Welcome to the Convo, where ACG Blog contributors get together for discussion and analysis. Today’s topic is last night’s episode of “Glee,” “Special Education.”
Last night was all about capitalism vs. socialism, baby. That’s right: Glee-conomics. Okay, it wasn’t that nakedly fiduciary, but the undercurrents of those two antithetical models were clear and present between New Directions and the Warblers. At McKinley, the glee club is struggling to dredge up a twelfth member since Kurt left suddenly for Dalton last week. Schue calling on Puck was interesting, but it went fairly predictably when he proposed the other football jocks sign up. Did anyone really expect Karofsky to raise his hand — or rather, his jazz hand? Please. He does manage to convince AV Club president, and noted sex rioter, Lauren Zises to join, and although we didn’t hear her sing she was remarkably more animated than Jacob Ben Israel’s ill-informed four-second stint before regionals last season.
Emma sticks yet another idea worm in Schue’s ear — there’s too much focus on the “stars” of glee club and not enough on the other wildly talented members. Like, I guess, Mike Chang. Okay, whatever. As usual, he takes the idea and runs with it, turning the club, a competitive organization, into super-happy fun-time where everyone gets an equal role. This time, however, it doesn’t seem so bad on the surface. They really all are pretty talented; maybe it will work out. Equality, fraternity, all that jazz. This, of course, only enrages the already-boiling tensions flowing beneath the surface, and soon Tina alleges Brittany and Mike Chang are having an affair and Santana drops the news that she took Finn’s v-card last season. Why? Apparently, mostly to stick it to Rachel, because she gets all the lead parts. I don’t fully buy that simple explanation. Santana is more likely jealous that Rachel has a steady relationship with Finn. Is she jealous that it is Finn, or just that it’s anybody? She does seem to have a longtime thing for Puck. But Puck has a thing for Rachel. But Rachel has a thing for Finn. But Finn banged Santana. It’s last season’s Rachel-Finn-Quinn-Puck love quadrangle all over again, but with one new member. Will they ever escape it’s four-sided walls?
Kurt, meanwhile, is settling in at the Warblers, but not so well. His frankly hilarious joke about the coal mine was completely ignored by those stuffed shirts. This scene struck me as somewhat contrived. Here’s the paraphrased version.
“Anybody got any ideas for sectionals?”
“Yes, OMG, Duran Duran!”
“SHUT THE HELL UP NO0B!”
Okay, that last part was said much more nicely, but still, they solicited suggestions and then said, “We don’t want your suggestion.” Nice start, guys! Kurt takes it like a man, though, and as a reward they let him (and two others) audition for a sectionals solo. Kurt goes to none other than Rachel, where they share the first of two wildly touching scenes. Why didn’t they have more scenes like this before? Oh right, they hate each other because each sees the other as competition. Just to be clear, in real life they would be best friends — the spoiled diva and the flag-waving queen? BFFs. Sure, they would occasionally stab each other in the back, but what’s a little knife wound among friends?
She convinces him to sing “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” and it was quite well done. Bravo. It reminded me of the “Gravity” sing-off, which was really fantastic. Kurt and Rachel complement each other very well, and I wish they would pair off more often. Anyway, Kurt belts his heart out but Blaine tells him it was simply to ostentatious for the Warblers’ groupthink. Hold the phone. He just tried out for a solo — you know, the think where only one person sings — and it was too singular for them? I’ve heard of being inclusive, but really, that goes too far. It clearly doesn’t work for Kurt, and I think he’s fooling himself that it will in the future. Kurt thrives on a challenge, and assimilating into a big group is not his thing. Besides, as we’ve learned so far, Blaine gets the solos, okay?
So it’s off to sectionals, minus Emma, who — surprise! — got married in Vegas over the weekend. Carl seems like a nice guy, and of course John Stamos, like a fine wine, only gets better with age, but I can’t help but think that something is wrong with that. Perhaps its my inner Schue-Emma shipper, but that’s just too damn tragic, even as much as I’ve come to dislike Schue (well-performed big band croons notwithstanding). As usual, this world-shattering event is swept under the rug, and apparently will be a stronger plot point later.
