Remember last week’s recap, in which I theorized that the resolution of Rachel’s pregnancy story line would be absolutely insufferable? Even I didn’t think it would end with a “False alarm!” and an enormous smile. It’s a preferable outcome to, say, Rachel singing “Papa Don’t Preach” in the waiting room of Planned Parenthood, but it’s pretty appalling, as far as lazy storytelling goes. We’ll get to that — and to the other ways Glee’s been showing its contempt for its viewers these days — but first, a look at this week’s feuds, musical and otherwise.
Will vs. Finn
Because Will is still angry with Finn for kissing Emma, the New Directions kids tell them they’ll have to resolve their differences by doing a performance that represents a musical feud. Finn tells Will that they don’t have to do the assignment and should just talk instead; Will responds by saying that he pities Finn and is going to kick his ass, and even for Will, it’s creepily territorial. He chooses a mash-up of “Bye Bye Bye” and “I Want It That Way” as their feud performance, and while it should be really fun, it’s just vaguely depressing. I’ve mentioned a few times before this season how problematic it is that Finn looks so old, but when he and Will are side-by-side performing, it looks like two grown men singing and dancing with high-school kids … and not in the way it’s supposed to. Will refuses to forgive Finn, and continues to be a model of emotional maturity for absolutely no one anywhere.
Winner: No one. Or possibly Sam, who fills the awkward silence that follows their performance with “ … Well, the love on this stage is obvious.”
Unique vs. Ryder
When Unique confronts Ryder for kissing Marley, it quickly escalates into an argument about whether or not Unique is “a dude.” When Unique says, “I am a proud black woman,” Ryder says back, “No … you’re a dude.” Unique shoves him and walks away. Here’s the thing: Ryder’s confusion isn’t out of line. He’s a teenaged boy who lives in a small town in Ohio, and as far as we know, what he sees about Unique is the sum total of what he knows about her and what it means to be transgender. The way he speaks to Unique isn’t okay — especially when he derisively asks where she goes to the bathroom — but it’s mostly just unfortunate that this was the way Glee chose to finally, finally address more of Unique’s story.
The two sing “The Bitch Is Back” and “Dress You Up,” and it’s a solid mash-up complete with the distribution of tiaras at the end, but that’s not enough to settle the feud. Finally, Ryder is moved to “accept Unique’s truth” at the nudging of his Internet girlfriend, Katie_xoxo, who’s very clearly catfishing him.
Winner: Unique, by a mile, although she’s helped by Glee’s continued devotion to trying to make playing the drums while singing happen.
Blaine vs. Sue
Sue is angry with Blaine for quitting the Cheerios after one day, and so she puts cement in his hair gel, takes out a home loan in his name, and then gets a plane with a banner reading, “Blaine’s on the bottom!” to fly over the school. When an enraged Blaine storms into her office, Sue suggests a Nicki Minaj (Sue, because of her “Trinidad roots”) versus Mariah Carey (Blaine) sing-off. Her performance — complete with black lights and raining feathers and some spot-on crazy eyes — clearly outshines Blaine’s. He’s back on the Cheerios, but according to him and Sam, the entire thing was a long con to take Sue and the Cheerios down from the inside, so everyone’s a winner, I guess.
At the very least, it’s great to see Sue have something to do — the only other thing I can remember her doing this season is taking away the Nationals trophy, and that’s a pretty staggering underuse of Jane Lynch.
Brody vs. Santana (and Finn)
After Rachel is told she’s not pregnant, Santana tries once again to get her to leave Brody (who she swears is a prostitute), but Rachel isn’t having it, and so Santana takes the fight to NYADA, and to Brady himself. It’s still a little odd that she’s so protective of Kurt and Rachel when by her own admission she hates them 90 percent of the time, but I’m not going to argue with her persuasive methods, which include gyrating on scaffolding while singing Paula Abdul’s “Cold Hearted.”
The gigolo story line feels doubly out of place because Brody’s played by an actor in his late twenties who (understandably!) looks like his in his late twenties. Pair him with an older woman, and the whole affair looks completely out of place on Glee. And that’s without even considering the sexually aggressive choreography and the fact that “How to Be a Heartbreaker” — which Brody opens the episode with — gets even weirder when you try to apply it to collegiate prostitution.
Ultimately, Santana catches Brody in the act in a hotel room where Finn is waiting, too, and he tells Brody, “After tonight, you’re a ghost.” (I would actually watch a Taken-style spinoff featuring Finn Hudson.) When Brody grabs Finn’s sleeve and says he can’t tell Rachel, Finn punches him — hard — in the face, and the two launch into an intense fistfight that leaves tables and lamps and probably Brody’s nose broken. It’s not the first time Finn’s gotten extremely physical to try to solve a problem, but it never gets any less troubling.
Winner: Santana. Obviously. The answer is always Santana.
I’ve struggled a lot in the past with the show’s deeply troubling inability to tackle complex issues with sensitivity, nuance, or care (this serves as my semiannual reminder that Glee once had an episode about domestic violence and called it “Choke”), but depressingly, I’m used to it by now. And so when Glee bungles Ryder’s transphobia and misunderstanding of Unique, when Finn once again beats someone up to try to solve a problem (with no consequences), when it’s okay (hilarious, even!) for an adult to hire a skywriter to announce to the world that a gay teenager bottoms during sex, I’m offended, but I’m too tired of it to really get angry.
But I’m newly — and increasingly — frustrated at how phoned-in this season has been. I used to think of it as overambition — Glee was trying to do so many things at once, I reasoned, that it couldn’t possibly do all of them well — but these recent episodes in particular have just felt lazy. In an interview earlier this week, Naya Rivera talked about how the New Directions kids used to have six-hour-long rehearsals to learn dance numbers. “It was very rigid. Now they’re literally just running around with balloons.” I’m sure that’s the case for a lot of reasons — more intricate choreography is more costly to learn, and many of the original New Directions kids got burned out by the process — but one of those reasons is simply caring less about having great dance numbers.
And it’s not just the choreography, either. The majority of this year’s musical numbers are pretty much just duplicate covers of the original song (and at least one of the few new arrangements that’s been featured was stolen). And while the show has always relied heavily on Auto-Tuning for certain performers, it’s to the point where it seems like every single vocal track gets Auto-Tuned, rather than taking the time to get the performance right in the studio.
I could overlook the laziness if it stopped there. After all, watching the New Directions run around the auditorium is still plenty of fun, and an Auto-Tuned pop cover still has its charms. But the apathy has seeped so deeply into the storytelling that I don’t know if there’s any going back. Rachel’s pregnancy gimmick being nothing more than that — a gimmick — is only the latest example of the show investing in and then dropping a story or characterization or continuity at will. We’re at the point where characters will be gone from whole episodes without explanation, where plotlines from previous seasons get recycled with different characters, and where every episode hinges on a character learning Something Very Important which they forget immediately, so they can learn it a few months later, but with a different song at the end this time.
And the TOTALLY MADDENING thing is that there’s still good in Glee. Plenty of it. It’s Unique singing Madonna, it’s Santana going to the mat for old friends, it’s Sam Evans in a boy-band hat, it’s Jane Lynch straight killing a Nicki Minaj rap. The only trouble is how closely you have to look to find it.