Finally, a Glee episode devoted to these kids and their dreams! It's high time we've learned what mental doors have opened for these scrappy kids thanks to the power of music, theatre, dance, and acting! And what better way to explore the nature of dreaming and success than with the seminal American music genre that best understands what it means to dream: disco. Because, as they say: the higher your falsetto, the bigger your dreams.
"Saturday Night Glee-ver," written by Matthew Hodgson, directed by Brad Buecker.
Okay, so perhaps I'm being a bit harsh. The idea of kids in a small town dreaming of something bigger is a central tenet of this show, and I don't mean to knock it. But it does get re-tread an awful lot, and I honestly don't know how disco is the best vehicle for the theme. Frankly, it felt more like the last musical genre left to get the Glee treatment - especially since the show's pilot condemned it outright. So what better way to prove its relevance by shoehorning it into Glee's main themes? But disco, to me, is simply fun. If you want to do disco this close to graduation, make it so that the seniors are stressed out by their college decisions, and Will suggests they just take a break and have fun - with disco. The kids can protest, because it's disco, but eventually learn that disco's not so bad, and reach their own conclusions about their futures with or without the help of polyester. And while Saturday Night Fever could be summarized as a guy pursuing his dreams, the same can be said for countless other movies, and the reduction ignores a lot of Saturday Night Fever's focus on the angst of growing up and finding an outlet from harsh "grown-up" realities. (In other words, Will could have used disco to encourage the kids to let off steam while they deal with their grown-up choices.)
The premise of disco was even more bewildering in that Glee just busted out "You Should Be Dancing," right from the top, without any explanation whatsoever. Blaine thought it'd be a good mix of vintage and fun (which it is; I'll give him) - but only when Will worries for the futures of three of his Glee students does disco become the perfect vehicle for self-discovery. Um, I don't think that's what Blaine meant, Mr. Schue. What did help sell this concept was the spoonful of self-referential sugar that Sue sent with it - claiming that Will Schuester hasn't had a good teaching idea since Madonna Week. Burn! (And true. Also, Madonna was Sue's idea. Awkward.) In other words, Glee hasn't logically assembled an artist's tribute that's both fitting and story-driven in quite some time. We even got a further nod to that suggestion with the claim that "Rumours" was great, but had no lasting effect on the narrative. Maybe this was Matt Hodgson's way of warning us that we were about to endure another madcap hour of themed music that would stretch the bounds of human logic and character development to facilitate its song choices, and that we should all just forget about it at curtain's fall.
Oh, how I wish we could.
Okay, okay, I'm being overdramatic again. Of the four storylines threading through "Saturday Night Glee-ver," two were trainwrecks, one was passable, and one was downright excellent. And guess what? The downright excellent one had nothing to do with the episode's frame: the idea that Will Schuester is using disco to encourage three of his students to figure out what they want to do with their futures. What does that tell you about the framework, then?
Trainwreck #1: Finn Hudson searches for his dream, fails to realize his girlfriend has been replaced by a robot.
"Saturday Night Glee-ver" finally confronted the uncomfortable issue that's been conveniently undeveloped yet annoyingly present since the dawn of this season: what does Finn Hudson want from his future? This is a 100% valid question to be asking, given his past confusion on the topic. And frankly, that confusion transcends into the narrative itself. Do the writers want him to be proto-Will Schuester, or a kid destined to take the scene by storm because he's a straight guy who can sing and dance? Is he supposed to be a mechanic, a soldier, or a football player? Is he going to be a pool-cleaning mogul with Puck, or is he a gifted stage performer? He knows not. We know not. The writers know not.
But Finn was allowed this full episode to discover his own dreams for the future - not the ones that Puck or Rachel want for him. Will, Emma, and Rachel all bombard him with pamphlets and brochures for college, but Finn promptly dumps them in the trash. And finally, Will gets him to break down and confess that he's scared of being a loser, and even more terrified that Rachel will realize he has no potential. The only thing he knows he wants is the feeling of being on the football field or on the stage, and Will tells him that deep down, he knows his dream. He just has to watch Saturday Night Fever to discover it and embrace it. (Yes, I laughed. It's a ridiculous notion.)
