Friday, May 3, 2013

The RBI Report: "Wonder-ful"

Given Glee's past efforts at tribute titles, I thought for sure we were headed for an episode called "Glee-vie Wonder" or "Stev-Glee Wonder."  So, on a very basic level, "Wonder-ful" delivered a charming summary of the hour's intended theme: the joy and optimism of Stevie Wonder's music.  The particulars, however, were a bit rushed and random.  And, in a hearkening to the Back 9 episodes of perennial theme-drop, I tallied twelve solid uses of the word "wonderful."  Everybody drink!

"Wonder-ful," written by Brad Falchuk, directed by Wendey Stanzler

With the end of the season rapidly approaching, "Wonder-ful" had some loose ends to wrap up.  Remember how Burt got cancer way back at the beginning of the season and then we never saw him again?  Remember Rachel had that hard-ass (or hard-abs) dance teacher who hated her?  Remember Mike and Mercedes are characters who exist and are good at stuff?  We even got loose ends addressed in offhand bits of dialogue!  Will re-proposed!  Emma re-accepted!  They're going to retry getting married!  Oh, and Carole's here!  Yay Carole!

Mercedes and Mike return

So, Mercedes and Mike have come home to help the glee club prepare for Regionals, as they reprise their roles in vocal and dance guidance.  In one single scene, Mercedes may have singlehandedly proved herself a better glee club teacher than Will, in that she actually gave specific vocal advice in addition to vague encouragement.  She also picked out Jake as being a triple threat, and advised him to take initiative with his role in glee club.  For someone who spent so much time struggling in the shadow of the spotlight, it makes sense that Mercedes would pay attention to uncredited talent.  And, it also felt more or less truthful that Jake is uncredited talent in the glee club ranks.  Will went to so much effort to recruit the kid at the beginning of the season, and then somehow seemed dumbfounded at his talent during "I Wish."  We'll see if this pans into a mini-arc for Jake, and what his role will be next week in Regionals.  One thing's for sure - he probably won't have to engage in a diva-off like Mercedes did in her attempt to get her due onstage.  (#gleehatesgirls)

Mercedes' return also brought an update of her life in Los Angeles.  Remember how she had a record deal in the works, thanks to Sam's post-disco meddling?  Wait, let me back up.  Remember how she and Sam dated?  Okay, good.  Just checking.  You'd never know it from watching the show now.  So, Mercedes has been working on her album, only to find out that her producer is going to drop her unless she agrees to show more skin on her cover art - or let a presumably skinnier, "hotter" girl grace the photo in a skimpy outfit.  Mercedes thus has a choice: stay true to self and potentially squander a good career opportunity, or stay ambitiously on the fast track with some expense to her personal and artistic integrity?  Of course, Mercedes chooses the former, and then slays a rendition of, naturally, "Higher Ground."  She's going to be selling her CDs out her car for a while, but I daresay Mercedes has a possible option in vocal education - if Finn can do it, so can she!  Troubletones 2.0?

Kurt and Burt believe in second chances, Blaine runs with it

"Wonder-ful" found us haphazardly checking in with Burt, conveniently at his final doctor's appointment to see if he's cancer-free.  Lo, he is!  Yes, yes, it's wonderful.  But I can't say I felt all that affected by the emotion, considering that we haven't actually seen Burt deal with his diagnosis, or his journey to recovery.  The scene focused mostly on Burt and Kurt's emotion, since they're A Players, but honestly more emotional weight may lie with focusing on Carole's.  It's not often that outsourcing these moments to more supporting characters really works.  But on the rare case that they do, it can possibly pack twice the impact.  Who's been witness to and co-bearer of Burt's struggles, throughout the whole offscreen process?  A lady we never see, who we know to be incredibly strong and supportive.  A moment of Carole's relieved, tear-streaked face as she watches father and son embrace could have gone far to bolster that emotional beat: the sigh of relief at pain subsided, and new horizons before the family.  It's not her moment, but her reaction informs the moment with more content - and context.  (Picky, picky.)

Naturally, this traumatic time and hopeful conclusion leads to Blaine wanting to propose to Kurt.  I mean, this makes sense in a mathematical equation sort of way, in that it's a strict linear progression and a mostly logical context.  But... we haven't built to this at all this season.  In fact, these two broke up in the fourth episode on account of cheating, and haven't been properly given the content to merit such a drastic progression in their relationship.  And because we're one episode out from a finale, it feels like a last-ditch effort to drum up easy intrigue in end-of-season storylines.  Finales are for weddings and proposals and babies and competitions, right?!  Right.  But they tend to work better when the whole season's been working towards that.  And Kurt and Blaine's story this season is not one of two people headed to the altar.  It's more along the lines of two young people learning to handle their complicated relationship under the duress of mistakes, distance, and life changes.  

"Wonder-ful" uses Burt to consistent fatherly effect, though, and he guides Blaine away from foolishly proposing, and reassures him that everything will work out how it's meant to.  Marriage involves mutual vows between two people, not the fulfillment of an ideal, or a means to ensure a "happily ever after" for "soulmates" in a rocky time.  It's an important angle on this storyline that needed to be voiced, and Burt Hummel was the best vessel for the job.  I even felt a little pang of pity for Blaine, sitting childishly on his stool and quietly asking how you know if things will be okay.  I suppose that lack of certainty connects to Blaine's early-season distress over Kurt having moved away and not knowing how to handle that - but it is slightly disconcerting that Blaine's still in that place, apparently, and thinking he can solve the problem by proposing.  I'm not sure Glee meant to do it, but this last-minute, post-cancer, "second-chance" proposal storyline feels less like something joyous and more like something sad.

