Saturday, May 19, 2012

The RBI Report: "Nationals"

I suppose it's a bit stupidly obvious to say that your experience with Glee as a whole affects how much you may or may not like an individual episode.  But, as we're beginning to tie up loose ends and wrap up the stories that have carried this show's original design, I'm finding this statement to be extraordinarily true, at least with my own viewing experience.  "Nationals" was defined largely by emotional moments intended to pay off previously-set-up stories and dynamics - and whether or not the resolution worked for you is really dependent on what you've felt about the relationship, development, or storyline they're intending to pay off.

"Nationals," written by Ali Adler, directed by Eric Stoltz

I actually enjoyed the first half of "Nationals" more than the second half.  It was great to see the whole of New Directions all crammed in a room trying to practice, even if they were fighting.  I actually would have liked more of these moments with the kids, from the kids' points of view, before the competition.  Instead, the scenes were used simply to remind everyone of the stakes, establish Will as the vehicle for the New Directions' collective emotions, and introduce pointless obstacles.  For example, in order: we got brief bits of dialogue to jog our memories about Quinn's struggle to fulfill her promise to dance at competition, as well about Rachel's expectation that Carmen Thibodeaux might come to the performance and consider reversing her NYADA decision.  Stakes?  Check!  Will's scene with Emma also served to remind the audience about the glee club's collective struggles and placed Will as the bearer of that burden and anticipation - even though he's not the one performing.  (I smell a Teacher of the Year Award coming soon!)  And, obstacles: Mercedes ate a bad burrito and may not be able to perform.  Cue Quinn and Tina's induction into the Troubletones, and an actually kind-of-amazing opportunity for Sue to nurse Mercedes back to life with hopefully legal elixirs.

Together, these pre-show additions seemed formulaic and didn't really have lasting impact.  I would have preferred to witness these concepts embedded into more meaningful moments, so the resolution would have better payoff.  Why not give Mercedes a more personalized moment of determination to overcome her illness and perform her last glee competition?  The Troubletones taking care of her was sweet, but mostly a throwaway action, completely background to the scene.  I'm not saying Mercedes needed a Rocky-esque getting-better montage with Sue coaching her (although come to think of it, that could have been hilarious) but something a bit more substantial than what was given would have strengthened the scenario.

Even previously established storylines didn't pay off all that meaningfully: both Rachel's and Quinn's recent struggles deadlined at Nationals, and while they both found success in the episode, neither had a significant moment of payoff.  Sure, there were some single shots of Quinn during "Edge of Glory," and I get that it's hard to communicate the triumph of successful dancing any further than filming... successful dancing.  But how about a moment of relief after the triumphant performance?  Literally, an exchange between Tina and Quinn amounting to "you did it!" and "oh thank god" would have sufficed.  This is a character who got in a car accident, lost the use of her legs, made a promise to dance at Nationals, went to physical therapy, learned to walk again, and successfully fulfilled her promise.  Why no specific moment of celebration for that?

The same goes for Rachel: here we have a character who had her dreams ripped away from her the minute she stumbled just the slightest bit.  Everything was riding on this Nationals performance, and while it's certainly rewarding to see Rachel deliver a pitch-perfect rendition of "It's All Coming Back To Me Now" complete with Carmen's subsequent approval, I do wish there was a moment where Rachel learned her fate.  Are we to assume that Carmen has changed her mind, and will give Rachel another chance?  Really, I would have liked to seen a moment, post-performance, pre-judging, where Carmen somehow communicates to Rachel that she has another shot.  Why wouldn't you show us Rachel's face when she hears that news?  I wanna celebrate her success, dammit!  I'd also like to believe that Rachel's performance itself was what changed Carmen's mind.  As much as I love Jesse St. James - and am appropriately gutted by the fact that he appears to be hopelessly in love with Rachel, enough so to approach Carmen and recommend her personally - I'd have rather had a scene between Rachel and Carmen than Jesse and Carmen.  In the end, I want to know that Rachel earned this, and even though she got a little help from her friends, it was ultimately her own talent that won her another chance.  I'm at least still hoping that perhaps we'll see Rachel receive the good news next episode, and the writers won't have let the moment of payoff pass them by completely.

