In the first few moments of the first episode of Glee's final season, we see Rachel standing on the Paramount lot, forlornly watching as the sets of her canceled TV series are taken down and broken up into scrap lumber. It’s a tiny bit much (I don't think it's possible to underscore a scene with Alanis Morissette's "Uninvited" without coming off as heavy-handed), but the message is really clear: Everything ends, including and especially television shows, and soon Glee will, too.
But judging by last night's two strong episodes, Glee might just manage to go out with a bang. Look, I know that at this point, having written about the show for three seasons and having fallen in and out of love with it over and over, I'm pretty much the girl who cried wolf when it comes to announcing that Glee is BACK. But trust me when I say that last night's episode was funny, smart, extremely meta, and genuinely touching at times (if unfortunately preoccupied with fat-shaming jokes).
In a nutshell: Kurt and Blaine have broken up; Blaine has returned to Lima, taken over the Warblers, and begun dating Dave Karofsky; and Rachel's TV pilot crashed and burned, leaving her to pick up the pieces of her own life and reboot the New Directions, which Sue (now terribly evil again after briefly dabbling in niceness) destroyed. There are plenty of over-the-top moments — was it completely necessary for Rachel to sing "Let It Go" while Sue froze in an igloo or for the New Directions to perform a partially animated version of "Take On Me" in the style of the video? No, of course not, but the former is the perfect song for Rachel to close an episode and bring down the house with, and the latter is just really freaking fun, if potentially confusing to Glee fans under 30. It's joyful, something Glee struggled to be at times in season five.
The New Directions alumni are all grown up and struggling with adult problems that they're not necessarily equipped to solve. Kurt and Blaine fought bitterly and then split, but rather than sing about it, they both went to therapy. (It's weird to say because Darren Criss is only a couple of years younger than I am, but they both seem like such adults, breaking up in that restaurant as the rain came down.) Rachel's show got canceled, but rather than blustering about how she's misunderstood, she took the hit, let it soak in, and realized she's going to have to change if she wants to get her career back — not just wait for someone to come along and realize she's a star. And all of them realize that they can't go to Mr. Schue for help anymore — Rachel point-blank tells him she's way beyond the point of a pep talk about believing in herself. Also, in a disturbing turn of events, Mr. Schue's baby seems to be his only friend, and I can't tell if that's an upgrade or a downgrade from when his only friends were teenagers. Also, he's taken over Vocal Adrenaline, and his first order of business was apparently to saddle them with poor choreography and mope because none of them wanted to talk about their feelings.
It's shocking to see Dave Karofsky as Blaine's new boyfriend, and it's supposed to be. I spent years harping on Glee for abandoning Karofsky's story after his suicide attempt, although I definitely didn't envision him coming back like this. Still, I'm glad to see Karofsky happy and confident and alive, even though I'd like to add "and out of Ohio" to that list. It is a bit of a stretch to see Blaine with the man who'd so fiercely bullied Kurt, but Blaine has always been the sort of person who sees the best in others. And all of us, if we're lucky, come to a point in life where we're not defined by the shitty stuff we did as teenagers. Accountable for, yes. Held back by, no. Karofsky inflicted a tremendous amount of pain on others, but he experienced plenty himself. He can’t atone forever, and he shouldn't have to.
None of it matters all that much, because Kurt and Blaine will obviously be back together before the end of the season. It's weird to see them apart after so much of last season was spent reuniting them, but I'm happy that Darren Criss and Chris Colfer are getting to tell new stories, and as always, they carry them off beautifully. I'm equally excited about Rachel being put in a position to give back and actually share her talents, rather than ramming them down people's throats. While she'll always be a gold star diva, I think there's potential for real growth for Rachel this season, and I like that.
Even with the return of almost every original New Directions member, the second episode drags a bit more than the first, in part because it's focused on a wave of new kids. Over at Dalton, Blaine's trying to get a young woman a spot on the Warblers, and at McKinley, Kurt and Rachel and the New Directions alumni are in full-on recruiting mode. Their efforts include "Problem," an Unholy Trinity performance backed by Cheerios and a marching band. Since Naya Rivera has already wrapped, I'm worried that this is the last time we'll see these girls perform together, and I'm absolutely not ready for that. Also, who decided it was a good idea for Naya Rivera to perform a song originally by her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend?
Given my struggle to invest in the last batch of new New Directions members (forcibly transferred to other schools by Sue), I'm not thrilled about having a whole new crop of kids to adjust to. But Jane's "Tightrope" is pretty damn delightful, especially with the novelty of seeing the Warblers back a woman for the very first time, and Roderick's "Mustang Sally" is a kind of funky, soulful crooning new to Glee. And the second episode's final moments, where the new kids and the alumni frolic around the football field singing "Home," are legitimately touching, although that might just be the camaraderie and hand-holding and actual fireworks. I am hip to all of Glee's methods of emotional manipulation, and yet I fall for them. Every. Single. Time.
During Glee's extra-long hiatus, I've thought a lot about what I'd like to see in these last ten episodes. There are definitely songs I'd love to hear and guest performers I'd love to see one more time. But I like Glee best when I go in with few expectations, and so I only have one: I want to cry at the finale. Before you call that an unreasonable expectation, I'm a crier by nature and am oddly attached to Glee — like, I can get choked up just by thinking about the Journey medley at the end of season one long enough. When this incredible little mess of a show — and I say that with love — ends, I want to be sad to see it go. There's the bar, Glee. Clear it. Please.
Final observations and memorable moments from two jam-packed episodes:
- "I'm filing them based on EMOTION." —Kurt, explaining his filing system to Rachel.
- The magazine proclaiming Rachel's TV pilot the "lowest rated television episode of all time" had to be a self-deprecating nod to last season's finale, Glee's lowest-ever rated episode, right?
- "Occasionally releasing hounds" is one of Sue Sylvester's choice student-body control methods.
- Blaine and Rachel's "Suddenly Seymour" was really lovely — we don't see much of their friendship, but I've loved watching the two of them together since their Tony and Maria days.
- Finn was everywhere in this episode, but most clearly when Rachel tried to find a disembodied voice she heard singing through the vents, like Mr. Schue heard Finn in the pilot. It was supposed to be a sweet, nostalgic nod to him, but it felt almost eerie.