Friday, December 14, 2012

The RBI Report: "Glee Actually"

I guess not enough people have seen the 2003 Brit-ensemble holiday romcom Love Actually to merit any real kind of homage to the film's content.  No, this episode of Glee didn't feature Sam learning how to play the drums to impress a girl, or Cassandra July using cue cards and the guise of carolers to tell a confused-in-the-doorway Rachel Berry she doesn't hate her at all, or even a tear-down-the-house rendition of "All I Want for Christmas (Is You)."  (That was last year.)

Okay, I'm not saying any of those is a good idea.  (I'm also not saying that Cassandra July one wouldn't not make sense.  I mean.  Think about it.)  Instead of storyline homage, "Glee Actually" used a very tenuous link to Love Actually through homage to its story construction.  Sue lays it out in the first thirty seconds: this episode will have five seemingly disparate stories - between commercial breaks, natch - that all wrap up with a bow in the end.  Now I don't know if Glee's five storylines came together quite as cohesively as Love Actually's, but I actually liked the structural approach.  If only the execution between the walls of each storyline lived up to the episode's concept.  Holiday magic could only save so much...

"Glee Actually," written by Matthew Hodgson, directed by Adam Shankman

Act One: Artie's Wonderful (Wheelchair) Life

I feel like putting the word "wheelchair" smack dab in the middle of any sentence about Artie is an accurate representation of how Glee chooses his storylines these days.  When's the last time Artie had an A-plot that wasn't directly related to his physical disability?  I can't even remember.  Anyways, Artie's chair slips on the icy ramps at school and tips him out of it, where's he forced to wait until some freshman girls can help him up.  Finn finds him in such a state, and Artie's irritability causes him to utter the words, "I wish I was never in this chair."  And, being that this is a Christmas episode, we began to watch the events unfold à la It's a Wonderful Life.  

This kind of storyline is always fun to watch, because of the inherent intrigue of an alternate universe.  What are our favorites doing in this magical new timespace?  And for the most part, Artie's held that interest.  The reappearance of Terri Schuester and Jessalyn Gilsig's glorious comedic timing in only thirty seconds of screentime was maybe worth the whole episode.  Maybe.  They made decent use of Rachel being a meek librarian, I guess, and a Kurt who never met Blaine, and a Will who never started glee club or got divorced.  But mostly, everything in this section required a huge stretch of the imagination.  In what universe is Artie's accident related to the glee club existing?  The excuse was that Artie was too busy playing football to join glee, and it never got off the ground.  After all, Artie was the glue of the glee club.

I'm sorry, were we watching the same show?  As much as I'd love to believe it, never once in the past eighty-eight episodes have I ever been led to believe that Artie was the "glue" of this batch of misfits.  It was always Rachel's talent or Finn's heart or Will's leadership or something else related to Rachel or Finn or Will.  Furthermore, Glee also continues to use this tenuous generalization that football and glee are in binary, and so therefore working legs = more football = less glee.  Who says that just because you play football you have to be a bullying homophobic asshole?  Also, what excuse was there for Finn and Puck to still be students at McKinley, even though they were meant to graduate?  Was it really necessary to demonstrate that Becky became a big ol' slut because Artie never taught her how to respect herself, really?  And did anyone else choke back a scoff when Rory told Artie that Quinn never got through therapy because the glee club wasn't there to help her?  Because as far as I remember it, Quinn actually did get through therapy in spite of the fact that the glee club wasn't there to help her, because Teen Jesus needed screentime.  I mean, we all remember boner therapy, right?  The writers clearly don't.  But whatever; Quinn died of a broken heart anyways.  I mean, she probably still got pregnant in this timeline.  We know she texts and drives in all timelines, so that clears things up for sure.

