Glee Recap: Carefully Chosen Bells and Whistles

Photo: FOX
Episode Title
Swan Song
Editor’s Rating

This week’s episode picks up exactly where last week’s left off: with Marley blacked out at the sectionals competition. As they rush her into the choir room, Artie gravely points out, “Never in the history of show choir has anyone ever fainted!” and it’s another in a string of lines this season that continue to establish him as the show’s sardonic Greek chorus. The role suits him.

Marley’s okay — she barely even needs a sip from the juice box Blaine finds her — and the fainting spell isn’t mentioned further, aside from her indirect apology about ruining everything for the rest of the New Directions kids. So her bulimia is all better, then? Cleared up on its own? Unfortunately, the New Directions have been disqualified from sectionals, since the show choir rulebook states that leaving the stage at any time for any reason is grounds for disqualification. (Never mind the fact that usually New Directions’ choreography consists largely of walking on and off stage repeatedly.) The New Directions are over! Brad the pianist is so thrilled he talks! Sue takes control of the choir room! Chaos!

Speaking of chaos, if you’re a casual Glee fan, you might have missed out on exactly how directly last night’s episode knocked down the fourth wall between it and the show’s more vocal fan base. It all starts when Sam leaves a trail of Cheerios for Brittany, which she eats off the floor as she makes his way to him. This is a rare moment of character-related continuity for Glee, since last season Brittany ate a candy bar right out of an actual cat’s actual litter box. Sam tells her that he likes her and they do a surprisingly nice rendition of “Something Stupid.” But when Sam leans in for a kiss, Brittany backs off, and when he asks what’s wrong, Brittany says, “It’s like all lesbians of the nation — I don’t know how they found out about Santana and I dating, but once they did, they started sending me tweets and Facebook messages on Lord Tubbington’s wall. I think it means a lot to them to see two super-hot, popular girls in love, and I worry if they find out about you and I dating, that they’ll turn on you and get really violent and hurt your beautiful face and mouth.”

Angry, violent lesbian stereotype aside, the problem with Brittany’s explanation is how transparent of a reference it is to the Twitter kerfuffle that’s been brewing lately between Ryan Murphy and some of the more ardent Brittany-Santana fans (a group that obviously isn’t comprised exclusively of angry lesbians). Essentially, it really is just that: a spat between fans who are mad at the creator of their favorite TV couple and the creator who’s mad at them for being mad. (The dispute gets more complicated when looked at against Murphy’s track record with lesbian characters on his shows.) Frankly, if I were Ryan Murphy, know what I’d do instead of getting into Twitter spats? I would float on a raft of rubies in a swimming pool full of melted-down gold while negotiating the purchase of the Boston Celtics.

I don’t know whether Brittany’s line was intended to be funny or mean or a little of both, but it was definitely intended to get people talking. And they are. What’s come up in addition to reactions to the line itself is the idea of fair representation — there are fans who have counted the minutes of screen time and number of kisses Santana and Brittany have had as a couple and measured those numbers up against Brittany and Sam’s new relationship. The screen time and affection quotients go way up when Brittany and Sam are together; I’d be interested to see how this all would stack up against Brittany’s relationship with Artie.

Representation for LGBT couples on television is massively important; that’s not up for debate. But before we can criticize Ryan Murphy & Co. for mishandling Brittany and Santana’s relationship, we have to consider the ways in which all relationships on Glee are mishandled. And besides that, let’s all remember that saying you want Glee to have more nuanced relationships is like saying you really want to explore the depth of the relationship between Vanna White and the vowels on Wheel of Fortune. There’s no there there. Glee is a little bit bonkers, all the way around. It isn’t about plot and plausibility and continuity, and I’m starting to think that’s okay. Glee is at its best when it’s about moments of emotional resonance more than anything else, and I don’t know that that’s something that can be quantified in a way that makes it even among all its characters or couplings.

For the record: I’m not opposed to Brittany and Sam. I thought they were sweet together.

Meanwhile, back in New York, Kurt’s fretting over his mid-year application to NYADA, and Rachel’s waiting to hear if she’ll get the golden ticket that guarantees her a spot in Carmen Thibideaux’s annual winter showcase. Kurt goes to see Carmen to plead his case, but she gravely informs him, “I rarely give a second chance, and when I do, it’s on my own terms.” Right. Except for last year, when you came all the way to Chicago to see Rachel perform at Nationals, exclusively on terms dictated by Rachel and Tina. Rachel gets the coveted ticket and feels empowered enough to get sassy with Cassandra July in dance class, which results in a dance-off to “All That Jazz.” Because Rachel will never win a contest where sexy dancing is key, Cassandra wins handily (jazz handily); more important, it’s tremendously fun to watch, and the number that’s felt the most “performing arts college” since Rachel started classes at NYADA.

Rachel’s performance in the dance-off makes her realize her voice is her true strength, and she decides not to dance at all in her performance at the winter showcase. I give Rachel — and Lea Michele — her due here; maybe she can’t hold her own against Cassandra July when it comes to “All That Jazz,” but standing onstage and belting power ballads is exactly in her wheelhouse, and she nails it. After her encore (“O Holy Night,” even though I seem to remember her being anti-Christmas songs in the past), Carmen announces that after intermission, Kurt will perform his audition piece. Kurt frets about not having any of his “carefully chosen bells and whistles,” but decides to sing “Being Alive,” even after carefully noting that Carmen hates it (it’s overused as an audition song, so it stands to reason she’d despise it). We see this Kurt so infrequently these days (this is his first solo this season); he’s one of the rare Glee cast members that doesn’t need the bells and whistles, and it’s beautiful. He’s in!

There’s an odd montage during Rachel’s “Oh Holy Night” during which Finn packs away all the New Directions’ trophies and sheet music. Is the night holy because there’s not a glee club anymore? Is Finn Jesus? It’s unclear, but the New Directions kids are already scattered in (ahem) new directions: the Cheerios, the marching band, the basketball team, the interfaith paintball squad, etc. Still, Marley manages to find them someplace to rehearse (it looks suspiciously like “outside”) and just like that, everyone’s magically back together again, for a rendition of “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” which is a song I respectfully ask Glee to stay away from in the future.

Next week, Burt Hummel returns. Surely he will save us all.