Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The RBI Report: "Hold On To Sixteen"

Dear Glee fan, reluctant or otherwise,

You may be wondering if I'll ever write a good recap for this show ever again.  In fact, I myself was questioning the same thing after the back-to-back rude bombs Glee detonated in our unwitting faces.  Well, if any episode could bring this show back from the brink of offensive and return it to pleasantly tolerable (as long as you ignore the details) - it's the annual trip to Sectionals.  Season 1's competition remains the most magical the show has ever been, and Season 2's effort did a pretty solid job of recapturing that same allure.  So, how about Season 3's fare?

"Hold On To Sixteen," written by Ross Maxwell, directed by Bradley Buecker

The key to enjoying "Hold On To Sixteen" is to try and forget "Mash Off" and "I Kissed a Girl," and maybe most of the first season as well.  On its own, the episode works more or less solidly.  Obstacles were overcome, friendships were forged, relationships reinforced, transgressions forgotten, and it was happy hug times for all.  It's hard to argue with that, right?  But, "Hold On To Sixteen" still sits amongst Glee's storytelling ups-and-downs, and if you look too closely at it, some cracks start to emerge in the episode.

The theme, naturally, was about wanting to make the most of youth, as these Seniors begin their farewell tour with the first competition of glee season.  It's a great theme, on paper, and the writers used it to full extent - applying it to Quinn, Sam, Finn, Blaine, Shelby and Puck, Mike and Tina, and the ladies of the Troubletones.  Phew!  This theme worked double time, and I will say that it wasn't hammered in as blatantly as some of Glee's previous themes.  ("Funk," I can't say we hardly knew ye.)  This is a plus!  It's a strong theme, given our natural attachment to these characters and the built-in ability for us to relate to wanting to delay a goodbye and make happy memories in the meantime.

Where it faltered was in the execution of the storylines, many of which seemed to wrap up quickly and simply through applying the magic of a sentiment that felt a little too similar to, "Well, we're all going to die some day!"  This was one step short of sending a meteor crashing towards Earth to up the stakes on everyone's objectives.  (It would be kind of cool to do that on Glee, though, yeah?  Imagine the solo Rachel Berry would attempt to perform as a destructive ball of fire hurtled towards mankind.)  The problems set up in this episode were rather top-heavy and messy, and yet they resolved simplistically, and in a few cases, offscreen.

Conflict #1: Without Rachel, New Directions lacks star power.

Naturally, the first thought is to go to Kentucky to rescue Sam Evans from the throes of exotic male dancing.  This problem resolved itself early, with Rachel and Finn begging Sam to return to Ohio to live out his dream of performing with more clothing and less glitter.  Sam feels he grew up too fast, because of the stripping, and therefore wants to be a teenager again.  Theme alert!  His dad relents, and Sam returns to Ohio to sing a song about being drunk with his long-lost friends.

(Full disclosure: did I grumble at the fact that Sam's scene with his parents was completely onscreen, whereas Santana's with hers last week was left to our imaginations?  Yes, I did.  Did I grumble about "Red Solo Cup" being such a long performance about... nothing relevant?  Yes, I did.  But, as the glee kids are trying to hold on to sixteen, I am trying to let go of 3.06 and 3.07.  It's a work in progress.) 

Honestly, this was the only storyline that dealt with Rachel's absence from the competition in a real way, and Rachel was mostly left to work through that angst in the background.  To me, it seems that if you're going to bench Rachel Berry from the alleged "Rachel Berry Show," then there might need to be more fallout from that.  But, c'est la Glee!  (New goal: to use that phrase once a recap.  And then maybe copyright it.)

Conflict #2: Quinn is going to help New Directions win by exposing the truth about Shelby and Puck to get Shelby fired.

This plan makes total sense when you consider Quinn's current point of view.  Want to win a show choir competition, with the added bonus of getting custody of your biological child?  Just reveal the affair your competitor-and-baby's-adoptive-mother is having with your baby's daddy and call it a day!  Y'know, it's almost too easy.

