Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The RBI Report: "Big Brother"

Seven weeks ago, Dave Karofsky tried to commit suicide, Rachel and Finn were two breaths away from saying "I do," and Quinn Fabray fell victim to a pretty nasty car crash (cut to black, natch).  Intense, right?  Glee went hard in "On My Way," and so naturally it seemed like a good idea to follow the episode with an introduction of Blaine's brother and how mean and stupid he is. 

"Big Brother," written by Michael Hitchcock, directed by Eric Stoltz

As you can probably already guess, I'm incredibly perplexed as to why this episode was constructed the way it was.  When you end on a big-ass cliffhanger, it only seems logical to pick up where the cliffhanger left off.  But "Big Brother" found us a month or so later, with Finn and Rachel casually talking about how Quinn's accident stopped the wedding and Quinn and Artie joyfully performing wheelchair choreography.  Honestly, I couldn't enjoy "I'm Still Standing" because I just kept thinking, but... what happened to her?  We finally got the rundown on the heels of the performance, with the Glee writers' new favorite material for Quinn: a half-page monologue about how okay she is and how she solved all her problems offscreen.  

Why?  If you want to do a time jump, that's fine, but at least use it to create a mystery about what happened in that interim period.  Create conversations, conflicts, and interactions that allude to it and make the audience wonder what happened - all the while slowly revealing that information and answering those questions.  But "Big Brother" forced a time jump simply to avoid having to answer complicated questions about Quinn's accident and the cliffhanger.  For instance: how exactly did it stop the wedding?  I don't get it.  Unless Quinn's red Beetle somehow plowed through City Hall, I don't see how the events are actually related - unless Rachel refused to get married without Quinn there and sent everyone home, which you would think would have some emotional fallout in her actual relationship.  I don't see how the timeline works logically, where Judy Fabray would have gotten a call and rushed to the hospital and maybe had the forethought to text... who?  Who at Rachel's wedding would have merited immediate contact from Mrs. Fabray about her daughter being in a potentially fatal car crash?  Santana?  Brittany?  Sam?  Rachel herself?  I just don't get it.

There was also so little focus on the derailed wedding it makes you wonder what the whole point of it was in the first place.  Finn and Rachel express that it was indeed rushed and too soon, but keep their engagement.  It's like Quinn's accident was designed as a "saved by the bell"-type intervention, but that didn't actually create any wake-up calls.  We're just back to neutral, and the amped-up drama feels especially overblown and unnecessary in retrospect.  (And that's not even considering the fact that Dave is just nowhere to be seen - did he and Quinn somehow cross paths in the hospital?  Is Kurt still visiting him?  Or has he magically found the soulmate from his vision and adopted a kid already?  Who knows?  Who cares, apparently?)

Ultimately, this all adds up to lazy writing, and the clear and incontrovertible suggestion that the dramatic events of "On My Way" were entirely done for ratings, without any intention that they'd be treated with even a modicum of commitment.  Evidence persists as well in Quinn's complete lack of struggle until halfway through the episode.  It would have been nice to see actual development, as this teenager, who has had her share of troubles throughout her entire high school career, is faced with perhaps the most difficult challenge she could imagine - on the heels of an acceptance letter to Yale and the chance to start over some place new.  How are we to expect that Quinn Fabray, dark and angry and self-centered Quinn Fabray, would not be incredibly bitter in this situation?  Instead, she just burst onto the scene, completely cheery, having forgiven Rachel, bonded hardcore with Artie, with confidence for her future still intact.  She was even armed with a no-texting-and-doing-ANYTHING-ELSE message for all to hear and learn from!  She smiled, she hugged, she was good-natured about her misfortune.  She made no mention of the wedding she was hellbent on preventing, then accepting.  She uttered nothing of her previous plans to join the Cheerios and win a title - plans that are now null.  I was beginning to think Quinn Fabray actually suffered amnesia from the accident, or that there was some freak body switch at the hospital.  Regardless, this was the most pageant-y Quinn's ever been, and it alarmed me.

