and movingly.  But of course, I have a few nitpicks in choice and execution.  To the report!

"Born This Way," written by Brad Falchuk, directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

"Born This Way" had a lot going on, but the basic construct of the episode was that the involved characters were expressing various levels of denial about their identity: Rachel with her nose, Quinn with her unpretty past, Emma with her OCD, and Santana and Karofsky with their sexuality.  Each of these characters were forced to confront these emotions through one of Glee's motivational staples: encouragement, or blackmail.  Of course, all of this was set against the backdrop of Karofsky's redemption, Kurt's return to McKinley, and the quest for Prom Queen.  So let's just go one-by-one, yes?

Rachel Berry and the Nose Job
Rachel Berry got clocked in the face within the first minute of the entire episode, and was left to simmer in the background wrestling with the decision to get a nose job.  This storyline worked well start to finish, although it was strongest when Rachel was in direct interaction with Quinn.  The show made it very clear that Rachel's nose issues stemmed strongly from the contrast to Quinn's traditional beauty, and the belief that everyone (Finn included) would choose Quinn over Rachel.  Since the emotions directly linked Rachel with Quinn, the actions that manifested those emotions played well in - you guessed it! - direct interaction with Quinn.

We got that mostly in the beginning of the episode, with some lovely shot direction by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who constructed parallel shots with Quinn and Rachel, and effectively used mirrors and photographs to illustrate the idea of self-reflection and external representation in both girls.  Compelling stuff, right?  Right!  But honestly, I wish this duet had come later in the episode, after Quinn and Rachel were given more time to actually interact and have a conversation that could highlight the similarities in their relationships with self-definition and the idea of external expectation.  It would have been allowed a stronger meaning, tethering the two girls together in similarity and difference.

But unfortunately, that didn't really happen.  Rachel's storyline spiraled away from Quinn's in the second half of "Born This Way," and while Kurt, Puck and the rest of the club were there to stage a darling Barbravention (sans Barbra, though, because they're in a mall in Ohio) to convince Rachel to keep her nose, Quinn's storyline didn't fare so well.  Which leads me to...

Quinn, and Lucy "Caboosey" Fabray
The idea that Quinn Fabray doesn't love herself is not terribly far-fetched.  The show has repeatedly presented the idea that Quinn Fabray is actually, to borrow a phrase from Shonda Rhimes and Meredith Grey, "dark and twisty."  But what I don't understand from the writers is why they refuse to confront this rather compelling notion and instead paint Quinn Fabray in two single dimensions: a pretty face with a white-knuckle grip on popularity.

What should have happened with Quinn in this episode is the reveal that even traditional beauties can feel like crap about themselves.  Even a Quinn Fabray can feel like a Rachel Berry without ever having looked like her.  And while I certainly concede that perhaps it is easier to be a blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauty in this society that defines attractiveness as such, I find that saying that Quinn chose to be that way as an easy fix for her self-worth problems is limiting.  

The reveal of Lucy "Caboosey" Fabray really throws me for a loop.  It's basically a half-assed justification for the writers' own refusal to treat Quinn like a real character since she's been off the Cheerios (pt deux).  The writing reduced Quinn to a pretty face with shallow intentions for the purpose of Finn's arc, Rachel's arc, and almost Lauren's arc - only to have it spun back around on her with the comedic excuse, "Oh, she used to be heavy and pimply and a brunette, too!"

It completely weakens the character.  It ignores the depth given to her in previous episodes, cements her two-dimensional representation, and almost permanently excludes her from the show's message.  You know who wasn't born that way?  Quinn Fabray.  Because it's apparently out-of-the-question that someone who looks like Dianna Agron could have insecurities about herself.  Cue an epic eyeroll from me, please.  (And also, please know that I don't look like Dianna Agron.  But everybody's got insecurities; I don't care how typically gorgeous you are.  And past that, no character, or human, should be defined by their looks - and wasn't that the true point of this episode?)

