"Lights Out," written by Ryan Murphy, directed by Paris Barclay
I guess, if many a Glee episode has been written with these criteria fulfilled, it would make sense that a conglomeration of them would add up to a successful endeavor. In the case of "Lights Out" -- it really didn't. Instead, the episode felt carelessly assembled, with awkward commercial breaks, and horrible scene transitions. Who on earth is ready for a jam session to "We Will Rock You" right after two characters confess that they were molested as pre-teens? Why were we meant to feel the suspense of Becky possibly revealing the truth to Figgins, only for the very next scene to feature Figgins delivering monotone announcements about electricity over the loudspeaker? And why on earth would a high school still attempt to function as usual for a whole week without power?
But not much about "Lights Out" made sense, from the design, to the theme, to the character work. Every storyline had its writing issues.
Ryder, Katie, and Kitty
So, Ryder is stubbornly (and stupidly) hung up on Mystery Girl, aka Katie, aka Someone Who's Lying to Him, aka Possible Glee Club Member. Even though he knows she's lied and he has no clue who she is, he's still communicating with her, and wants to meet. I can't tell if it's intentional, but there's something really unsettling - almost sinister - about this storyline, and Ryder's commitment to a completely unknown entity. I'm guessing this level of seriousness was devised to set the table for his Big Confession this episode, which was that he was molested by his teenaged babysitter at the age of 11. But it didn't quite work. I definitely wasn't ready for that. The route still felt too serious for Glee to do, and of course, they stepped on their own feet with a few poor execution choices in the wake of the reveal. The first of which was Sam and Artie's complete and utter dismissal of Ryder's experience as a traumatic event - and they never came around! Glee is a big fan of throwing somebody under the bus so another character can preach the moral of the story and erase their ignorance, so I thought this was another example of Sam and Artie learning a heavyhanded lesson. But apparently Tina and Marley's defense of Ryder did nothing to reverse Sam and Artie's points of view, and Ryder thus withdrew, the opinion of Sam and Artie left to reign. Must be a bro thing. Masculinity definitely won that round, no comment made.
Let's get to actual writing issues. The idea was that Ryder wanted to "unplug his feelings" for the week's theme, and once I had stopped laughing long enough to press play again, he dedicated his next number to... the glee club. Wha-huh? What followed was a song about feeling bullied, complete with cutaways to Tina, Jake, and Marley getting hit with slushies. I'm sorry, this was supposed to be a song about Ryder's unplugged feelings, and it instead involved moments for other characters. So that didn't do much to get us in Ryder's head - not helped by the fact that we've never seen Ryder get slushied anyways. They've avoided the whole cool kid devolution arc with Ryder, and while I'm certainly not unhappy about that, it also means he's not really the best voice for the downtrodden at McKinley. And there he was, singing about how everybody hurts, especially the glee club when they get freezing cold ice thrown in their face. Oh, and also Ryder when he's molested at age 11. Swerve! Tonally-speaking, it did actually feel a little like getting hit with a slushie. But that's not a great thing.
What's worse about this moment is that it's later devalued, spun away from anything genuine. Ryder tells Katie he only told his secret so he could watch the glee kids' faces for any hint that they already knew, thereby revealing the Real Katie to Ryder. Oh. So... you just told that story as a sneaky way to find out the identity of your crush/soulmate/cyberkiller? Guess we're not paying off Jake's "you tell secrets to people you actually know" line from earlier. Even more cringeworthy is the fact that this confession from Ryder prompted Kitty to open up to him as well, in perhaps the only genuine moment Kitty's had when not faced with possible death by school shooting. Kitty took Ryder out to Breadstix, and shared that she was molested at age 12, by a friend's older brother. We also got the reminder that she dated Puck - an older, sexually-confident dude - which now feels even more disconcerting. And while Ryder's babysitter eventually faced repercussions for her actions, Kitty's story was ignored by her friend's parents, she was socially ostracized, and ultimately she had to switch schools. Yikes. Suddenly Kitty was all about bonding with Ryder, but he's still glued to the ideal of Katie, and whatever he's decided about her in his head.
What with Ryder specifically identifying that his traumatic experience left him with girl-related trust issues, you could perhaps argue that his relationship with Katie, in that he was protected by the inherent disconnect of faceless contact, makes sense completely. At first I thought it was a bit odd to give a kid with trust issues the complete faith in this online communication, without any question. It's even more odd that Ryder is still obsessed with her, even after she betrayed his trust by lying. So even if we give the first round of blind trust a free pass, the fact that Ryder's barreling past a breach of trust is a bit concerning for someone who claims to have trust issues. Add that to the reason he has trust issues (childhood sexual abuse) and this shakes out to be one of the most disturbing storylines Glee has ever assembled. Take it to American Horror Story, Murphy! All signs point to Ryder being murdered after some really weird sex stuff, and then giving a calm voiceover at the end about what he learned in his tragically short life.
Santana, at the ballet
"Lights Out" endeavored to provide Santana with an emotional backstory and pivotal character moment on her journey forward in New York. It did not quite achieve that. What resulted from this intention was just a randomly-selected character backstory that didn't seem like a Big Deal, until suddenly Santana's standing in a spotlight hugging her child self and telling her she won't forget her again. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Where did this come from? Why are there melodramatic character histories all of a sudden? And why don't they quite make sense?
