Glee Recap: What’s Your Damage, Rachel Berry?

Photo: Tyler Golden/FOX
Episode Title
The Back-Up Plan
Editor’s Rating

This week’s Glee continued to explore the question I finally posed about last week’s episode: Seriously, Rachel Berry, what is your damage? We’ll get to that, since I’d be remiss if I didn’t start by discussing the sheer joy it was to see Shirley MacLaine charge up to a stage with a microphone in her hand after telling Blaine, “I’m going to go earn our supper.” I’m not calling this a MacLaine comeback (she’s been here for years) – I’ve enjoyed her on Downton Abbey immensely – but there’s something special about watching her half-lap-dance billionaires while singing Janis Joplin covers with Darren Criss, you know?

MacLaine’s character – June – is a fabulous, aging socialite and patron of the arts. And, according to Kurt, “She took peyote with Joe Kennedy. Allegedly.” To celebrate the opening of a dance lab named after her at NYADA, there’s a reception at which Kurt is selected to sing. He asks Blaine to perform with him; he’s chosen One Direction’s “Story of My Life.” There’s no reason for Kurt and Blaine to be signing this particular song at this particular moment aside from the fact that I’d imagine Klaine duets sell well and so do One Direction covers, and while that’s far more cynical about Glee than I prefer to be, here we are. That’s not to say that I dislike their version of the song. I already have it downloaded. But there’s nothing that makes sense about the combination of an important performance at the world’s most prestigious performing arts school and a One damn Direction song.

The duet is one thing – seeing June choose Blaine over Kurt is much harder to take. I can understand why she picks Blaine to groom; he’s an easier talent to trot around town and show off, and there’s enough Dalton left in him that he can turn on charm with far more ease than Kurt can. To be clear: Kurt is lovely. Blaine’s just easier. Still, I’m not sure how many more story lines Glee can sustain in which Kurt is almost, but not quite, chosen for something. Put another way: I’m ready for Glee to stop giving Kurt Hummel the junior-varsity version of a life, please. Enough is enough. The way June seamlessly dismisses Kurt, saying to Blaine, “I’ve been in and out of love more times than you’ve had breakfast,” makes me more than nervous. My delicate sensibility cannot handle a season of Glee in which we get a Kurt and Blaine proposal in a season premiere and they’re broken up by the finale, okay?

But hey! Another (rare!) episode of Glee that passes the Bechdel test. Santana and Mercedes spend most of the episode together, trying to get the sound just right for the last track on Mercedes’s upcoming album. For reasons I don’t quite understand, this takes the form of the two of them singing Lauryn Hill’s “Doo-Wop (That Thing)” in an unfinished basement with a portable microphone. While it’s a properly great duet, it has absolutely nothing on their seminal performance of “River Deep, Mountain High” a few seasons back. Is it possible that Mercedes and Santana can’t summon the full power of their mutual awesomeness without the promise of a free Breadstix dinner on the line?

Mercedes goes on to insist that Santana should be featured on her album. When her producer asks how she expects him to sell a duet, she says, “Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.” I would find this argument more persuasive if I hadn’t thought for a full year that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were the same person, Garth Brooks and Chris Gaines–style. There’s some back-and-forth about whether Santana belongs on the record, but it’s ultimately a lovely look at their friendship and a great story line in which two women aren’t fighting over a man. More of this, Glee.

Oh, hey, where’s Sam?

Meanwhile, Rachel and Funny Girl are thriving. Rave reviews! Stage-door crowds! Benches with Rachel’s face on them! I’m wondering if any of this is meant to subtly needle the fact that there were what seemed like thousands of buses with Lea Michele’s legs on them during the heyday of Spring Awakening, but I’m probably overthinking. Still, all it takes for her to grow discouraged is her agent’s disparaging comments about her nose and the idea of playing Fanny forever, even though it’s been fewer than 50 performances and it was her lifelong dream. I’m irritated enough that Glee is making Rachel’s appearance an issue once again. Yes, I’m aware that it’s not an unrealistic criticism of Rachel; yes, I think it’s insidious for television geared toward young women to paint Lea Michele as unattractive in any way.

What I have a bigger problem with is the fact that Rachel is already bored enough with her dream role to warrant an extended, wistful ballad about it. Rachel’s always been ambitious, and ambition is one thing, but entitlement is another, as is being irresponsible in the name of following your heart or whatever. Not asking What do I need to do? when offered a television audition and showing up with an iPod and a Bette Midler song instead is entitled behavior, and I’ll ask Glee again: Are we supposed to be rooting for a character like this? Are we supposed to admire Rachel?

As the TV executive who comes to woo Rachel away for Broadway, Jim Rash is the saving grace of all this nonsense. As ever, he’s got the sort of comedic presence that would make an episode of, like, Seventh Heaven hilarious and just the tiniest iota subversive. Every face he makes in the episode is perfect, but he wins the MVP award for slinking sideways out of Rachel’s dressing room while saying, “You know what? I’m going to leave before you can say no. That’s how I work.”

I think we were supposed to find Rachel’s uninvited musical number and subsequent botched audition funny in a cringe-comedy sort of way; I’m fed up with her enough that it felt like sheer schadenfreude. To that same end, were we supposed to feel like Rachel was being treated unfairly when her Broadway boss chewed her out for skipping a show, calling her “an ambitious, irresponsible child”? Because seemed like a pretty fair assessment to me.

Also, I’ll hand it to Glee – I didn’t expect Santana’s brief stint as Rachel’s Funny Girl understudy to come back at all, and I continue to like the way the show’s been exploring the friendship between Rachel and Santana. It’s also an extremely odd scene to watch considering the rumors circulating that Naya Rivera’s been fired from Glee over tensions between her and Lea Michele. What is the opposite of life imitating art?

Next week’s episode was written by Chris Colfer. Uh, is it my birthday?