"Glease," written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, directed by Michael Uppendahl
This week, I'm tripled-up on Glee episodes, so, for time management, as well as my sanity, I'm doing a simple run-through of what was good and what wasn't. With "Glease," it's a lopsided list, and not in a good way. Even so, let's start with the good:
I actually enjoyed Finn and Rachel's episode-ending discussion, mainly because it felt authentic to what we've witnessed with them as a couple: it's been good, it's been bad. We don't always get that even-handed interpretation, and so when Finn started listing Rachel's different types of cries, I braced myself for maximum schmaltz. But the last one - "crying over a guy," changed my opinion, simply because Finn admitted that Rachel spent much of her time in high school crying over him. As far as I see it, that's not exactly ideal, and I appreciated that such a downer of a truth was embedded in what would ordinarily be a basic schmoopy and two-dimensional ode to Finn and Rachel's relationship. I'm intrigued that the writers are cutting the cord between the two (I'm sure it's temporary, but at least it's a firm decision for the meantime) and want to see each character on their own for a bit. (Although the conflicts this episode found for them, individually, were really dumb, so who knows. More on that in a bit.)
The dialogue this season has been exceptionally bottom-of-the-barrel. That's what happens when your cast is comparable in number to the population of a small city. Each scene juggles someone new, in which they say exactly what they're thinking or what their purpose is, and the audience winces at the blatant dismissal of "show, don't tell." But! There was one single moment in "Glease" where this construct didn't completely obliterate any authenticity of emotion, and for that, it goes in the good (miraculous?) category. While most of Brittany and Santana's pre-show conversation was suuuuuuper on-the-nose and suuuuuuuper expository, the final shot somehow made it work. I don't quite know how this happened. Brittany literally identifying all the reasons that Santana should be sad during her solo is not exactly the best way to demonstrate why Santana is going to be sad during her solo. And yet, something about that lingering shot of Santana looking in the mirror, bubble burst, punctuated the otherwise dull moment with a pang of genuine heartache. Maybe it's because she didn't look in the mirror and say, "I'm so sad." Maybe it's because we got a split second of quiet time to spend alone with a character's emotional POV, something Glee is sorely lacking these days. Or maybe it's just Naya Rivera's face. Whatever the reason, I was surprised and impressed at the sudden elevation of bargain-basement material.
The news that Puck and Mercedes stay in touch in LA.
The bad - nay, terrible:
Marley's storyline was basically a trainwreck from beginning to end. The main culprit was one of Glee's classic constructs: Character A, at center of storyline, doesn't have agency. In order to overcome their obstacles, another character just fixes everything for them, thereby depriving them of a choice, and oversimplifying emotional depth. Marley's storyline went even further in this paradigm to show all the symptoms of Glee's recurring and gross perception of women. Behold: Marley thinks she's gaining weight. Marley panics because her mom is overweight. Reveal! Kitty, bitchy cheerleader, is going to comically absurd lengths to sabotage Marley because she hates her for "stealing" her boyfriend (which, annoyingly, didn't even happen). Kitty convinces Marley to purge as a solution to this nonexistent weight problem, which Marley does with little protest until Ryder finally steps in and tells her she's too beautiful and amazing to do such a thing. Phew! I'm glad there was a penis around to save the day. What would Marley have done with only mean bitches to guide her?
This storyline does no one any favors except Ryder, for being a sweet guy who barges into bathrooms and stops girls from forcing themselves to vomit after a meal. It puts Kitty beyond the realms of human sympathy, and it makes Marley a spineless putz. And for what? A PSA about eating disorders? Surely there's a better way to do this. For the exact same result, it'd just be cheaper to put Blake Jenner's face on a billboard in LA with the caption, "Hey ladies. You're beautiful. Keep your food down."