I still don't understand why Santana's ballet backstory was necessary. Yes, Santana needs something to do in New York, but I kind of like the idea that she's cage dancing and working as a bouncer at a lesbian bar. She doesn't need to have everything planned for her life yet, a concept Glee, taking note of Kurt Hummel and Rachel Berry, loves to put forth as abnormal and even troubling. But for a few brief moments, the episode allowed Santana to be okay with not knowing. She defended her right to take time to "figure things out," and fairy godmother Isabelle encouraged her with the same advice. Not everyone is a Broadway-seeking missile like Berry and Hummel, and Santana shouldn't feel badly about not knowing exactly what she wants right now, or even wanting something different.
But then... Santana kind of wanted the exact thing Rachel and Kurt wanted. Because deep down, apparently, every little girl starts off wanting to be a ballerina? Which, I can assure you, is patently untrue. If my parents had tried to unilaterally enroll me in ballet class, I would have had a major conniption. (Actually, I probably would have just cried a lot.) Casting this swooping ballet net over all little girls and little gay boys felt a bit frustrating, especially considering how Santana was roped into it. She was a tomboy, and there against her will, but it was an escape, and she didn't feel different? Even though she was a tomboy? I didn't follow. Furthermore, this identity is truly who she is? Or at least, that's what the poignant moment at episode's end told me: Santana abandoned her dancer's identity long ago (why, and when exactly?) and won't let it go ever again.
Since when was this a thing...? We've had a fair share of exploring Santana's identity on this show, and they can't seem to get their story straight. (If you'll pardon the choice of words.) "I really like dancing," Santana says in "Lights Out," after standing ramrod still and singing for six minutes. Add this to the fact that Santana talking about ballet class sounded an awful lot like Season 1 Santana talking about glee club, and one has to wonder if dance really is the best choice for Santana's character. Glee club changed Santana as a person, perhaps more drastically than anyone else on the show. She did it against her will, but it turned out to be an escape. She felt safe there, and part of something beautiful. Why on earth were these exact same identifiers outsourced to some abrupt backstory we have no level of emotional investment in? And do the writers realize they've actually squandered an opportunity to praise the glee club's magical powers in earnest? Instead, Ryder Lynn is singing songs about them when the club's done comparatively little for him in his 15-episode history. Way to know where to put your emotional weight, Glee.
So let's say, for a moment, that we want to keep all this Santana-as-tiny-dancer content. Would this storyline not work better as an opportunity to connect Kurt, Rachel, and Santana? After all, even though they had individual ballet experiences, we saw them, all three, in the same shot, watching their tiny counterparts, all three, dancing together in the same timespace. This device inadvertently connected Kurt, Rachel, and Santana in a way unexpected (since it was introduced literally just this episode). Why not make that work for yourself, and design the point around the idea that they have more in common than they think? The episode came so close to creating that feeling, but flitted away from it so Santana could discover her "big dreams" and "true self." Rachel and Kurt didn't understand Santana's NYC gameplan; the setup was there. Kurt and Rachel pressuring Santana into doing very "Kurt and Rachel" things should have led to Santana revealing later, with her ballet history, that she was more like them than they thought. It doesn't require Santana to be married to dance forever, or drop a life path in her lap after reassuring her she didn't need to rush it. It just tells us she's not so different from Kurt and Rachel in some ways, and helps cement their NYC bond. It also makes clear that in other ways, Santana is different from them, and she needs them to let her be. It's so like Kurt and Rachel to think they know best for other people, and so like Santana to resist that. "Lights Out" could have been an exploration of that dynamic, and an opportunity to reveal a tidbit about Santana that wouldn't tip over much of what we know about the character, and force her into the same tutu as Kurt and Rachel.
Sue, Blaine, and Becky
In the wake of her firing, Sue is now a personal trainer and loving it. Blaine tells her the Cheerios are lost without her, and she needs to come back. (Sounds like something for Kitty to do instead of Blaine, but unfortunately "Lights Out" had other plans for her.) Becky feels guilty for Sue leaving, and is miserable with Coach Roz. She tries to persuade Sue to return, only to have Sue sing about how much she hated her Cheerios (presumably lying... hopefully) and Becky goes to Figgins to spill the truth and get Sue her job back. I'm assuming.
This story arc is built on garbage, so I'm not really enjoying the continuation of Becky as accidental school shooter, or Blaine as the noble male savior of the Cheerios, questing for a truth I'd rather forget. I'm not entirely sure why he's so suspicious either. "Something went down at that school. No one feels safe." Yes, Blaine, a gun went off and people huddled in terror to the endless ticking of a metronome and it frayed everyone's nerves. You were there. (I'm growing more and more convinced that hair gel causes memory loss.)
Ultimately, very little about "Lights Out" made any sense whatsoever, from the song motivations to the character choices, to the theme, frame, larger story arcs, structure, emotional pace, and payoff. To borrow a phrase from suddenly-wise Kitty: it was just a projection of what Glee thinks defines its show. But there was no real intimacy. So why are we still staring at the screen?
The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: C
Musical Numbers: C
Dance Numbers: D
Episode MVP: Isabelle, as this may be the last time we have her