Finally, sectionals! Rachel and Kurt share another impossibly good scene at the snack bar, where she reveals her deep frustrations with the glee club and he tells her he lost the audition (or whatever the lingo is). Seriously, Leah Michele and Chris Colfer were so incredibly natural chatting with each other I desperately want a spin-off reality show where they critique peoples’ clothes or something. There’s a deeper relationship there that has yet to be fully mined (Get it? Mined! It’s a reference!). The Hipsters sing first at sectionals, and they get props for their name and nothing else. They were so obviously created to provide a third leg to the whole McKinley-Dalton thing I wish they hadn’t even spent the screen time showing their song. Next is Dalton, with a surprisingly disappointing a cappella rendition of “Hey Soul Sister.” I love that song, so I was displeased with the poor quality. The music didn’t translate well into the a cappella medium, and Blaine’s menthol-cool voice and rug-cutting moves couldn’t rescue it. I’ll stick to the original Train, thank you. Kurt did look very awkward with the group’s fairly stilted routine, perhaps because he’s a show choir boy at heart stuck in an a cappella group. Similar, but not the same. Finally, Schue rallied the sullen troops with the public school version of “Pull it together, you jerks!” and New Directions came on with a competent if unremarkable rendition of “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” and another song I’d never heard of that served more to showcase Mike and Brittany’s dance moves than the singing. And, of course, ND and the Warblers tied. It was an outcome so obvious and so pedestrian I can’t decide whether to loathe it or merely be irritated. Compare to last year’s sectionals — fantastic renditions of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” — and the mediocrity of this season’s competition becomes even more obvious.
Finally, Rachel forgives Finn for sleeping with Santana, because, I don’t know, maybe she realized a) it happened before they were together, b) she was with another guy who was only using her, and c) she lied to Finn about sleeping with Jesse. So, yeah, there’s all that. She rehashes her “being part of something special makes you special” line, and Finn whips out the adorable and responds, “Are we a part of something special? You and me?” Awwwww. She then proceeds to stomp on his heart when she reveals she nearly slept with Puck when she was mad at Finn — and only didn’t because he walked away! Before we get caught up in the Finchel business, let’s stop for one second and acknowledge that Puck walked away. Character growth, anyone? Back to Finchel. Finn is understandably hurt, and he walks away from her and the relationship. What did she think would happen? Besides, I suppose it’s better she told him now rather than bottling that one up inside. Maybe he’ll one day forgive her, and Finchel will be born anew. My guess is that won’t happen for a while, though. We concluded with another song that should have been a slam-dunk hit and instead came across as boring and uninspired. Nobody beats Mercedes R&B tones, and Tina is good in her own way, too, but their duet of “Dog Days Are Over” should really just be left to Florence + the Machine. It fell flat, much like this episode. Underwhelmed? Me too. I understand it’s difficult to write a convincing mid-season finale (although apparently there’s a Christmas episode next week), but last year’s was terrific, even despite the uncertainty of whether the series would be renewed past that point. Pull it together, “Glee” writers.
There was a subplot involving Artie and Brittany that was so boring I don’t even feel like recapping it here. Line of the night goes to Emma, who suggests to Rachel, “Maybe you should storm out.” Indeed. Although I know I’ll be back next week.
It’s difficult for me to not compare “Special Education” to last year’s “Sectionals.” In the battle between the episodes, “Sectionals” comes out ahead by a mile. But on the whole, I enjoyed “Special Education.” Though of course, it wasn’t without its flaws.
After Emma’s commentary on the glee club’s formula being oh so precise, Mr. Schue decides to switch things up for sectionals. Sam and Quinn will be leads on the ballad, Brittany and Mike Chang will showcase their dance moves, and even Santana will get a solo over Rachel. Puck ends up recruiting/bribing wrestler Lauren to be the club’s twelfth member after Kurt’s departure. Santana reveals that she slept with Finn, and the club’s camaraderie starts to break down. Tina and Artie start thinking their respective partners are cheating on them. Rachel protests her demotion from the club’s star spot. The team heads off to sectionals in the least cohesive mood they’ve ever faced. That’s all… pretty typical, actually.
Things aren’t quite the fantasy land Kurt looked forward to at Dalton Academy and with the Warblers. (They give him an actual warbler as part of some fraternity tradition. I thought it was funny.) He’s not fitting in quite like he thought, and the Warblers aren’t as accepting or proud of his uniqueness as he expected. He auditions for a solo with “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” — which brought about a laugh out loud moment for me, Blaine’s quick headshake as Kurt begins to raise his arms a la Evita. He doesn’t get the solo, and Blaine’s advice? Try not to stand out so much, there’s a reason for those uniforms.
Oh “Glee,” the mixed messages continue!
Rachel has a heart-to-heart with Kurt before sectionals, which I actually really enjoyed. Even though Rachel’s character was all over the place this episode, I think she and Kurt would really get along like this if they weren’t competing for leads. Her instructions from the crowd for Kurt to “Smile!” were cute.
It looks like things are heading for a meltdown in the green room once again for McKinley, but Mr. Schue comes in and shouts “enough!” — something he did a lot this episode — and tells the kids to get their asses on stage and just perform already. Sam and Quinn pull Rachel’s sing-up-the-aisle trick from last season’s corresponding episode, but I enjoyed their duet on “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” Sometimes I don’t understand my reactions to Glee episodes. I enjoyed Sam and Quinn? Artie and Brittany were totally adorable and hilarious? Well the latter is true. Their relationship seemed like another piece of throwaway ridiculousness, but I actually think it’s pretty sweet. Brittany and Mike tore up the dancing on “Valerie” and I adore Santana’s voice.