So, while "I Feel Pretty/Unpretty" was lovely and heartfelt, it really wasn't there for Quinn so much as for Rachel - even though it was supposed to be, based on thematic setup.  But in the end, Quinn was a "miserable little girl" who only loves herself now because she's traditionally pretty.  There was no ounce of regret given to her actions, just the notion that she has been duly punished for her transgressions.  The writers made an example of Quinn Fabray.  From Quinn herself, we can only really surmise that she accepts now that the truth is out, and the idea that other people don't have to change themselves if they don't want - based on her interactions with Lauren, and Finn.  But, there was no resolution with Rachel - and for as heavily as they set up their duality in the first third of the episode, there needed to be.  It was left completely dangling.  

Truthfully, the emotional resolution was given to a Finn/Quinn scene, when in fact it should have been a Quinn/Rachel.  Then, perhaps we would have gotten a stronger idea about Quinn's true feelings about her past self and current self - and her identity as an erstwhile Rachel Berry.  Perhaps the show can salvage this convoluting reveal about Lucy Fabray and let Quinn be a three-dimensional character again.  She's more than just a pretty face - remember the girl who made a mistake, got pregnant, was ostracized by her family, struggled with acceptance, and gave her baby up for adoption?  She's more than just a pretty face.

Emma and her OCD
I have long been head-scratchy about the way Glee treats Emma's OCD.  I don't really claim to know a lot about the sociology of mental illness, but I do know that Emma's OCD was introduced largely as a "character quirk" for her - played largely for comedy and mostly trivialized for the purpose of, as Will pointed out this episode, "being cute."  So when the show takes it seriously, and regards it as something that's part of Emma that needs to be "fixed," I get cagey - especially when it's Will trying to "support her" by saying so.

Much like Rachel, Emma resisted the idea of embracing her "problem" for much of the episode, finally breaking down in a therapy session.  Man, but Emma has displayed a serious lack of coping skills lately, hasn't she?  She was singularly in denial about her condition, and my heart broke for her when she pleaded her case, that she doesn't want to pop pills so she can be how others want her to be.  I wish this scene were earlier in the episode, not necessarily to crack Emma's denial prematurely, but rather to introduce a rather intriguing concept for a "born this way" episode - how do you know if you actually were born this way?  Does promoting self-acceptance work if you were born with something that's not genetic, physical, or sexual - like a bad attitude, or obsessive compulsive disorder?

It raises interesting questions, and like I said, I don't profess to be an expert about the societal implications of OCD and what that means for Emma's storyline.  I did appreciate very much the fact that Emma's therapist blatantly stated that there is a stigma that goes along with mental illness, which colors how we process information about those conditions.  That is true, and perhaps even has an effect on how the writers are manifesting the storyline itself.

The one thing that makes me wary about Emma's arc is the idea that her OCD is preventing her from being who she is.  That's a 100% valid, and beautiful, expression, but if "who she is" could be replaced with the phrase "with Will," then cue a million eyerolls from this cynic.  The message should not be that Emma needs to get past her OCD just so she can have a relationship with Will.  It needs to connect to Emma's identity and her capacity to live her life - which, may I remind the writers, seemed to improve naturally while she was dating Carl.  It's tricky waters to maneuver here, and it's going to take some sophistication to make the Will-Emma-OCD construct to work fluidly.

Santana, Karofsky, and Sexuality
Naturally, "Born This Way" gave us a Santana and a Karofsky speaking openly about their sexuality, but still refusing to confront it and wear it proudly.  For the most part, Santana and Karofsky's emotional arcs worked with the context of the episode.  I have reservations about the return of Karofsky in combination with the return of Kurt, but we'll get to that in a second.  In terms of sexuality, "Born This Way" gave Santana and Karofsky progress - but certainly not any resolution.  Sure, they've given up bullying in favor of bearding and beret-wearing, but at the end of the day, they're still sitting in the audience when everyone's onstage touting their differences.  Although - Santana's at least wearing the shirt, even if she's not dancing, which is a lovely character choice. 

