Goodness, but Glee has a lot of characters in the mix. There were roughly sixteen at play in this episode, in varying measures of frantic purpose, and so naturally things were a bit hectic. But what better way to unite a whole group of singing teenagers than a musical? Preparing to stage Grease provided the backdrop - and launching point - for most of the night's storylines.
"The Role You Were Born to Play," written by Michael Hitchcock, directed by Brad Falchuk.
So, in an effort to breeze through each character's relevant points as swiftly as Glee does, I'll be doing a bulleted list with commentary.
Finn provided the backbone for this episode, as he struggled with life's disappointments on the heels of being booted from the army and also from NYC and also his relationship with Rachel. Poor guy. I'm actually on board with this storyline for Finn, although I wish he were playing a more active role in it. Historically, Finn's the guy that stuff "happens to" - but he's also the first one the writers send into other people's storylines. This episode was really no different, as Finn was encouraged into new opportunity by Artie and Will, and repeatedly showered with praise to help his wounded ego. Show me, don't tell! You're wasting screentime by giving multiple characters slight variations of the same dialogue: Finn, you're special and my hero and a leader please don't be sad. Especially since the episode actually showed Finn being special and a hero and a leader, in some regard - multiple times, with Ryder and Wade and Sue. Altogether, it was overkill.
Look, I know that the plot point that kicked off glee club's magic was Finn joining. I know that grants Finn Hudson some narrative swag. But somehow this idea has extended into the fact that glee club needs a conventionally masculine male lead to be successful. The lineage begins with Will and Finn, and is now precipitating to Ryder and even Jake. Apparently, all you need to make a glee club successful is a trip to the football field. Meanwhile, it's never even considered that someone like Mike or Mercedes or Artie or Tina or even Marley is that "magic element," the "missing piece." It's not the real music students, or theatre geeks, or dance gurus who are special enough to merit all that attention. It's the guy who didn't know he had it in him. So I guess I mean to say, in all of this, that I don't know why we need Ryder. He's Finn 2.0, who is Will 2.0, and this strange Manarchy is becoming the true backbone of Glee, threatening to overshadow the follow-your-dreams-be-yourself mainstay. Turns out there really is no greater joy than to help a young boy turn into a man... except maybe watching it happen, apparently. Over and over and over... and over again.
Finn's involvement with Wade's storyline was both surprising and yet completely expected. As mentioned, he's the go-to guy for encouragement and heroics and generally just making decisions for other people that should be the main characters in their own storyline. (Paging "I Kissed a Girl" and also "Goodbye.") So Finn being the main crusader for Wade-being-cast-as-Rizzo-despite-the-gender-swap is not shocking. Truthfully, it would have been nice if Wade were more involved in the episode-long discussion that revolved entirely around her. Having Finn go to the mat for her was a nice gesture, but a bit misguided. I will say, though, that the episode did a nice bit of nuance to suggest why Finn was insistent on fighting for Wade's casting. Their final conversation specifically brought up the pain of not knowing if there's a place for you in this world - which is very relevant to Finn right now. For me, it was a nice way to hint at a specific motivator for Finn (beyond "he's such a hero!!!") as well as provide a little connection between their storylines. And it was sized appropriately - there was no overwrought and offensive attempt to make Wade's experience as a black transgender teen actually comparable to Finn's fairly cushy straight white male experience. That moment really did belong to Wade, because we finally got to see her POV, and some pretty solid acting from Alex Newell. So, I was pleasantly surprised by that.
But basically, I wish that Finn himself had a lightbulb about trying his hand at teaching - especially unrelated from Will. Because Will is actually a terrible teacher. Remember when he resigned from the Spanish teacher position he'd been filling for over two years because he couldn't really speak Spanish? Good gravy. Not to mention all his yelling fits and blatant favoritism. But whatever! Water under the bridge that I'm clearly a troll under. My main quibble here is the overly broad job description Will gave teachers: they help kids achieve their dreams. I mean, I guess that's true. But, speaking as a person who was raised by teachers not unlike how Mowgli was by wolves... I find it much more resonating to say that teachers are simply trying to get through to kids. To make a difference in their lives, when that difference can mean opening their eyes to the world and everything there is to learn about it. Helping kids "achieve their dreams" seems slightly left of center, or at least poorly summarized, on most teachers' list of goals. But that's just me, and it's not terribly relevant to the episode. Just my brief turn on the soapbox. Moving on!
