Friday, February 8, 2013

The RBI Report: "Diva"

Well, it was Diva Week on tonight's Glee, and frankly that mantle didn't feel any different than any other week of Glee.  In fact, I think the theme of "diva" actually overshadowed the possibility of developing other, more interesting material in the hour.  "Diva" spent too much time fussing over the identifying traits of a diva and too little time fleshing out what could have been really great character-driven storylines.  

"Diva," written by Brad Falchuk, directed by Paris Barclay

First things first: we should've known this wasn't a silly episode because it wasn't called "Gleeva!"  I would have been more impressed if Fox hadn't decided to ruin it and put #gleeva in the corner of all the scenes.  Thanks, Fox.  I will take to Twitter and hashtag all my posts with a word that sounds like an artificial sweetener.  Or Emma Geller-Green's first word.

Anyways, I think the second indicator of a more emotionally resonant episode comes with the fact that all major storylines in "Diva" belonged to old school favorites: Kurt and Rachel, Santana, Tina, and Emma.  We've spent three years and some change with this gang, and it's helpful to have that emotional history providing some weight to what might otherwise be less meaningful moments or situations.  Where "Diva" told and didn't show (as to be expected these days), there was actor performance and character canon helping to bear the emotional impact.  Because even though "Diva" had a lot of good material in it, its design still didn't quite showcase that as well as it possibly could have.

One problem plaguing the storytelling, I noticed, was Glee's tendency to rush their musical performances.  There's this strange pattern where the first scene introduces and explains exactly what the purpose of the upcoming performance is, and then BOOM - scene two is the performance.  Immediate setup, immediate payoff; everything rises and falls within back-to-back scenes.  It happened with "Diva," with "Don't Stop Me Now," "Nutbush City Limits," "Make No Mistake (She's Mine)," and you could even make an argument for "Hung Up."  The only performance that was allowed to serve as payoff to something set up more than thirty seconds before was "Bring Him Home."  And the irksome thing about that is that it was plot payoff only; the performance didn't provide any character insight to Kurt and Rachel, as moving as it was.  

In fact, I think the Kurt/Rachel storyline may have been the textual low point of the evening, despite the best efforts of Lea Michele and Chris Colfer to elevate the shit out of it.  (Maybe literally.)  There are a few things frustrating about this mini-arc.  One, it's a retread.  Rachel v. Kurt dates back to the show's first season, and while the episode at least acknowledged that in an interesting way... it's still recycled material.  Strike two: Rachel's POV was entirely absent from this until it was time for her to feel bad about how much of a bitch she is.  Which leads me to three: what are we supposed to be getting out of this?  Rachel might lose herself to narcissism if she doesn't have her BFF Kurt to call her out on it?  

Here's the bottom line, and what this episode failed to acknowledge: the real definition of 'diva' is a woman who is self-confident without apology.  Society doesn't like when women don't apologize for themselves, so 'diva' becomes a negative thing.  Rachel Berry, by character design, is this show's diva.  She is therefore a divisive character, and it's almost always a problem when the show tries to make Rachel's "Rachelness" play nice with "normal" teenagers.  This episode was no different.  We get a Rachel who's off the rails, and needs her best dude to put her in her place... but also to be her white knight who puts her back together again after he's successfully unglued her.  Bleh.  What happened to character agency?  I don't care if the diva-in-moderation message is the same - why not have Rachel come to her own conclusion without forcibly inflating her ego and then popping it cleanly with an air of "she had it coming?"

Honestly, something more interesting about Rachel Berry in "Diva" was the fact that she seemed to be... popular.  She had people following her around, hanging on her every word.  Suddenly it was like her high school fantasy come to life.  She walked through the halls of NYADA the way Season 1 Quinn Fabray strode through the halls of McKinley.  Wasn't that exactly what Rachel wanted?  Love and acceptance?  Perhaps a stronger storyline here would have been the idea that just because Rachel has people surrounding her paying her compliments, doesn't mean she has necessarily has friends.  And I don't mean that the underlying idea should be a 'you still don't have friends, Rachel Berry!!!!" message, because that's a dick move.  But I can see where Rachel would get caught up in having people fawn all over her, because it's all she ever wanted in high school - only to realize that fifteen peers who only like you for your talent don't equal one person like Kurt, who knows who she really is and loves her anyway.  

