Friday, March 15, 2013

The RBI Report: "Feud"

I know that Glee exists in a heightened reality, where wacky things happen to exaggerated characters and we all just have to suspend our disbelief to enjoy the ride.  Early on, the writing balanced out these moments with glimpses of emotional depth in their archetypes, allowing them to express themselves in the quiet spaces between the big musical numbers and glee club circus.  Now, we're just kind of expected to fly along with the plot as it leaps from one scene to the next, accepting whatever rules the writers flimsily define for this episode and this episode only.  "Feud" definitely filed into this category.

"Feud," written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, directed by Bradley Buecker

It's not that there weren't any good moments in "Feud."  But between these few gems of comedy and genuine emotion, I found myself wondering how much suspension of disbelief was required to get full intended enjoyment from the episode.  Will and Finn's feud naturally must result in a Very Serious Sing-Off between 90s boy bands - as assigned to them by their students.  Naturally, Sue must desperately want Blaine on the Cheerios and will do anything - including a glee performance - to win him.  And just as naturally, we're supposed to believe that it was Blaine's plan all along.  Oh and also, Rachel is dating a gigolo.  I guess Glee is just like Santana: "You can't apply logic to Lopez."  I should probably stop trying.

So, the feuds...

Will vs. Finn

The biggest feud of the episode belonged to Will and Finn, simply because it involved the most deep-seated emotions.  Will felt betrayed by Finn because Finn kissed Emma in a moment of panic.  How could these bros ever survive?  Well, they first had to get all their feelings out in a mashed-up duel of Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way" and NSYNC's "Bye Bye Bye."  The physical brawl turning into happy man-hugs was a bit weird, but Buecker needed something to cut to so he could track the emotional journey of the song and what else was he supposed to do?  I will say, I was pretty impressed with the amount of upper body strength required to maneuver dance choreography with those life-size marionette strings.  Respect on that front, for sure.

As for the Will vs. Finn of it all, I wasn't really interested until Marley swooped in to give Finn a cold dose of reality.  (Although I find it awfully fresh that Marley's advising people to grow a pair.  I'm pretty sure I've been wanting Marley to grow a pair all season long, simply to make her character less passive.  Her boys-fighting-about-me love triangle and mean-girl-brainwashed-me-into-an-eating-disorder certainly don't give her Active Character points.)  This was perhaps the best moment of the evening, because it allowed for a teeny glimpse of what Glee used to do with their characters originally: let them show vulnerability as they struggled with negotiating their identity and the real world. 

Since Finn has graduated, he has been a lost little tumbleweed looking for direction.  And as the erstwhile Mr. Ethos of glee club, the football team, and McKinley High in general, he doesn't know how to redefine himself beyond that realm.  What a lovely little construct for Finn to actually manifest, because it's true.  Finn has been grasping at the passions of everyone else in his life - Rachel, Will, Burt, his father - trying to cling onto something of his own, and he's never found it.  His glory days are defined by being Mr. Quarterback and Mr. Glee Club - but what next?  Every post-McKinley endeavor has been a failure. 

Turns out Finn's talent is for teaching and leadership, in the footsteps of Mr. Schuester, which is apparently only a surprise to Finn himself.  Character parallels are never in short supply on Glee, usually for worse than for better.  We all saw the Schuestering of Finn Hudson from a mile away, from the plaid shirts to the Emma kiss to the belief that you totally don't have to respect the boundaries of your ex and her new boyfriend! 

Anyways, Finn is not exactly reconciled with Will, and he's off to pursue a teaching degree thanks to the doe-eyed wisdom of Marley Rose.  Was anyone else expecting Finn to haul off and kiss her too?  Part of me hoped he would.  That same part of me hoped that Finn would march up to Will and declare passionately "We are endgame" when Will admitted he wasn't ready to forgive.  When will Finn show up on Will's doorstep and serenade him, thereby solving all the problems?  And, finally, the same part of me that wished for these absurdities (or continuation of pattern?) went straight to the gutter when Ryder told Jake, "you know I have good hands."

Ryder vs. Everyone with Human Emotions

Yeah, Ryder was in the dog house with pretty much everyone this week.  Jake was pissed at him for kissing Marley, and pissed at Marley for letting Ryder think that was an option.  (I really wish Marley knew how much Ryder and Jake talked about dating her without her even there, because she really has a leg to stand on with that argument in her back pocket.  Also, Jake, you were the one that basically let Ryder woo Marley with all those presents, so are you just as guilty of "letting" Ryder think that Marley was a kissable option?  Messy.)  Eventually Ryder apologized, and it was boring.

