In life, there are optimists, and there are pessimists. The optimists out there probably thought that "Dance With Somebody," conceptually, was a touching tribute to a beloved music icon. The pessimists probably saw it as a whored-out attempt for Glee to cash in not only on the memory of a recently-passed singer, but also her vast and chart-topping body of work. I couldn't muster up enough energy to feel one or the other; this episode became much easier to watch when I sat back and let it wash over me like a strange wave of clammy serenity. And now that it's all said and done, I've found the best course of action is to continue listening to Whitney Houston as if Glee inspired me to keep on loving her as I do - and didn't try to get me to buy any of their reproductions.
"Dance With Somebody," written by Ross Maxwell, directed by Paris Barclay
Honestly, what sacked this episode most was that the best performance happened before the title card even appeared. The stripped-down version of "How Will I Know," helmed more-than-capably by Mercedes, Santana, Rachel, and Kurt, was really the only tribute needed for the late great vocal icon. It was solemn, respectful, well-performed, and ultimately understated - something Glee struggles with on a minute-to-minute basis. Okay, fine, they did toss in a locker-shrine to Ms. Houston, as the kids reverently passed around a framed photo, but whatever. The performance was understated!
But unfortunately, the tribute spawned further, and as soon as Will Schuester put his marker to white board I knew we were in for a rainbow of performances that somehow manage to be forcibly-themed as well as completely random. The framework of the episode was this: Will witnessed the Fabulous Four mourning Whitney's death, two months later, in the McKinley hallways, and decided they were redirecting their sadness for graduation into a prolonged grief for an icon. As Emma explained, Whitney's passing is a metaphor for the loss of their youth - just like the passing of Princess Diana was for hers. Oof. This is not a graceful setup.
Mostly, I'm to the point where I would like Glee to come up with an episode structure that doesn't amount to Will giving the kids a themed assignment, and then lets them perform songs from that theme which also haphazardly relate to their lives. In the case of Whitney, everything Houston-related was spelled out to the letter in the first ten minutes, and then the rest of the hour spun away from theme completely as the kids realized they were saying goodbye to their classmates. In a way, it was doubly-themed, and honestly I wish that Will had just said, "Hey, sing Whitney this week," and the rest fell into place naturally. Why does it have to be laid out completely at the top? Wouldn't it be better if the theme emerged as the storylines unraveled, and the message happened subtly and simply towards the resolution? Wouldn't that be... development? Or, if you're going to lay out a theme at the top of the hour, why not show a twist on the message by the end? "Dance With Somebody" presented the idea that these kids had not laid Whitney to rest because they were avoiding saying their own goodbyes, and in the end, they had not laid Whitney to rest because... they... were avoiding saying their own goodbyes. Oh. No new information? Really?
Alas, we weren't in for a sophisticated framework, so we might as well move onto the actual underlying theme running through the episode: the idea that this is the beginning of 'goodbye.' This theme works on its own, and doesn't really need a Whitney Houston hook shoehorned in there to sell it. It's incredibly saddening to see these characters confront the notion that they'll have to part ways and leave this happy existence behind. In fact, the episode's most touching moments hit on that idea - the reveal that Will wants the wedding in May because he can't not have the kids there, the parting words from Puck to his boys, the confession from Burt to Kurt that sometimes he wishes he could have his sweet little boy back, and the request from Rachel to Santana to keep her photo in her locker so that they can be friends for the last forty-two days of high school. All of these individual scenes were great in concept, and pretty solid in execution as well. The particulars of the surrounding storylines and performances are of course a bit rocky in places.
Let's start with Will and Emma. Will swoops into Emma's office, procuring an incredibly fancypants paper decoration advertising a renowned - and expensive - wedding coordinator. (It's cool. Will didn't need those platelets.) He wants to push the wedding up to May, and seems hellbent on making that happen. In fact, when the coordinator tries to tell Will there's no place for a stage at the current venue, he fires him in a huff and keeps barreling ahead - trying to set the wedding at KOA campground until Emma finally gets him to calm down. The idea that Will was determined to get married in May because he wanted the kids to be there was sweet, but I definitely didn't get that until Emma flat-out brought it into conversation. Was that supposed to be an actual reveal? It wasn't quite that revelatory, and I almost wish the suggestion came sooner, so I could feel sympathy towards Will during the earlier scenes. Because as is, I was more preoccupied with annoyance at the fact that he totally hijacked his and Emma's wedding and started making all sorts of plans without asking her. When she protested, he smothered her with kisses, and then he unilaterally fired their coordinator in a fit of hot temper when things didn't line up how he wanted. This begs the question: when will the writers let Emma Pillsbury have any semblance of control over her own life? The answer remains: not this episode.