Artie fears change, Kitty forces him to get over it

I can't quite decide how I feel about this Artie/Kitty storyline.  There were many things to like about it: a new character interaction that's a bit prickly but still affectionate, introducing Artie's mom, an effective emotional payoff, and an Artie solo.  The main thing this arc lacked was Artie's POV.  Kitty made all his choices for him, because she knew he wouldn't, and then finally the resolution came through his mom's blessing.  So the content was all there; it was just arranged in a way that didn't really center Artie in his own storyline.  Mercedes' felt the same way - we barely had time to spend squarely in the characters' shoes, as they were just constantly explaining themselves.  Both Mercedes' and Artie's storylines could have used extra screentime for a chance to simply breathe, and let the emotional anchors of their conflicts feel palpable.  

In Artie's case, it would have been nice to have a scene with his mom before the resolution, establishing their dynamic.  But the narrative needed to get right to Kitty sniffing out Artie's film school acceptance, so we just kind of jumped into the deep end.  Of course, there's also the mystery of Kitty, whose erratic character portrayal is defended in-narrative as purposefully erratic.  Ah, Glee.  That answer doesn't really cut it, but whatever.  It's shoe-horned in there so she can fast-track Artie's storyline by truth-bombing everyone around him and forcing him to confront his reluctance to leave home for NYC.  And I suppose this is why I don't much mind all these haphazard particulars: the emotional core of Artie's storyline was quite strong.  He didn't want to go to film school because it feels selfish somehow to leave his mom.  Here was this woman who supported him and rearranged her whole life for him, and it didn't feel right to repay her by leaving.  This actually felt like an honest reveal, and was played sweetly by Kevin McHale and Katey Sagal.  Not only that, but it was nice to see that while Artie's wheelchair was a part of his worries, they were more grounded instead in the human relationship with his mom.  If only more of the hour could have been devoted to properly delineating this storyline, and giving the payoff its maximum effect.

Rachel braces herself for the Funny Girl callback, wraps things up with Cassandra July

With her Funny Girl callback on the horizon, Rachel faces one last hurdle: she needs Cassandra July's permission to pursue the extracurricular.  Oh, and her dance midterm is on the same day as the callback.  But it turns out that all of this worry and gay-stereotype-gossip is for naught, because Cassandra is one big ol' softie who believes in Rachel and wants her to do well.  That... resolved quickly.  But it's not like we didn't see that coming.  Since Cassandra's inception on the show, it's been pretty clear that she's hard on Rachel because she expects more from her.  They've also flirted with the idea that she sees herself in Rachel, and wants Rachel to overcome the mistakes she herself made.  Then again, they've also flirted with the idea that Cassandra must compete with Rachel and put her in her place, so this whole thing has been a mixed bag.  (Of flirting, frankly.)  

So, now that it's over, the Cassandra-Rachel dynamic emerges as an interaction that had a lot of potential, but that was mostly frittered away in favor of recycled two-dimensional moments and diva-offs over talent and boys.  It lacked direction, and I wish that their story this season was about building from mistrust and disdain to begrudging respect and even the tiniest glimpse of hard-earned emotional honesty.  You know that scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Andy catches Miranda without her makeup, and has a weirdly vulnerable and unsettling late-night conversation with her?  Something along those lines would have been great to work towards in constructing the Cassandra-Rachel dynamic throughout the season.  But given tonight's rather flat "you're special and I was mean" resolution, which lies at the end of all Rachel's interpersonal (female) conflicts, I suppose that's just not what Glee was going for.  Nuance is just not on the menu.  Not when there's 25 characters to feed.

With the finale next week, it looks like we have three questions poised for the wrap-up: will Rachel win the part of Fanny Brice?  Will Blaine propose?  Will the new New Directions win Regionals?  I'm not sure I entirely care.  But "Wonder-ful" set all those questions up, and managed to find other, more interesting material to put forth as well.  There wasn't enough screentime for it to be properly arranged and developed, but little nuggets were there.  And it's always nice to see Mercedes and Mike, and Carole.

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: B+
Dance Numbers: A
Dialogue: C
Plot: C
Characterization: B
Episode MVP: Mercedes Jones (and Carole)


  1. "Remember how she had a record deal in the works, thanks to Sam's post-disco meddling? Wait, let me back up. Remember how she and Sam dated? Okay, good. Just checking. You'd never know it from watching the show now."

    I've said it before, I often think the writers of 'Glee'don't actually watch the show.

  2. How is it even possible that the weakest actress on the show can be considered the MVP of the whole episode???

    1. That's no way to talk about Carole!

  3. Interesting fact, of the three original female members of the glee club the white girls ended up at NYADA, MIT and Yale. The Asian girl is a vaporapist and wait listed, the Latina is a cage dancer and the Black girl is selling CDs from the trunk of her car.



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