...barring the whole "I have to put her in her place" thing, anyways.  Actually, the whole exchange about their friendship made me cringe.  Really, Kurt and Rachel grew close only when Rachel became tolerable?  Really, this New Rachel is a self-righteous Lima Rachel on steroids?  Yikes.  Look, I get that Rachel can be unlikeable.  In fact, I quite appreciate that about the character.  But the narrative plays her in extremes, and fails to embrace what's interesting about the interacting polarities.  When they're behind Rachel, they basically shove her down our throats without any hesitation.  When they're not in her corner, they're really not in her corner... they're like, out the door and around the block and firing flaming arrows at her instead.  Is there no happy medium?  Can Rachel be self-confident without apology, or is that not allowed? 

The other overarching storyline of "Diva" came between Blaine and Tina, paid off with Tina performing a pretty badass rendition of "Hung Up."  Seriously, how slammin' did Jenna Ushkowitz look in that black leather number?  Tina should just wear that all the time.  Plus, I like that homegirl is finally getting some screentime and storylines.  What I am not loving is that in order to make this happen, the writers have hitched her wagon to Blaine's gilded chariot of screentime - and they have hitched it in a super awkward, cringe-y kind of way.  Every time this storyline actually ventured into emotionally honest territory, its footing slipped and things got weird and alienating.  Case in point: a touching moment where Tina bravely lays it all on the line, only to discover that Blaine's fallen asleep... so, naturally, it's time to unbutton his shirt, straddle him, and rub his chest with Vapo-Rub.  All capped off, of course, with her laying her head against him like Miss Emily and the rotting corpse of Homer Barron.  (Did I just reference a William Faulkner short story?  You bet your ass I did.)  

I guess I still don't understand this Tina-is-in-love-with-Blaine thing, especially when it makes her obsess over his physical wellbeing and utter lines like "Mr. Anderson, you find new ways to inspire me every day" in earnest.  Not only that, but it seemed to serve as a reason to empower Tina's diva ways, what with her internal struggle to behave as a diva, combined with Blaine's insistence that she already is a diva, and the "fuck you" performance of "Hung Up."  (Okay, but seriously, how hilariously great was it that Tina cut off Emma's compliment with a smug "don't even worry about it" - ?!)  I think what sticks in my mind, though, is that Tina was already a diva before this episode.  Self-confident and not apologizing for it?  Hello, did we not remember Ms. Righteous Blade of Equality?  Do we not recall an Asian Vampire threatening the principal of her school so she could continue to dress whatever the damn way she wanted?  Have we forgotten her hijacking a Gandhi quote and saying she was going to be the change she wanted to see in the world?  Tina Cohen-Chang was a badass motherfucker who inspired herself, goddammit, and this Blainey-Blaine storyline is reducing her to less than that just so he can help her reachieve the mantle?  No, thanks.  Their interactions can be cute, don't get me wrong - but let's not sacrifice Tina's character on the altar of awkward and comedically devoted.

Moving on to Santana - perhaps the aspect of "Diva" that had me the most interested, and left me with the fewest answers.  This is probably because so much Santana-related happened offscreen!  Babygirl roared into town, had conversations about her life, sang a little bit, and then wound up in NYC by episode's end.  At first, it seems she's just back for Diva Week.  Then, it seems like she's back to kick Sam's ass (but not steal Brittany back).  Finally, we understand: Santana boomerangs back to Lima so much because she dropped out of college a month ago.  Interesting, no?  I love the idea that Santana had to make a few mistakes to find her way, and I love even more the idea that the real world kind of knocked her on her ass.  She's lost, right?  She has no place with Brittany now, no place in Kentucky, no place in Lima.  But these points were flattened into basic dialogue with Brittany that wrapped up their relationship and put Santana on a new track with little motivation.

Knowing how everything shook out for Santana in "Diva," I wish that her storyline hadn't been so much about Santana-and-Brittany-and-Sam and more about... well, Santana.  The triangle conflict went absolutely nowhere, and resulted mostly in a really awkward song transition (and placement) for "Make No Mistake (She's Mine)".  Seriously, in what universe would that song come on the heels of an argument?  And why on earth would you make it a real thing happening on a stage?  That shit needed to be later in the episode, and also with the treatment of magical reality.  The storyline also lacked a moment for Brittany to sit both Sam's and Santana's asses down and remind them that she gets to choose who she dates, thankyouverymuch.  The whole thing seemed super pointless, and if the purpose was to get Santana on her way to NYC, then why not let Santana realize on her own there's no place for her in Lima anymore?  Much like Blaine telling Tina she's a diva, much like Kurt telling Rachel she's a nightmare... Brittany told Santana she needed to go someplace that suited her better.  My queendom for a Glee lady with agency!  ('Coz the kingdom ain't delivering.)