But, it was sweet that Emma's reassurance about the glee kids returning to Will no matter what was actually paid off at episode's end. Each student had the opportunity to skip a glee practice, but one by one, each of them trickled in to sing "My Love is Your Love" with Mercedes and Artie. I confess, it was heartwarming to see them all assemble and perform together, with the idea that they (and we) should treasure these moments, because they're not going to last forever. And even greater yet was the nod to the Pilot, where Will watched them from the wings in an actually non-creepy way. Part of me wishes that homage were even more apparent, by giving Finn, Rachel, Mercedes, Kurt, Artie, and Tina the first spots on the stage. They were close to ordering everyone that way, but unfortunately Blaine couldn't stop at the bathroom or something on the way to the auditorium, and Tina of course paraded in last with Mike in hand. (I assume this to mean that they were making out somewhere in the school because they had little else to do this week.) The emotion was still there, though.
Will wasn't the only one manifesting his angsty feelings about the glee club disbanding. Blaine too was feeling the looming gloom of Kurt leaving his side, and handled it poorly by distancing himself from Kurt without explanation. Ordinarily, this arc would be enough to sustain a character's storyline, but the writers fussed it up a little further with the idea that Kurt, in the lack of positive attention from Blaine, sought giggles elsewhere by taking up texting with some kid named Chandler that he met at a record store. Naturally, Blaine found the texts, accused him of cheating, diva'd out for yet another I-will-rise-above-your-emotional-abuse performance, and then the two got swept away to couples counseling. Phew! There was a lot on the plate for Kurt and Blaine, and of course, everything was wrapped up neatly with Blaine's confession that he feels like Kurt is leaving him behind, and Kurt reassuring him that he won't lose him.
I'm not sure why the writers are so intent on taking Blaine so seriously. To me, part of the guy's appeal is that he seems really put together, but that actually he is kind of ridiculous. Because seriously, this is a young man who serenades Gap employees in plain sight of everyone, and who routinely sings songs out of the Contemporary Pop Diva Songbook. He is the sloppiest drunk on the planet, and hasn't the first idea about how to tell Sebastian to take a hike. He sings "Fighter" when his brother overshadows-slash-ridicules him, and "It's Not Right (But It's Okay)" when his boyfriend starts texting another guy. This boy is a melodramatic idiot, and I mean it in the best way possible. Because it's endearing, when it's framed as the kind of over-the-top ridiculata that it is! When the writers try and sell the hardcore emotional aspects of his character, I have a tendency to laugh. Because he's silly. He has completely valid emotions, and it's great when a character is allowed to have emotions and layers and multiple dimensions... but the writers choose to express Blaine Anderson's in the goofiest of ways and I wish they would just own up to that and roll with it.
On a purely objective level, yes, I feel bad for Blaine. Who wouldn't feel badly for someone in that situation? It sucks to think about the idea that a significant other is definitely going to leave you, and you have no control over the situation. But the constructed storyline around this notion was bizarre, in that it tried to pin something on Kurt as well, so that they could justify Blaine singing "It's Not Right (But It's Okay)" with the double meaning of being hurt by Chandler's dumb puns as well as by Kurt's inevitable departure. While we did get to hear Kurt voice his opinion about the negatives to being Blaine's boyfriend, I still frowned that Paris Barclay chose to assemble the New Directions behind Blaine as they sang sassy backup, as though Kurt was getting group-chastised for his actions. Not only that, but Blaine was the only one in couples counseling to suggest ways in which he felt his partner could change behavior. And he hauled out three examples! Yikes. Yes, what Kurt was doing wasn't entirely on the up-and-up. But for as much as the "gray areas" of cheating get dusted under the rug on this show (with Santana, with Quinn, with Finn, with Puck, with Will, with Sam... although not as much with Rachel or Mercedes) it seemed strange to hold a character accountable for flirty text messages. Between this and the recent propensity of the writers to take Blaine's emotions with sincere - and severe - gravity, I never really warmed to this storyline as a result. (Although the argument over having bronzed hands was hilarious.)
Far stronger in relation to Kurt was of course his scene with Burt about how things will never be the same after he leaves. Cue a million tears! The idea that Burt and Kurt have lived their lives as a team after the death of Kurt's mother is incredibly heartwarming, especially considering how "different" these two men are. And now, of course, it's incredibly heartwrenching knowing that Kurt's leaving the nest and this pair will be split up. Honestly, it's 1000x sadder to think about Kurt and Burt being separated than Kurt and Blaine. For years, Kurt and Burt were all each other had in their lives, and they had each others' backs the entire way through. Separating a kid from a parent is upsetting enough, but the idea of separating this kid from this parent had me reaching for the tissues far before Burt even uttered the phrase "Starsky and Gay Hutch." The conversation was a perfect segue to Kurt singing "I Have Nothing" for his assignment, but my emotions ebbed considerably when I realized Kurt was actually singing to Blaine. Wah-wah. This television show's expressions of love are monumentally one-dimensional in action and dialogue yet profusely preached in storyline, and I'm getting to the point where any "romantic" scene inspires no sort of emotion in me other than nausea. Will I ever wholly love a couple on Glee again?
