It's a ballsy move, in the fourth season of a rapidly over-inflating television show, to include the phrase "2.0" in an episode title. I guess, in an ideal world, "2.0" would just indicate that it's a new incarnation of something we're familiar with. Bigger, better, faster, stronger! But "2.0" can also easily mean "oh hey we did this already," and unfortunately, much of "Britney 2.0" fell into that latter category.
"Britney 2.0," written by Brad Falchuk, directed by Alfonso Gómez-Rejón
Of course, "Britney 2.0" used the same angle as "Britney/Brittany" - it tied the work of Britney Spears to the student Brittany S. Pierce. But while "Britney/Brittany" actually had little to do with Brittany S. Pierce, "Britney 2.0" endeavored to give Brittany the A-story. To be honest, that might be the only new thing about the episode: Brittany S. Pierce was intended to be the hero of her own storyline. And for one hot minute, I thought she might actually be! The episode began with a Brittany narration that turned out to be actual dialogue. She seemed really optimistic about repeating her senior year, and is basically declaring that positivity to the entire hallway. But then, after realizing that she's doing her voiceover outloud, we get the real narration. The real voice in Brittany's head. And that voice is worried. It was a rough summer, and she misses Santana.
How promising is this? This lovely little construct alluded to the fact that what goes on in Brittany's head does not necessarily match what's coming out of her mouth - something we previously thought to be untrue, thanks to an endless parade of bad one-liners that were strung together to somehow create a character portrait. In one simple scene, I thought maybe the Glee writers could turn it around for Brittany. They actually created the idea that Brittany was having an identity crisis! I love characters in identity crisis! But ultimately, this narrative didn't really happen. Brittany's trajectory felt exactly like Brittany's character for the past three seasons: shallow, scattered, and confusing.
The first misstep came in the overused notion that the glee club can somehow sing actual emotions into people. No matter how much you serenade someone, it will not fix their problems. What's worse about that falsehood is that when used in a narrative, it takes every ounce of agency out of the character with the actual feelings. That person? Sitting in a chair. While someone dances around them like somehow it's stirring up magical happy dust to whisk sadness away. Rarely can this person be the subject of their own storyline when they're just being sung at. (Remember "I Kissed a Girl?" Me too, unfortunately.) Double tactless points for Artie and Blaine singing a mashup of "Boys" and "Boyfriend" when part of Brittany's problem is that she misses... her girlfriend.
I will say, it was good that eventually, the serenading characters realized that singing at someone does not solve problems. And it was nice to see them try and get through to Brittany using something she could personally connect to: giving her the spotlight. But watching Brittany spiral out of control during "Gimme More" (and earlier) was embarrassing at best, especially considering that the plummet was a disaster-by-disaster carbon copy of Britney Spears' actual downward spiral a few years back. When you sign over your music to Glee, do you also sign over the rights to your personal struggles? Maybe it's fair game, but for me it felt too exploitative. I cringed a lot.
What's worse is that somehow Brittany had planned this all along...? She deliberately spiralled so that she could emulate the grand comeback of her idol. Oh. So not only does it just make light of Britney Spears' matching actions, it also raises the question: what was the point, then? Brittany didn't actually have an identity crisis, just a pretend one, and everything at the end of the episode was the same as it was at the beginning. Will and Emma still saw a cry for help, and this time Brittany accepted it. What, she didn't want their help when they offered at the beginning of the episode? And there's no change with the Cheerios either, or glee club, assuming Will lets her back in after he's done shouting at the students. The final kicker is that we see Brittany more depressed than ever about Santana during the final montage, as she stares numbly at Santana's "offline" message. No change! And she's still actually legitimately sad! That final shot of Brittany was heartbreaking! So why go through all that fuss? No matter which way you shake it, nothing about Brittany's arc makes sense.
I get the sneaking feeling that the writers somehow want us to think Brittany's actually a mastermind, as this is not the first time they've pulled out a "FOOLED YOU!" with Brittany's actions as though it were somehow a rabbit from a hat. But writing reveals don't really work this way, especially not for a character who has been written as so literally unintelligent. The early approach, in Brittany's narration shift, worked so much better at illustrating a "deeper level" to Brittany, and unfortunately it was forgotten. The one good thing about the storyline was the continuation of Sam's Emotionally Perceptive streak: he is now 2-for-2 this season, and it's nice to see a little bond between him and Brittany. Even though he was intuiting something completely dumb, the friendship construct is still welcome.
Basically, this storyline could have been great. The writers could have confronted, head-on, the idea that Brittany feels lost without Santana, and acknowledged that Brittany's barely had an identity separate of Santana in the narrative. Brittany has only ever been a real character when it's in conjunction with Santana's arc, and now that Santana is gone from Brittany's side, there's a real issue in demonstrating Brittany's independent identity. This was a perfect time to give her one. Who is Brittany S. Pierce, beyond the dumb jokes and the sex jokes? We still don't know. Brittany's identity crisis turned out to be a replica of Britney Spears' identity crisis, and then left completely unexplored and unresolved - talk about insult to injury.