It's hard not to be frustrated by the lack of payoff for Rachel's and Quinn's run-up-to-Nationals storylines when other stakes were haphazardly thrown in and paid off equally as poorly.  In addition to Mercedes' illness, we also got Finn placing an unnecessary bet on the New Directions winning, as well as an unnecessary scene with Unique before the Vocal Adrenaline performance.  I'm not entirely sure what the point was of this latter inclusion, other than to give Kurt and Mercedes another chance to be supportive godparents to Wade/Unique.  It doesn't help that the scene basically aligned transsexualism to "conjuring up" an alter-ego; Wade claimed to be unable to call upon Unique, but Kurt and Mercedes encouraged him to fight the nerves with Unique's help.  Between this deliberate bifurcation of Wade and Unique, and the repeated "he/she" "him/her" references, "Nationals" waffled a bit on Glee's positive representation of transgender issues.  On a completely shallow note, I was bummed that Unique's vocals were a bit overshadowed by the backing music and voices, and that she also had the same basic costume that she wore in "Boogie Shoes."  But, it was great to see her win the MVP trophy, and I chuckled at the blatantly-mentioned possibility for Wade to transfer to McKinley next year.  

Truthfully, "Nationals" had a hard time negotiating the emotional resolution of the group as a unit versus its individual members.  Will and Emma's early scene sought to adjust that problem by channeling the glee club's collective emotional experience through Will himself.  On the one hand, that scene is nice to remind the audience that the glee kids are school misfits and celebrated within the halls of McKinley for absolutely nothing.  And it sets up the "Tongue Tied" sequence where we did get to see the kids celebrate.  But in that vein, I do wish this idea had been weaved into a scene with the kids themselves.  How often do we get to see the whole gang together in one room, communicating, without adult supervision?  I love the idea of having a moment to see the conflicts and personalities clashing before Will and Emma even show up.  Even when they were there, we got to see a surprising peacekeeper in Santana, who maintained the peace by threatening to harm everyone.  (Sorry, sorry.  She just goes to her yelling place.  She has a lot of rage!)  It would have been great to see a bit more into the group's stakes manifesting through the kids actually in the group.  Yes, this club represents all the misfits and outcasts.  But the misfits and outcasts are the ones actually performing - what are they feeling about everything?  "Nationals" only really scraped the surface here, and I think it could have been more strongly delineated.  Hell, even if we got a brief shot of each kid before the curtain went up, just to see their faces - is it fear?  Confidence?  Are they in their element?  The pre-show moment with Santana, Brittany, and Quinn was sweet, but a bit distracting from the stakes because they were so cute and chipper.  An Unholy Trinity moment during "Tongue Tied" would have been just as sufficiently meaningful.  

Of course, Will was established as an early emotional focal point for a reason, which was to set up his Teacher of the Year win at episode's end, complete with special messages from Finn and Rachel and a very special performance of "We Are the Champions."  This was perhaps the only emotional resolution hammered in sufficiently, and yet it's also here where my personal experience with Glee got in the way of me enjoying it at all.  Because as Finn and Rachel were talking about how great a teacher Will is, I had an actual kneejerk reaction.  Suddenly, it was like an involuntary montage of Will's terrible teaching moments flickered on in my head, and I couldn't shut it off.  While Finn talked about how Mr. Schuester taught them all to dream, I couldn't help but see flashes of him yelling at Mercedes for being lazy, yelling at Quinn for being selfish, and yelling at Rachel for being uncooperative.  There was an unstoppable parade in my head: Will doubting Brittany's intelligence, Will kicking Santana out of the glee club, Will trying to seduce Sue to humiliate her, Will trying to play Rocky in the school musical to be closer to Emma, Will not being able to speak Spanish and refusing to admit it, Will criticizing Santana's and Mercedes' dreams without trying to help them, Will hardly interacting with any of his students individually except Finn.  I'm sorry, but I beg to differ that Rachel Berry "couldn't have done it" without Will.  At this point, the only character who can believably cite continual positive influence from Will Schuester, as a teacher and mentor, is Finn.  With everyone else, it's been far too long since Will has been an actively effective educator.  