Methinks the answer is an unfortunate yet resounding no, as "Dance With Somebody" lined up the next pairing in rotation: Quinn, and Joe - also known as "Dreads" and "Teen Jesus." Now, I'm terribly discriminating when it comes to Quinn's love interests. As in, I haven't liked a single one. (Okay, I've liked some things about some of the relationships, but mostly, I am a Quinn-should-be-single girl, and I have an arsenal of character-based proof to back up my opinion.) And the streak continues! There are myriad reasons why this pairing positively baffles me, and for the sake of making it look like a Laundry List of Reasons, I shall bullet-point them:
- Quinn was just in a life-threatening accident, and the one person who rushes to her side is someone who has known her for literally three episodes. Why does something as character-important as dealing with possible paraplegia get shuffled over to a guy we hardly know?
- This of course only lends itself to the notion that Quinn is somehow being saved by this guy, because he is Teen Jesus and has a soothing way about him and that is all we know.
- It is also alienating Quinn from characters she has actual relationships with, especially in light of her accident. Her bond with Artie was nowhere to be seen, and the untied threads of her dynamic with Rachel are being expressed simply with Rachel apologizing at random points in conversations that don't actually have to do with her.
- Quinn is about to graduate in forty-two days, and seemed intent on not letting any part of her past prevent her from meeting her future. Why on earth would she take up with a sophomore she barely knows? (And if the reason is because she is in a wheelchair now and her opinions about her future have changed, then make the storyline about that instead!)
- While their duet was sweet, they've been dressing Quinn so much more maturely lately that honestly as I was watching it, I couldn't help but see a housewife singing with her son's hygiene-challenged friend who hangs around all the time and is kind of inappropriate but also underage and so the mom tries to keep him at arm's length. (Oops.)
- This particular episode confronted the notion that Joe doesn't know how to negotiate his penis and his faith, and he sought out Sam for advice in pursuing Quinn. Um, hi. Does no one remember that Quinn has probably not had sex since she got pregnant because she got pregnant and is probably the most skittish person around reproductive organs? Nope? No one? Oh, okay.
- Joe's reasons for liking Quinn are that she is the prettiest, nicest, best-smelling girl he's met. Prettiest, I'll give him. Best-smelling, I have no evidence. Nicest? Oh, no, buddy. If you think Quinn Fabray is the nicest person you've met you have clearly met exactly one person: Quinn Fabray. And I'm supposed to want them to be together? I don't understand.
- Also, Quinn should be single, and I have a whole laundry sub-list of character-based reasons why, that I will not list because a laundry list within a laundry list is far too much for this review right now.
So there you have eight very valid reasons as to why this Joe/Quinn pairing is mystifying beyond all reason, and mostly I just want to frown at the show for treading the waters (again) of "how do I resist the carnal temptation of hot girls" question from dudes, and as well for trying to make Quinn's physical therapy erotic somehow. Why? She's recovering from a near-death experience! Why are these moments played out to be sexual? No! I don't like it one bit. I also don't like how Quinn was subjected to flattened-out "girl talk" in the bathroom, where women say things that only men think that women say, wherein every single glee girl commented on how Quinn's got a little somethin'-somethin' cooking with Joe and just encouraged her with flirty boy talk. No! Why couldn't that time have been devoted to a series of shots where we got a single of each girl looking at herself in the mirror, and then cut to Quinn having to put on her makeup in the reflection of a hair dryer, because that's the closest to her height? The only Quinn development in this episode came with the hardened belief that no one could possibly love her in this condition, and it wasn't even delineated that she's regressing back to being resigned about her future. No! Instead, she was given awkward Bible sex talk in physical therapy sessions, and weird romantic storylines that have no business taking precedence over her recovery arc.
Again, I'm basically revolted by the majority of Glee's "romantic" expressions these days, and after "Dance With Somebody," the couple I think I liked most during the episode was Rachel and Santana. I mean, Santana willingly put Rachel's picture in her locker when asked! (And didn't put any weird decorations around it like the photos in Kurt's and Rachel's.) Not only that, they banged out a hell of a duet, complete with Santana trying to adorably squirm away from the iron grasp of a Rachel Berry hug. Yet Santana will miss her! If only this prickly friendship could have been actually expressed on the show from time to time instead of randomly paid off forty-two days before graduation. The scene was certainly included to supplement the inclusion of "So Emotional," which is more than any scene could say for the performance of "I Wanna Dance With Somebody." (It's because there is none. The latter song got a strange and manic club-hit treatment, and was presented without any narrative tether - except Will Schuester's trusty Whitney theme. It was cute, but a floater.)
As such, "Dance With Somebody" was overall a sloppy execution of themes - where one could have been strong on its own, Glee oversold the construct of including Whitney Houston, and ultimately cluttered the narrative. However, the writers are getting good mileage out of the pending curtain calls for New Directions, and emotionally, this episode hit those notes well. The tone of friendships on this show have always outweighed the mess of romantic relationships, and "Dance With Somebody" only served to reinforce that dichotomy.
(Now, I'm gonna go listen to some Whitney Houston.)
The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: A-
Musical Numbers: A-
Dance Numbers: B+
Episode MVP: Burt Hummel
Poll: Rachel seemed to laugh at Kurt and Blaine for having scheduled makeouts. Is this a) in-character, because Rachel would totally appreciate the drama of impromptu face-sucking? Or b) out-of-character, because Rachel Berry makes cat calendars and would totally schedule mack time into her days?