So, Finn tells Rachel he wants to go to New York and be like Tony Manero in the Big City and take on the world. Of course, this comes after Rachel tells Finn that they don't have to go to New York if his dream isn't there. Because her home isn't a place - it's him. (Yes, I gagged. It's overly saccharine.) She encourages Finn to have his own dreams, because what if they're bigger than hers? They deserve to be focused on.
Here is the thing. I'm quite tired of talking about Finn and Rachel's relationship, so I'll make this brief. Yes, Finn deserves to have a dream. But I dislike that the narrative and the other characters in it are so insistent that he have one now. It is 100% okay to not know exactly what you want to do when you graduate high school. Most people don't end up where they thought they'd be, even just one or two years down the line. If Finn is struggling to find a fulfilled future, then why not let him find it at his own pace? The other characters may as well be turning him upside down and shaking him, as though a wayward dream might fall out of one of his pockets. It's okay to be unsure! And while I love that this show positively portrays young people with big dreams, I dislike that anything other than that standard is treated like a "problem." It's not a problem; it's simply an obstacle to overcome at one's own pace and patience.
Unfortunately, this storyline for Finn is playing out in conjunction with Rachel, to whom he is tethered via engagement band. And here is where it gets particularly troubling. What do you do when your couple might have to put one person's dreams before the other's? It's unfair for Finn to tagalong with Rachel to New York if he doesn't have a dream there. But it's also unfair for Rachel to redirect or postpone her dream simply so that Finn can find out what his is. On any other show, this is a recipe for a healthy and amicable breakup, with the promise that perhaps their timing will realign in the future. On Glee, this is a chance to "develop" Rachel Berry and prove that she's not the same selfish loner she was in the Pilot. She is willing to put Finn before her dreams now! She's grown! She even tells Finn that she used to feel so alienated at McKinley that New York seemed the only way to go home, but now that role is fulfilled by Finn. The writers seem to be wielding this as some sort of character development for Rachel with regards to her personal relationships, but frankly it's just upsetting that they would strip her of all her other identifiers just to make her feel loved.
This all wouldn't be so bad if Finn's dreams didn't amount to "I like it when people cheer for me," or if Rachel didn't seem so insecure about losing Finn that she offered to sacrifice everything that's defined her character for three seasons. It also wouldn't be so bad if Finn didn't match Rachel's insecurity with his own need to fuel his own self-esteem with Rachel's approval. The idea that he wants to be Rachel's Man, that he wants to be exactly how she sees him - capable of anything - reeks of low self-esteem and the need for someone else to fulfill that emotional void. It's unhealthy! This is a terribly unhealthy relationship, if one half of it is so insecure about being alone that she'll desperately set aside her own previously-unchangeable plans, and the other half of it has so little self-worth that he's banking on the validation from his loved one to make sense of his life. Any way you spin this, it's a mess, and the writers have consistently found the messiest aspects each time they spin Finchel storylines. This is not a healthy romance; it's just not.
Honestly, the most compelling person for Finn to interact with on this "dreamer" arc is Quinn Fabray, who spent two and a half seasons stuck in circles when it came to figuring out what she truly wanted. It would be incredibly rewarding for them, as the erstwhile head cheerleader and star quarterback, to have a conversation about the futures that they've been forced to redirect for themselves after everything they thought they wanted whisked away on the wind. But for whatever reason, Quinn was hardly anywhere to be seen in "Saturday Night Glee-ver," which is maddening even without the expectation that she might have an interesting interaction with Finn about self-discovery. Apparently the writers think we have little invested in Quinn's onscreen presence, let alone her recovery storyline.
Trainwreck #2: Santana Lopez searches for her dream; fails to realize she can't win for losing when it comes to her private life.