What would have been better was a Santana returning to Lima bitching about Sam because Santana hasn't properly moved on at all in life.  Her first semester was a wash, and she's in no better place than she was when she broke up with Brittany.  So she lashes out at Brittany not because she wants her to date someone better, or even that she wants them to get back together... but because she's projecting her own issues onto Brittany.  The place beside Brittany has now been taken by someone else, and Santana can't get that back.  She has no place at all, anymore.  Resolution: Brittany tells her she always has a place beside her, and that Santana can always find a new place, too.  She just has to keep trying.  Cue the move to NYC.  This way, Brittany's still supportive, without making Santana's decision for her, and Santana's arc is more identity-based and doesn't screw around with romance politics.

Finally, Emma.  Opinion bomb: Jayma Mays is the best actor on Glee.  When the show is a comedy, she's the funniest; when it's a drama, she's the most heartbreaking - consistently.  (Sure, she has considerably less screentime, but whatever.)  It's a shame that Emma has been rendered into a love interest role, and a project for Will to fix.  Because when Emma gets her own POV, she's super great.  In "Diva," she's stressing about wedding planning without Will around, and her OCD flares up.  Weirdly, Finn's around to be Will 2.0 (if you squint at his scenes with Emma, you can barely tell it's not Matthew Morrison on the screen) and support her.  Of course, this escalates into a panic attack during which Finn kisses her as a desperate attempt to calm her down.  Wait - did I just write 'of course' for that scenario?  Oops.  

Now, we know that I'm pretty stingy with any kind words about Glee's storylines that feature the strapping young buck wooing the much older insecure woman.  (See: Puck's entire existence.)  However.  Once I got over my initial "what the hell just happened?" reaction... I had to laugh a little bit.  I think, if this storyline is played for comedy, it could be okay.  It's an extraordinarily dumbass thing to do - kiss the guidance counselor while she's having a meltdown, and something that I can easily see Finn doing in a moment of panic.  Like it worked on Rachel and Quinn, and it's the only card he knows how to play.  What a goober.  It also bumps Joey Tribbiani from holding the title of Worst Best Man Ever!  (Kissing the bride a week before the wedding probably ranks worse than letting water foul ingest the rings.)  So, I'm going to reserve all judgment until it plays out a bit more.  Mostly, I can't be too mad at a storyline where Jayma Mays owns pretty much every second of her screentime.

Oh and boys can be divas too.  Thanks Blaine!  (Fiercest runway walk still goes to Tina, though, with a special runner-up shout-out to Kitty.)

In the end, "Diva" had a lot of really great source material, and the added bonus of inherent emotional impact through its use of the show's original characters.  But the "diva" theme took away from the character-based content of the episode, and ultimately the more interesting aspects weren't quite developed front and center.  An entertaining hour, but it could have packed more punch.  #gleeva

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: A
Dance Numbers: A
Dialogue: C
Plot: C
Characterization: C
Episode MVP: Emma Pillsbury


  1. as always spot on report.
    agree totally with your comments about Jayma Mays.

  2. There's something you didn't mention that sort of pissed me off : it seems like everytime Tina complained about not being a diva, the answer was about her being asian. I mean :
    Tina : "No one thinks diva and pictures me."
    Blaine : "What are you talking about ? There are tons of badass asian divas !"
    Is this supposed to be about *being asian* ? Isn't it just about Tina ? I get that yes, whatever they say, there are still issues about it nowadays but... I don't know, it just felt wrong.
    Then again it's the way Glee works...

    1. Yeah, that irked me too. Like, I could understand her thinking that she's not perceived as a "diva" because, historically, she's been kind of shy and more of a team player who puts other people first. I kind of took that scene as Blaine blatantly misinterpreting what she meant and her not correcting him, because she's "in love" or whatever.