My point is, through all this Grinchy snark, is that this storyline had such failed potential.  This is an inherently strong concept, asking that what if, and Glee made a mess of it.  With this type of construct, it generally results in one of two outcomes: 1) nothing gets any better and the unfortunate wisher realizes how crappy it would be if their wish came true, and is luckily able to unwish it.  Glee did this one.  Or, 2) a "destiny" element takes shape, and the longer the wisher is in the new timeline, the more it seems like the events of the first timeline might actually transpire in the second, as though it were meant to be.  Now, I understand where communicating the latter instead of the former would be a real shady message to send to Artie about life without his wheelchair.  ("You could have had everything just the same way, AND the use of your legs!"  It's a little insulting.)  But, that being said: if we were going to make this about glee club not existing, then they should have just DONE THAT and not forced Artie's involvement in the A-plot by making serious bounds of logic without any real need.  I thought they actually might go the route of "destiny," the way that Will and Rachel were looking at Artie during "Feliz Navidad," as though something were waking up inside of them.  (Maybe that's just the Lost fan in me speaking.)  Even so, I still think it could have been cool if Artie were the one to unite glee club, and actually demonstrate that it didn't require the one and only Finn Hudson to do so - it just took someone.  Someone who cared, and someone who loved music.  And Artie, wheelchair or not, could be that someone.  How great would that have been?

Alas, this sojourn ended with Artie realizing that life without his wheelchair also meant no glee and so therefore everything sucked; the end.  Wheelchair = glee = part of who Artie is.  I'm not sure about these syllogisms, Glee!  

Moving on.

Act Two: the Kurt and Burt show feat. Blaine

Honestly, I wish this act were called "the Kurt and Burt show feat. Rachel."  Because seriously, Burt Hummel gave Rachel Berry an ornament of her own to put on his and Kurt's family Christmas tree.  How special is that?  That action is telling Rachel Berry she's an honorary member of the Hummel clan, and suddenly it doesn't seem so weird that Rachel sang "Papa Can You Hear Me?" to this man two years ago when he was in the hospital.  (Okay, nothing really makes that less weird.)  Even though this inclusion of Rachel into the Hummel family wasn't set up, at all, ever... it was such a rewarding by-product of what the Glee writers were hamfisting what they REALLY wanted for this section: paving the way for a Blaine-Kurt reunion.  Or at least, that's what it seemed like to me.  Why else give Burt offscreen cancer and a piece of dialogue telling Kurt to hold his loved ones dear?  I'm surprised Burt didn't have a cough-cough-Blaine-cough moment, just to make sure he got the point across.  Subtle, writers!  As for me, I think about Burt's gift to Rachel, and longingly wish that this story had been about Rachel learning to share Christmas with the Hummels, since she can't spend Hanukkah with her dads.

Anyways.  I need to zoom back out of that alternate universe, since it clearly didn't happen.  As for what did: I like the idea of a Kurt and Blaine reconciliation in some form.  I enjoy very much the acknowledgement that these two were very important to each other, whether romantically or not, in a very vulnerable time in their lives.  I like that they want to accept that and allow that and Kurt is being admirably zen about the whole thing.  I do wish things had been a bit more on his terms, though, instead of literally gifting Blaine to Kurt without Kurt specifying that he wanted that.  I also wish that the tone of this construct wasn't communicated through jazzy and coquettish ice skating in honor of Kurt and Blaine's holiday duet tradition.  I admit, when I first heard that their annual Christmas song was going to be "White Christmas," I figured it'd be slowed-down.  Since these two are broken up, with a wobbly trust between them, I thought it'd be fitting if the lyric "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas" could be played wistfully, as though Kurt and Blaine were dreaming of a time when their holiday duets were simple and happy.  In other words, something more like this (except with male voices... work with me here).  But instead, we got a Kurt and Blaine duet that was... just simple and happy.  Oh.  Contrasting emotional context would have made the performance more interesting.  (But none of the performances in this episode were particularly nuanced, nor were they subtly-motivated.  Sigh!)

