Oh, Glee. Don't get me wrong, I loved last week's episode. But I didn’t love it enough to forgive the fact that this week's episode had Mr. Schue wearing a vest and playing an acoustic guitar and singing "Forever Young" before the opening credits had even appeared.
The episode opens on a flashback to the pilot's "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat" as the kids giggle through trying to re-create it. It's downright jarring to see how much the kids have changed — Chris Colfer said on Conan last summer that he's grown four inches since they filmed the pilot — and sweet to see all five of them together again. At the same time, it's odd to me that "Don't Stop Believing" wasn't mentioned or sung. Not to push for oversentimentality, but it's graduation, dammit.
Burt Hummel turning up to perform the "Single Ladies" dance as a graduation gift for Kurt was charming (maybe not QUITE as good as I'd dreamed it), but my favorite part of that sequence was imagining how exactly Burt might have gone about calling Tina and Brittany and asking them to show up as backup dancers without using the word sparkle. I've said before that the Kurt and Burt stuff works like few other elements of Glee, and I'm tempted to say that I'll miss it, but I have a feeling Mike O'Malley is going to show up just as much in future seasons. Kurt's good-bye song is perfectly chosen (Madonna's "I'll Remember") and lovely in his voice, but his outfit is depressingly understated. The Kurt Hummel I love would never sing a solo without a poncho or a brooch the size of a dinner plate.
Mercedes's locker is a mess of balloons because a "music producer" has "signed her as a backup singer on an indie label" based on the video of her singing that Sam posted on YouTube, and this is troubling both from a logical standpoint and because it means that even more teenagers are going to post pictures of themselves singing into their webcams online, and soon those videos are going to take up the entire Internet.
Gloria Estefan guest-stars as Santana's mom, for no other reason than she campaigned for it on Twitter and then Naya Rivera got onboard, but I'm willing to shelve my annoyance about stunt casting for the simple fact that she delivers the only sane piece of advice anyone has ever uttered on Glee about life after high school: "New York will still be there after you've earned your college degree." Brittany informs Santana's mom that she's staying in Lima to be a two-term senior class president — I loved the moment when Santana acts shocked about this and Brittany points out that with a 0.0 GPA, this was always what was going to happen. Santana says that maybe she'll just stay in Lima, too. This would be an easy way for the producers to keep Santana around next season, but if this is the case, I hope she gets a solid story line to go with it and isn't just someone for Brittany to say funny things to and smooch. Naya Rivera is criminally underutilized as it is.
The graduating seniors sing "You Get What You Give" to the New Directions kids, and it's perfectly adorable and fun, but it’s also a bone-chilling look at who New Directions has left for next year. I would be totally fine with it if Blaine got all the solos next year, but I want him to have talented backup dancers! I kid, I kid, but I don't really look at those kids and see anyone that I can't wait to hear another solo from. The big unmentioned punch line of last week's body swap episode was that Tina singing a solo was nice, but nothing compared to watching Rachel sing a solo. (Please note that I have not gone soft; I still hate Rachel as a person.) Also, how is Sam Harris not graduating? I'd made peace with the fact that he was a male stripper in "On My Way" by assuming he'd already turned 18.
The underclassmen sing a lovely "In My Life," after which Quinn points out that everyone else is emotional, but that she doesn't feel that way. This is probably because she's a noted sociopath. Example: When she's helping Puck study for his finals, and he asks why she's bothering, since he's a loser, she responds, "You're my first." Attention, teens of America: You do not have to help someone study for finals just because you lose your virginity to them. Nonetheless, she kisses Puck to give him the magical power he needs to pass his geography final. Or something. A different idea would have been to help him review the material until he gained the mastery over it required to pass the test, but hey, whatever, cool. She does have a legitimately touching good-bye with Sue — it's a nice way of referencing the idea that these kids had high-school careers outside the confines of the choir room.
Puck passes geography just in time to perform Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" as the commencement march (if more graduations were like that, I'd go), and while it's nice to see the guest stars who played Mike's parents and Quinn's mom return, it makes Rachel's dads' absence that much more glaring (Goldblum, we barely knew ye). Once the diplomas are handed out (and after Emma's gotten to say the three fourths of a line she's allotted this episode), Kurt, Finn, and Rachel meet in the choir room to open their college acceptance letters. Kurt and Finn are out; Rachel's in. There's 30 seconds' worth of Rachel's insistence on deferring all so we can wind up at the train station, where Finn breaks up with her, tells her he's joining the army (no word about what will become of Kurt), and puts her on a train to New York. That sounds far more violent than it actually is — it's actually sweet enough and set to "Roots Before Wings." But the problem is that I just don't care all that much.
I came into this week's episode wondering where, exactly, Glee would go. Last week's nationals episode was almost a return to form; at the same time, it was an end point. No one has ever watched Glee to see the kids make it all the way to graduation — people watch to see them sing, and compete, and win. Once all that's finished, everything else is just an afterthought. There's not much point in sticking around to see character arcs resolved when those character arcs are new or flimsy or nonsensical or uninteresting.
Put another way: I was never really all that interested in what happened to these characters (I'd argue that there wasn't much to be interested in, since they were written more as caricatures than characters). I was interested in what happened to this team. And I got what I came for; they won. It's just that now I'm not sure there's anything left to root for.