  3. Eh, I don't really agree with the Kurt and Rachel stuff. I think Rachel had more agency than you give her credit for. She was surrounding herself with those hanger ons, but once they started making fun of Kurt, Rachel did not join in. She didn't know Kurt heard them, yet she still disagreed with them and defended her friend. She came to these realizations on her own and wasn't lectured into it. She also realized on her own that she was going a bit far, because the talk with Kurt at the end didn't come until she made the realization on her own, and the message there was that she is still going to be ambitious and great, but maybe not so over the top and ordering her roommate around. I hate that people have become so accustomed to Rachel winning EVERYTHING that when she does lose, it has to be because she's being taught some lesson. No, it's just more refreshing to see that she doesn't have to be the best every single time.

  4. I wanted to like this episode so much. I wanted to love it. I'm coming off the high of the Bomb Girls mid-season finale so I am feeling all kinds of feelings (which you should help me process in another essay) and this ep is not only stacked with all the alums we love so much, but it features a heavy dose of Santana and Santana singing. It had all the right ingredients and it only kind of left me with a "meh". Sure I am pumped to get a Lea/Chris duet, Jenna some lines, and any ep where Naya gets to sing 3 songs is okay in my book, but that seems like the best it could do for me. Just okay, so I'd say your C grade is about accurate.

    It was good to see Rachel looking a little bit more like Rachel and of course Lea and Chris always freaking bring it both on the acting side and on the singing side, but dammit it is frustrating that in order to learn her very special lesson there has to be a boy there to teach it to her and/or knock her down a couple of pegs. Sure that fits a bit with Kurt's natural bitchiness, but still what I wouldn't give to see Rachel realize this on her own. The realization she did seem to make is that she shouldn't try for things because any success will go to her head and turn her into a monster. But thankfully she had Kurt again to set her straight. I guess it could've been worse if they'd flown in Finn or Will. And while Kurt always delivers the emotion I never think he beats Rachel in a 'sing-off'... and it is just so frustrating that Rachel has to "lose" in order to learn her lesson.

    I liked Tina better when she was "sneaky awesome". She's pretty much been a benevolent Diva since she dropped her speech impediment in season 1. I was always afraid that the more lines they gave her the more of a chance they'd have to really screw with her. An unrequited crush on a boy who is gay as a window, ok. I can go there with the story. But like with a lot of Glee, the trouble is in the execution and molesting said kid while he's asleep.... sorry, but that skeeves me out a bit.

  5. And finally, my favorite, Santana. Please girl, be in all the episodes and sing all the songs. I don't even know where to start. I have this whole head!canon where she actually kind of likes university. Her cheer coach is a good coach/mentor, her teammates are real teammates, she does all the crazy, stupid, fun things freshmen are supposed to do, she is in an all-girls A-Cappella group, she's trying not to hide, but struggling to just shout her queerness from the bell towers, she's trying to figure out when people are flirting with her and when they're just being nice, etc, etc, etc, etc... so I'm kind of disappointed by her dropping out. And while I am thrilled she is finally getting to NYC (b/c she, quinn, rachel and kurt should have their own show), I am also a little disappointed that appearing at the door of people she only sort of likes is her best plan.

    Going back a bit... does Finn have her on speed dial? That bothers me. I am liking Finn so much more this season (and finding your place in life is a theme i can relate to, and it applies to both Finn and Santana), I but I am still bitter with him and do not ascribe to any kind of friendship between Santana and him. The stunt performance with the other fake cheerleaders was kind of weird for me. And the pretend girlfriend? Even weirder. Especially if you go back and look at it after knowing she's dropped out of school and that she apparently didn't get along w/ her teammates... so just who the hell were those girls? (As an aside- how awesome would a Mercedes/Santana duet have been in its place? Now there's a diva duo for the ages.) Everything is just so weird and stupid when there is so much drama to be had just in exploring Santana and how she already doesn't "fit" into the world by the triple virtues of her gender, race and orientation and now has literally no place where she belongs. Really, there isn't any need to manufacture dramz... and yet we've got to add a little love triangle b/c it just isn't Glee without it.
    I think I was in to Brittana when it was what made Santana happy, but since they've consistently screwed around with Brittany's character I am kind of over it. You always get an intense passion from Santana's side, and I just don't feel the same from Brittany. Maybe a little bit during the Breakup, but otherwise I always get platonic vibes from platonic with a side of sex just for amusement. So I'm tired of Brittany... the writers need to get a clue about whether she is a real character or just a medium for occassionally funny 1-liners. Until then, they can stay friendzoned.

    And oh, just so many props to Jayma Mays. You go girl.


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