Act Three: Puck and Jake are brothers also Hanukkah also moms

I think I might be a bit too hard on this storyline.  It had a lovely overarching theme about finding and honoring family during the holidays, but it also had a lot of weird shit with Jake and Puck cavorting through LA and getting matching Star of David tattoos.  It also also had a crappy design with Jake's and Puck's moms being snippy at each other until the boys straightened out their 'tudes.  (Phew!  Thanks, boys.  Ladies be bitches without you.)  Much of this section was spent on the least interesting part of the storyline, which was everything that happened before Jake and Puck actually brought their moms together for the holidays.  We could have cut out all that go-to-LA-no-wait-come-back-to-Lima nonsense and gotten straight to the good stuff, where the conflict is.  Which, had that happened, could have alleviated the problem of swiftly solving the issue between Mrs. Jake's-Mom and Mrs. Noah's-Mom with one line of dialogue.  Hell, we could have given those ladies names!  Even though the end result was nice, the journey to get there rerouted through Broville when it should have steered into Momville.  I shouldn't be surprised, frankly.  It's not the first time this has happened, and it won't be the last.

Also, Aisha Tyler!!!!  Why are you here?  (I ask for your sake, not mine.  I won't complain about Aisha Tyler on my TV screen.  Good to see you, lady.  Sorry about... this whole thing.)

Act Four: Brittany and Sam discover impending apocalypse, get married; world does not actually end, marriage was not actually legal

There were a few times I laughed loudly and inappropriately during "Glee Actually."  The first was the overdramatic push-in when Kurt asked who Blaine was.  The second was when Rory told Artie that Quinn never got through physical therapy because the glee club wasn't there to help her.  And the third was when Sam transitioned from his pointless performance of "Jingle Bell Rock" with the line: "And here's another rock," as he procured an engagement ring.  I'm sorry; but that shit is funny and also by funny I mean terrible.  Was there really not a more organic way to introduce that?  No?  Oh.  Maybe that should tell you something about your apocalypse-marriage storyline, then.  

I feel like no one expects me to speak neutrally about the continuation of Brittany and Sam after last week's multi-paragraph rant.  That's cool.  I don't have much to say about this section except it kind of pulled a Jake-and-Puck storyline and missed what could have been the best part.  Instead of a dumb pointless "Jingle Bell Rock" performance and a dumb and pointless "marriage," I would have much rather seen what exactly Sam and Brittany wanted to do with their lives before the apocalypse.  It could have been a great montage of random antics with some meaningful stuff thrown in there too.  It could have made these caricatures seem like real humans again, even with comedic moments!  It could have been set to Stevie Wonder's "That's What Christmas Means to Me!"  But lo, what part was completely omitted in favor of a "four days later" title card?  Everything that Sam and Brittany did with their lives before the apocalypse.


Act Five: Sue and Becky do a nice thing for the Roses; everyone is heart-warmed

This final act was probably the strongest of the hour, simply because it rested largely on Sue and Becky doing a nice thing in earnest, a brand of begrudgingly honest Grinch-kindness that only Jane Lynch (and Lauren Potter) can sell so masterfully.  Moreover, the events of Act Five actually tied back to character insight!  Imagine that.  Sue's actions had motivation beyond whatever transparent, brand-new reasons the writers scuff up to instant they need to sail their plot turns.  We've long known Sue to have a soft spot for mother-daughter relationships in the memory of hers with her sister Jean.  We met Sue's mother and saw that strained dynamic, and now we know Sue as a mother of her own child.  We've seen the motherly role she's played to Jean, and now Becky.  But we forget about that, and it's always nice to be reminded.  Frankly, the fact that Sue Sylvester saw Marley sing a Christmas carol to her mother - her best friend and only family - and teared up while watching was the most believable thing to happen all episode.  

So, Sue takes her role as Secret Santa for Mrs. Rose, and gifts her and Marley the sum total of her failed Christmas gifts for Becky, plus the proceeds of the profitable toothpickification of her exotic Christmas tree.  (Nitpick: that tree should have kicked off Sue's section, to set it up as important both to Sue and the story.  What do we care if she sells that tree, ten seconds after we see it for the first time and five seconds after Sue explains why the hell it's important?  Show it first, and it'll have meaning later!  Plant that seed, as it were.)  The money's going towards Marley getting therapy for her eating disorder (although really they should just send the bills to Kitty's house) and Marley and her mom get the Christmas trimmings they'd planned on forgoing.  It was all very Bob Cratchett and Tiny Tim, but whatever; it worked.  Plus, it featured one of my few genuine laughs of the episode: Marley realizing that even if the sudden presents under the tree were a Christmas miracle... they should probably still call the cops.  (I also laughed at Sue's accurate prediction of what Marley's thank you would be, and her underwhelmed reaction at being exactly right.)