In general, the writing for Santana was on-target in this episode, although they seem to be going a bit overboard on reminding us that Santana is both a bitch and also gay.  We get it, we promise!  Although, it is a curious distinction in the idea that Santana has no (or at least fewer) qualms about coming out to Karofsky than confronting the idea of labeling her love with Brittany.  Brittany hit the nail on the head, verbalizing the notion that Santana doesn't love herself as much as she loves Brittany, which is darling and tragic and true.  So here's hoping Santana sticks on her path towards real self-acceptance - because wearing "bitch" on her shirt instead of "Lebanese" (or "lesbian," rather) is much like Emma choosing "ginger" instead of "OCD."  It's a phantom problem.  (Santana clearly has no issues with the fact that she called her delivering nurse fat, straight out of the womb.)

Prom Queen, Karofsky's Redemption, and Kurt's Return to McKinley
Honestly, there were problems with all three plot frames the episode presented.

Returning Kurt to McKinley is a tricky issue because the writers wrote themselves into a corner.  Inherently, as an audience, we want Kurt to "come home" to McKinley because we want to see him sing solos like "As If We Never Said Goodbye" (seriously, how good was that?  I have no words, only tears) and be with his friends and not stuck in that red-trimmed uniform, no matter how happy Dalton made him.  McKinley is where he belongs.

But the show set up the promise that Kurt could only return when the halls of McKinley High were truly safe for him.  Because Dave Karofsky threatened his life a dozen episodes ago, and is wandering around unpunished.  The writers are clearly aware of this construct, but did little to redeem Karofsky in Kurt's absence - and shoved Kurt's return (conveniently after the curtain call of Dalton's competition run) in the same episode as Karofsky saying he's changed and donning a red beret with Santana.

Oh, writers.  Show, don't tell!  I will believe Karofsky has changed when he's proved it, through actions, and not because he wants a Big Gay Beard and a chance at Prom King to boot.  And the idea that Santana got tangled up in the storyline with random intentions to seize Prom Queen from Quinn felt left of center as well - especially considering a serious flaw in logic.  Santana reasoned that if she returned Kurt to McKinley, everybody would love it and vote for her.  But isn't this the high school that was so inhospitable that Kurt had to flee to a private school?  Why would Kurt's return mean anything to anyone other than those twelve kids in Glee Club?  It's flawed logic, and clunky handling in an effort to neutralize the tension between Kurt and Karofsky, involve Santana, and simultaneously allow Kurt his place in Glee Club again.  

The race for Prom Queen was also a bit lackluster, if only because it resulted in said flawed logic, and the stomach-turning reveal that Quinn is as falsely beautiful as they come.  The only reward from the storyline was the glimmer of solidarity between Lauren and Quinn, who frankly are both strong broads who deserve a strong-broad friendship in their lives.

Speaking to that notion, there were many rewarding character interactions and moments that carried through quietly and strongly.  Points to Tina, who, as usual, charged through an entire episodic character arc in the background, in two hardly-far-apart scenes.  Even with the development offscreen and unexplained, I cheered for her statement about being an Asian sex symbol, and championed her championing of Rachel keeping her nose.  

All of Glee Club's support of Rachel was dearly welcome, from Puck cornering her in the girl's bathroom (!!!) to Mike encouraging her onstage for "Born This Way."  This episode was strong in reminding us that these characters are actually friends and care for each others' well-being.  Kurt group hug!  I got teary-eyed at his return, I won't even lie to you.

Points also to Burt Hummel, who basically expressed every audience member's reservations about Kurt coming back to McKinley - which is how we know the writers are fully aware of the stipulations of the scenario.  They're just choosing to use Burt as an outlet for them, rather than manifesting them in a storyline.  

I do also want to give credit to Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's direction.  This is his fourth episode directing Glee and what has largely stuck in my mind about that time is his work with "Grilled Cheesus."  Personally, I wasn't a fan.  But "Born This Way" seriously impressed me.  His use of reaction shots (Santana during the "born this way" t-shirt plan), interesting camera work (dutch angles during Lauren revealing Quinn's secret, the inside-the-locker shots with Finn and Quinn, the entirety of "I Feel Pretty/Unpretty"), and parallel editing (the choice to cut to black on Rachel's profile and cut up from black to Quinn's profile) - I must say, all of "Born This Way" was carefully directed with a quiet and artistic style I rather appreciated.  Even when the writing wasn't communicating emotional undercurrents, Gomez-Rejon's direction was.  Well done, sir!  Come back soon!