Besides, since when does Will Schuester = the New Directions?  These kids changed each others' lives through coming together, as a unit.  Will just conducted the train.  So honestly, I had trouble believing the magic Glee was trying to sell with "We Are the Champions" and the hug-receiving line between Will and the students.  On paper, it's sweet.  But there's far too much murky material from three seasons that lingers in my memory, and it was enough to drag down what was clearly meant to be a touching moment.  (Down the line, I kept thinking, "What the hell did that kid learn from Mr. Schue?")

This urge was a bit easier to fight during "Tongue Tied," simply because the sequence was so damn endearing that I couldn't stay fussy for too long.  It was a great payoff to see the New Directions showered with confetti instead of slushies, and celebrated in the halls of McKinley.  Yes, it's probably unrealistic.  Yes, they'll probably boomerang back to Loser status the next day.  Yes, you could say that the Rachel yearbook moment is a bit cheesy, and that the Santana-Becky moment paid off absolutely nothing between the two characters, and that no one cares about two random girls cheek-kissing Rory.  But somehow, it worked.  (What didn't work?  Slipping in a rushed resolution to Will and Emma's chastity.  Gross, Glee!  No one wants to know the teacher finally got laid after his kids won Nationals, and the fact that it somehow played as a reward for Will - with no word about the change from Emma's POV - made my stomach turn.  Cut back to the happy faces and the confetti, for the love of humanity!)

Truthfully, it's messy and difficult to give emotional resolution to all the characters and situations, especially when they've been set up but never developed.  Now is not the time to finish the business you started but never continued!  In that vein, the parts of this episode that really worked for me were the ones where I could fill in with my own appreciations about what this show has haphazardly accomplished through the years.  I'm bound to take a journey down Will Schuester's Bad Teaching Express when they try and convince me otherwise, and likewise going to grumble about individual character payoffs being dusted under the rug in favor of things that aren't really that important.  But watching happy faces and competitive singing?  I can sit back, remember what I choose to remember about these kids' journeys, and even get a bit teary-eyed at the progress.  This is in fact how I enjoyed the New Directions' Nationals set so much - the distribution of songs was pretty great, and they were as polished, cohesive, and balanced as they've ever been.  So I just imagined a world where learning to perform as a team and allocating solos and learning who worked well together specifically was a scripted part of the journey to this moment.  Similarly, the ladies of the Troubletones were fantastic, so I just pretended that their previous treatment wasn't complete bullshit, and also tried not to focus too much on the fact that apparently the New Directions is lady-divisible by Rachel Berry and then "all the other girls."

So really, how much you enjoyed "Nationals" depended on how easily you could block out your bad memories, drum up the good ones, and ignore a lot of the bullshit Glee has supplied for the middle part of their story.  When the bulk of an episode is emotional resolution, there are a lot of factors that need to be previously established and developed for the payoff to truly work, and while Glee can't go back and fix their lack of consistent development, I still don't think they truly capitalized on their situations to get maximum emotional payoff.  But, that's just me.  And I'm pretty grumpy.

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: A
Dance Numbers: A
Dialogue: C
Plot: B
Characterization: A
Episode MVP: Mercedes Jones
Poll: Was Lindsay Lohan robbed for Freaky Friday?  (I say yes.)


  1. About the Lindsay Lohan question, I vote no. While I enjoyed her in that movie, she didn't really impress me much. That was Jamie Lee Curtis's movie, full stop.

    For the rest I absolutely agree. Especially in direct conjunction with Props, a wonderful episode by any standard, Nationals falls flat on its face. I would have much preferred to see the fight amongst the group play out from the beginning, to see Mercedes getting treated then have it all from Will's perspective. The Teacher of the Year nonsense was especially sickening. Props had a good teaching moment, a moment with a truly ignored student who was given a second a chance and incidentally a scene where Will was no where in sight. I was chanting Couch Beiste at my TV, how about anyone else?