Mostly, I just appreciate that this storyline took a turn through scenic Momville - a rare stop in Glee narratives.

Fin: everything tied up with a bow?

Okay, nothing tied up all that gracefully, at least not in an intersecting kind of way.  Each story finished, for sure, although none of them really wove together.  (It's a lot of work, and a big challenge... but it would have been cool.)  I will say, though, that "Glee Actually" boasted the first cross-location song performance, which I have long been waiting for since S4 began.  Everyone sang "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" from multiple locations, across the storylines - Kurt and Blaine in New York, Puck and Jake and Sam and Brittany at Breadstix, and Marley & Co. in the auditorium.  The musical nerd in me loves suspending reality for the purpose of finding theme across the distances, and in that way I suppose "Glee Actually" actually did make good on the "wrapped up in a bow" promise. 

Altogether, there was a lot of sloppy and forced execution within "Glee Actually."  While there were a couple nice themes in the second, third, and fifth act, as well as an interesting structure behind the whole piece, it still missed a lot of narrative opportunity in favor of superficie.  

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: C
Dance Numbers: C
Dialogue: C
Plot: C

Characterization: B
Episode MVP:
 Sue Sylvester

Friday, December 7, 2012

The RBI Report: "Swan Song"

After pondering "Swan Song" for a bit, I'm guessing that Rachel Berry's post-recital speech to Finn was intended to be the thematic guidepost for this episode.  In the face of glee club's probable demise, and Finn's pessimism about the future, she rattles off a laundry list of what the experience is really about.  And lo, each of these citations crops up in some form or another through "Swan Song."  The love of music kept the glee club going despite their competition loss, romances formed with new members (who sang just because they wanted to), and Kurt didn't give up on his dream.  Did I stretch that?  Eh.  Regardless of theme, the events of "Swan Song" felt both disjointed yet heavy-handed.

"Swan Song," written by Stacy Traub, directed by Brad Falchuk

After seeing Marley collapse onstage at the end of Sectionals last week, I thought that perhaps tonight's episode would focus on Marley's health, and her friends' concern for her safety and wellbeing.  ...not so much.  Turns out after one Blaine-supplied juicebox, nobody really cared that Marley had a fairly serious medical issue that one might consider investigating.  In fact, they never mentioned it again, until it was time for Marley to blame herself for it, or  for Tina to bitch at her about it.  Um, wasn't her mom in the audience last week?  I guess we're only using Marley's mom to exacerbate her body issues, not resolve them.  Ugh.  I just want this Marley eating disorder storyline over and done with.  Sure, it'd be a little tacky to wrap it up it on the assumption that your friends only sit up and take notice of your ill health when it costs them a trophy, but whatever.  It's even more insulting to have no one care at all except Santana, who magically disappeared from this episode after the haphazard continuation of last week's cliffhanger.

Nope, we weren't really concerned about Marley when the whole glee club was on the line!  Turns out failure to complete a Sectionals performance results in the disqualification of the team.  So, after two years of easy Sectionals victories, the new Finn-led New Directions is up a creek without a glee club.  Not only that, but Sue's commandeered every room in the school so that the group has literally no place to practice. (Despite the fact that Brittany and Sam's scenes clearly took place in an empty classroom.  Oops, Glee.  I'll pretend I didn't notice.)  The choir room is now the apparent home of "Sue de Soleil" (not Cirque de Sue-leil?) and can't be used.  For my money, this was a nice time to bring back April Rhodes to remind everyone of the auditorium she bought for the glee club back in season 1, that other-other-other time the club faced dismemberment and extracurricular homelessness.  But we had Whoopi Goldberg and Kate Hudson to attend to, and let's face it: Glee is not The Good Wife.  In many ways.

