“Any way the wind blows, doesn’t really matter” — right, Glee creators? Of all the references in last night’s season finale, that certainly seemed to be the theme, more than anything about growth or change. Sure, we got passing and blatant references to concrete ways in which the New Directions kids have changed since last May, and many of them made us say “Aw.” So, why are we wondering how a season that swerved from teen pregnancy and homosexuality to the darker side of the need to perform and back again ended in such a, well, bump-free way? There were several moments of brilliance this week: Sue’s closing monologue; Emma’s screaming fit in a marvelously color-coordinated outfit; the Vocal Adrenaline number that changed our lives forever. But everything tied up so neatly, with a little ukulele? As far as we can tell, we’re back at square one with New Directions, and we can’t help but feel it’s a good thing they didn’t win regionals: Glee is lovable. We love it — more than most things in life! — but the show still has a lot to learn.
Journey, “Faithfully”/”Any Way You Want It”/”Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’”/”Don’t Stop Believing” medley
Immediately we feel nervous: Sue has reverted to hair jokes (albeit a really good one: “Your hair looks so much like a briar patch that I’m expecting racist, animated Disney characters to pop out and start singing songs about the bayou”). Mr. Schue has called a pre-regionals pizza party for brainstorming (we’ll try to ignore the fact that, after over twentyy episodes, the club hasn’t come up with a regionals set list until what appears to be the night before). Jenna Ushkowitz is doing her best to fake cry, and Artie is back to moping. Then Rachel pipes up tearfully: “Do you think instead of nominating songs, we can just talk about things we loved about glee club this year?” And then Mr. Schue has an epiphany, in his car, listening to Journey, crying, while next to what appears to be a power plant! Ah, here’s the Glee we know — tongue in cheek! This is so obviously corny, so staged, it’s got to be an in-joke, right?
But then Finn and Rachel are kissing in the hall. Later, Finn is blurting out “I love you” to her. And after endless explorations of numerous musical genres, Mr. Schue’s genius song-list idea involves nothing but Journey. We love the kids’ costumes, and we’ve made peace with the fact that New Directions’ choreography may never amount to anything more than walking in circles and reaching skywards. The best moment? The new “Don’t Stop Believing” actually reveals some development: Rachel’s no longer the only soloist, and we love the momentary duet between Santana and Puck. But something about this high-octane number feels a little reminiscent of ... old Vocal Adrenaline? It’s flashy, it’s vocally spot-on, and the kids are smiling really hard — but it feels like a hard sell.
Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Apparently last week’s “Give Up the Funk” lit a fire under Vocal Adrenaline’s collective ass: This number flat out killed, and it reminded us of how much we will miss the phenomenon known as the Groff. This is a tour de force performance: He sneers! He plays a white piano! He sings while lifting a woman with one hand — all while wearing a fluorescent magenta shirt with tiny suspenders! The boy is superhuman, or at least his voice is, and this number has more passion than all the previous Vocal Adrenaline acts combined (and it gets us a whole lot more riled up than the Journey medley). Meanwhile, back in New Directions land, Quinn’s mom has shown up: She’s left Quinn’s dad, just in time for Quinn’s water to break! Off to the hospital for a labor sequence which, in a hilariously well-done move, is choreographed to mirror Vocal Adrenaline’s performance. We’ve got to give it to Dianna Agron and Mark Salling: Her labor pains and shrieks are reasonably convincing, his facial expressions are priceless, and their clearly 2-month-old baby girl is adorable. At this point, when we hear the final “any way the wind blows” as the camera closes on Quinn’s face, we melt a little.
Lulu, “To Sir With Love”
We’re psyched to see the judges’ proceedings, where Josh Groban relishes the opportunity to act like a self-absorbed divo and Olivia Newton-John does her best Sue Sylvester impression. (“’We’re inspiring, we’re a ragtag bunch of misfits’ is so 2009. Are they a poor person’s school? Brunettes have no place in show business.”) Clever one-liners aside, Sue faces a startling truth: She’s not all that different from the New Directions kids (“You’re not a celebrity — you just try hard”). Though we see that she’s obviously been knocked for a loop, the club ultimately places third and Vocal Adrenaline wins — which means glee club is over, and a lot more fake crying is to follow. Much of it happens in this simply staged number, the intro to which feels a little like Glee Club Support Group as the kids tearfully tell Mr. Schue how he’s changed their lives. We’re not sure why Rachel thinks her post-regionals life will be any more Slushie-free than post-sectionals (just two episodes ago even Finn was getting a beat down in the bathroom), but the performance is still touching enough that we tear up: It’s an off-beat song-choice, and the rare literal selection that actually says exactly what the moment calls for. Also, Kurt is wearing A SAILOR HAT.
