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
Musical Numbers: B
Dance Numbers: B
Episode MVP: Becky Jackson