Rachel seemed to be faring somewhat better than Brittany, in New York, although she is still struggling with dance class and missing the AWOL Finn Hudson. Now that Kurt's there, though, she has a shoulder to lean on, and someone else in her life who can dispense her fortune cookie wisdom. (Nauseating gem, re: Finn's absence - "Your freedom is a gift he's given you. Accept it.") We also got an update on Kurt, who informed us, through clunky dialogue, that he's happy he didn't get into NYADA on the first go-around and he's really grown as a person. I'm really glad all that character growth made it to the screen, writers, we wouldn't want to miss actual development!
Okay, okay, that was mean. Sarcasm is not a friendly mode of communication. But with a cast this big, the writing is cutting corners by necessity, and we're getting a lot of "oh hey by the way" expositional dialogue. "Show, don't tell" has really vacated the building, and I get a little grumpy about it.
Anyways, I'm entirely off track now. The whole point of Rachel's storyline was to move her forward in the interactions with both Brody and Cassandra, and the arc basically did that. Although the Brody stuff was predictable and a bit too reliant on the phrase "I think you're sexy," I did laugh hysterically at Brody intuiting the status of Rachel's relationship with Finn by pointing out the literal writing on the wall. Was that meant to be funny? Because it was. "Oh, yeah. You're still in love with your ex because... you painted his name in giant letters on your bedroom wall right behind me. Ah." Brody should play Blue's Clues.
But even despite the preposterous visual of Rachel having smeared Finn's name in white paint with hearts around it, "Britney 2.0" created a nice episode-ending action where Rachel painted over the name, with a lovely rack-focus to Brody's orchids. This can only mean that we are indeed moving forward on this Brody-Rachel business, which is perhaps the best course of action to take. It's certainly better than languishing Rachel in indecision indefinitely, at least. We'll only see how this shakes out when Finn inevitably shows up and confusing emotions bubble up.
Of course, Rachel and Brody grew closer this week because of Rachel's insistence on proving to Cassandra July that she can be sexy. After being barred from learning the tango on account of her no-sex-appeal, Rachel solicits Brody for a sexy rendition of "Oops I Did It Again." When Cassandra (somewhat rightfully) reproaches her for the performance, Rachel reaches for a secret weapon: she accuses Cassandra of being jealous of new talent because her own star burned out early. (Kurt gave us some backstory that somehow Rachel didn't know: Ms. July made it to Broadway It Girl status, only to snap publicly during a performance and lose all chances of stardom. I'm starting to question Rachel's Broadway knowledge. Remember when she didn't know that Cats had closed?)
The great thing about the Cassandra-and-Rachel storyline was that it took their by-the-book strict teacher-eager student dynamic and developed it into something more: turns out Cassandra July is a failed Rachel Berry. In the tradition of April Rhodes and Suzy Pepper, Cassandra July is a cautionary tale for Rachel Berry. Rachel snapped when things weren't going her way, just like Cassie did ten years ago. Cassie goes so far as to point this out to Rachel, and gives her a much-needed lesson about second chances and professionalism that no amount of name-calling could impart. And ultimately, this turn of events creates an instantly interesting relationship between these two women and their characteristics that I hope will be explored further. Who knows? A girl can dream.
The final storyline of the evening belonged to Jake Puckerman, who received a visit from his brother and learned about what it means to be a man. (At this point, we should really just be calling glee club Masculinity Club, in a strange plot twist that would make S1 Azimio scratch his head.) It's perhaps unfair to say, but Jake is basically Puck 2.0, and it seems as though glee club and the Love of a Good Woman is going to set him on the straight and narrow. (Eyeroll?) After having a moment with Marley, where she declares him a guy who's just been hurt, Jake stands up against the bullying of Marley's mom - only to start a fight in the lunchroom. Magically, Noah Puckerman is waiting in the wings for an intervention! He encourages Jake to join glee club, and extends the bonds of brotherhood. Jake accepts, joins glee, and apparently starts to date Kitty somewhere in the middle there. Because "OH BY THE WAY," Glee tried to do another reveal, where Marley thinks maybe she and Jake have a little spark, but actually Jake is dating the head cheerleader and seems to be confused about it. Cue sad mopey song. I think I've seen this before??? Sure, it's technically a conglomeration of the Puck-Quinn-Finn triangle and the Quinn-Finn-Rachel triangle, but any way you shake it, there's a lot of déjâ-vu going on.
Overall, "Britney 2.0" presented us with a lot of things we've seen before: Rachel moping about Finn, theatre boys chasing after an emotionally-conflicted Rachel, the Bad-Boy-turned-Good-Guy, the Bitchy Cheerleader hijacking an emotionally-confused boy from the Loser Girl, failed pep assembly performances, and characters feeling so sad they just need a good serenade or two. There's only so much freshness you can mine out of recycled material, unfortunately. Funnily enough, the covers of Britney's music showed more originality and rearranging than the actual episode content. Huh. Maybe Glee's just faking this downward spiral so it can make a stunning comeback. Britney 3.0?
The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: B-
Musical Numbers: B-
Dance Numbers: B
Episode MVP: Sam Evans, he of emotionally intuitive superpowers