Instead, there was never any moment where someone sat Marley down to talk about body image. There was no "Hey, Marley. Hollywood wants you to be a size 2, but fuck the haters and be happy with who you are." There wasn't even a "Hey, Marley. Yes, we understand you don't want to be the same weight as your mom. But you're your own person, and as long as you eat healthy foods, with moderation, and learn to love your imperfections, you're the most beautiful you can be." There wasn't even any acknowledgement that being size-2 skinny isn't the end-all, be-all. In fact, the episode breezed right by that lesson and had Marley's mom basically reinforce the idea that if she's going to be a star, she has to be thin. Sigh! Every step of this storyline felt like a pitstop on the Missing the Point Express, and what's worse is knowing that the writers are forcing Kitty to conduct the train. Marley showed no sign of body dysmorphia before Kitty basically brainwashed her, and it's slightly horrific to think about the emotional consequences. Body dysmorphia is a real thing, and yet the Glee writers are weaponizing it into the hands of a high school sociopath and dissolving it with the mere appreciation of a cute boy. It's obscenely two-dimensional, and a bit unsettling, when you think about it.
Basically, this storyline needed to swerve on that track within the first botched Grease fitting. Why not have Tina notice the inconsistencies in her measurements, which seems like it would be fairly obvious, and have her investigate the situation? It would certainly give Tina something to do, instead of get skipped over for solos and then gripe about it. And putting Kitty in her place would be a nice moment of an upperclassman sticking up for an underclassman, and a hero moment for Tina as an important member of the glee club. (Don't you dare tell me she's not.) There's even opportunity for Tina to mentor Marley a little bit, which makes Tina less of an afterthought and Marley less of a social climber in the narrative.
In summary: this storyline is best enjoyed by muting Kitty's and Marley's scenes, and pretending that every time Kitty raises two fingers to tell Marley to purge, she's really offering lesbian sex. You're welcome.
The second bad thing in this episode was the treatment of Unique. The issue here is not dissimilar to Marley's - Unique had little to no agency in her storyline, when in fact, she should be the emotional focal point. Because of Sue Sylvester's squabble with a 19-year-old, Unique has been removed from the play and told she can't wear women's clothing at school. Now, I understand that it's realistic to think that Unique's safety might be of concern in a small-minded Ohio town. I get this. But how fucking sad is it that she can't be who she is, and this outcome is precipitated by a pointless Finn-Sue antagonism? Boo. If Unique can't be who she is at school, then at least show me scenes where she can be herself at home. Show me with her parents, who accept her. Show her happy, show her fulfilled. Let her be Rizzo, no questions asked! I love that this character is representing transgender teenagers, a group that gets little to no visibility in mainstream television, but for the love of humanity don't crap on the character. It does more to change minds by letting Unique be Rizzo, without any question or doubt. But even if you're going to give Unique these obstacles, at least let her be at the center of the storyline, with choices and agency and empowerment. It's the most important trait to give any character, especially one representing outside the kyriarchy.
What's even more unfortunate about the marginalization of Unique in this episode is that it was done for a lame conflict between Sue and Finn. Why is it that the adults on Glee are extraordinarily adept at getting way too involved with the drama of young people? It's an age-old issue, but "Glease" had it bad: Sue has a vendetta against a 19-year-old, and Cassandra July gives her JetBlue points to Rachel Berry just so she can emotionally traumatize her by sleeping with Brody. How ridiculous is that premise? First, it's kind of dumb for Cassie to think that sleeping with Brody would hurt Rachel. It's not even like they're dating. Second, Cassie shouldn't even know if Brody and Rachel are dating. Third, WHY DOES CASSIE CARE SO MUCH ABOUT WHAT'S GOING ON IN THE LIFE OF A NINETEEN-YEAR-OLD? This conflict with Rachel and Cassandra was the absolute worst. It took the bitchy-female-relationship aspect of the Marley-Kitty storyline, shook it together with the adult-engaging-pathetically-with-a-teenager element of the Finn-Sue storyline, and created a gross Leviathan of No-No-No-Please-Make-it-Stop the likes of which we haven't seen since Shelby stuck her tongue down Puck's throat.
Basically, every adult on this show needs to be shipped off to a Blue Ribbon Panel of Learning to Have Responsible Interactions with Young People. The end.