And finally, credit where credit is due on the songs this episode.  Every song was an A+ venture, from the softly heartbreaking harmonies of "I Feel Pretty/Unpretty" to the fierce exuberance in "Born This Way."  Every singing voice in the episode was strong, emotional, and impacting - and currently on repeat in an iTunes playlist.

In all, "Born This Way" presented a message true to Glee's essential identity, with lovely character moments for nearly everyone.  Unfortunately, the reveal of Lucy Fabray twisted Quinn's participation in the theme, and left a poor taste in my mouth.  Even with that, and some clunky handling and neglected payoffs, the bulk of the episode's content was compelling and emotionally rewarding.

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

Characterization: B
Episode MVP:
Kurt Hummel, for being comfortable with himself from start to finish, showing mercy to Karofsky (even though he probably shouldn't), supporting Rachel, for a stunning performance with "As If We Never Said Goodbye," and for plain ol' COMING BACK TO US.


  1. About Emma: the thing is that she really wants to be with Will. So a very important part of the Emma she would like to be is an Emma that can be with Will. I actually really like the Emma/Will/OCD arc because it shows that getting professional help and taking medications for a mental illness is a positive step...like a diabetic taking insulin. If Emma can control her OCD, she can live her dreams...the most important one just might be being in a healthy relationship with a man she loves.

  2. I haven't seen the episode yet but I've been reading comments on Glee comms on LJ and guuuuuh I have so many feelings, particularly about the Quinn story line.

    Allow me to have a little rant because I really need someone to discuss this with.

    Okay, let me get this straight, because what I know is just based from what I've read online, and I want to be sure. Quinn used to be called "Lucy" (is that her middle name or what?), was fat, and a brunette, and just plain unattractive, which was why she was teased "Lucy Caboosey," so she got a nose job etc etc and transferred to McKinley in order to become pretty and accepted by peers? How does that tie in to an episode with a theme "Born This Way"? The episode was about accepting ourselves for who we are! And yet we get a story line where Quinn used to be so insecure that she had to have a nose job in middle school? Okay, so I know it isn't as far-fetched as it sounds, because I've seen younger teens/tweens who have gotten plastic surgeries etc, but just. It was just so unnecessary!

    Don't get me wrong, I love that Quinn's finally getting a story line that's just about her and not about guys and relationships, but couldn't her story line just have been about someone who looks as gorgeous as her who can still feel bad about herself? Is it not possible for a pretty, popular girl to feel insecure? That could've been a much, MUCH better story line than this...Lucy Caboosey story. I still can't wrap my head around it. It DOES feel like the writers just pulled it out of thin air and doesn't tie in well with what we already know about her character. Like that Quinn/Mercedes conversation in the back9, during Funk. I distinctly remember Mercedes saying "You know how it feels to be a minority sometimes" and Quinn was all, "For nine months. You've had to deal with this your whole life. People making assumptions and calling you names." And then THIS? (Clearly, we fans remember a lot more details about the show than its writers do.)

    I don't even know what the writers are doing to Quinn lately. Do they honestly HATE her character? She had SO MUCH POTENTIAL. She used to be Ms. Popular Head Cheerleader with the pretty (pretty) face with a seemingly perfect family and seemingly perfect life - then she got pregnant and had everything in her life taken away from her. She could've had a story line about how she feels about Beth being taken away, about her renewed romance with Finn, about dad leaving them, about her mom being spineless and only leaving her dad after he cheated on her, about being left without a home, about Glee Club....basically how her life was turned upside-down in a year. I don't know, there are a LOT of ideas out there! Why couldn't just take what they already had and developed it?

    From what we've seen, Quinn is a character with so many layers and so much depth, but someone who's guarded and doesn't just let anyone in. There's so much potential with that and yet the writers disappoint me yet again. I JUST. *SIGH* Wasted potential. Brad Falchuk has disappointed me, and he's actually the one I like best out of the bunch.

