As Mr. Schuester might have said in the early days of Glee, before his character transitioned from “imparter of platitudes to misfit youths” to “occasionally horrible racist,” John Travolta may have been the face of Saturday Night Fever, but the Bee Gees were its heart. That’s why I was disappointed to see this episode go by without a single mention of the brotherly trio. I know the show’s not in the habit of acknowledging artists, but the past tribute episodes have gushed over Madonna and Lady Gaga and Fleetwood Mac and Michael Jackson, so why not a kind word or two about the Gibb boys?
The episode opens on Blaine’s tapping foot and immediately segues into him, Brittany, and Mike performing “You Should Be Dancing,” which is nice, since we haven’t gotten to see Blaine perform since those three solos last week. It’s fine as a number, although its underuse of Brittany and Mike’s dancing abilities is unfortunate. But since Blaine is neither boxing, wearing a tank top, or showering, I can’t be fully drawn in. Sorry, Glee. I am what you made me.
Mr. Schue, reminding us that sometimes Glee has voice-overs, manipulates the figures in his scale model glee club diorama (nice sight gag) while thinking about his most at-risk seniors. He and Sue hatch a plan to motivate them through disco with the bribe of a John Travolta–style suit. None of this makes any sense at all. This is the last time in this episode I’ll bother pointing out that things don’t make sense.
After the world’s most sedate dance contest to “Night Fever” (line-dancing might be disco-specific, but it makes for slow television), Mercedes, Santana, and Finn are declared the finalists, but it’s a trap. Mr. Schue tells them that to compete for the coveted white leisure suit, each of them has to perform a song from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and then announce their future plans to the glee club, because time is running out, and if you don’t know what you want to do with the rest of your life by the time you turn 18, you are doomed for life, and you should choose carefully, because you never ever get to change your mind. Everyone knows that.
And what follows is just a mess. Remember earlier this season when Mr. Schue said that he was going to make everyone at New Directions’ dreams come true? What he meant to say was that he’d make the dreams he agreed with come true. After Mercedes performs “Disco Inferno” and announces that her dream is to be like Whitney or Mariah or Aretha, Mr. Schue snaps that those are people, not dreams. After Santana performs “If I Can’t Have You” in a beautiful jumpsuit, Mr. Schue announces that the theme of her performance was her plan to become a lawyer for marriage equality. (Wrong. The theme was clearly jumpsuits.) Brittany responds by releasing the sex tape she and Santana made to help Santana become famous, intercut with footage of Lord Tubbington cleaning the house. It is very hard to stay annoyed with television that gives you a cat scrubbing the floor in tiny little mop shoes, but last season when Puck and Lauren (I miss you, Ashley Fink!) were planning to make a sex tape, the writers made a huge point about how doing so would be illegal, so it’s confusing for it to be such a major part of this episode.
I’m annoyed that the idea of Finn taking over Burt’s car repair shop has apparently been abandoned. Finn takes the episode to weigh his feelings about his future, first visiting Emma for college brochures, then throwing them away, then having a tearful confrontation with Mr. Schue, then finally revealing to Rachel (who has spent the entire episode Rachel-ing up a storm) that he’s applied to what he calls “Inside the Actor’s Studio” because he wants to be an actor. I am reasonably confident that this is a complicated means of tricking Cory Monteith into taking acting classes by sending his character to acting school. Additional conspiracy theory: Is this some bizarre cross-promotional strategy related to the Glee cast’s recent appearance on Inside the Actor’s Studio? I am no longer surprised by anything James Lipton does.
It’s hard to know exactly what to say about Alex Newell’s appearance as Wade/Unique. He was a runner-up on The Glee Project, and while it made for great television for Ryan Murphy to announce that all four of that show’s finalists were winners, cramming them all in has made for some especially slapdash writing on Glee. Everything about his story line seems haphazard. He’s a Vocal Adrenaline performer and Kurt and Mercedes’ biggest fan? Given that every New Directions performance is basically the Rachel Berry/Blaine Anderson Variety Hour, does that mean he just really enjoys the way Kurt sways and the single note Mercedes sings at the end of songs? He’s afraid to be who he feels he truly is (a feisty, fabulous woman named Unique), but he’s not afraid to explain that fear to total strangers?
That said, Wade/Unique’s actual performance of “Boogie Shoes” is really fun (it’s one of the more playfully choreographed songs in recent memory) and well executed, but it makes me wonder how much more impact the moment could’ve had had it not been the result of 90 seconds’ worth of after-school-special-style storytelling. It’s another in a season’s worth of reminders that Glee can create compelling moments, so long as it doesn’t actually have to do the work of getting there.
Wade/Unique will be back for at least one more episode, and while I hope they’ll take that time to flesh out his story line, I’m aware it’ll likely just be another musical number in heels and a dress. As much as I’m complaining about the writing here, it should be pointed out that a teenaged boy said that he identifies as a woman on national, scripted, prime-time television. This may have happened on television before, but it doesn’t happen often, and that should count for something.
Next week: the Whitney Houston episode! See you on Tuesday at too soon o’clock!