Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The RBI Report: "Prom-a-saurus"

Ah, Senior Prom.  Literally the preeminent highlight of any teenager's entire existence!  Or so Glee would have us believe.  Sure, to really buy into all the storylines tonight, you also have to be sold on the fact that everything lives and dies by Senior Prom.  Prom is a Big Deal!  Prom is high drama!  But, "Prom-a-saurus" is one of the better episodes this season, and even though its centerpiece storyline was poorly constructed and sustained, it packed the rest of the hour with rewarding character interactions, meaningful payoffs, and a fair bit of solid comedy sprinkled throughout. 

"Prom-asaurus," written by Ryan Murphy, directed by Eric Stoltz

Like with Glee's more successful episodes, "Prom-a-saurus" employed a simple premise that doesn't require a lot of explanation: McKinley High's prom is coming up, and each character interacts with this reality in a different way based on their current situation.  Because of this construct, simple episodes like this allow more space and time for the characters to express their emotions through their actions, and for them to interact with other characters in a meaningful way - if all goes well.

For Brittany, prom became of utmost importance in a character-specific way.  While I don't love the insinuation that Brittany forgot she was class president after being elected, or the bit of meta about how she stopped talking for awhile, I do love that prom was presented to her as a challenge - and she met it head-on.  She had no problems being confident in her leadership, and even though her ideas were unconventional, the narrative never gave her any real opposition, or required her to seek out assistance from someone else to supplement her abilities.  Sure, it might have been nice to see Brittany actually doing the planning and having to work through the process, but I dare say I prefer how the episode handled it - setting up a huge task for Brittany, and then literally make it look like she had zero problems accomplishing it.  For a character that is portrayed most frequently as either dumb, slutty, or mute, it was actually a reward to see the bar set high and then easily achieved.  My only quibble is that it would have been nice to see a little moment with Figgins and Brittany at prom, wherein he communicates to her somehow that she's done a good job.  After all, the episode sets up this obstacle for Brittany, and even though witnessing happy promgoers is enough to let us know she did well, it would have been even better to have the payoff manifested in a little specific moment - especially because the stakes were so high for her.  Figgins basically insinuated that Brittany's tenure as president has completely ruined the institution of student government, and threatened to abolish the position.  The character arc merited seeing Figgins impressed in order to conclude the storyline.

Of course, Brittany's ideas did throw a wrench in one person's plan: she banned hair gel at prom, and that was enough to send Blaine into a tizzy.  After two episodes where Blaine's dramatics have been played in complete and utter seriousness, I was happy to see this silly little storyline for him.  While it might have been nice to reference his past prom woes, as they did Kurt's, I didn't mind the construct all that much, mostly because I was reveling in Blaine's ridiculata without having to wonder if he was going to bust out an empowering pop song about his hair woes.  (I was worried when he uttered the question, "How do you think I feel?" comparing his anti-prom problems to Rachel's and Kurt's, but then Rachel started laughing at him and I felt better about the whole situation.  Comedy!  Who knew?)  The result was nice as well, that Brittany would allow him some gel after he relented and showed his true curls (if only to keep students from turning to stone), and Kurt insisting he liked his hair the way it was.  It was simple and sweet, and the narrative kept it that way.

The same awareness of scope, character, and screentime was unfortunately not afforded to the centerpiece of the evening: a rehash of the Quinn/Finn/Rachel love triangle, accompanied by rehashes of Quinn's slightly deranged prom-related plans, Rachel's debilitating insecurity over Quinn and Finn's nonexistent relationship, and Finn's enduring need to make a choice between these two females.  This truly was an all-around display of frustrating regression on all angles, basically until the storyline's conclusion, where it took a turn for the better - but still made you wonder if all that other nonsense was necessary. 