Oh, yeah - one last thing. Finn's gonna be the glee club teacher-not-teacher now? I mean, sure. I'll go with that. He can write buzz words on the whiteboard with the rest of them. Maybe after Will's stint in Washington, Finn can start working towards his certification. The academic nerd in me would be weirdly excited to see that, actually. Maybe community college will open his brain up just like glee club did!
Will and Emma
Speaking of Will and Washington, we were treated to a continuation of this conflict from "The Break-Up," and the only non-Grease storyline of the hour. To recap: Will's going to Washington to ensure the achievement of every child's dream, and he wants Emma to come with him for the few months. Emma does not want to. Conflict! Beiste tries to coach them through it, and when Will basically begs Emma to accompany him, she concedes. But, in another example of characters telling other characters what decisions they need to make (because how else would they fit all these characters into the narrative otherwise?), Shannon basically calls Emma out on defining herself as Will's wife, and implores her to tell the truth about what she wants. She also says something about how Will loves Emma like a farmer loves his Blue Ribbon pig, which I really hope is not true, for so many reasons. (Seriously. Let your brain go in all directions, and realize that every aspect of this comparison is not ideal.)
In the end, Emma tells Will she doesn't want to resent him if she succumbs to his pressure about Washington. Then they have a conversation they should have had ages ago, in which they sort out what values are important to them in their relationship! How... adult. Will says trust, Emma says acceptance, and they realize that those priorities transcend physical distance for a few months. (Meanwhile, every broken-up couple who succumbed to long distance looks at Will and Emma and says, "Really? You had this crisis over a few months apart?") At first I thought this storyline was a bit pointless, considering it boomeranged back to Emma's original opinion from the previous episode. But there were a few important kinks worked out of their dynamic in the process, especially in regards to Emma's role as "The Girlfriend" or "The Wife." I'm always here for specific delineation that Emma is not just an accessory in Will's world! Now, can we get her some scenes without him? Maybe something that shows us she loves her job and helping kids like she says she does?
Speaking of long-distance relationships, we got an update on Blaine, post-NYC break-up. To be honest, I'm not sure why we needed one, because we didn't actually gain any new information. (Except that Blaine's apology gifts involve boxed DVD sets of Gilmore Girls.) The episode barely remembered just why Kurt and Blaine broke up, finding it totally reasonable to give Blaine a "Hopelessly Devoted to You" solo. I mean, I'm all for showing Blaine's POV in this scenario, but let's call a spade a spade here, and also give us some details about that spade. What exactly happened with this cheating business, and can we please remember that it actually did happen? We don't need to flog Blaine for a transgression that countless other characters on this show have committed, but how about a little reality check on the Olivia Newton-John solos? Seriously, unless "Hopelessly Devoted to You" was meant to be ironic... it's rather an out-of-touch choice given the circumstances.
I also can't decide if the writers intended Blaine's post-audition crying jag to be dramatic or comedic. I can totally see it being either one, given that Blaine's comedy tends to come from exaggeration and also Glee is no stranger to comedic crying. (Sorry, Tina.) But mostly I just felt confused about what I was meant to be feeling.
One final quibble: we got updates on Blaine's situation with Kurt, and references to Finn's falling out with Rachel - but not one single throwaway mention of Brittany's break-up with Santana. Sigh! Could they not think of something dumb enough for her to say about it? All snark aside, one teensy reference would have been appreciated, for the sake of balance and continuity. (I'm pretending Glee holds those two concepts dear.)