Turns out Ryder is getting over Marley because he's got a new mystery love interest, seen only through internet chatting.  This girl may as well serve as Ryder's brain/moral compass, because homeboy acted real stupid and insensitive until she spelled things out for him.  See, Ryder was having trouble being a decent human being and accepting Unique's right to define her identity whatever damn way she pleased.  Oof, this was awkward and terrible.  Yeah, in the end the right message was communicated, but there were a few problems with the execution.

First: it threw Ryder under the bus.  I know that most teenage boys in Middle America aren't going to be understanding of trans* issues, but the sheer refusal to even respect Unique's point of view rendered Ryder beyond both sympathy and likeability.  The exercise used him as an excuse to PSA, making him little more than a prop for the message.  Which wouldn't be so bad, if his epiphany actually came from an interaction with Unique instead of his online flirt buddy.  The whole point of this storyline is to demonstrate that it is entirely up to the individual to decide, embody, and project their identity into the world, no questions asked.  This idea is centered squarely on the notion that this decision and declaration come from the person in question - in this case, Unique.  And while Unique made her case and stood her ground, Ryder didn't accept it until someone else's voice did the talking.  And not just anyone else - a faceless girl who he's imagining to be cisgender, blonde, white, and into him sexually.  This sadly undermines the whole point, and makes me wish that Ryder's mystery girl is in fact Unique, effectively proving a sadder truth about the acceptance of trans* voices by society.

The one nice result of this storyline was a pretty solid mash-up between Elton John's "The Bitch is Back" and Madonna's "Dress You Up in My Love."  I was digging it.

Blaine vs. Sue

So apparently Sue Sylvester must have Blaine's skills on the Cheerios, and will stop at nothing to recruit him.  I feel like this storyline overlooked a few details that would have helped float its boat a little easier.  Do we not remember Blaine's Warbler training?  Both Dalton's Warblers and Sue's Cheerios have demonstrated a high level of showmanship throughout the seasons, and it makes sense from that angle that Blaine would fit right in on the Cheerios.  The uniforms, the precision choreography, the sacrifice of individual identity for the sake of the group?  All Warbler and Cheerio qualities!  It would make so much more sense to hinge Sue's pursuit of Blaine on this textual commonality, rather than rest it on that certain je ne Blaine quoi. 

This could have also bolstered the performance duel between Blaine and Sue, if both parties brought their flashy choreography and army of sycophants to back them up.  Sue had the A-game, but apparently the New Directions has rendered Blaine's performance abilities to some basic incarnation of putting on a hat and twinkle-toeing around the room.  Warbler may have lost his touch.  Anyways, Blaine whines about unfairness (while I whined about him singing Queen Mariah) and got his ass dragged back to the Cheerios.  Except - plot twist, y'all!  He and Sam somehow planned this all along, so they can finally take Sue Sylvester down once and for all, FROM THE INSIDE.  I mean, I guess these two sleuthed their way into uncovering the Warblers' steroid regime, but I'm not entirely sure I buy this deus ex machina reveal.  Blaine and Sam are the equivalents of two human puppy dogs.  They like to jump around and smile at people.  Neither of them seem quite capable of rivaling the Clever Underboob of Santana Lopez!

Santana vs. Brody (and Kurt and Rachel)

So, now that Santana is in New York, this naturally means that she is supportively accompanying Rachel to pregnancy-related doctor visits, calling Rachel back to her true identity, actively trying to take down the gigolo boyfriend that she perceives as a betrayal of Rachel's true identity, and working at Coyote Ugly.  Well, sure.  Even with this clunky assemblage of plotlines, Santana still manages to be a welcome presence in the New York landscape - if only for her scenes with Rachel and Kurt where they all get to show off their snarky sides.  Santana doesn't even mind that they make her breasts ache with rage! 

Basically, Santana becomes a heat-seeking missile intent on ridding the Hummelberry Loft of Brody and his gigolo lies.  She intimidates him at NYADA with a sultry performance of Paula Abdul's "Cold Hearted," and when Kurt and Rachel kick her out for embarrassing them and being hostile towards Brody, she sets a trap for Brody and invites Finn to come beat the shit out of him.  Damn.  Don't mess with Santana Lopez.  Girl's a trickster.  While I kind of think Kurt would be Team Santana in opposition to Brody, and that it's tiresome to bring in Finn to brawl with Brody (especially with the line of dialogue "stay away from my future wife!") - this storyline is dumb from every angle, so I may as well enjoy whatever snarky tidbits it brings me.