She spent the majority of the episode with Artie, in a friendship that's cute but also merits a slight double-take.  On the one hand, it's good that the writers bypassed the inevitably-awkward "oh hey we're in wheelchairs let's be friends now" conversation and went straight to cavorting and smiles times.  But it also robbed their dynamic of some emotional depth that would have come in handy when the actual conflict arose - when the episode was more than half over.  Because we finally saw a glimpse of our old Quinn, optimism begone.  Quinn Fabray is not an optimistic soul.  She is equal parts realist and self-deluded, a maddening symbiosis of polar concepts which makes her difficult to riddle through and shake out.   It was certainly incongruent to the sunny, smiling Quinn who pep-talked Rachel with hugs and cackled maniacally with glee at the triumph of wheeling herself up a ramp.   Realist she was not, in the first half of "Big Brother," but finally the self-deluded shoe dropped: Quinn is absolutely opposed to hearing any suggestion that she may not walk again.  Aha!  Here's the Quinn we know: clinging desperately to a concept because she's terrified of the alternative and what it means for her. 

In that this idea is the most compelling (and in-character) for Quinn, I wish that it had been revealed sooner, or, at the very least, stronger.  It's certainly a fascinating conversation to have with Artie, who has to deal with managing expectation and reality every day.  It would have also been a fascinating conversation to have with Rachel, who rivals Quinn with her ability to block out unpleasant truths in favor of a happier mindset.  Especially combining that similarity with the fact that Rachel was handling Quinn's accident in the exact opposite way: she was a big gloomy mess about it.  She took the blame and set it squarely on her own shoulders, crying about it and bringing it up in irrelevant situations, while Quinn didn't even shed a tear.  It would have been a good starting point, although perhaps formulaic, for Rachel to push Quinn to talk about her emotions and have Quinn snap back and show that she won't let herself.  The idea was skated around with Artie, but because the writers didn't really give any emotional depth in their relationship, it didn't quite support the scene as well as it could have.  Or hell, the purpose of the scene could be to give the relationship more emotional depth.  But instead, it remained the visible tip of a compelling iceberg that will likely stay below the surface.

Even so, the question now stands: will Quinn be able to walk again, and is she prepared to handle reality if she can't?  I can only imagine that this will play out in conjunction to Artie, who so far has been great support, and will hopefully not lash out at Quinn if she does get to dance across the stage at Nationals.  (Awkward that she didn't make any mention of rejoining the Cheerios right before losing her ability to walk.  Maybe she did get a little amnesia.)  The Quinn-Artie interactions were cute, although I think that's mostly thanks to Dianna Agron and Kevin McHale bringing their real friendship into their scenes, but there's textually something compelling about the dynamic and I fear the writers will botch it.  As is, Artie's point-of-view is not as present as it could be, but it still seems completely plausible that the writers will give Quinn her ability to walk back and reroute the storyline into angst for Artie and send the dynamic out-of-balance in the other direction.  In any case, I am both intrigued and trepidatious about the emotionally-sensitive angles of this relationship and hope it will play out equally on both sides of the duo with fair treatment given to opposing points of view.

But this episode was not called "Quinn and Artie;" it was called "Big Brother," and so I must talk about the A-plot and the episode's emotional focus: Blaine and the complicated relationship with his older brother Cooper.  "Big Brother" served to finally give Blaine his own emotional depth and development.  On the one hand, yay!  I've wanted character progress and dimensionality for Blaine for ages, but now that it's happened I'm not sure I wanted it this way or at this time.  Glee seems to be making meta jokes that are more painfully ironic than occasionally delightful.  Like the oft-ignored Tina playing a dead body, for example, or the solo-and-screentime-saturated Blaine getting a storyline that focuses on how he feels underappreciated and marginalized.  Ouch, Glee.  We know you're reading our quibbles, but you don't have to throw salt in the wound.  (For those keeping track at home, delightful bits of meta included Sue Sylvester proclaiming that Will Schuester needs adult friends, and Cooper having difficulty determining if material is comedic or dramatic - he must be watching Glee.)