    If they suddenly forget the whole Lucy Caboosey thing next episode, I will be annoyed. Which they most probably would, which means that I probably will.

    I wonder what Dianna thinks about where the writers are taking Quinn....

    (end of extra long rant, I apologize. I just had to. Also, I need to watch the ep so I can comment on the other parts of the episode. I can agree that the songs for this ep are amazing, especially the Dianna/Lea mashup. I'm not that crazy about Gaga's Born This Way, though.)

  3. Overall I liked the episode, musically I thought it was strong and some really good acting from several cast members, the Lucy Caboose reveal didn’t bother me as much. Fundamentally I think you are right in what you wrote, but I am holding off to see where else this takes us in the next few episodes. While the notion of Lucy Caboose may not be front and center again, I do think the it plays into what might be to come for her character. I think it can play into Quinn accepting the truth about what happened last year as much as she didn’t accept the truth about the fact she was Lucy once in her life. Her confronting Lucy hopefully will be the start of getting to that third dimension you wrote about. More than anyone I am frustrated by the writers not going back to the Baby/Abandonment ( I agree with previous writings that plot is more than just a baby) construct and what that means for Quinn and Puck. It is impossible to know what the writers motivations in this regard are, I vacillate between they will never ever touch on it again to it will be one of those Glee moments that we hear nothing about till it comes back at us out of the blue full force. Till/If we get that moment, I’ll take what development we can get from Quinn and enjoy every great scene Dianna gives us.

    Frankly, I would be more bothered by the fact that the writers have decided to elevate Lauren above Tina, Mike, Mercedes, and Artie. Puck not having any feelings for Quinn after being crushed about not having his feelings reciprocated almost all season 1 (this was manifested tonight in him not having a second thought about pushing Lauren into the Prom Queen race, you would have thought pitting her against Quinn should at least be a plot point no matter how brief).

  4. Suprised no comment on the awfulness that were Lauren's actions in this episode. As the scene was playing out I expected her to tell Quinn she thought about spreading it, then realized she can relate to her and it would be wrong to treat her this way, just like she should know better about treating people that way after her past. Afterall she took offense to Puck singing about her big butt in Silly Love Songs.

    What she did and the brief joy she took in it was way over the top and mean. Even if you see it as Quinn got some of what she has dished, it was still very wrong of Lauren. I was glad to see them come to a resolution at the end, but still.

  5. I loved this episode so much, maybe I liked it more than I usually would have because I watched it with my best friend. I do agree the Lucy Caboose thing didn't make that much sense, or have any real connection with the episode but I think it will tie in with the following episodes. It's called build up woman! ha ha. I loved the mash up song Rachel and Quinn did, fantastic episode all over with a few blemishes.

  6. did the writers forget they already had a cosmetic surgery veteran in glee club? santana is the one who said if you see something you don't like, change it. and yet never once throughout the episode did anyone mention that she got the boob job. remembering that she had it made her comment mean something... until there was no follow-through. was it too much to take a minute to have anyone ask her if she felt better about herself for having done it? that could have helped rachel's decision. if nothing else, it could have been referenced on a t-shirt. but no, if sue's not making a joke about it, the boob job doesn't exist.

    i agree that quinn's story was a missed opportunity to point out that beautiful people can dislike/feel bad about themselves. quinn is very beautiful. she is also intelligent, perceptive, and manipulative. and none of that saved her last year when she got pregnant, lied about the father, lost her cheerios spot, got thrown out of her home, etc etc etc. last year, quinn was everything her father wanted her to be, and he doted on her until she made one mistake. then she was dead to him. and after all that, she walked back into the halls of mckinley in the fall and took everything back, and rather easily. i would imagine quinn has crazy issues with stability. everything for her is fleeting. if she lost everything in one fell swoop last year, she managed to erase last year just as quickly.

    not to mention, judy fabray is a beautiful woman. the show suggests that despite that, she was (when still married) unhappy, trapped, a coward, and often drinking. quinn's family is a _goldmine_ of potential for why she might not be happy about herself. oh, so much missed potential.