Arlen and Harburg, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (Israel Kamakawiwo’ole arrangement)
Jane Lynch’s final monologue is a work of art: hilarious, deadpan, truthful, heart-string-tugging all at once. Like the pro she is, Sue spectacularly takes Will down (“I had a very satisfying dream in which I shoved your face into one of those pink monkey butts”) before taking care to build him up a bit, telling him he’s a great teacher and saving glee club for another year, all the while never revealing that she wanted them to win. Other closing developments feel more disjointed. Shelby, after so recently telling Rachel she’s not ready to become a mom, suddenly feels she needs “a house, a garden, and a dog.;” We’re sadly not surprised when she magically turns up to adopt Quinn’s baby (then again, if this means Idina will come back to Glee at some point, we’re okay with it). After a several-episode absence, Emma seems back in thrall to Will after his gallant declaration of, “Dentist or no, this thing isn’t over between us!” (He obviously hasn’t met John Stamos.) And — ta-da! — with a sweet duet between Puck and Mr. Schue, glee club is raring to go for another year.
We’ll close the season the same way we closed its first half — with a heavy heart and a series of hopeful requests. Till season two ...
Find a better role for Figgins: We finally realized he’s effectively a human plot device, present each week only to give Schue and Sue another reason to fight. It’s wearing thin. Each time he says, “My hands are tied!” we feel our brain might explode.
Change up the season objective: New Directions has a second chance at success, which again seems contingent upon winning a championship. So does this mean the arc of season two will just mirror season one — a lesson each week, then slightly anticlimactic sectional and regional performances? We already know there’s a third season, creators — give us a little more meaty plot to work with, please?
Get more selective with the celebrity cameos, and embrace theater people! Everyone and their mother wants a guest spot on Glee, but does everyone with a big name deserve one? No, no, no. See Molly Shannon’s two-episode stint: largely forgettable, tangential to plot development, and generally a role that did not mandate Molly Shannon’s specific talents. Neil Patrick Harris, on the other hand — right on! You’re the popular kid in school, now, Glee: keep your inner circle tight! That should include more Groffs and Idina Menzels, both of whom could sing, act, and add a certain something to the show that felt missed when it wasn’t there.
Don’t sacrifice plot for glitz: We’re willing to defend most of the crazier decisions on Glee, but we couldn’t get past two major plot points ripe for drama which were hardly, if at all explored: Jesse and Rachel’s breakup, and Quinn and Mercedes’s nascent friendship. Glee has delved into character development in its best episodes, but this happens all too sporadically — give us some consistency and frequency!
Let the secondary cast sing: We understand that Heather Morris was hired as a dancer and that Dijon Talton and Harry Shum Jr. were originally meant to be day players on set. But all three have stuck around, to the show’s great credit, and we know Morris will become a main player next season. So if Cory Monteith — a drummer with no real vocal experience prior to Glee — can belt it regularly (and far less impressively than Kevin McHale, Chris Colfer, and Mark Salling), why not these three? We’re sure the results would be, at the least, amusing enough to make up for any vocal deficits. Besides, they’ve got quite a few months for some voice lessons.
If you’re considering another single-artist episode : May we suggest Led Zeppelin? Because that’s what Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan told us they wanted after the Madonna episode, and we think it’s an excellent idea.
Though we can't agree with him that this is one of the best episodes yet, we're with Todd VanDerWerff on this point: ""Journey" felt like a fantastic culmination for a phantom season, a season that didn't exist, one that earned our desire to see New Directions triumph then made us feel genuinely bad when they didn't, when they realized they were good, but they weren't good enough just yet." Exactly our point — the fact that we practically wanted New Directions to lose, for the sake of some character development continuity, says something.
Ken Tucker at EW made some astute observations about how Glee can improve going into season two — and though he wrote them before the finale, they're especially instructive now, especially his notes about Glee's "woman problem" — i.e., the fact that the male characters are very well fleshed out at this point, whereas many of the women still verge on caricature. At least the finale seems to have given the ladies a bit of a blank slate before the fall.