It begins with Quinn.  As soon as I heard that damned tinkly piano music when Quinn announced her plan to walk at prom, and again when she deviously took advantage of voter sympathy, sirens went screaming in my brain.  Were the writers going to seriously try and convince me that Quinn was still hellbent on being her high school's prom queen, exactly like one season ago?  What about all that character development that happened?  Sure, it all happened at random times and completely offscreen,  but you can't just replace a character with a robot version of herself from a year ago.  It's like how "Funeral" tried to use Quinn-wanting-prom-queen as a character thing... literally the exact episode after prom happened.  So, character regression to support basic villainy is not something the Glee writers are above, especially with Quinn Fabray, and all scenes with Quinn raised my hackles as a result.  She wanted to be able to walk in at prom as a surprise, which is actually really understandable and kind of heartbreaking considering her circumstance.  But given her history as deranged crazy liar bitch, her role in Finn-and-Rachel storylines, and that creepy-ass piano music, the episode made it too easy to believe that she was up to no good.

Are we supposed to believe Finn when he calls Quinn a crazy liar and yells at her about how selfish she is?  About how she has everything, and how Rachel has nothing?  Last I checked, Quinn Fabray has never had everything.  I would love it if other characters would stop negating Quinn's canon struggles and telling her she has everything she wants.  Because even when it looked like she had everything, she really didn't, which, I repeat for the umpteenth time, was the point of the character.  And she certainly doesn't have everything now, as she's recovering from a near-death experience and trying to regain her ability to walk.  And it's here where a second layer of insult is added to Quinn's portrayal in this episode - is Quinn's status as wheelchair-bound really being wielded to make us suspicious about her intent when it comes to a prom queen vote?  It is bad enough that this storyline has thus far been incorporated into the narrative as equal parts non-issue and half-assed romantic storyline with a random.  It's bad enough that the writers are trying to fly the idea that no one is going to physical therapy with Quinn except Teen Jesus.  It's bad enough that Quinn was simply absent for two episodes and seems completely fine when she is present.  I'm not sure the fallout from this car accident could have been any more haphazardly handled, unless Quinn died, incorporated as a ghost, and then followed the students of McKinley around, pelting them with wads of chewed gum without any explanation whatsoever.

Regardless, Quinn had a plan to walk at prom, and Finn thought this was the most nefarious thing ever, and tried to physically force her out of the wheelchair so that the whole school could see what a "crazy liar" she is.  (More points against Glee not taking Quinn's spinal injury seriously - there are no real consequences for Finn potentially jeopardizing her personal health like that?  Oh, okay.)  He also accused her of being the reason he's not at the anti-prom with Rachel.  Ah, don't you just love an aggressive and violent Finn Hudson who doesn't take responsibility for his own actions?  I'm so glad he's around to call Rachel selfish and also to tell her how sexy and beautiful she is!  Give that boy a crown!

Of course, Rachel didn't really emerge from this situation smelling like a rose either.  She went ragemonster at the first suggestion that Quinn and Finn were campaigning together, and refused to attend prom if she was going to have to watch her fiancé dance with his ex-girlfriend who, need I remind the writers, she is canonically friends with now.  This side of two weeks ago, Rachel was still blaming herself for Quinn's accident, and now she's completely dismissive of it because she's having a tantrum?  Yikes.  But it was another incident for Finn to accuse her of being selfish, which is funny, because he did the same thing to Quinn, and I find myself wondering how it is that this love triangle is supposedly built with two females that are polar opposites, but both get chastised for their ambition by the boy in the middle.

So, Rachel planned an "anti-prom," because of Quinn and Finn, and only shows up to regular prom when she has Finn on her arm.  For some reason (read: no reason), Rachel decides she needs to apologize to Quinn for her behavior, and explains it's because she still sees Quinn as the beautiful popular head cheerleader with claws in her hopeless crush.  (Well, at least the regression to Season 1 dynamics is acknowledged, I guess.)  She says she's proud that they're friends, and that she voted for her.  So, when Quinn wins by that one vote, she chooses to pencil in Rachel's name instead and give up the crown so that Rachel can feel special.  

On the whole, this outcome is great.  Rachel and Quinn got a chance to shake off this gross sexist love triangle bullshit and actually communicate!  Quinn's (and Santana's) actions provided a strong and rewarding payoff to the original dynamic between Rachel and the "popular girls," and the fact that Rachel will never be aware of the gesture makes it even more selfless.  Yay for lady friendships that used to be unhealthy but now aren't!  (Unless the writers change their minds again.)  But I wish the road to this result was stronger, especially since Rachel's in-episode arc was off-character, and interacting with Quinn and Santana would have helped make it better.