Perhaps this Brody-as-gigolo storyline is the pinnacle of Glee's ridiculata. Yes, so many storylines require complete surrender of reality for them to make any sense, but this one takes the cake. It's so beyond the realm of grounded human emotion that it's just floating in a sparkly cloud of melodrama, perfectly primed for pregnancy scares, Santana snark, sexualized group dances, brawls in hotel rooms, and even a weird long shot down a hallway with weird snappy editing. (Buecker. This isn't The Shining. I know you're bored, but all play and no work makes Brody seem like a serial killer.) Anyways, my point is that this Brody business is nestled so neatly in the stratosphere of soap opera plots that I can't help but let myself float right through it marveling at all the rainbows and overwrought drama. I've found my threshold, right after I loop-dee-looped by Sue Sylvester in full Nicki Minaj gear.

The RBI Report Card...

Musical Numbers: C
Dance Numbers: B
Dialogue: C
Plot: C
Characterization: C
Episode MVP: Santana Lopez


  1. I think Kurt was more pissed about the NYADA thing than the Brody thing, judging from his tone when he called Santana out for singing a Paula Abdul song.

    (Kurt Hummel, I love you, but you aren't in a position to call Santana out for singing Paula Abdul. You auditioned for NYADA with Wake Me Up Before You Go Go, and you're in a singing group that has covered Sir Mix-A-Lot. You're also sitting next to a girl who performed Britney Spears in that very room. Also, dissing Paula Abdul? Not cool).

  2. I don't understand the snark regarding Brody being a gigolo. Why wouldn't he be? Maybe this comes from growing up poor in a big, expensive city, or maybe it's because my oldest sister and two of my cousins were stripper/escorts, but as soon as they showed Brody with a wad of cash, I thought, "He's a male escort."

    I was dismissive when they suggested he was a drug dealer, because two of my older siblings and several of my cousins were drug dealers. My anecdotal experiences match the current research - drug-dealing doesn't pay. There's a great book called Freakonomics that showed how most drug dealers make the equivalent of $3.30/hour. Meanwhile, "high class" sex work is ludicrous, especially for men.

    Not everyone has two upper-class gay dads like Rachel does, or a father who owns a prosperous business like Kurt's dad. 78% of college students have to get jobs to help pay for tuition and to cover rent, electricity, food, clothes, etc. And apparently, only 0.3% (less than 1%) of all college students receive enough scholarship money to pay for their entire tuition. Of that ridiculous few, most of them received scholarships for traditional 4-year-colleges. There are fewer specialized scholarships for things like performing arts. If Brody were a real person, he'd almost certainly need a job to survive.

    NYADA's tuition is undoubtedly very high. It's a fictional school, but it's modeled after prestigious, exclusive schools like Julliard, Tisch at NYU, and New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts (NYCDA), where the tuition *alone* is roughly $26,000/year - that amount doesn't cover housing or living expenses. These schools are located in Manhattan, the most expensive place in the country to live. Oh, and apparently NYADA students are expected to wear catwalk couture to class, if they don't want to be scorned, mocked, and under-estimated by their peers and instructors alike.

    So... let's be logical. There are only 24 hours in a day. Brody's 20 and a junior, so he must be a full-time student. He's buff, which requires personal training time outside of school (and we do see him working out at the park in one episode.) He's a dancer, which also requires personal training time outside of groups. He's portrayed as being very healthy and committed to fitness and his body, so it follows that he's sleeping a healthy amount as well (1/3rd of each day, typically). We see that he has time to socialize with his peers at bars, go on dates, and cook or sit down for home-cooked meals. We also known that he spends as much time as Rachel or more on his daily beauty regimen.

    Simple laws of physics says that Brody would have very little time left over for gainful employment. The writers could've given him a financial background similar to Rachel's, where he doesn't need a job to get by, or Kurt's, where he only needs a throw-away part-time job to cover the extras. Instead, they gave him a background where he apparently has to earn money towards his tuition - and if his tuition isn't being fully paid, then he's almost certainly responsible for his housing, transportation, food, beauty products, and socially-apropos designer leotards as well.

    What other job could Brody possible have that fits his schedule, requires so few hours, and nets him all of that money? In case you didn't know, as of this year, over 20% of students in France have done sex work to help pay for tuition. 1 in 5 U.K. lap dancers are students. And in the U.S., 25% of college students report personally knowing a student who has done some form of sexual/erotic work to pay towards tuition. Oh, and even homely male escorts can command $100 for an hour's work. Someone like Brody could retire in a couple of years if he worked full-time.

    Would it be less surprising if Rachel's character were male, and it was his girlfriend who was secretly doing escort work to pay for her over-priced NY tuition, housing, fashion, etc.?

    1. For me it wasn't that he was a gigolo but that he hadn't told Rachel.

      I want to know where my boyfriend's been! From an emotional closeness POV as well as an STI POV.

      ALSO I think Ryder's online chat will be key in future episodes. His chat buddy may not be Unique, but may be someone similar.


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