We all remember Matthew Hodgson, right? He penned a little sojourn called "I Kissed a Girl," wherein Santana Lopez had details from her private life wrenched from her control and displayed for all to see - and then just had to learn to deal with it. Does this sound familiar? Because this is the basic description of Santana's part in "Saturday Night Glee-ver" as well. Santana, according to Schue, is ambitious but has no focus. She crows left and right that she wants to be famous in whatever way she can, without any real merit if necessary, and she's 1000% sure it'll happen for her. Well, Brittany decides to take matters into her own hands and puts hers and Santana's sex tape on the internet. Of course, Santana gets all kinds of (negative) attention for this, and is duly horrified at the consequences. Brittany is hellbent on making Santana's dream come true, and tries to set her up on a series of reality TV shows. In the end, Santana is embarrassed about her original plan, having seen the fallout of being publicly shameless, and decides to go to college. Which is good, because Sue Sylvester got her into a cheerleading program in Louisville, Kentucky, with an option for majoring in business. (Because if there's one state in the union that screams Santana Lopez, it's Kentucky.)
This storyline was a downright mess. Firstly, the sex tape part was completely glossed over for the purpose of Santana learning her Big Lesson. Where was Holly Holliday to swoop in and discourage another possible sex tape leak? Has Glee decided to not mention child pornography, or are we supposed to believe that Santana and Brittany are 18 and can therefore make all sex-related decisions as though they're mini-adults? All I know is that a sex tape was casually dropped in as a plot device in a high school comedy, and nary an eyebrow was raised.
Secondly, Santana was actively portrayed as having the wrong dream. She wished to get famous for the sake of being famous, and gets royal comeuppance when she realizes fame is on her doorstep... because her girlfriend exploited their private life for her dream. Which leads me to the third bad part of this storyline: why is it that Santana can't be written in control of her own storylines? Is it because she's a bitch? Because watching Santana completely powerless in her own existence is not rewarding "punishment" for her past transgressions as one of Glee's quasi-villains. It's upsetting. In both "I Kissed a Girl" and "Saturday Night Glee-ver," Santana had her privacy violated with the expressed idea that it was out of love - and in the end, Santana's completely fine with it. Not only that, but it was in her best interests. In IKAG, she's forced out of the closet to show her how awesome she is, no matter that she isn't ready for it. And in SNG, her sex life is displayed for all to see, so that she can discover that she doesn't want to be a fame whore. To boot, she has her college picked out for her and handed to her in one fell swoop, and she thanks them for it.
I call foul! This is not okay! Why does no one ever ask Santana what she wants, and respect that anymore? It's terrible construction for this character, who may as well have her hands tied behind her back so that she can keep shooting off at the mouth until someone "nicer" comes along to show her that she's wrong. It'd be one thing if Santana reacted like Finn, who is no stranger to a temper tantrum when he feels he's being walked on. But the writers love to shove someone else's wishes down Santana's throat, and make her simply say thank you in return. As a result, a character with incredible depth as a result of her flaws is reduced to being a body in orbit, to be yelled at or lectured, or wielded thinly to prove a point. Hell, even Will put words in her mouth when she finished singing "If I Can't Have You." And while she corrected his interpretation with her own intent, she was ultimately shown to be invalid in her opinions after she had the lesson shoved down her throat. Ultimately, she wasn't in charge of her own self-discovery storyline, and what makes matters worse is the idea that Brittany, her supposed "soulmate," was involved in the denial of Santana's agency. Sue and Brittany knew what was best for Santana, without asking her, and that's all there was to it. Party foul on healthy relationships, Glee, and double foul on portraying Brittany as too dumb to know any better. I really shouldn't be surprised at this point.
But let's move on to the more palatable material, shall we?
Passable Storyline: Mercedes already knows her dreams; is reaffirmed that she has the ability to achieve them.
So, Finn doesn't have a dream, Santana has the wrong dream, and Mercedes doesn't know how to go about getting her dream. She wants to be like Mariah, Whitney, and Aretha: women who have #1 hits that inspire people. But how does she get there? She apparently has little parental support from her dentist father, and underneath all of this lies the nagging insecurity: what if she's only good by Lima standards? Cream rises to the top, but what if she's only skim milk? This notion is certainly compelling, and realistic to the situation at hand, so while I'm not usually a fan of bogging Mercedes down with debilitating and self-imposed insecurities, I was more willing to let this one through.