Coincidentally, this is where the "Prom is everything!!!1!!1!" conceit is a bit wobbly - in connection with Rachel's character.  "Prom-a-saurus" communicates, right from the get-go, that Rachel has now laid her Broadway dreams to rest and is instead looking forward to prom, and her wedding.  Ouch.  This is rough.  Just because Rachel didn't get into NYADA does not mean her Broadway dream is dead, and I wish that someone had reminded her as such, if apparently Rachel is now a kind of character who just sits back down when someone tells her no.  In a well-characterized world, Rachel would have still been hellbent on getting her dreams through whatever means necessary, and I find it disturbing and insulting that she's coping by peacefully saying goodbye to her dreams and instead putting stock in her high school experience.  Who is this person and what has she done with Rachel Berry?

It's not that Rachel doesn't canonically seek the approval of her peers, when it all boils down to it.  She has historically wanted to be accepted and loved just like anyone else, and it's fine if prom queen means that for her.  But the construct was always that Rachel had something beyond high school to help her get through her crappy teenage days, and that the big dream would sustain her.  This episode specifically communicated that because that dream is dead, she actually cares quite a bit about her prom experience to fill that void.  This weakens the character, and turns her deep-seated insecurity with her peers into a desperate need to feel good at something, because right now she has nothing else to believe in.  This is sad, and weird, and incongruent to what we understand about Rachel Berry's self-confidence when it comes to the way she behaves with regards to her dreams vs. her popular peers.  Frankly, it already means something for Quinn and Santana to give the crown to Rachel - why fuss it up with a plot device that is essentially out-of-character and slightly insulting?  A prom queen crown and a dance with Finn Hudson does not all problems solve - especially when the problems are related to Rachel's ambition, and not her status as high school misfit. 

There are several things that could have been done instead.  For one, strike the opening monologue.  Rachel's need for acceptance does not need to be set up as connected to her lack of Broadway future.  It's already there, separate from her ambition, and the payoff with the prom queen crown stands strong without pitying Rachel's lack of dreams as well as her loser status.  Second, make Rachel create the anti-prom because she doesn't care about prom when her dreams have all crashed down around her.  This is far more relatable than not going to prom because of Finn and Quinn, and connects her emotional state more to her current situation than to her delusions of what happiness is going to mean for her now.  Beyond that, I'd much rather see an angry and bitter Rachel than a petulant and self-pitying Rachel.  (Angry and bitter Rachel is actually pretty funny - if anyone remembers what she was like after breaking up with Jesse - and would still strike the right note of sympathy from the audience.)  

Even if you're going to communicate that Rachel's rechanneling all her energies into prom happiness because a dream snuffed out, why not construct her storyline around Quinn's sooner?  These girls didn't interact until the last second, when it was made perfectly clear that there wasn't even any conflict between them.  Whoops!  But Rachel's actions are pretty similar (read: identical) to Quinn's when she was convinced she had no viable future, and therefore, Quinn would be a solid candidate to tell Rachel to snap out of it, in so many words.  It would also help deflate the eye-rolling idea that somehow Quinn Fabray might be the villain in this scenario, and bonus points if it included Santana as well.  Santana had perhaps the best words of advice for Rachel the whole episode, in a reality check that perfectly balanced her snark with her softer edges.  Ultimately, she pointed out that Rachel's anti-prom was actually her way of coping with her NYADA failure.  If Santana had had more involvement in Rachel's storyline, perhaps we could have steered away from the notion that Rachel was simply throwing a hissy fit over Quinn and Finn and dealt with the real issues without simply putting a band-aid on a gaping wound.  That way, when Rachel gets the crown, it's less about the crown solving all of her problems and more about what happened for her to get the crown - Santana and Quinn helping her deal with her stuff.  The crown is just a bonus, and a manifestation of reward instead of pity.

But instead, Rachel Berry was given an emotional investment in prom, and the crowning played more like a fairy tale moment for an insecure girl, and her boyfriend, who finds her sexy and inspiring.  If only Rachel had done one inspiring thing all episode - like confronting her problems and getting back on that figurative horse to go to Broadway.  If only Santana and Quinn had helped her get there through actual storyline content, instead of just through a single crown that had to be injected with meaning through a episode-opening and character-derailing monologue.  Alas, alas, alas.  This was a storyline that had so much potential, and still paid off that potential, without really hitting the right notes along the way, and supplanting an unnecessary character reason to give emotional resolution to something that already had meaning.  Whoops.

