"Yes/No," written by Brad Falchuk, directed by Eric Stoltz.
"Yes/No" piled on the romance drama, and as with Glee, it can be incredibly poignant and heartwrenching, or it can trigger your gag reflex by trying to force the syrup and the spoon down your throat. Let's take a tour of the couples, shall we?
Sam and Mercedes
The whole shebang kicked off with a shot-for-shot recreation of Grease's "Summer Nights," Danny-ed by Sam and Sandy-ed by Mercedes. Apparently these two had a rather steamy summer together, but chalked it up to fling status when Sam moved away. Now that Chord Overstreet got his schedule sorted out, Sam's back, and has his sights set on making Mercedes his. The problem? She's got a boyfriend in Shane, a poor dude who Glee has bothered to do nothing with except make him the whole impetus for Mercedes' actions in "Asian F," and who will now simply be the romantic opposition no one is rooting for. (Sorry, Shane. Looks like you won't be around for much longer.)
The Sam/Mercedes development in this episode was good, simply in that it began, really and truly! The show took a sticky situation with Sam's departure-then-return and sculpted the halted Samcedes romance into a fling that now has the chance to become something more. How great was "Summer Nights?" It's made even better by the fact that Glee is transposing the context of Grease to a more modern and compelling circumstance - it's not often that the girl most frequently saddled with Sassy Black Girl stereotypes is allowed a romance with the Dorky White Football Hunk. For Mercedes, who has never been shown to be in any real relationship - especially physical - to have the genuine affections of a jock type is a Really Big Deal. It's even nicer yet that Mercedes isn't moon-eyed and shocked that "a guy like him" could really be into her, which was a very real possibility based on Mercedes' previous portrayals with regards to the opposite sex.
However, I'm not sure Glee made entirely good on the promise that Sam and Mercedes held with their more-than-charming musical number opening. For one, "Summer Nights," by design, features the two lovebirds individually. Secondly, the writing veered dangerously into the tropes that this show always uses when trying to put two characters together:
- Sam tries to peacock to win affections, and wants a letterman jacket to impress Mercedes (and joins the synchronized swimming team, which, turns out, is Not Cool)
- Sam gets slushied for being on aforementioned swimming team and therefore Not Cool, and Mercedes compassionately cleans the frozen ice from his face
- Mercedes sings a romantic song and we see that she's really thinking about Sam
- Mercedes has a boyfriend and this therefore becomes a Love Triangle
Artie and Becky
Oh, this storyline causes me conflict. Becky immediately came on the scene, complete with random Helen Mirren voiceover (hey, in your mind you can sound like whoever you want) and declared that she's hot for Artie. It's clear from the start that the show is completely aware of the fact that they are potentially pairing off their Boy in Wheelchair and Girl with Down's Syndrome, and I braced myself for what was either going to be a trainwreck, or at the very least, completely heartbreaking. Glee has already paired off the two Asian characters and marginalized them, and I was worried that they would do the same thing with Becky and Artie - especially since part of Artie's appeal to Becky was that he was "handicapable," like her. Not only that, but Artie was rejected by Sugar, in a scene that seemed pretty unnecessary, because it only drew attention to the fact that Sugar was scared of what people might think about her arms if she was with Artie. (Um, okay?)
The refreshing part of this storyline came when Artie not only agreed to go on a date with Becky, but seemed to enjoy it! How great was it when his classmates staged a "Beckyvention," and Artie scolded them for automatically thinking that he wouldn't like Becky. "Oh!" I thought. "This is how they're going to get around messy issues! Artie will like her for who she is!" If Artie actually liked her and their romance became a real storyline, then it takes some of the side-eye away from pairing off the two handicapped characters and becomes a story about two characters who have a relationship and can be seen for their qualities as opposed to their "labels."
But then it took a turn for the disheartening, with Artie admitting to Coach Sylvester that he only wanted to be Becky's friend. She advised him to treat her like a normal human being (good advice) and tell her up front, which he did. Upon doing so, Becky asked him if it's because he finds her intimidating, and he agreed that that was the reason. And then the most heart-shattering thing happened: we got the return of Becky's voiceover. The voice of Helen Mirren, which was once used as a silly kook for this self-confident and sunshiney character, became completely and utterly serious, as she explained to us that she didn't ask if it was because she had Down's because she knew the answer was yes. I thought the earth was going to open up and swallow me whole, that's how awful I felt in that moment. That is damn effective, I must say.