I'm very, very torn about seeing the graduated kids in the halls of McKinley. On the one hand, it's nice to have them onscreen. On the other hand, Glee is wielding them terribly, and mostly I just want to think that they've gone on to bigger and better things. (The actors as well, frankly.) It's so dumb to randomly toss Mike and Mercedes and Santana into storylines where they're not really necessary! These characters are already too much like puppets; I don't like seeing every string on the marionette as the writers dance graduated seniors back into the picture for a half-baked appearance. If all they're going to do is yap about what they're up to and be pushed to the background behind the underclassmen, then just cut them loose! Absolutely nothing about bringing the college kids back makes sense: why Mike and Mercedes were still there, why Santana was the "obvious" choice for Rizzo, why Kurt and Rachel really wanted to go home to see their exes. None of it makes sense. None!
Bottom line: I like seeing the old gang reunited again. But the transparent ways in which the writers tether them back to McKinley High School is putting them on the path to become one of Glee's classic pathetic adults who can't seem to not be involved with high school drama.
And, while I would ordinarily appreciate checking in on our bereft couples, none of the scenes between Brittany and Santana, Kurt and Blaine, or Mike and Tina gave us any new information. Why not take the screentime divvied up to all three for basically no content, and allow one couple (my choice: Mike and Tina, since we didn't see them in the break-up episode) an actual plotline? It would be so much better that way. Focus, Glee! I know you have a lot of characters to juggle, but if you try to do right by them all at once, you're not doing right by any of them!
Including the faceless theater critic was dumb. It was used as a weird last-minute way to raise the stakes on Marley's performance (to facilitate a Marley/Ryder kiss?) and then just to overly praise the performance, as if we needed to be told, in way-exaggerated language, just how amazing everything was. Uh, thanks. That wasn't really necessary.
Okay, there were a few things that came so close to being good, but were interrupted by bizarre decisions in directing. Detailed here, in all their middling glory:
As mentioned earlier, I loved the Santana moment that preceded her solo, and I loved the idea that Unique got an emotional moment about her loss of the role of Rizzo. "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" came very close to making good on both promises, and boasted a three-handed solo that I would usually find intriguing in its cross-character parallels. But this did not work, largely because there was too much going on. It lacked focus. Santana's emotions about Brittany and Unique's emotions about losing the part vied for the predominant POV, and the inclusion of Cassandra July flat-out ruined it. Together, there was actually no common thread between the three singers' emotional POV, and Unique's and Santana's link of sadness was not quite similar enough to be tonally harmonious. It's a shame, because the vocals on the song were great, and I loved that Unique sang her part from the audience, even though she wasn't under the spotlight. It was the one element in Unique's storyline that I'd been waiting for. Unfortunately, its context was a bit muddled.
Similarly, "Glease" made some weird choices involving "You're the One That I Want." I loved, loved, loved that Rachel had a fantasy sequence where she imagined herself singing the song with Finn - after all, it's the first song they ever sang together. That was a glorious, lovely decision that actually made my heart pang for their broken relationship. But then Glee took it too far, and nothing about any of it came to make any sense. It's one thing for Rachel to get the hallucination, as it were, but then suddenly Finn shared the same one? And that wouldn't be as bad, I suppose, but then suddenly all the broken-up couples were dancing happily like they had no problems in the world? What the hell? It would have been so much stronger to keep the fantasy sequence to Rachel alone, and allow her that moment of sadness. Then, when she snaps out of it, she sees that Finn is looking at her, and we get the idea that he's thinking the same thing - but we don't have to see him having the same visual that Rachel did. Because that was weird.
And, more than anything, I was super peeved that every old couple reunited for that number: Mike and Tina, Kurt and Blaine, Finn and Rachel, and Brittany and Santana... but not Sam and Mercedes. Really, writers? Really? You're gonna pretend they never existed? Even though both parties were in the building, as a result of your dumbass machinations anyways? Sigh.
In all, "Glease" was a hot mess of bad decisions, from the spread-thin content and characters, to the poor development afforded to larger conflicts. Nearly everything was contrived, and brief moments that flirted with authenticity were unraveled by lack of focus and too much going on.
The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: C
Musical Numbers: C
Dance Numbers: C
Episode MVP: uh... Mercedes?