Frankly, it would have been nice to see a little more screentime devoted to Santana in general, who has done a complete 180 since last year's prom - in the form of actual character development and not destruction.  It was nice that Kurt and Blaine and Sue all referenced the events of junior prom, but Santana should have been included in this as well, simply because of the positive change.  Last year, she went to prom with her beard, both of them too scared still to be outwardly accepting of their sexualities.  This year, Santana flat-out announces that she plans to attend prom with her girlfriend, so they can have a good time.  What a difference a year makes!  I wish that there had been even the tiniest acknowledgement of this character development.  But, at the very least, Santana's change was manifested in how she was wielded in the episode - happy, proud, snarky but not cruel, and surprisingly zen.  (It doesn't hurt that Naya Rivera slayed every bit of material thrown her way.)

Truly, the best storyline of the evening belonged to Puck and Becky, both of whom chose to skip out on prom because they were basically depressed, and, in Becky's case, angry.  In a wonderful return of Becky's Helen-Mirren-voiced narration, we discover that she wanted to be prom queen to show everyone that queens can look different, and be different.  Unfortunately, she doesn't score enough votes for a nomination, and so Becky wages war on xylophones and cafeteria lines.  (Seriously, how hilarious was that mini-montage?  So fantastic.)  Puck wasn't really in the prom mood, after last week's failure, and the heartbreaking confession that he can just go again next year.  So, they hole up together at the anti-prom, and play strip poker, and hate the world.

I have to say, I love that Becky's reaction to prom queen rejection manifested as actual anger, and not emotional withdrawal, which is more common to Glee's females who are met with opposition.  This choice really helped the emotional resolution of the storyline as well, wherein Puck carved two crowns out of empty beer boxes and declared themselves king and queen of the anti-prom.  Instead of designing the scene for Becky to be indebted to Puck's kindness, she instead exclaimed "I did it!" and we were lucky to skip over Glee's favorite trope: heavy-handed male heroics.  This extended even further to the idea that Becky distracted Sue so that Puck could spike the punch and fulfill his prom dream from the year previous.  The icing on the cake was Puck thanking Becky for making all of his dreams come true, and calling her "my queen."  Praise be!  This interaction was handled with far more equality than most others on the show, and I loved it.  The idea that two wallflowers celebrating prom their own way because of emotional setbacks was perfect, and the storyline felt almost like it was lifted right out of a John Hughes movie and doctored for Glee's focus on creating bonds between seemingly different people.  It was glorious.

"Prom-a-saurus" also treated us to some great sidecar interactions.  First, there was emotional closure on Sam and Mercedes, who ran into Shane and his date at prom, and caused no drama whatsoever.  Bless everything for that little wave, and every corner of that love triangle handling the situation maturely.  We also got a moment with Mike and Tina, the latter of whom doesn't want this year to end.  Does this mean we'll get a storyline about Tina, as a junior, being left behind while everyone graduates?  She's got a solo next episode, so I've got my fingers crossed, but no breath held. 

Overall, "Prom-a-saurus" was enjoyable, touching, and funny, despite bungling the middle parts of its main storyline.  However, there was enough meaningful resolution, with solid storylines and character interactions surrounding it, to make the hour one of the more entertaining that Glee's offered so far this season.

Also, as a note: next Tuesday is my birthday, and apparently Glee is giving me my present in the form of two episodes to watch and review.  Sigh.  So, I won't lie; I will probably not have the recaps for "Props" and "Nationals" up in any timely manner whatsoever, as I'm not sure I want to spend my birthday evening muddling my way through two episodes.  So bear with me, and hopefully I'll have them done in the following days.