But still, I go around and around on this storyline. On the one hand, it allowed Becky to be her own character, with a full range of emotions, and a complete awareness of her situation, beneath the bravado. On the other hand, it'd be so much nicer to see Becky find a guy who likes her for her and actually wants to be with her, and it'd be even nicer if that guy was not necessarily "handicapable" in any way. Is that realistic? I'd like to think so. But honestly, I don't even know if it's acceptable to say that both Artie and Becky are comparably handicapped, considering their differing situations. It seems like a messy situation to introduce. Truthfully, friends, I don't have any answers here, and I'm not sure Glee navigated this territory with as much grace as possible. But I can tell you that I felt like my heart was going to drop out of my chest when Helen Mirren came 'round for the final voiceover, and I was immensely relieved that Becky had Sue to console her with a carton of ice cream.
Will and Emma
Will Schuester provided the whole impetus for the episode, as he decided to make his personal life a class assignment and solicit ideas for a proposal from his students. This was mostly harmless, and frankly provided something of a weak framework for the whole episode. The songs that were sung (excepting "Summer Nights" and "Wedding Bell Blues") were done so for the purpose of a possible reproduction by Will, and therefore didn't pack as much of a punch as I would have liked. I miss the days when Glee's musical numbers came in the wake of some sort of emotional moment for a character, and not simply because the episode's conceit requires them to do so. For instance, it would have been nice to hear a musical number from Finn after learning the truth about his dad, or from Rachel after being proposed to, or from Emma after her speech to Will about their future. Alas.
Although, I will give kudos to "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," which handled a second layer of meaning with the relationships of the four girls singing. While clearly the first time Tina saw Mike's face was not when they were rolling around on the grass for an outdoor picnic, it was still darling. And, more poignant yet was the flashback given to Santana, who got equal part in the song, as directed to another woman with no differentiation between the romances. Points must be given on principle, for that. (Sure, we're all still waiting on a kiss, but this still works on its own.)
Anyways, Emma also had plans to propose to Will, after advice from Sue to take the reins and be a modern lady. Will stuck with his plan to propose, up until the moment he asked her Ginger-supremacist parents for permission and they cautioned him about her OCD and the difficulties of raising children and having a future together.
For me, this storyline was just okay. Firstly, I have so little emotional investment in Will and Emma, because we rarely see them have any actual interactions that don't involve him trying to "fix" her OCD. This is upsetting to me, especially because now that Naya Rivera has captured popular attention with her acting chops, I say that Jayma Mays is the new Underrated Actor on Glee. She disappears for episodes at a time, and when she returns, is shuffled into Will's Girlfriend territory and given only her struggles with anxiety as a character point. And yet, she takes every paltry moment that could be completely trite, or suffocated by the scripted romance with Will, and makes Emma Pillsbury a strong and imperfect character in her own right, who's completely relatable and winsome in her efforts to be the person she wants to be, regardless of her relationship. Her speech addressing Will's concerns about the future was a thing of beauty, and her delivery on the painfully simple line "this is what you get," was the single best performance this episode.
But the thing is, I'm tired of storylines that have Will and Finn trumpeting about "what it means to be a man." We did this in 1x03, and I grow increasingly grumpy to see it again in 3x10. I wish "Yes/No" was about Emma proposing to Will, and that he was okay with that. (He seemed to laugh when she told him she was planning on proposing to him, which made me frown at my television.) Instead, he ignored her efforts to communicate about marriage until he had doubts, and went the White Knight/Prince Charming route of asking her parents and staging an elaborate... synchronized swimming proposal, complete with a white tux and top hat. Not only that, but Emma stocked her pamphlets with material like "Happily Never After" and "So You're a Spinster."