Theoretically, though, I dig the idea that the writers could possibly try and sustain a show called "Glee" without an actual glee club competing through this season.  I think it's possible to achieve, and deserves points for trying.  After all, this show is so spread thin at this point, do we really need the competition format to keep things going?  Not really.  Everything runs well enough on its own steam without it.  I do wish, though, that more of "Swan Song" showed the glee kids in their new extracurriculars.  It actually irked me that Finn gave the gang so much crap for joining new clubs, when part of me is interested to see what would happen with the scattering.  Wouldn't it be a nice message to deliver that these kids have become close enough friends that they don't need a club to stick together?  I think that's what Rachel's speech was going for - that glee club transcends competitions, and is really more about the music, and the relationships.  I can jive behind that, but this episode did little to prove it.  In fact, we mostly got Finn mourning the club and griping about people ditching it.  I hope future episodes actually try to demonstrate that these kids don't need a club to be important in each other's lives.

(Or, being that next week is the Christmas episode, will there just be a contrived holiday miracle to put everything back the way it's supposed to be?  I fear I know the answer.)

Actually, "Swan Song" did choose to show two kids sticking together after glee club's disbanding.  Sadly, it was not Tina and Blaine on the Cheerios.  No, it was Sam and Brittany, who coughed up their true feelings for one another and chose to brave the dangerous waters of angry lesbians in order to pursue true happiness.

Now, I'm going to stop right here.  Because I suspect that when Murphy & Co. reference a disapproving "lesbian blogger community," that surely, from their perspective, I shuffle right into that category.  I enjoyed Brittany and Santana's relationship back when it was just but a throwaway joke, and I've long been dissatisfied with the way the writers have handled Santana's coming out experience as well as Brittany's bisexuality.  Oh, and I talked a lot about it here on ye olde interwebz.  It's difficult to imagine how I, specifically, wouldn't qualify as a Glee-certified angry lesbian blogger.  So with the writers patently kicking down the fourth wall and punching me in the face with meta, I'm not sure how I should react to the whole ordeal.  Was that supposed to be funny?  Should I get angry?  Should I leave it alone and not prove myself to actually be, in the end, an angry lesbian blogger?  God, I should probably just realize that love is love!

I suppose I'll just do what I've done all along: talk about how poor the writing was.  This storyline could not have been more unnecessary in this episode, nor more scantly developed.  There were literally two scenes: one in which Sam and Brittany talk about how much they like each other and Brittany reveals she's scared of the lesbian nation that would feel betrayal for her kissing a guy... and then one in which Sam and Brittany talk about how much they like each other and Brittany reveals she's no longer scared of the lesbian nation that would feel betrayal for her kissing a guy.  What changed her mind, supposedly, was Finn railing at everyone that they shouldn't miss out on anything, and seize last chances or something.  I don't know.  It didn't make sense to me, because wasn't the general gist of that argument that Tina & Co. didn't want to miss out, and Finn was actually on the opposite side, in a way?  And did they even show Brittany at all in that scene?  I don't even remember her being there, and it was theoretically her moment of choice.  Show, don't tell!  (That phrase may as well be tattooed at the beginning of each S4 review, frankly.)  

What with the complete lack of in-episode support for this story arc, the fact that it mostly comprised flat and expository dialogue, and that it rose and fell within two scenes before the midway point of the episode... it makes it difficult not to think that it existed for the sole purpose of breaking the fourth wall and delivering a message straight to those haterz also known as lesbians on the internet.  Why else was it there, in such a hurried, pointed, and underdeveloped way?

What's frustrating, too, is that I actually did not have pitchforks and torches ready for the writers, upon learning that Brittany and Sam were going to date.  From where I sit, this is an opportunity to shine a light on Brittany's bisexuality, since the only real statement Glee's ever seem to have made about the issue was that one time Blaine got really drunk and that made him bisexual and Kurt got really mad at him even though they weren't dating.  Awkward.  With Brittany, what we can assume is bisexuality or pansexuality has largely been handwaved away with her portrayal as unintelligent and/or "slutty."  Dumb jokes go to Brittany; sex jokes go to Brittany (or Santana).  Brittany gets turned on by people's armpits, and apparently needs help crossing the street.  She wins school elections not for her pro-women ideas, but because she dances provocatively and offers to take her top off weekly.  Her existence as a bisexual/pansexual woman on this show is a mess of offensive stereotypes, which are kept that way because of the writers' inability to project her coherently and cohesively into her own storylines.  She's marginalized from her own POV, and not only that, but her presence as a secondary character Santana's coming-out storyline was silent at best.