    A few more horrible teaching moments from Will: allowing Sue to yell and badger them, take over Booty Camp without supervision the first time, focusing on three seniors for help: a boy with an invite into a family business, a girl already accepted into colleges and Santana, the smartest most capable girl in the group while ignoring the others. Like Rachel and Kurt with no back up schools, Brittany who is apparently failing and Puck who despite his technical musical skill, Will believes is only good enough for his work as a prostitute, with extra pool cleaning on the side.

  2. Will trying to seduce Sue to humiliate her

    He did that to stop her from continually trying to destroy the club. Will has plenty of moments as a bad teacher, but I'd hardly call that one of them, seeing as Sue's sociopathic behaviour was constantly doing harm to his students.

    The episode, of course, manipulates the situation to make Will then undo it, and Sue immediately goes back to doing what she did before.

  3. Could you please not speak for everyone? I know hundreds of people who waited a long time for the payoff to the Will/Emma sex problem. Also, I think some of your examples of bad teaching moments COULD be viewed as good teaching moments by others. A LOT of stuff that happens on this show is up to interpretation.

    1. She Bloggo doesn't suggest that people weren't waiting for a pay-off to the Will/Emma problem, she suggests that the way they handled it was completely unnecessary and a bit vile, in my opinion. There was no dialogue or anything... just Emma apparently having changed her mind with no explanation other than perhaps that she was apparently so impressed about the fact that Will was the director of a Nationals-winning Glee club that she had suddenly dropped any previous issues she'd had with sex and was ready to get on down. Whatever way you try and explain it, it's just absurd and insulting. Not only this but it stood out as actually sort of inappropriate given the rest of the context of the scene. The rest of the scene was carefree feel-good fun with the kids in the school hallways, etc... sure Finn and Rachel/Santana and Brittany kissed but it fitted in with the context of the little montage. A cutaway to Emma beckoning their teacher into bed (away from the school) really didn't.

      As for the "teaching moments", I kind of get what you mean. But I think what She Bloggo meant is that the kids were BLEATING ON about how much Mr. Schue had encouraged them when the examples She Bloggo reminds us of kind of show that he has very often done nothing of the sort.

    2. You make good points. Even so, I know just as many people who liked the resolution to that story line as people who didn't. It's erroneous to assume that everyone found it vile.

  4. Bless this post
    The will emma sex was just useless
    No one cares if emma loses her big v or not
    That scene was just gross

  5. First let us just consider for a second that this show was created starring Matthew Morrison as Will Schuester, he was the driving force behind the show. Yes Lea and Cory were also main driving characters; but if you re-watch season 1 you’ll remember that the Glee story is told through Will Schuester. So why would you be surprised that he is involved in most of the scenes with the kids. It’s a show about a teacher and his students; this is not ‘Saved by the Bell’ here. To me Will is a guy who is FAR from perfect (keep in mind that he is NOT my favorite character, I’m just simply someone who can see the good in ALL the characters), but he wants the best for the kids he teaches. He cares. Stop hating on the guy, unless you yourself are perfect….I think the show was trying to emphasis the fact that you don’t have to be perfect to inspire and help change someone’s life, all you have to do it try and be there for them, and you may not always succeed but that doesn’t mean that you failed.
    Second, are you telling us that 16, 17, 18yr olds don’t need adult guidance and help? How could Rachel be where she is today without Will Schuester? Isn’t he the one who picked up Glee Club when it was about to be trashed. Isn’t he the one who fought endlessly with Figgins and Sue when they were trying to take it away? Isn’t he the one who’s been there every week doing his best (clearly his best isn’t perfect) to help these kids achieve their dreams? Isn’t he the one who has been there encouraging all of them to stick with their dreams? Yep, I’m pretty sure he has been. And you can’t convince me that Rachel Berry or any of those kids would be exactly where they are without Will Schuester.
    And finally, the way that Glee handled Wemma may not have been perfect, it had a lot more potential than it achieved. But to say it was gross is just rude. They are both consenting adults in a committed relationship who love each other. How is that gross? You know what I do find gross, Glee glorifying teen sex. I would much rather watch Will and Emma finally have sex then watch 16,17, 18 yr olds give themselves to someone who they will most likely not be with 5 yrs down the road.