Truthfully, Quinn's resolution came in the form of the theme - hold on to sixteen, via Shelby.  Shelby revealed to have wanted to be with Puck because it might make her feel young again (it wasn't because of the daddy issues and the fact that Puck is apparently smarter than doctors?) and she realized you can't get those days back.  The message is relayed to Quinn, who realizes, in turn, that she really does want to be sixteen again and will therefore make the most of her remaining days at McKinley High.  Then, Shelby says she's ending her relationship with Puck, quitting her teaching job, and appears to be on her way out.  Look at all that resolution!

Honestly, it felt too easy, and it also seemed to ignore what Quinn's original issue was.  (Although she's had so many in the interim that it's hard to keep track of how to narratively get that girl back on her arc.)  Why should Quinn Fabray want to be sixteen again when her sixteen involved getting accidentally pregnant and kicked out of her family?  It seems like an oversimplification of Quinn's issues, and combined with the fact that Sam told her she had "rich white girl problems," "Hold On To Sixteen" seemed to take a paper-thin version of Quinn Fabray and give her a shiny new lease on life without any consideration to what her character actually is, beneath the pretty teenaged face.  Do we expect anything else for Quinn Fabray at this point, though?

As for Rachel's involvement in Quinn's storyline, "Hold On To Sixteen" got them to friends territory with relative ease, mainly reliant on the charming dialogue and effortless chemistry in the final scene.  Frankly, though, Rachel had little to do with Quinn's storyline within the walls of the episode.  As it was, Quinn spent most of the forty-five minutes as an aggressively hostile tyrant, and then within one scene, flipped instantly towards gushy devotion to her relationships.  While I love that Quinn seems to value her friendships now, it's hard to believe that two seasons' worth of Quinn Fabray psychological mess could be resolved with a Shelby-given "you're only 18 once!" message - especially when she still schemed her way through three-quarters of the episode.

But in the bigger picture, it felt more fluid using the idea that Quinn got back on track with Rachel's help.  Quinn expressed a hint of self-awareness and remorse, while Rachel offered up encouragement, and ultimately, empathy.  The best part of Rachel and Quinn's storyline was that Rachel wasn't chastising Quinn for being a hot mess, but telling her that she knew what it was like to do the wrong thing.  That connected to their characters' arcs on both a larger and smaller scale, and it was the strongest footing for their dynamic to stand on given the storylines they're currently in.  Not only that, but it was nice to see Quinn getting a dose of truth without getting yelled at or demeaned.  So really, despite all this quibbling, I look forward to seeing a Quinn that appears to be genuine, with real friendships and a hint of self-acceptance in her heart.  

Conflict #3: Blaine feels unempowered in New Directions.

Finally, we got some insight onto this Finn-vs.-Blaine conflict that the writers have dropped randomly into previous episodes!  Turns out it's essentially what we thought it was: a pissing contest.  Finn felt threatened by Blaine's talent because it made him feel bad about himself.  That's totally valid, and is in keeping with Finn's shadow arc right now, but wouldn't it have been nice to see that incorporated into a storyline for Finn, that Blaine could be a part of?  In "Hold On To Sixteen," Blaine just blew a fuse at his mistreatment, and Finn immediately owned up to the transgression and apologized for it.  So, it's more telling and less showing.  How... uninteresting.

I will say that I enjoyed seeing something that got under Blaine's skin enough to upset him.  He is a real boy!  If Mr. Anderson is indeed going to be a part of this ensemble, he needs flaws too, that are manifested in a storyline and (hopefully) worked through.  It felt rewarding to see Blaine behave like an actual emotional being, and in the end everything was resolved with a fist bump anyways, so no harm, no foul.

It continued, though, with a tiff between Sam and Blaine about choreography.  Sam, bringing his newfound sexiness to the mix, scoffed at Blaine's "boy band" choreography and wanted something with a little more gyration to it.  (So Sam's Bieber days are behind him, then?  Because this side of six months ago, homeboy thought the epitome of cool was being in a boy band full of Justin Biebers.  But hey, stripping changes a man.)

Regardless, this altercation was also cleaned up easily, as apparently the New Directions had no difficulty pulling their routines together.  The boys fought, and then resolved their issues offscreen, just in time for the audience to get a whopping three full numbers, back-to-back-to-back, that would ultimately win Sectionals with absolutely no resistance whatsoever.  Oh.    

