Glee Recap: The Final Countdown

Episode Title
The Rise and Fall of Sue Sylvester
Editor’s Rating

This last season of Glee has given us so much so far — weddings between beloved couples, renditions of deeply moving power ballads, introductions (however brief) to characters we've always wondered about, like Blaine's mom. And with last night's episode, Glee gave me the opportunity to stand up, stretch, crack my knuckles, and then, for what I sincerely hope is the very last time, ask: Seriously, what the hell was that episode?

Even if I sometimes struggle to find Sue Sylvester as hilarious as I'm supposed to, I think Jane Lynch is incredibly talented, and when Glee has taken the time to make Sue more than a one-dimensional yell machine in the past, it's really enhanced the show. Her protection of Kurt when Karofsky was bullying him, her interactions with her sister, and her sweet, offbeat romance with Chris Parnell are all strong examples. And so more than once, I've advocated for Sue to have more screen time and more to do, but perhaps I should've specified that I'd like to see her frequently throughout the series, not squished into 20 minutes three hours before the show ends for good.

The trouble with an episode that deals with Sue's rise and fall (or maybe more accurately her overall state, which is basically just "all the way crazy, mostly fine") is that it's mostly just telling us things we already know. Sometimes it's fun when Glee brings up old inside jokes and obsessively re-references itself, but her interview with Geraldo just sort of falls flat. It's like a clip show, only instead of seeing the clips played back, you're hearing the actors dimly recall the scenes from memory, several years removed. And sure, it's cool that Michael Bolton and Carnie Wilson make quick cameos and that Jimmy Eat World gets one final, baffling name-drop, but it's not so cool it redeems the entire episode. It's boring. And boring Glee is the very worst Glee.

All of that said, Carol Burnett is a legend and a national treasure and she should be allowed to return to television to sing "The Trolley Song" whenever and with whomever she pleases. It was a delight to watch Sue and her perform. It was also really, REALLY weird. Mr. Schue and Sue's "The Final Countdown" sing-off was weird, too, but for very different reasons. As the two of them performed, they saw themselves in full hair-metal regalia, surrounded by pyrotechnics and screaming fans. But when Kurt, Rachel, and the glee club kids walked into the auditorium, it was clear Schue and Sue were just pretending. Glee has always been a little coy about which performances are "real," which are happening only in the heads of the characters, and which are sort of a hybrid of the two, punched up for the enjoyment of viewers. It's surprising, then, to see Sue and Schue directly called out, and to see exactly how crazy the two of them look from the perspective of someone outside of their fantasy. Blaine was right — weird, and borderline psychopathic.

What's particularly unfortunate is that Sue's downward spiral doesn't lead her any place new — she winds up at Carmel High, as Vocal Adrenaline's coach. (In a show that's obsessed with her past, the fact that she's already taken a job as a rival choir's coach to thwart Mr. Schue goes unremarked on, but whatever.) In last week's recap, I tried to be really Zen about the kinds of stories we were being shown, the sorts of performances we were seeing, and the characters the show was focusing on. That's all out the window this week, as I've realized we've already seen five separate numbers from this version of Vocal Adrenaline with more to come next week. And it's not like this is season one Vocal Adrenaline. Those performances, conceived by Shelby Corcoran and executed by Jesse St. James, were incredible. This incarnation of Vocal Adrenaline is pretty basic, and I'm tired of watching performances from kids who (if you'll pardon the Mean Girls parlance) don't even GO here.

The Sue stuff just takes up so much time and moves so slowly that the not-at-all-insignificant fact that a fire destroyed Dalton Academy gets semi-ignored. Why focus on Sue so intently after you've set up that story — after you've set up many moving stories for the season? Show Blaine staying up until three in the morning hand-sewing all of those fancy red blazers. Allow Jane more than 12 seconds to talk about how much it pisses her off that the Warblers rejected her and now she has to welcome them. Explain what Mercedes is even doing there in the first place — like, where does she sleep? Give Sam more lines. Be a little more excited about the fact that your show is featuring a song by one of its cast members for the first time, and let Darren Criss's "Rise" shine a little bit more. Play a montage of moments at the now-burned-to-the-ground Dalton Academy, scored by an old-school a capella performance of "This Used to Be My Playground." Have Rachel tell her friends more about the Russell Simmons–helmed musical she's been offered a role in. God, Glee, if this was all a long con so you could trick me into SUGGESTING MORE SCREEN TIME FOR RACHEL, mission accomplished. Also, there's no way on Earth Rachel Berry would waver when deciding between going back to school and taking a role on Broadway, and I'm not just saying that because it's fun imagining what Carmen Tibideaux's face will look like when Rachel quits NYADA again.

What it boils down to is, I didn't need this episode to know that after Glee ends, Sue will be out there somewhere in the world, causing all kinds of trouble and doing just fine — come on, she's Sue Sylvester! But I don't have that same closure for the rest of our glee club kids yet, and there's very little Glee left. I know not every character will get the same victory lap Sue got last night, but I'm starting to worry there won't be time for the characters we love to get their final bows. Prove me wrong, Glee. Please. See you at Sectionals.