I get why people would be - and are - upset by a Brittany-Sam relationship.  I've seen the graphs, and the statistics, and I, too, hated "Mash-Off" and "I Kissed a Girl."  I, too, loathe the writers' apparent Samcedes-lobotomy, and I, too, want Brittany to be a real, talking character with her female relationships as much as her male relationships.  But I could get behind Brittany dating Sam to remind the audience that she is bisexual - as long as it's written well.  "Swan Song" just did not write them well.  What's worse is that "Swan Song" seemed to imply that I - if I'm to assume that I am one of the easily-driven-to-violence online lesbian community based on my previous opinions - would simply dislike the pairing because I don't want to see Brittany with a boy.  

Actually, I dislike that Brittany and Sam seem to be paired off because they're both dim - with song choices like "Somethin' Stupid," that seems to be the general gist of their dynamic.  I dislike that Brittany's bisexuality isn't explored in a meaningful way, as she's yet again infantilized and reduced to unintelligence.  I dislike that the characters just yap about how much they like each other, and make stuff up so it seems like it's been that way all along.  I dislike that instead of demonstrating why I should like this pairing, as all good writing would do with any relationship, gay or straight, the writers chose instead to just tell me "love is love," wrapped up in a blatant "fuck you if you think otherwise," standing on the assumption that lesbians would be driven to violence at the thought of a bisexual woman dating a man.  Ah, there's nothing like quickly leaping to the "man-hating feminazi lesbian" stereotype.  Oh, Glee.  You sure do know how to make a girl feel special.  (Floor cereal also makes me swoon.)

Let's move on.  The last aspects of "Swan Song" belonged to Rachel and Kurt.  Rachel, having somehow listened in on the same "seizing opportunities like it's my last chance" pep talk that Brittany heard (in what I can only assume was her own head), adopted the mantra for her turn at the NYADA Winter Showcase.  I thought this storyline might endeavor to drag out Rachel's invitation to the prestigious performance for up-and-comers and sustain the question of whether or not she might get one, but as soon as Kurt finished explaining what the hell it even was, Rachel had a golden ticket in her hand.  I didn't quite know if it was just a Rachel Berry fantasy at first!  But I don't mind that the episode skipped the "will she or won't she?" nonsense and cut straight to the obvious: she will.

After that, Rachel had a weirdly sexual and mostly-unnecessary dance-off with Cassandra July, which naturally resulted in Rachel informing Cassandra that she's a better singer.  I swear, if I were one of Rachel's classmates, I would be so unamused by my teacher constantly feeling the need to duke it out with a freshman.  These kids are paying astronomical amounts in tuition, I can only assume, and that class time is being wasted on Fosse-fueled bitch drama between teacher and student!  I'm waiting for the NYADA administration to call Cassandra and Rachel in for inappropriate student-teacher conduct, just so they can see how awkward they've been all season long.

Anyways.  Rachel realizes that while dance class has given her hell, her singing is still exceptional, and so she gets a chance to indulge in her specialty with - what else? - a Streisand number belted to the rafters.  And, sue me, I enjoyed it.  I mean, at this stage it's perhaps the easiest bet to put Lea Michele in an auditorium and let her sing to high heaven.  There was no lack of magic in "Being Good Isn't Good Enough," and I quite appreciated that it was actually used as a moment of triumph and confidence for Rachel.  She also sung "O Holy Night," which was really abrupt and unnecessary, even before the tonally-and-thematically dissonant cross-cutting to sadface Finn packing up trophies amidst enthusiastically stretching circus performers.  Regardless, "Swan Song" featured a very Zen Rachel Berry in her element.  (Despite the fact that she was also in her element when she bungled up her NYADA audition.  We'll just pretend she's grown since then, and not in a hair-extension kind of way.)  Was this storyline actually the wrap-up to her Dance-Class-From-Hell arc, though?  I sure hope so.  It didn't quite seem that way in execution, but conceptually it makes sense and I hope for Kate Hudson's sanity that this is the case.