If only Emma had actually sung "Wedding Bell Blues" as the culmination of the proposal plotline, and not as a girl's fantasy about getting married as the dude prepared to pop the question. I mean, on Glee's chart of sexism, this is more like "Acafellas" than "I Kissed a Girl," but it's still somewhat aggravating to see such a grayscale depiction of gender dynamics in a relationship. This is not an outdated Disney princess film, although at this point, I can't expect much else from Glee, especially with regards to Will and Emma - even if she's supposed to be on a self-empowerment storyline arc.
Finn and Rachel
Oh, where do I even begin with these two? Finn, after having been on an uncertain path for the future, declares to Mr. Schue that he wants to join the army, just like his dad. He's translated his original Glee speak of wanting to be a part of something special to being a part of the army, and honoring his deceased father's legacy. And frankly, I'm on board with a storyline where Finn can attempt to connect with his father and let go of some of his angst over manhood.
It turns out though, as Carole revealed to Finn, that Finn's father did not die an American hero in Iraq. Rather, he was discharged honorably, and suffered a drug problem when he returned home. After disappearing one night, he turned up dead in Cincinnati from an overdose. Pretty shocking, right? It rightfully turned Finn's world upside down and he was forced to deal.
There were a few things, though, that felt left of center in terms of the choices made in elaborating this storyline. On a nitpicky level, I didn't like that Finn learned the truth at school, with Will, Emma, and Burt present. I wish Carole had told him at home, and that it was simply a scene between mother and son.
Mostly, though, I didn't like that so much of Finn's angst was framed solely in the discussion of what it means to be a man. Really, Glee? Are we still on this? Usually, it's done interestingly with the inclusion of Kurt, or another gay male character to introduce the question naturally and with thought-provoking results. (Because frankly, the answers to that question are pretty limiting, insulting to both genders, and, if you'll excuse me, complete bullshit.) But this time, neither Kurt nor Blaine were on the scene, and we instead got Will telling Finn he taught him how to be a man, and Finn questioning what kind of man he was after learning the truth about his dad. It also bears stating that Finn has previously told Will that he taught him how to be a man in the absence of his father, and that he also told Kurt that he taught him how to be a man. At this point, it's becoming a worn-thin plot device that isn't even progressing these characters in any real way.
Ultimately, Finn's crisis manifested in a lot of talk about not knowing what kind of man he was, and then channeling that somehow into feeling like he'd be okay if he just proposed to Rachel so he could love her forever. That doesn't really connect. It would have been stronger to see Finn have an actual emotional response independent of gender-centric bullshit, and allow him to work through his issues with his mother, who, may I remind everyone, also gave 50% of her genes to her kid. It would have been a better choice to see Finn be reassured that just because his father had struggles didn't mean that he was doomed to the same fate, and that he can look up to his strong, hardworking single mother just as much as his absent dad. It would be far less sexist, and give Carole Hudson a little more credit as a single woman trying to raise her son in Middle America. Not only that, but it would have been nice to get more sympathy for Finn's dad - it immediately crossed my mind that his drug issues could easily be connected to the emotional toll of fighting a war and returning home from it, which is far more three-dimensional and nuanced for Finn to deal with, rather than "my dad was a loser and I'm destined to be one too."
So really, Finn proposing to Rachel was mostly a disjointed action, and I don't think Lea Michele's flawless rendition of "Without You" could support it, no matter how many times Eric Stoltz cut back and forth between hers and Finn's faces. I will say, however, that Brad Falchuk can write a mean heartfelt speech, and I actually found Finn's proposal, as well as Will's, to be well-written and mostly bullshit-free, which at this point is commendable. Of course, couching them in the way their relationships have previously been handled makes them incredibly dissonant, but as standalone pieces, the sentiment is well-communicated and on point.
And, as a complete aside, I must say that I immensely enjoyed NeNe Leakes' turn as Roz Washington, swim coach and Olympic Medal Winner in Individual Synchronized Swimming. I confess to knowing absolutely nothing about the Real Housewives of Any American City, but NeNe's dialogue and delivery made me giggle. I wouldn't mind seeing her stick around, although I'm not sure how much more derision the writers can throw at Chord Overstreet's body.
With that, "Yes/No" provided many heartfelt moments and delivered a few good speeches, but it missed several opportunities to avoid White Knight sexism and make the most of the couples they presented as romantically involved.
The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: A
Dance Numbers: A
Episode MVP: Becky Jackson