This episode lacked the tension of last year’s “Sectionals,” and the song selection was more enjoyable last year. “Don’t Rain on My Parade” is one of my favorites that the show has done. Anyway, we knew the glee club had to make it through (otherwise where could this season go), but as it happens they tie with the Warblers, so both teams head to regionals. Whoo.
Then come the reveals. “I have to tell you about my weekend,” says Emma to Will. “Carl took me to Vegas.” *displays wedding ring*
Rachel tells Finn that she made out with Puck while they were fighting. Finn is understandably upset. Not only did she cheat on him, just as Quinn did, but with the same guy! He breaks up with her. Rachel has no conception of the fact that her making out with Puck does not “cancel out” Finn sleeping with Santana (because THEY WERE NOT TOGETHER WHEN THAT HAPPENED). “You said you would never break up with me!” Rachel nearly sobs. Yeah, well, that’s what happens when you cheat on someone. Also, this is totally out of character for Rachel.
We get one final musical number, but it was pretty pointless. Also, the glee kids are unhealthily interested in Mr. Schue’s love life. Upon reflection at the end of writing this recap, this episode was nearly as formulaic as any other, but I still enjoyed it. Brittany got some one-liners, Santana was kind of bitchy, Emma was out of her depth when it came to being a counselor, Kurt is dealing with a lot of issues, Rachel needs to be a star, Puck decides to zero-in on being Jewish, etc etc. Somehow, it all worked. This time.
This was clearly a feel-good episode, and I have to admit that it left me feeling good. Rachel is really a pathetic and immature young woman (as her plot this episode demonstrated), so I really enjoy when “Glee” takes an episode to showcase its other characters. It was nice to see Artie and Brittany’s relationship blossoming some, and Kurt’s storyline was surprisingly strong for mostly taking place away from McKinley High and its regular cast of characters.
One thing I have to object to about last night’s trip to sectionals is the way “Glee” plays fast and loose with its own rules. Take the competition itself. For something as well-organized as competitive show choir, there has been a disturbing lack of consistency between the sectionals of season one and season two. For one thing, there seems to have been some glee club gerrymandering between seasons, as a result of which McKinley is competing with two schools that were not in its section in 2009 — and there’s no sign of the old teams, either. Sectionals also apparently can result in two winning teams (out of three), which really makes me wonder as to why the level of eliminative competition exists in the first place. Speaking of pointless, this year’s co-winners, the Warblers, apparently held that solo competition for no reason at all, since they were going to give the lead in their sectionals piece to Blaine, who wasn’t one of the competitors. The Warblers and the Hipsters also only got to sing one number for the competition, whereas our Lima-based favorites were allowed to perform two – and sit in the audience for the other groups’ performances to boot. They also got to take home that first-place trophy, with apparently no argument from Kurt’s new squad.
“Glee” is an absurd show, and its plot developments often don’t carry much justification. One week Sue is the cheerleading coach, the next she’s principal and the next she’s taking an unexplained absence. But for a show with as much potential for subversive humor as “Glee,” the writers are really missing out on the chance to have its characters comment on the inconsistencies. Changing how things work is not inherently a problem for a TV show, but “Glee” would be much stronger if the show embraced its madness.
Back to this last episode, I really liked Kurt’s storyline amongst the Warblers. The canary molting was a neat parallel for him transferring schools, and I liked the gradual hints that this new place is not the perfect high school paradise (a teenage dream, if you will) that Kurt had been led to believe. My guess is that he’ll be transferring back at some point, which is kind of a shame given how McKinley-centric “Glee” always is. I would love for the show to have a regular competitor outside the school that an audience could still root for. For a while, I thought we were getting that with Blaine, but after a closer look at the Warblers this episode, I’m really surprised that someone like him is happy there. Despite him singing, “I can be myself now finally / In fact there’s nothing I can’t be” in his solo of “Hey Soul Sister,” it really seems like the other, more totalitarian Warblers wouldn’t care for that sort of free spirit. When Kurt transfers back to New Directions, I hope and expect he’ll take Blaine with him.
Finally, a word about lying: it’s definitely not as bad as cheating, and I think Finn was entirely in the right to dump Rachel when she did the latter. But it was interesting to see how hurt Rachel was over his lies, especially in comparison to what we saw of Artie and Brittany this episode. They don’t communicate very well either (partly due to her thinking adultery means acting like a dolt), and he definitely took advantage of her naiveté by lying about the comb — even the ditzy cheerleader noticed something isn’t right about letting your girlfriend unknowingly comb her hair with something you found on the ground. So in some sense, Artie and Finn were set up as parallels in this episode, which the show hasn’t done very often. While Rachel got upset and fled to Puck, though, Brittany smiled and called Artie the best boyfriend ever. I’m far from convinced that the writers set up this comparison on purpose, but I found it to be an interesting one.