Rachel's sage advice and enthusiasm was also used in support of Kurt, who found himself nervous about reapplying to NYADA after his rejection in last season's finale.  This storyline was frustrating because a) it was founded on something arguably inaccurate, b) it paid off something that never really happened in the first place, and therefore c) it could have been so much more satisfying, but didn't quite make it.  The idea was that Carmen told Kurt he didn't have enough complexity, depth of emotion, and vulnerability in his performances - he relies too much on bells and whistles.  And while I guess this has occasionally been true, my brain immediately started scrolling through Kurt's solos and thought, "Haven't this kid's performances been defined by emotional authenticity and vulnerability?"  Or is that breaking the fourth wall, because his solos have been in conjunction with his storylines and are therefore tonally dependent?  Whatever.  All I know is that "Defying Gravity," "A House is Not a Home," "Rose's Turn," "I Want to Hold Your Hand," and "As If We Never Said Goodbye" involved me and/or Chris Colfer tearing up.  I guess in-show, non-narrative performances like "I'm the Greatest Star" and "Not the Boy Next Door" are more flashy, but still.  The claim made me question just how true a statement it was.

Anyways, when Rachel reminded Kurt of his emotion during "I Want to Hold Your Hand," Kurt countered that the authenticity was because he dedicated the song to his dad.  Who would he dedicate this performance of "Being Alive" to?  Rachel replied, simply, "to yourself."  Which I genuinely loved, because I'm always first in line for identity- and independence-based storylines.  I adore them an absurd amount.  But the problem with this construct is that it wasn't set up!  Yes, Kurt received rejection at the end of last season, and needed prodding to leave Lima and pursue his dreams.  But once he got to NYC, his character has been mostly wrapped up in the Candyland World of Isabelle Wright and the angst of breaking up with Blaine, as well as delivering the expository dialogue needed to float Rachel's storylines.  "Being Alive" paid off an arc that never quite happened with Kurt: witnessing him adrift in the city, a bit discouraged and unsure of his place there, away from home for the first time and trying to keep his feet beneath him.  I wish we had gotten a better sense of this untethered feeling, so that "Being Alive" and Kurt's acceptance to NYADA would feel more rewarding.  

(Although I suspect his admission to NYADA will force him to choose between the theater school and the job at, giving him a new in-episode arc and a possible new career choice.)

I do feel it bears mentioning my favorite part of the hour: seeing Tina, Artie, Blaine, and Brittany talk to directly to the camera, in weirdly-spaced frames, letting us know what exaggerations befell them after the club's demise.  I almost wish we could get a dark comedy spin-off with those kids being charming delinquents, a la The Breakfast Club.  But I could be biased, because I'm also loving Tina and Artie's new roles this season: to "bitch pls" everyone who offers up an earnest idea.  They're so saucy, and I love it.  I mean, if they're not going to be real characters anyways, I will happily accept the comedy of shade.

By the end of "Swan Song," the glee club came back together to sing "Don't Dream It's Over" in the snow, having left Marley's issues unaddressed, and the fate of the group uncertainly certain in their unofficial togetherness.  Kurt and Rachel are now both officially NYADA students, and Rachel is probably going to start writing fortune cookie messages in her off-time from aggressively battle-dancing with her teacher.  In all, the hour was unevenly paced, a bit disjointed even under the umbrella of its solid themes, and bearing the unavoidably Glee traits of heavy-handed execution despite underdevelopment.  Show, don't tell!

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: A
Dance Numbers: N/A
Dialogue: D
Plot: C
Characterization: D
Episode MVP: Kurt Hummel

Monday, December 3, 2012

"Battle of the Proxies" and the Kalinda Cliffhanger Repeat

The general contempt towards Kalinda's storyline this season isn't exactly a secret. Most fans and critics are citing it as the Kings' first major misstep with the show (which, considering that it's season 4, could also be considered a compliment). Nick has turned out to be kind of a lame villain, and worse still, their interactions have confused the character of Kalinda as the audience understands her.  She's passive under probable threat, distracted from her job, and ultimately untethered from her usual calculated existence.  The writers planned this storyline to be a Very Big Thing, but instead it's an Overblown Tired Thing - and underwhelming given the way it exploded onto the scene at the tail end of last season.