Conflict #4: How can the Troubletones and New Directions reunite?

Easy, of course!  Have Quinn, with her randomly newfound (but not unwelcome?) Kumbaya attitude, beseech the Troubletones to return to New Directions so they can all be together for that last school year!  Forgive me for playing devil's advocate, but couldn't that logic work if Troubletones won and offered to absolve New Directions?  Which, surprisingly, they did, in a gesture that honestly seemed rather nice of them.  But apparently it was just as offensive as Santana's fat jokes, judging on how poorly Finn reacted to that idea. 

Wouldn't it have been ballsy storytelling if New Directions didn't win?  But was there any question whatsoever that they wouldn't, even though it was technically a real possibility based on the competition from the Troubletones?  Blaine himself said that New Directions was a mess, and the Troubletones had one fierce performance with "I Will Survive/Survivor" - both vocally and with choreography.  So why not let that follow through?

I had a writing teacher once that said, "Write yourself into a corner, just to see how you get yourself out of it - you never know what interesting things you might come up with."  The Glee writers often back themselves into a corner, but rarely do they ever get themselves out of the corner in an interesting way.  They just push down the walls so they can have a new room with a new corner to paint themselves into.  And that's how this show has no rules, because we don't know what walls are going to stand and which are going to be pushed down.  In the case of the glee club split, the interesting way to get out of that corner would be for the Troubletones to win and see where the narrative could take them.  But instead, the writers knocked down their seemingly-unforgiving obstacles (Rachel being suspended!  New Directions being a mess!  Santana and Mercedes having powerhouse voices!  Shelby being a nationally-renowned glee club coach!) with hardly any resistance, and we're all left scratching our heads, wondering how the rules work.

Conflict #5: Mike's dad refuses to let Mike pursue his dream.

I confess, even though this storyline resolved almost as quickly and easily as the others, it was still rewarding to watch because of the execution.  It was lovely to see Tina stand up and fight for Mike's happiness, and even lovelier to see her refuse to back down when he opposed.  How great was the "I'm disappointed in you/Well that makes two of us" exchange?  Tina Cohen-Chang, bless your beating heart, you're the beacon of hope for strong ladies on this show!  She even went straight to Mike's dad - who, let's face it, is a formidable man - and spoke her mind!  Remind me again why this character doesn't get any screentime?

But even that changed tonight, with Tina getting a fair part of Mike's storyline, as well as a good chunk of a solo in "ABC."  Mike got to share the lead as well, with his father in the audience to witness his talent so that he could believe in his son.  The conflict in this storyline was interesting, in that it doubled over between Mike and Tina as well as Mike and his dad, and while it may have been an easy fix to have Mike's dad change his mind simply by seeing his son happy, it's a touching construct that's difficult to knock.  That resolution was by far the least worrisome of the easy wrap-ups.

Let's talk about some of the extraneous tidbits, shall we?  With the return of Sam, we also got the return of Samcedes!  While the "I'm not going to respect your boundaries with your new boyfriend because we're totally meant to be together" trope is nauseatingly worn thin on Glee, I confess that I look forward to developing Sam and Mercedes' relationship simply because we never got to see it.  And it held such promise!  For a show that deals so disgustingly in stereotyping, I was excited to see that Glee might push forward an interracial relationship between a hunky white football player and the larger-than-size-2 black girl.  In that vein, I love the prospect of them having some kind of happy relationship together, and if we have to trudge through Sam trying to "win her back" just so we can see them interact, then so be it. 

Of course, we also got the return of the conniving and lascivious Sebastian, who really did not mince any words when giving Kurt the rundown of his plan to invade Blaine's pants.  Is there anyone in the audience that doesn't think Sebastian is slimy?  Even through the TV, I could tell that he really does smell like Craigslist.  But the conflict is left to simmer on the backburner as we await what this snake in the grass could do to muss up Kurt and Blaine's perfectly-coiffed relationship.