It's not that I don't want a Blaine storyline.  I'd love for this character to be fleshed out and made real, with wishes and objectives and strengths and flaws.  But "Big Brother" was just not the place nor time, truthfully.  Especially when Blaine sings Christina Aguilera's "Fighter"about his only-recently-explored bad sibling relationship in an episode where two characters are supposed to be canonically recovering from near-death experiences.  Forgive me for playing devil's advocate, but where was Kurt to tell Blaine that his problems are not that important compared to Karofsky's?  I just don't get why anyone thought it was a good idea to use Blaine's A-plot inauguration to supplant any real development or resolution on previously-standing plotlines (cliffhangers, no less).

But enough complaining about concept; let's talk execution.  Maybe I haven't been paying enough attention to Blaine, but I wouldn't have pegged the character for shouldering an inferiority complex.  He's an extremely-put-together guy, who's not easily ruffled, and should maybe avoid alcohol sometimes.  I suppose you could argue that the whole thesis of "Fighter" was that Cooper's magical existence pushed Blaine to excel in everything he did and thus created the Unflaggingly Cheerful Gel-Bot we know and love today.  But it honestly didn't make enough sense for me.  And it didn't help that Cooper was such an idiot.  It'd be one thing if Blaine was overshadowed and put down by a brother who was in any way intimidating - but instead, Cooper was dopey and misguided, and not even in a way where he was secretly insecure underneath the bravado.  He shmoozed through scene after scene, and everyone ate it up, completely oblivious to the bullshit.  Only Blaine saw through his brother's nonsense, and it was only used to underscore his - what, jealousy?  Feelings of neglect?  

Truthfully, this storyline just didn't make sense to me.  The conflict was supposedly about how Cooper constantly screws Blaine over, and then blames him for it - at least, according to Blaine.  But it also seemed to be about Cooper getting more attention than Blaine, and overshadowing him.  And this was all resolved simply by Cooper saying he's tough on Blaine because he's so damn talented and wants the best for him.  So all Blaine really needed was some affirmation - but there weren't really any feelings of insecurity there.  It was never, "Oh, my brother is so great I don't think I'll ever measure up."  It was always, "Oh, my brother is so full of shit and no one else sees it but me."  The conflict was messy and unclear, perhaps to make sure the audience really felt badly for Blaine, and it was resolved neatly and about three miles away from the whole point.  Maybe if the storyline had been about Blaine trying to get his brother to not be a big Hollywood poser, it would have made more sense.  He could have been completely bewildered by this person who is unrecognizable from who they were as kids - the fame has gone to his head, and now he treats Blaine like he's his acting coach, not his brother.  That way, Blaine would have had an objective in working through this relationship and the writers wouldn't just be piling on unnecessary and confusing angst.  Not only that, Cooper could be dimensionalized as well as Blaine, and there would be a stronger foundation for wanting them to be friends as well as brothers in the first place.

The one thing that worked nicely in the "brothers" arc was Kurt insisting to Blaine that brothers are important - and relating that it's not always easy being Finn's brother, but it's still family.  (Margaret Thatcher Dog was also great, but slightly irrelevant.)  Part of me wonders if perhaps something could have been fleshed out with Kurt and Finn involved - especially considering that Cooper hails from Hollywood, which is exactly where Finn is thinking of heading after graduation.  It could have been an interesting intersection, to put Puck and Finn in a room with Cooper and have them talk about Los Angeles.  Then perhaps the brothers angle could have been played with Cooper and Blaine, Kurt and Finn, and - to a degree - even Finn and Puck.  

Puck and Finn's storyline in "Big Brother" was not terribly unexpected: Puck wants to move to a sunny clime, in order to beef up his pool-cleaning business.  He invites Finn to move with him, saying that he doesn't have to sacrifice everything to be with Rachel - she can do movies in LA.  (Broadway is indeed dead, says Cooper!)  Finn agrees to help Puck back home, and receives enough positive enforcement from his mechanical competence and a half-naked forty-year-old to believe that he could be successful in LA.  He broaches the topic with Rachel, who really only wants to move to New York, and so Finn feels like their future is one-sided.  He accuses her only caring about his dreams when they don't interfere with hers, and tells her he could provide for her in Los Angeles.  She replies that she needs him in New York, and he counters that he needs to be sure she's really in love with him.