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: B
Dance Numbers: B
Dialogue: B
Plot: B
Characterization: B
Episode MVP: Becky Jackson


  1. I really liked this episode. From what I got from the opening monologue was that Rachel was grieving over her NYADA audition. And that all of her anger was just misplaced. By the end she felt guilty enough to apologize and Quinn didn't know or really care. Plus, it made sense for Quinn to choose Finn over hockey dude or Britt to campaign with. It was just a formality. I loved that Quinn gave her crown to Rachel. I don't think that Prom Queen is meaningful to Rachel in the same way that it has always been meaningful to Quinn. It was just something that Rachel knew she would never be and something that Quinn feared she would only ever be. It would be her peak. After Rachel won, she got a little confidence boost. And that makes sense for someone who needs applause to live. I think Quinn's gesture added to Rachel's pretty good and unexpected high school experience. And, Quinn didn't need that title anymore because she's actually looking forward to her future now.

    1. My exactly feelings, I liked it.

  2. How amazing was Becky? She and Brittany pretty much made this episode for me. Any time either of them was on screen, I was laughing. I'm not sure if this is the best episode I've ever seen, but it was the funniest. The fact that this show can go from something as appalling as last week's episode to something as entertaining as this week's just shows they should stick more to the sillier kinds of story.

    Interesting point about Puck and Becky's storyline not having the usual "male character to the rescue" theme. It seems like Puck, as a character, is much less prone to falling into this trap than Finn is. He doesn't try to exercise control over the important women in his life and he doesn't act like a petulant child when he's called on his mistakes. When you consider the archetypes Finn and Puck are supposed to represent: identifiable, monogamous hero jock versus delinquent, promiscuous "nasty" jock... who'd have thought it'd be Puck that was treating women with more respect?

    I miss his relationship with Lauren. It was nice to see a male character in this show screwing up, but actually acknowledging those screwups and doing his best to be a better boyfriend. The fact that the writers threw all of that away for the sake of that train wreck of a Shelby storyline is one of the worst decisions they've ever made.

  3. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't campaigning for prom queen and king together a distinctly couple-y thing to do? I definitely get why Rachel would be upset about her boyfriend publicly presenting himself as a couple together with his ex-girlfriend.

    1. perhaps. i don't recall anything of the sort from my high school days, but they sort of established this last year so i can buy that's how it works at mckinley. so if you must "campaign" together then quinn didn't have a lot of options. rick the stick is about the only character i find more of a d-bag than Finn and so that only left a choice between finn and brittany. brittany only got 4 votes as king (figure her own + santana's so probably only 2 outside votes) so it was probably obvious to quinn that the school wouldn't vote a female king, really only leaving Finn as a viable running mate. i don't know how brittany wasn't in the running for prom queen though. winning the student council vote proves that she is the one with actual popularity.

      the whole system of "running mates" is flawed though and only thrown in to the equation to manufacture unnecessary and rehashed relationship dramz.

  4. I consider myself a "casual watcher" of Glee. I don't really "ship" anyone (although I am all for Quinndependence), and I don't take the show itself very seriously. I'm not so invested in it that I spend time afterwards thinking about how the show could be improved (although I do love and agree with most of your input). I usually just take it as it is and consider it a good time (no alcohol required). But this episode somehow managed to make me feel rage I've never felt towards any TV show. Ever. I was absolutely disgusted by how Finn was portrayed in this episode, and my heart totally went out to Quinn (who, in my opinion, didn't do anything wrong).

    And for the first time ever, Writers, seriously, WTF??

    1. I totally agree, I really feel like Quinn did nothing wrong in this episode (or rather I understood where she was coming from). Her not telling everyone about her limited ability to walk could have been a really positive storyline if Finn was not such a dick about it. Sure she used her injury for sympathy votes but really who cares!? I found that scene funny and they could have set it up to be light and give Finn and Quinn some positive interactions.

      And sure she can stand up from her chair but that does NOT mean that she has the strength to be able to dance and walk around at prom. Sure Quinn has ambition to be prom queen but that does not make her a selfish person (clearly stated at the end when they vote Rachel as prom queen)

      Finn was a dick and should have been permanently removed from prom and taken away his ability to win prom king. How is it okay to attack a friend in a wheelchair simply because she won't stand up for him? Especially because he just berated her in the bathroom.