    They may have glossed over Emma’s issues, but if you had paid attention to her character at all you would have seen her changes and improvements every week for the entire season. Her not washing her food, being able to let people touch her and not use hand sanitizer right after, kissing without brushing first, and we haven’t seen her scrub anything in the last few episodes. Can’t we gather that she is improving and coping with her OCD fairly well? I’d say so. And I think a key thing Emma said that many chose not to hear was, “It was as much for me as it was for you.” Is it so hard to believe that Emma loves Will and was finally ready to give herself to him? And I can tell you from experience, being a wife to an amazing but not perfect man, that when you see your man succeed and be so happy and full of life you fall more in love with them, you find them more attractive, and you definitely want to have sex with them right then and there.
    I’m not trying to change your opinion here, just giving you another prospective, yours isn’t gold.

  6. A teacher shouting at a student does not by any means make them a bad teacher, especially if the student deserves it. Rachel IS uncooperative, as well as selfish, and arrogant, and she deserves to be told so, by a teacher or any other adult (or teenager for that matter) because she is in the wrong. A person cannot perform as a team, but then demand to be centre of attention. Telling Rachel that her behaviour was not acceptable is not an example of bad teaching. Neither is calling Mercedes lazy or Quinn selfish, because they were those things, and needed to be told how to behave, as they are acting like spoilt children if they aren't given their own way.

    Will's job in New Directions is to teach them about musical theatre. He is an educator, and the students should be there because they want to be. They should all be passionate and supportive of one another, and if they're not being team players, then he has the right to tell them so. If a student is demanding more attention than the others/is late to rehearsals/ sabotages the club that their supposed to enjoy/puts themselves before anyone else, then they SHOULD be told off.

    Also, anything Will did to Sue/Emma has nothing to do with him being an educator, because he does not teach them. I'm obviously not saying he is a perfect teacher, especially considering he could even speak Spanish (which was just really bad story telling from desperate writers clutching at straws), but shouting at a student for doing something wrong is NOT a bad thing.

  7. I agree with the two anons above. Your opinion about Will are extremely bised: the fact that he *did* shout at his students doesn't mean he's a bad teacher, unless your idea of 'good teacher' is someone who lets you do whatever you want. Rachel is uncooperative most of the time, Quinn was being selfish when he said that 'Glee ruined her life' and Mercedes was being lazy, when she didn't want to rehearse dancing, just like Santana WAS wrong setting a piano on fire. Any mistake he did with Emma/Sue/ any other adult character should NOT be accounted on his teaching skills. Also, it's better to show sex between two engaged adults that between two kids, IMO.

  8. The Anons defending Will's behavior seem to forget, if they even knew, that teachers in the real world are expected to set a good example for their students both in and OUTSIDE the class room. Teachers have been fired for less than he gets away with.

    And, since when is it okay to shout/denigrate students? That's not being a positive role model. Also have to wonder why only the girls get the Will Shout of Doom when they act like teenagers.

    And when did Will become the main character? It's an ensemble.

    1. Really? Looks like the Rachel Berry show to me.

    2. Since when are teachers expected to be good examples out of the school? I'm sorry, but what ANYONE does outside of work isn't really people's business, even if you're a teacher. He didn't denigrate anyone, he just called them out when they were wrong. That's what an EDUCATOR does. Unless, of course, your idea of educator means allowing girls to tell you that you and the squad that always supported them ruined their life or to set a piano on fire. That's not denigrating, it's SHOWING COMMON SENSE. The 'he only shouts at girls' thing is also not true, he also calls out Kurt, Puck, and he called them ALL out in The Power of Madonna for not treating the girls the way they deserve. Also, Will is not the main character, it's an ensemble, that's right, but people seem to believe nobody cares about him, when season 1 was actually mostly about him, Rachel and Finn.

  9. Will calls out the kids who are being uncooperative and rightfully so. It just so happens that most of those kids are female. That might be sexist on the writers' parts but not Will's.


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