Then, in my notes, I wrote, "this is dumb."  

Can we get this endless Finchel drama over with?  I want both these characters to be happy and have a chance at their dreams, and it frankly doesn't seem plausible for them in their relationship's current incarnation.  Even discounting all the problems the writers have written for them over three seasons, there's an undeniable and immediate roadblock between their individual fulfillment and a future together.  And why should either character sacrifice?  Why should Rachel entertain anything other than what she's dreamt of all her life?  If she's going to, it needs to be coming from her own sense of preparation and from nowhere else.  (In other words, she maybe needed to apply to a couple of other schools, in New York or elsewhere.)  The issue with this is that Finn doesn't have dreams like Rachel does.  Finn bounces from football scholarship to garage job to active duty to pool-cleaning, and doesn't seem to have any clue which is right for him.  Rachel is hellbent on her one specific dream, and Finn is hellbent on just trying to find one. 

What's unfortunate about this construct is that it can often paint Rachel as, in Quinn's words, a self-obsessed bitch who's inconsiderate of Finn's aimlessness.  Somehow, the scene at the end of "Big Brother" became about how Rachel doesn't love Finn enough to consider sunny California simply because Puck had a brain wave about hot weather and pools.  Eurgh.  Let's amicably break these two up, please, so they can find their own ways in life!  Especially because the writers keep flirting with this idea that Finn is scrambling to find a dream simply so that he can feel important to Rachel, which is sad and also a little bit toxic for a relationship.  The fact that part of his argument for LA was supporting Rachel financially made me gag a little bit, and combined with the sensitive question of what the hell Finn's going to do in New York while Rachel's at school, it seems like Finn is insecure about being in a relationship with someone who could be advancing faster than him and even possibly leaving him behind.

All of this, if explored, could be fascinating character development on a much more sophisticated show.  But instead, we get scenes where Finn just gets upset at Rachel and Rachel back-pedals and confirms her support, and we're all just annoyed and wishing that somehow the two of them could have maybe also gotten second-hand amnesia from Quinn's accident.  Wedding?  What wedding?!  Alas.

The final storyline of the night came with the continuation of Sue Sylvester's Baby storyline.  The writers are trying to use this concept - along with the existence of Roz Washington - as a means for professional stakes, which works... but could be better.  It's communicated early on that Sue is neglecting her coaching duties because of her pregnancy, and Figgins threatens to replace her with Roz Washington.  First of all, I don't understand how running a full-fledged political campaign didn't get in the way any more than having a baby on board, but whatever.  I'm slightly annoyed at how this show represents pregnancy and women's relationships with babies, but I'll roll with it.  The part that really doesn't make sense to me comes with the promise that Sue Sylvester will help the glee club win Nationals - and the cash prize - so that she can keep her job as Cheerios coach.  I don't get that.  Isn't Cheerios Nationals sooner than glee club's Nationals?  So shouldn't she actually focus on winning Cheerios Nationals to get the money and keep her job?  I'm all for finding a way to make Sue relevant, but I'm not sure this is it.  (Not to mention, the glee club seems poised for a Nationals win, and I'm wondering if the writers intend to suggest that the reason for winning might be Sue Sylvester's involvement.  This amuses me.)

What would honestly be a stronger concept is the idea that Sue has to win Cheerios Nationals, but is now down Quinn Fabray - someone who she thought was going to step back up and help take the title.  She doesn't need Roz Washington breathing down her neck; Sue's already at a disadvantage.  Sure, if you want to add Roz and the baby as secondary obstacles, that's fine, but the fact of the matter is that Sue's cheerleading squad needed to strike back - and now doesn't have their secret weapon.  So the arc for Sue would be about overcoming the odds to put her own team back on top.  Get Quinn involved by making her a sort of assistant coach to help Sue with the workload, and mine storylines from that.  And it also gives Brittany and Santana something to do.  Hell, involve more of the glee kids - who cares?  It makes more sense than having Sue hang around New Directions all the time.