    2. as a casual watcher you are lucky that this is your first WTF, writers experience with glee. watch more regularly and you will find yourself saying that quite a bit more! it is a sad state of affairs when you can say an episode was good just b/c it didn't COMPLETELY suck. this episode did have several redeeming qualities as bloggo mentioned: puck + becky, santana's words of wisdom to rachel, santana and quinn's gesture, blaine's return to the ridiculous, kurt loving him despite his terrible hair, the sam/shane/mercedes drama-free resolution, etc. and so even though the main storyline was a recycled mess, this episode still comes out looking "good" b/c the new standards/expectations for Glee are so dreadfully low. since I Kissed A Girl, I go into every episode expecting it to be absolute shit so that I can be pleasantly surprised, or at least not disappointed. which is itself a disappointment, b/c i used to go in expecting brilliance and then having my expectations exceeded.

      sigh... i really, really loathe Finn. agree that he was a complete ass here and no one ever seems to call him on it. instead he gets to play the effing hero AGAIN, and rally the wayward glee kids and bring them from the anti-prom to the real prom. it still sticks in my craw even though i acknowledge that there weren't a lot of other options to go bring rachel AND kurt back. but still my tolerance for seeing him behave like a dick and still be shown in the hero's light was used up ages ago.

    3. Oh, I've been watching Glee since the beginning. Back then, it used to be the best part of my day. But now, I've found it's a lot easier to just take it as it is and not get too invested.

      And yeah, there have been a ton of "WTF moments", but this was the first one that really made me angry (although, "I Kissed A Girl" got me pretty close).

    4. She also clearly didn't have the strength since when she sang she was holding on to the microphone and Santana instantly came over, put her arm around Quinn and held her up as they sang.... Finn's actions were not okay... in season that just dealt with violence against women, Finn's actions are hardly acceptable under any circumstances.

  5. I liked the little Puck/Becky moment it was really sweet, also loved the Shane/Mercedes/Sam moment I liked that both were happy for Shane and that Shane didn´t hate them and was happy with someone else, it was beautiful.

    Honestly this whole episode just showed me that everyone but Finn Hudson had grown up, that they are over the drama, except Finn who always seem to have issues about how sucessful other people are.


  6. It's amazing. There was only one guy acting like a douche the entire episode (but really, I have zero expectations of Finn being anything other than an asshole, so perhaps that doesn't count?), which is practically a miracle. To quote Mercedes, "Praise!" Puck really was the good guy this episode, and it's a bit disheartening to realize what a great storyline and character growth he could have had if he'd had a mentor who believed in him.

    But perhaps the most problematic issue for me (aside from the continuing effort by the writers to flunk Britt despite all evidence to the contrary) is the treatment of Quinn's past troubles. The poor girl was knocked up, kicked out of house and home, gave her baby up for adoption, went through what I can only see as a lengthy bout of post-partum depression no-one seemed to notice or care about, got involved in a serious car crash which resulted in a serious spinal injury and temporary paralysis, all while maintaining the grades to get into Yale, so any ambition of hers must mean she's acting like a spoiled rich white girl who gets everything handed to her? Bullshit. This is twice now in this season that her fellow classmates, her friends even, have trivialized what she's gone through. It's insulting and unacceptable, and the fact that none of the male characters have had their problems belittled the way her has been is just icing on the gigantic, penis shaped misogynist cake.

    But aside from all that, it was a pretty solid episode. Dear lord, is it depressing how little I'm willing to settle for concerning this show.

    1. I've loved that "gigantic, penis shaped misogynist cake" bit =D! Brilliant (and spot on) prase, whoever you are!
      Still I can't deny I did feel it was a bit disturbing that Quinn would use her paralysis to gain sympathy and votes and then use her regained ability to walk as a flashy stunt. To force this storyline into her character and then have Finn lecture her in such a horrible, creepy way is what felt terribly misogynist to me. Wasn't Insane-Quinn over now?
      The character I've started to dislike recently is Brittany: she was funny throughout the chapter, but it's been a while now that I'm starting to see her as a basically cruel, selfish person who's allowed to get her way because she's funny and weird, and sassy, etc. I didn't the like the way she treated th student council. In a series which deals with the relationship of "losers" vs popular kids, it's clear by now we have a sub-set of TRULY marginalised students who aren't as good-looking as Rachel or Tina or Rory, etc, who can't sing well and who therefore are okay to be mocked and treated as a joke... It's quite a bit double standard.


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