So, as third year Sectionals comes to a close, did it really measure up to the years before?  The short answer?  No, not really.  The fact that the obstacles were overblown and unrealistically resolved made everything feel slightly unearned, and combining that with the obvious triumph of New Directions led to a slight tired feeling amidst it all.  The episode's best moments were in the last number, "We Are Young," in which the glee kids came together again and had fun singing together on stage - no competition, no stress; they could just be themselves.  Those five minutes had more magic packed into them than the entire forty minutes that preceded them, and it had more to do with the actors loving on each other than any story-based payoff.  It was still great, though - from Mercedes joining first with her voice, to Rachel extending a hand to a reluctant Santana, the reunion was touching and genuine, if a bit out-of-left-field.  It's charming, and perplexing at the same time, which seems to be an accurate descriptor of Glee on its good days.

To be fair, I do not envy the job that Ross Maxwell had in this episode, because he attempted to singlehandedly resolve five different plotlines with one main theme.  I give him credit for even attempting that, given the narrative mess that he's inherited as a new writer.  In the end, "Hold On To Sixteen" managed some but not all of the show's magic, and used a strong theme - but was burdened with overwrought problems that sorted out a bit too easily.  At any rate, I'm now at least looking forward to next week again, and ultimately, that is a good thing.

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: A
Dance Numbers: A
Dialogue: B
Plot: B
Characterization: B
Episode MVP: Tina Cohen-Chang


  1. Damn can Quinn get a runner up MVP award.

  2. Tina Cohen-Chang is basically flawless.

  3. I agree that most things seemed to resolve themselves too easy in this episode, but still, better than the last one.

  4. I really loved this episode. I thought the "one general theme to resolve it all" worked mainly because S3 should have been about this theme from the beginning: They're graduating and they need to win Nationals but most of all they want to make the best out of high school.

    Some comments for your recap (which I always love to read):
    - I think Quinn's resolution of her issues didn't come THAT fast, just because I believe she always had it in her to turn the situation around just with a little push. In this sense I saw the push as being Rachel's earnest comments, not Shelby's condescending pep talks. We believe that the situation got fixed so fast because of the diminishing writing of Quinn's character throughout S3; that Quinn is a crazy bitch that'll do and say the stupidest things. But since S1 she turned the situation around so many times when she quickly snapped out of the crazy.

    - I liked that the song selections reflected the character archs with the lyrics; a la Control or We Are Young. Or even Man in the Mirror.

    - I was extremely happy to see a Blaine minus the Kurt. Finally some development, and the only development that makes sense is that Blaine is as screwed up by his past just as much, if not more, than Kurt.

    - I agree with the Sebastian comments, but I felt a slight twitch in my stomach everytime he was on screen, especially when Kurt noticed him during the performance; so I guess he's doing the job of spreading terror in the hearts of Klaine lovers (or just me.) I feel like the writers have been reliable with the development of the Kurt/Blaine relationship so I expect really good things with the Sebastian plotline. How cool would it be that after Kurt's on-screen suffering with the concept of Sebastian, it would be Blaine who puts an end to this and confronts Sebastian about the fact that he doesn't get a freakin' hint?

    - What you said about Trouble Tones winning instead of ND would have been interesting, but I'm glad it didn't happen just for the fact that this show has been giving ALL the rights to be a stuck-up diva to Mercedes and Santana since the start, and it had to stop. Their attitude towards Rachel and their loyalty to the ND has been on a disgusting level for too long. Yeah they want more solos, so why don't they challange the team to give them more solos, why do they have to immediately ACCEPT that Blaine and Rachel get all the solos (which they didn't)? I'm glad they lost just to have a breather from the whole "angry lady power" thing they got going on. I'm happy to see them claiming their stage-time in more healthy ways, Quinn's solution was quite agreeable.

    I hope the show continues with the tone set by this episode. I really don't want any more "I Kissed a Girl"s.

  5. Rachel and Quinn moment was so beautiful

  6. This episode was definitely an A+++ compared to the last few ones.

    I've decided to ignore the Quinn from the previous episodes. Her story might have felt rushed, but at least we heard Quinn's real voice for a change. And the interactions with Rachel were fantastic, those two bounce so well off each other.

    Also loved the great song choices. Everyone got a chance to shine (Tina should have won Sectionals by herself!) and the songs fit well with the mood AND the storyline of the episode. And that's top notch for glee.