But perhaps this is too harsh, because in all honesty, "Big Brother" did much better with a Sue-and-ND storyline than many episodes in the past.  She didn't rhapsodize about how mean she is or how nice Will Schuester is, but complimented the glee kids' optimism and even proved she pays attention to them (and Kurt's glitter poops), so it wasn't nearly as dreadful as the Sue-is-mean-and-needs-gleehabilitation instances of yore and yester-season.  And while I don't love the idea that Sue feels she must nurture her hellish womb with the glee club's kindness, I'm always on board for the construct that Sue respects the kids, but hates their leader.  She did vote for them at their first Regionals competition, after all.  Sue and those glee kids are not all that different!  And being reminded of that is always welcome. 

What helped as well was the fact that Sue's mini-arc was propelled emotionally by Becky, who gently reminded her to have patience, and thus spared Sue getting yelled at or subjected to the trappings of an after-school special.  The idea that it's possible that Sue may give birth to a special needs child was handled tastefully, and in keeping with the heartfelt construct that Sue will always support and fight for the care of those with special needs.  I also enjoyed seeing Emma be supportive of Sue, and the fact that she and Will accompanied Sue to the doctor's - made even better by Sue's acknowledged bewilderment at being friends with these people.  Those scenes hit the right balance of animosity without being mean, and the storyline was better for it.  (I'm still waiting for a prickly Sue/Emma friendship, because those ladies have a lot to learn from one another if they could just somehow find a way to be on the same team.)  So even with the confusing set-up, the emotional payoffs of Sue's storyline were well-handled.

In all, even though the "don't-text-and-drive" messages were a bit heavy-handed, "Big Brother" tread carefully and tastefully with the "lessons" that Glee tries so hard to teach.  The suggestion that Sue was at first scared, but then accepting of having a special needs child was graceful, as was the inclusion of Artie helping Quinn with her time in the wheelchair.  I was nervous Glee would try to load the episode with Artie lecturing Quinn about being in the chair, or Quinn being unreceptive to Artie's world, but in fact, "Big Brother" did something incredibly smart: they took a trip to the skate park for Senior Ditch Day.  All they needed was to show the participants at the park, and the message was received.  How amazing were all the background players in that scene?  I'm assuming they're all real people and not actors, and I tip my hat to Eric Stoltz for getting enough footage of their athleticism to include in the montage and really show off their abilities.  Glee prides itself on including people from all corners of life that don't often get their stories told on television, but frequently misses the mark through sloppy storytelling - but "Big Brother" made good on the promise.

So, when it's all said and done, it's still bewildering that so much of this episode skirted the issues that created the drama and cliffhangers of "On My Way," but there were still strong moments in several of the storylines.  Character moments and plot execution could have been stronger if just rearranged, but perhaps the episodes to come will capitalize on the potential.  A girl can dream, right?  (Right, Finn?)

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: B+
Dance Numbers: B+
Dialogue: B+
Plot: C
Characterization: C
Episode MVP: Quinn Fabray


  1. I'm weeping for the mess that was this episode. Thank you for being one of the few reviewers on the internet to acknowledge where they went wrong in the structuring of it instead of just glossing over to talk about the plots. Glee should never attempt another cliffhanger.

  2. I think I'll finally stop watching Glee. GOD. I can't even think of a reason to still watch it week after week, except perhaps that I've grown attached to the characters and really want to know where they'll all end up. Gah. I can't believe someone allows TV to air that stuff, seriously.