Mike and Mercedes
And, here we are to another aspect of tonight's episode that was terribly underexposed. I missed these kids, dammit! They breezed into town to help out the Grease gang with choreography and vocal training, which makes enough sense to fly. But there was absolutely no update on what the hell Mike and Mercedes' lives are like now. Nothing about their schooling, their professional opportunities, their creative projects, or any possible energy exchanges they may have had!!! (I still think the phrase "energy exchange" is the dumbest and most endearingly hilarious way to describe looking at someone and smiling. Bless you, Santana. You have strange definitions when it comes to the world of dating.) No, Mike and Mercedes did the Hand Jive, and that was about it. No Mercedes interaction with Sam, and only one free-floating interaction between Mike and Tina. It was nice to get the screentime for the latter pairing, but having almost no information about their current status made the scene somewhat startling. We hadn't seen Tina all episode, and only obliquely heard that she refused to audition for Grease because of Mike. Not only that, but we only knew about their break-up from dialogue references. I literally have no idea what to make of Mike and Tina's relationship status, and "The Role You Were Born to Play" didn't provide a whole lot of insight either.
The takeaway here: if you're going to haul back two graduated seniors for an episode, then use them.
Ryder and Marley and Kitty and Jake
The New Generation are getting lumped together here. I don't mind these kids, frankly, although I'm a bit wary of all the Love Square nonsense. I don't particularly want to be reminded that these four are basically a transposed Finn-Rachel-Quinn-Puck for the younger class. For my taste, I'm already exhausted with the longing looks, the thinly veiled jealousy, and Kitty's dour bitching. I do find her dynamic with Jake intriguing, though - they're broken up but on decent enough terms, so they have a snarky, truth-telling, bro-type relationship which amuses me. Plus, their audition of "Everybody Talks" was strangely charming - and they actually did more than just stand there and sing! Sure, it was basic walk-around choreography, but hey, they're high schoolers. I appreciated the effort.
As for Marley, I rather enjoyed her part in the "One Last Kiss" performance. It was a Marley colored outside the lines a bit, which is key to making her character interesting. There's a reason Sue can't come up with a mean nickname for her! There's almost nothing to uniquely identify this girl, except perhaps her driving caps. It occurred to me the other day that I almost wish Marley were a cheerleader. The exact same character, but on the Cheerios. Then you'd have a cheerleader who's in it for the sport of it, and not the high school bitch factory that Glee seems to think it is. On top of that, it'd create natural conflict for Sue Sylvester that doesn't require her to get involved in random storylines like Wade's simply to fill the role of villain. But alas! This is not so, and so mostly I'm hoping for a Marley who shows a little punch and gusto. (On a shallow note: her hair looked damn good during her duet. Why hide it under Newsies caps?!)
Finally, Wade. Or Unique, I suppose. Glee's not being all that specific in communicating how exactly Wade identifies. They've bounced back and forth between portraying Unique as a "drag persona" and a real permanent identity for Wade, without delineating the difference. This episode finally made the distinction, from Wade's own mouth - she feels more herself when she dresses in women's clothes and uses the women's restroom, but it's not easy to do that every day. On top of that, she says that people see her performances as Unique a drag stunt only - not as genuine identity expression. (Alluding to the fact that they actually are.) So! Hopefully Glee will continue to tidy up this muddled representation of Wade's identity, and start to afford her the opportunity to have her own screentime and POV as a transgender teen.
As for Sue's part in Wade's storyline... it was basically a hot mess. Kudos to the writers for remembering Sue's place in the Karofsky storyline of Season 2, although boasting about gay Cheerios doesn't seem all that worthy. (Did she go to the mat for Santana during the campaign scandal? I can't remember.) Anyways, Glee always has problems finding appropriate villainy for Sue, without making her an actual terrible human (which she's proved not to be, on occasion), and this opposition to Wade playing Rizzo feels a bit sloppy and contrived. Not only that, but she's setting her sights on Finn Hudson as an enemy, which is a little sad. I can't imagine this will play out any differently than Sue's original wars with Will, in the long run.
In all, there was a lot going on in "The Role You Were Born to Play." Most of the parts that were emphasized strongly could have been scaled back or redirected - particularly in Finn's, Will and Emma's, and Blaine's sections. Then there was definite underutilization in Mike and Mercedes' parts, and only a few moments where they hit the beats just right. Truthfully, there are just too many characters to really create well-developed storylines on an individual level. Moments of choice are rushed and contrived, dialogue is sloppy and expository, and specificity is sacrificed. Corners must be cut, and "The Role You Were Born to Play" definitely showed that.
The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: B
Musical Numbers: B
Dance Numbers: B
Episode MVP: Wade