  7. Even though Kurt's "As If We Never Said Goodbye" was absolutely amazing, it didn't get me nearly as close to tears as the Warblers. I know no one liked them, but, I'm sorry, I happen to enjoy my friggin' choir singing! And the Warblers' (or Tuft's Beelzebubs') acappella stuff was just amazing. I've always enjoyed musicals where people burst out singing for no apparent reason, so they never bothered me even though the songs were never integrated in the show. Anyway, after they had said their goodbyes and Blaine was looking back at Kurt, all happy to be back, and his eyes were all watery and I felt like I was saying goodbye, too. I've understood that Darren Criss is pretty popular, so I doubt he'll completely disappear from the show (plus he's Kurt's man now!), but I'll miss the Warblers. :(

  8. re: Santana's quest for Prom Queen. The purpose of uniting with Karofsky and bringing Kurt back was to win prom queen, yes, but in winning that she would also get Brittany's attention. As she says it herself, if Kurt came back (through her machinations) then she would be a hero, something I'm assuming she would want Brittany to see her as.

  9. Hello! :D
    This is the first time I'm commenting on your blog, I just recently found this and think it's amazing :)

    I don't know if it's the fever or just my weakness for bullied characters, but I started tearing up when Quinn started talking about what it was like to be "Lucy Caboosy". I thought they were taking Quinn to the "I'm pretty but I can never be good enough" road, especially since her looks when Rachel wanted to get a nose job seemed a wee bit suspicious. And the whole, "I don't like this lesson". It seems to me she could be one of the characters that magnifies all her flaws the most... Her intense dieting for the Cheerios back in season one, and the consciousness about her stretch marks. Also, Puck not even hesitating to ruin Quinn? It really does seem like they've forgotten all about season one...

    Tina should have gotten more lines, methinks. Asian kids not seeing themselves as 'pretty' is real. Being bombarded by blonde, blue-eyed beauties as being the ideal doesn't really help the self-confidence (and this is why Quinn's storyline should have been extra special).

    I think it's weird that Mercedes and Lauren aren't in the least conscious about their weight. Or, they've just covered that in season one, and they don't want divas to have any insecurities, or wait they do - "no wheave" and "bad attitude" (and a bad attitude is not one you're born with?) It's great that they can be an inspiration, show that you can 'own it', but there are a lot of overweight, or people who think they are overweight, that are really conscious about weight, not everyone has that confidence.

    I agree that there should have been a moment between Rachel and Quinn where Quinn changes her mind about getting a nose job. Her and Puck.

  10. I couldn't agree more with the last post regarding Puck's role in this episode. Though a small part of the episode and I don't really think the premise of him helping Lauren needed to be changed, I thought it was garbage he didn't blink an eye.

    Every time the writers drop the ball on this they deserve to be called out, IMO. The front 13 mean something and Puck doing something that could hurt Quinn should have registered on some level. Just bad story telling, but what else is new? They have dropped the ball so often with those two, I am more suprised when they get it right.

  11. Sooooo this was the ep I was watching when I tweeted about not being ok with things.

    I still don't know exactly how I feel about the episode. There were a LOT of things that grated my cheese. I might have to watch it again to get it all right-way-up in my head.

  12. I do like the campaign of the said show. It is about being comfortable on how you are. cosmetic surgery perth

  13. I think that there is nothing wrong if you'd like to change your look, it's still who you are on the inside. Thanks.

  14. One of my favorite Glee episodes was that one where they sang Born This Way. It's so empowering and it tackles women's issue on getting Long Island plastic surgery.

  15. Can we PLEASE just talk about the EPIC music as Quinn ran down the hallway to rip down the Lucy picture? Oh. My. God. Can we also talk about how awesome and sexy and self-confident Kurt looked as Tina and Mercedes ripped up his jacket to show off the "Likes boys" t-shirt (which was a super awesome shirt, btw)?

  16. This is bad, i really don't know the names of the Glee casts. But because im fan of charice pempengco, she is the only girl that i know who participates in the show a years ago.. :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...