    As always, thank you so much for your quick and thorough review. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  3. Great review as always. Thank you.
    First of all, I'm glad someone else noticed Tina playing the dead body. Just as lame as the "I just want a song" line. And I couldn't agree more with your opinion on Finchel.
    As for the Big Brother storyline, I could have done without it. Honestly, it didn't bring that much to the character's construct. That Blaine was damaged, we already knew: his father didn't accept his son's sexuality, we was beaten up at a dance and bullies chased him out of school. Why not work on the issues with the father? Adding a pressuring big brother to the picture seems somewhat sadistic and unnecessary, especially when the storyline's resolution didn't make Blaine that much of a deeper character. Apparently he got stronger. Or so he sang. Even if not strong enough to keep him from throwing a fit everytime his brother stepped in.

  4. If Dianna Agron wasn´t the great actor she is I think Quinn Fabray would have end up being just the one dimensional character the writers always want her to be, I´m always amazed of how Dianna manages to give Quinn a little more than just what is scripted, not only her, the whole cast, I keep watching Glee because of them, they manage to give something else to their characters. But last episode made me think that not even the great efforts the cast put on it was enough to salvage such mess up writing. I was so confussed by Quinn "happy" side after the accident, and I think I wasn´t the one creating this side story to her "happiness" as if it was like a wall to defend herself of the reality of her situation, on a wheelchair, unable to dance and be on the cheerios, unable to do simple things, but I do believe in her strenght. I´m glad in the ramp scene I didn´t see Quinn and Artie, but Dianna and Kevin having fun, that was too out of character for Artie and Quinn, even if it was really sweet. Rachel, I´m actually very happy with her reaction even after whatever time passed, it was the reacting I was expecting, and I just wished the writers had gone deeper with that emotion, because Rachel was right, it wasn´t right, it wasn´t okay. Nothing of that episode was right. (the Faberry hug and hand holding didn´t hurt at all too)

    I love Sue and Emma´s friendship! I always wanted them to explore it more. Well that was my rant hahaha thanks for the review, btw forgive my english.

  5. Sometimes it's just so hard to mine the gems of a Glee episode from all the crap, so thank you for doing so in such a level-headed and logical manner! And I agree that while Quinn's new friendship with Artie (which she will no doubt forget next season ala Beth and Mercedes) was cute and pretty fairly done, they (again) missed loads of opportunities to further character, storylines, and general continuity by limiting the Rachel/Quinn interactions. It boggles the mind. Their characters were conceived and set up to be each others foils, yet the writers never really take full advantage of what a fascinating relationship they turned out to have. Instead we're inundated with Finchel. Gross.

    I always end up wondering though (and wishing), how much better would Glee be if there was no Finn? Seriously, he manages to not only be a hypocritical jackass every episode, but somehow makes himself into a newer, slightly different version of a the same douchebag he was in previous episodes.

  6. OMG did you just hack my head? Excellent review. Allow me to publish it on my Tumblr and to credit you, this is just too good not to be shared.

  7. Terrible chapter. Terrible script, terrible storyline, terrible new character. The chapter which is supposed to flesh out Blaine ends up basically highlighting even more his status as a Gary Stu. Poor Blaine! Look what a terrible brother he had, who didn't see how marvellous, talented, handsome and basically perfect he is! But fear nothing, even the self-centered and mean Cooper recognizes how incredible Blaine is, he just wanted him to be even better (then realized it's impossible). Thank god there was Kurt around to lecture Blaine and let him see that the magical solution to his problems were singing a song to him (and voilĂ , end of plotline). But that's Kurt, the morally superior being who's always there to tell other people what they must and musn't feel, when to apologize, whose problems are bigger, etc. Funny how for such a clever guy he wasn't able to see through Cooper's bull****.

    About the "funny" (?) ironies: I just can't understand how Jenna still puts up with all of this.

    Thank you, THANK YOU for your intelligence, your depth, your wisdom. Wish the writers had just a quarter of it.

  8. As everyone said above, your analysis of 'Big Brother' is spot on. I like your mention of all the options the writers could have taken. I think the makers care more about fitting songs in than continuity or character development. It wouldn't surprise me if they decided to have Will and Emma marry off screen - there's only been 3 years build up to that!


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