I've tried to give it the benefit of the doubt, though. The beauty of television lies in the fact that storylines carry over from episode to episode, and just because one installment is a dud doesn't mean that good things aren't to come. Plus, I love Kalinda, and knowing that this storyline has been in the works since S2 makes me want to have faith in it.

But last night's cliffhanger? That was the moment that showed all the problems on this arc. Because we'd seen it before: the sequence of events in 4.10 were nearly identical to the ones in 3.22!  "The Dream Team" closed out S3 with the threat of Kalinda's husband, and Kalinda resolved to action because of a perceived threat to Alicia. She waits for Nick in the dark, to finish things. 4.10 did almost the exact same thing: Alicia tells Nick that Lockhart Gardner will no longer be representing him because of his drug deals, and Nick threatens her. Kalinda finds out, and finally spines up when she realizes that Nick is a) in some real shady shit and b) threatening Alicia. She waits for Nick in the dark, to finish things. And in both episodes, a cliffhanger: what will Kalinda do? What did Kalinda do?

I really, really want to call this parallel construction. And who knows? With the beauty of TV, we could get more information that might change how we see this sequence of events in the season as a whole. But right now, it just looks a lot like retread. And I am sad for that. Because then it begs the question that the naysayers have been asking all along: what is the point of Nick?  Why do nine or ten episodes of Kalinda/Nick wheel-spinning just to bring things back to where they were in last season's finale? We had so much fear of Nick when he was a faceless presence offscreen, but after a slew of episodes where he's just "huffing and puffing," as it were, the danger's all gone. We're just kind of annoyed, now.

Plus, as so many have predicted in comments sections the internet over, it seems as though Kalinda resorted to lawbreaking to do away with the Nick Problem, which will likely precipitate Alicia having to defend her in court. This doesn't sound so bad, I guess, but it seems so... transparent. It's looked this way all season, and not in a ticking-time-bomb kind of way but an I-know-exactly-where-this-is-going kind of way.  Even if the cut-to-black assumed-violence is a misdirect, how exactly are the Kings going to pay off Kalinda's action in a proportionally dramatic way? It's awfully underwhelming to say, "Welp, she had him arrested. L8r, Nick!"

This whole thing is just messy. I wish Kalinda taking action in 4.10 was pushed up to 4.01, after the FIRST cliffhanger, and then the following episodes offering some glimpse of what Kalinda's plan might be for this situation. Trying to figure out a way to get him out of her life without murdering him, maybe. Investigating him, finding out he's dealing drugs, and then trying to get him arrested without him catching on and endangering Alicia or something. Then when she gets him arrested, he's pissed and leaves death threats that hang over the whole season until he comes back for the final episodes or something. Because I don't see how this storyline can end unless that man has a bullet in his head.

I'm also a bit bummed that the writing has ignored the potential to turn "the good wife" mantle onto Kalinda and her screwed-up marriage.  The 3.22 finale had the Kalinda-Alicia wives-and-families compare/contrast in spades, what with the cross-cut last sequence. But S4 seems to have lost that commentary, which was so thematically interesting.  Despite this, the storyline is reaping benefits for the once-wounded Kalinda-Alicia dynamic, what with positive interaction and relationship building/reinforcing.  I'm always here for that, and it's wonderful to see after the drought of friendship in season 3. But the execution along the way to foster that is making me frown. And I hate frowning at The Good Wife!

Ultimately, I hope the Kings find some way to make this storyline unique and meaningful on the heels of the development in 4.10, even if it's going to look like something of a "do-over."  After all, this storyline is supposed to be for Kalinda. I want Kalinda's character/arc to get something out of it. So far, she really hasn't. We've seen her passive, distracted from work, and confused - traits that blur the character's definition, and not in an interesting way. Nick is an emotionally abusive bully who threatens all in sight to keep Kalinda under his power. We really don't WANT this guy redefining her character. We want her to redefine him right out of her life, please and thanks.
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