don’t say it if you can sing it
We’ve talked a lot in the past several posts about whether or not Glee is getting more serious about plot and character development instead of maximizing on its quirky musical numbers. This episode seemed to tell us exactly where the show stands on that debate and to do it in song. Using the ballad assignment as a cover, the episode gave us some genuine plot and character development precisely through the use of song. Kurt’s life coaching lessons to Finn seemed like summation of the way music is mostly used in the show: as a chance to express through song what it is hard to say in words (this is, at least, what basically all the non-Glee club solos are about).Let’s start with Shu’s “Young Girl”/”Don’t Stand So Close to Me” mash up. Perhaps not the best mash up ever, but I loved watching Will get what was coming as he kicks it into sweet boy overdrive and instead of getting his message across, leaves both Emma and Rachael in puddles of crushing desire. Given how inappropriate Shu’s behavoir with Emma and his students can be, there was some sweet irony in watching the show take the piss.
And then there was Finn’s ballad to the sonogram of his unborn daughter and the floodgate of emotion it opened with his mom. Not to mention his totally cheesy, and yet so endearing, ballad to Quinn at her parent’s house. In both these cases, the song definitely got across the feeling intended, and allowed Finn to say what he otherwise wouldn’t have been able to express. Perhaps it was a bit heavy-handed, but the whole “lessons in ballads” worked, explaining why a good song, even an oversung song, can be more powerful than a whole lot of words.
But it was exactly Finn’s ballads that threw me off this episode. With them the show took a real emotional turn that, once again, didn’t really get dealt with. My wariness began with the introduction of Quinn’s caricatures of conservative parents. I’m not saying there aren’t folks out there who would turn their pregnant daughter out of the house, or that those folks might not watch Glen Beck. But the Fabrays seemed like cookie cutter TV conservatives – and psychopaths – from the moment they appeared on the screen. Except their actions were all too real and really serious: Quinn’s banishment from hearth and home is no laughing matter and something worthy of some serious teen soap agony. Which makes me think that Glee will probably just brush right past it, using it where convenient and ignoring it where not. Which in turn makes me so confused about this show. Are they doing something cool and funky, offering some ironic, dispassionate angle on the sentimental melodrama that comprises so many other TV dramas? Or are they just being trite, weird, and slightly offensive about really serious issues (and not in a Southpark or Simpsons sort of way)? They seem to want real emotion (Sue’s scene with her sister this week, Quinn’s wavering face as Finn sings to her and her resigned hurt when she realizes her parents are really the shallow hypocrites she imagined they would be). But there is no room for these emotions to develop, so they just become truncated life lessons, like really bad after-school specials. There are some things that one good ballad just won’t cover. If you’ve got another read, I’d love to hear it. And we’ve got some episodes to go, so I’m still willing to wait and see.
Other notes: what in the world was up with Mercedes baby daddy talk to Puck? Not only did this seem like really terrible advice, but it reinforced the stereotype Mercedes keeps getting boxed in to: give the black girl some snappy life advice and some badly written lines and that will suffice to cover her character. What about Suzy Pepper? Full discloure: I know Sarah Drew who played her and I think there are few who pour themselves as wholeheartedly into the Hollywood nerd as she does. I only wish I had got to hear her sing.
There are a few things you learn from two years of psychotherapy and an esophageal transplant.
So I think I’m going to come out and say it, realizing that I might regret it next week. With last night’s Glee, I felt like I was finally enjoying the show again. I know we’ve had this hesitancy to trust it, but I found myself able to give over to it last night. And my ability to finally do so was all about the characters – because their emotion filled songs and ways that they related to and took care of each other struck me with genuine emotion quite a few times in the episode.
First, there’s obviously Rachel…poor mildly attractive, extremely grating Rachel. I really liked her last night. I liked that she was being so fully herself – she doesn’t do anything half-assed, so why should crushing on Mr. Shu be any different? Her googly-eyed stares at him while singing managed to be genuinely sweet rather than uncomfortable. And she got to show us that the songs don’t just express emotion; they actually create emotion.
Which got me thinking about Suzy Pepper – and yes, what fun to see Sarah in that role! I didn’t know her super well when we were in Div school with her husband, but she was always such a sweet person that I get a sense of hometown pride whenever I see her in something. It seemed important to me that Suzy wasn’t singing her own songs to get through her broken crush, but that she had her ear-buds in listening to ‘More Than Words’. And so cut off from the outside world, unable to express or even bring to fullness her emotion, she has to turn to the hot pepper. Rachel, on the other hand, gets to play her emotion out to its extreme with her music and, in so doing, of course with a little help, get over it.
As for Quinn’s parents – I was confused by religious conservatives who drink that much scotch! But I actually found them to be more interesting than it seems you did. Sure, they played out the stock right-wing characters, hyping up the hypocritical moralism and painful-to-watch gender roles. But the story Quinn’s dad told about the baseball game and Quinn sleeping in his lap complicated them for me. In fact, for me it was Quinn’s, “I just need my daddy to hold me” routine that felt awkward and contrived, whereas with her father I felt real emotion.
Oh Kurt, poor Kurt – torn between wanting to be a diabolical home-wrecker and actually supporting his friend. That kid grows on me more and more each week. And the line about opening his dead mother’s drawers to lie down and smell her lingering scent was heart-breaking. You’re right about Mercedes too – what was up with that advice?!? There’s a difference between a daddy and a father and Quinn’s made her choice?? My hope is that they’re just trying to stack the deck against Puck so much so that we’ll eventually have an awesome showdown in which he steps up to the plate and wins Quinn over…undoubtedly, with a song. Now, were you, like me, very happy to see crazy Terri back? Having Rachel clean their house was genius. When she justified enlisting Shu’s crushing student to household slave-labor with the toss off line, “why not? If it’s a win win for everyone?” I laughed out loud and thanked the gods for her return – what a brilliant, connivingly awesome woman!
So here’s my final take on what was going on – the show itself is a ballad. We struggle because we want it to go somewhere. We long for some surplus to emotions that carries us over. Sometimes we want them to show us, not tell us, what’s going on. We want a little more subtlety. But the damn show keeps hitting us over the head – with it’s neat character development moments, its lack of ambiguity, and its way of tying it all up with a bow by the end of each episode. But that’s what ballads do – they tell us stories in 4 mins or less and they look us straight in the eye while doing it, making the emotion so plain as day, there’s no escape. Rachel staring down Mr. Shu during their Endless Love number – confident, alluring, so obvious in her feeling, still a little annoying, but impossible to tune out – summed up what Glee is to me. And as I came to love her a little more in that moment, I guess I finally came to settle into the show too.
So are you, like me, super excited for Eve next week?! A school for the deaf and a school for inner-city youth…oh dear, I’m almost nervous for how potentially offensive this is going to be!!