    I also kinda hoped that Trouble Tones would win, but... hey, you can't have everything. Though it was great to actually see three glee clubs that were equally good. Loved the Unitards. Absolutely loved the Trouble Tones.

    Favorite moment: Quinn's spoken intro.

  7. Trouble Tones were amazing but given the fact that the genesis of this choir was basically "I came here cause I'm a star & I need more solos".... It was predictable that writters couldn't make them win. (even though they sang one of the best mash-up of the show ! Really loved it).

    Then about Quinn and her 'énième' change of personnality... I don't know what to think (I have to say i'm really protective with this character). Like everyone I think the change was a bit too quick. But in the other hand I'm glad she's finally off this lead-to-nowhere storyline. And I look forward to see more of the 'good quinn' in next episodes. When she convinced B, S and M to go back to glee club, that reminded me a bit of the old Quinn... The one who had so much influence on people (she said once that she hated how big was the effect people's sight had on her, but the truth is that she has a really big natureal influence on people as well. And that's why she's a leader).
    For the first time she talked about her plans for future, but I did'nt understand what she said exactly (I'm French). Does she want to be an actress or a singer ? She said she was "not a singer like you (rachel) or kurt", and then talked about probably always be acting crying girls on stage. (Well, personnaly I totally see her in politics...).


  8. About Quinn's sudden personality change & 'instant cure' for her issues, there was a possibly relevant scene that was apparently cut. According to spoilers, there was supposed to be a Quinn/Will scene where Quinn had a breakdown, but that made its way to the cutting room floor. Without knowing what that scene would have been, this is all speculation, but had that scene been kept in & making the (rather large) assumption that it wasn't another ham-fisted hack job that makes someone else look good at Quinn's expense, it could have cleared up a few things & making Quinn suddenly snap out of it seem more plausible....

  9. It wasn't terrible. I do think the writers need to work on the inconsistencies in their story telling. Sams wants something less boy band when he was doing beiber not too long ago and Blaine wants something less sexual when just last season he sang about sex toys to a boy in a full gap store and proposed that the warblers needed to sexify their performance to win. None of that made any sense.

    The Finn/Blaine scene was wasted as well imo. It was resolved too quickly and all it did for Blaine character wise was add another layer of gary stu to his overall Gary Stu'ness.

    Quinns sl was wrapped up to quickly and neatly as well.

    Mikes sl was boring so I'm glad thats over.

  10. I really like this episode, especially the out turn of Quinn's storyline. Quinn is probably the most determined, smartest, ruthless, and complicated character throughout the whole show. She lost everything that used to matter to her most after her pregnancy, but no one really cared about her. I don't think Quinn's storyline was rushed. Both Shelby and Rachel can relate to Quinn's situation. Shelby has given up her baby and Rachel knew what it was like to be lonely. Quinn is a smart girl, it's just that her anger was getting the better of her. Finally, she decided she'd like to be young and happy. The term " sixteen" is a very broad term that symbolizes young and carefree, not literally " sixteen". I was surprised that anyone would even ask that.

  11. I personally enjoyed this episode immensley and thought it was the 2nd best episode this season after Asian F. Two particular things I wanted to comment on though are...

    1) Why would Glee ever let the TroubleTones beat New Directions and merge New Directions into the TroubleTones? In my opinion, that would defeat the entire purpose of Glee, which is ABOUT New Directions in the first place, not the TroubleTones. And what would have happened then? Shelby taking over the Glee club? No way. The show is essentially about Will and New Directions. You can't change the main story like that.

    2) I think this episode proved that New Directions can be just as good as the usually are without Rachel. The show is called GLEE. It's about the Glee club as a whole. Not Rachel Barry alone. Personally, I thought this was the best competition the show has done because the club shined as a whole rather than a few individuals shining. The purpose of a Glee club is to showcase the entire club. Not just one member.

    Just wanted to throw in my two cents.

  12. I'm curious as to why you feel that the "theme" of the episode was applied to Puck when he didn't speak in the episode, his storyline got no resolution, and Shelby planned to "end it" offscreen.


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