And of course, since this is Glee, her affirmation came in the form of a love interest. Sam filmed her rendition of "Disco Inferno," uploaded it to YouTube sans permission, and garnered enough positive comments to help Mercedes realize that she ain't no skim milk. It was a pretty standard way to wrap up the emotional mini-arc, and while it was cute, I can't help but wish there were something more to it. What if Sam immediately assured Mercedes that she had nothing to worry about in the talent department, and then they set about researching the music industry? That way, Mercedes could get an added boost of self-confidence in the fact that she's studied up and acquired some business savvy. As they say, you can learn tips and tricks, but you can't learn talent. Mercedes already has talent - she just might need to gain some savvy to really capitalize on it.
Of course, I also can't help but wonder why these three storylines never intersected. Why did Mercedes, Finn, and Santana all have to receive help from their significant others, but never once did the writers purposefully cross their paths? After all, they were scripted as having the same general problem: a lack of preparation for the future - so why not team them up and let them work through their issues together? Mercedes and Santana could drop some (productive, not cruel) truth bombs on Mr. Hudson about his aimlessness, Santana and Finn could both easily reassure Mercedes that she's amazing (Santana in a backwards way, of course), and Mercedes and Santana could realize that they inadvertently push each other to be better simply through competition, and make a pact to keep pushing one another in the future. Hell, both Kurt and Rachel dealt with the same insecurities as Mercedes fifteen episodes ago, and no one knows about the nagging possibility of being destined to loser status quite as well as Noah Puckerman or Quinn Fabray. So why boomerang the wayward dreamers into their significant others only - especially when two of those relationships suffered in the execution?
Finally, excellence: Wade is Unique.
At long last, we were treated to the fourth and final winner of The Glee Project: Alex Newell. He played Wade, a Vocal Adrenaline student who seeks out Kurt and Mercedes for a piece of advice. He confesses to them that he's their number one fan, and that he wants to know if they think he should perform at VA's Regionals dressed as a woman. See, Wade only feels like he's his real self when he's "Unique" - a female alter-ego. Kurt and Mercedes tell him that Ohio isn't really ready for the likes of Unique, but ultimately Sue Sylvester urges them to encourage Wade so that VA will tank. But when Kurt and Mercedes attend Regionals to save Wade from the pending disaster of introducing drag to Ohio, he tells them he has to go through with it. Then he gets up on stage, in wig, dress, heels, and makeup, and performs the hell out of "Boogie Shoes" to thunderous applause.
It is not often that mainstream television tackles the "T" in LGBT. Truthfully, we're still trying to get the "L," "G," and "B" represented fairly and frequently. So transgender issues are rarely scripted, and usually cross-dressing is seen as comedic device or throwaway joke, and it's almost always separated from any actual gender dissociation. So to see Glee, a television show marketed to the mainstream, putting forth a young character who expresses his true identity without any ounce of shame or confusion - even when his true identity is a girl - is a huge deal. They even went so far as to point out that Kurt, while being "effeminate" as a gay man, still identifies as just that: a man. It's implied, however, that Wade identifies as a woman, and in embracing that identity, he shone. Glee made good on a promise that most television shows don't even go near, and I applaud them.
In all, disco served as a mostly random backdrop to the usual business of the glee kids figuring out their dreams and discovering their potential. Unfortunately, the individual storylines involved some poor choices in terms of agency and character relationships, and at the end of the day I'm still not sure I feel any better about these kids' futures. Truly, the most enjoyable part of the episode was seeing each of the kids deliver their own dance moves during "Night Fever," and I wish the episode had been more in keeping with the gang having fun and coming to conclusions more naturally than forcibly adopting the lessons of a disco film from the '70s.
The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: B+
Musical Numbers: B+
Dance Numbers: A-
Episode MVP: Wade