And this year's Emmy for Outstanding Background Performance in a Comedy Series goes to...
AV Club by Todd Van Der Werff (B-)
Last week, my friend and fellow critic Alyssa Rosenberg came down harshly on Glee, even more harshly than I did (or would have done), with an article arguing the show has become immoral. While I didn’t immediately agree with the headline, I did think Alyssa was on to something with how the show’s tonal shifts—which have always existed—make it difficult for the series to tackle larger, more serious issues and problems. The attempts to deal with important social issues—as opposed to just generalized sadness about graduating and leaving your friends behind forever—have all been clumsy this season, and they were mostly clumsy in the past (give or take a Kurt story arc). But I wouldn’t call the show “immoral,” as such, because I don’t know that anyone there gives much thought at all to the messages they’re trying to peddle, outside of on the most generic level possible. I offer as my case in point tonight’s episode, where we’re apparently supposed to be upset with Quinn for trying to walk again. Lesson to be learned: If anybody you know is ever paralyzed, and then they get physical therapy, and then they save the “I can walk!” moment for maximum dramatic impact, they are a liar.
In a way, I can see why Finn’s so upset, I guess. Rachel’s had a shitty week, and he’s got a weird sense of personal nobility. He apparently thought Quinn would never walk again, so he was going to be a nice guy and campaign with her, the better to help her end a terrible year in a nice way. When he found out she was taking active steps toward being able to walk again, he snapped, because he could have been spending that time with Rachel, and he felt misled. I mean, I guess I can see all of this, even if it makes Finn seem like a bigger asshole than I think anybody intended. And if the story had just stopped here, if Quinn had decided that she had used false pretenses to win and had tossed the victory to Santana or something, fine. Whatever. It would have been dumb, but there would have been a weird internal consistency to it.
Instead, Santana and Quinn rig the election so Rachel can win. Which, what? Look, I like Rachel. I think Lea Michele is doing a great job in the part and is often handed some pretty thankless stuff to play. She almost singlehandedly made the despair the character felt at failing her NYADA audition palatable here, and even though she spent most of the episode whining about how she’d never be on Broadway (because she hasn’t moved onto the Plan B phase of her grieving), Michele found some nice notes to play in it. Considering there was a whole musical number dedicated just to Rachel feeling sad for herself—a musical number that didn’t have a lot of bearing on much of anything—I was impressed this worked as well as it did. But having Quinn and Santana decide it was time to give Rachel the prom queen title for no apparent reason? And everybody else just kind of being okay with it? I’m picturing a young Pauline Kael, sneering, saying, “Well, nobody I know voted for Rachel Barry!”
Outside of the weird Rachel triumphalism and the way the show wanted to make us mad at Quinn for no good reason, there was some good stuff in “Prom-asaurus.” I mean, not really, but at least the episode didn’t introduce some element it was completely unprepared to deal with. Much of the first half of the episode consisted of things like Brittany pointing out that she hasn’t had a line in something like seven episodes and Becky waging an odd war against xylophones. None of it had anything to do with anything, but at least I was laughing fairly consistently, something the show hasn’t always been able to make me do this season. It was even a good episode for Sue, a character the show’s pretty much forgotten how to use this year, and I liked everything from her pep talk for Becky to her little dance at the punch bowl at the prom.
I don’t know. My standards for this show have fallen so far that any episode that doesn’t make me want to destroy all human life on the planet is an unqualified success, so I can’t tell you for sure if I really liked this episode, or if I was just happy it wasn’t as tone deaf as last week’s. Brittany did a dance with a bunch of cheerleaders wearing dinosaur heads. I thought that was fun (mostly because, hey, you’re not going to see that on Smash). Puck crowned Becky the queen of anti-prom, then walked in with her at the prom, and that was kind of sweet. Mike Chang got really excited about the dinosaur prom theme, and that made me laugh, because I like dinosaurs, too. There were so many Will and Emma reaction shots that it felt like Jayma Mays was trying to do an E-story entirely with her eyebrows, and that amused me. The show briefly remembered how Kurt turned last year’s prom into a weird triumph, but still had that really nice moment where he’s just horrified that he’s been written in as prom queen again, and the close-up on Chris Colfer’s terrified face was great. (Nice work, Eric Stoltz!)
But I just can’t get over the stupidity of the Quinn and Rachel storyline. When Figgins was about to announce that there was another write-in winner (and, incidentally, Iqbal Theba had some great delivery tonight, too), I thought, “Oh, hey, they’re going to say that Becky won, and while that’s going to be slightly overkill, it will still be kind of sweet.” But no. It was Rachel. For no real reason. Because we were apparently supposed to be feeling sorry for her throughout, taking her side when she threw an entirely unjustifiable tantrum in the general direction of a girl who could have been paralyzed for life. (Oh, she also directly ripped off a moment from Election, thus completing the metamorphosis into Tracy Flick that was hinted at in the pilot, then mostly abandoned.)
It’d be one thing if I thought for a second that this was a series that seriously wanted to suggest character complexity or show us people who do horrible things for reasons that make sense on a character level. That would be good writing. But characters on Glee are just whomever they need to be for that particular episode—or that particular scene—and it’s a show that lost any sense of complexity long, long ago. The characters are either there to be self-consciously “bitchy,” in the aims of having something funny happen, or they’re there for us to feel sorry for them. Everything about the Rachel storyline is coded for us to find her to be completely in the right and find the moment when she dances with Finn as prom queen amazing. The cinematography, the editing, the music… they’re all pitched directly at the idea that Rachel was wronged, that Quinn was somehow a bad person for not giving everybody constant updates on how her physical therapy was progressing.
Still, it’s just one storyline, and it’s about something appropriately small-scale, the sort of thing that most teenagers are going to encounter. It doesn’t try to make it a bigger deal than it actually is, and it’s mostly presented as a really nice moment for Rachel to have, even if she didn’t earn it any way, shape, or form. (Maybe the theme of this season is supposed to be, “Everybody should be given exactly what they want, because that’s nice!”) Enough of the rest of the episode was strong, and even if it didn’t earn its “Oh, high school is ending so quickly!” moments at all, at least they were all tacked on at the end. It would have been great if this show had done a great prom episode, but I’m not sure it has one in it anymore. (Hey, at least last season’s prom episode had some thematic daring to go around.) Instead, this one was mostly about damage control, and that’s okay, too.
- It’s the time of the season of Brittany. This was a really great episode for her, even if she seemed to have had yet another personality transplant, so she would become bitchy again. My favorite moment was probably when she called that girl Rachel.
- Speaking of great moments, check out Puck watching Finn and Rachel kiss at the anti-prom. They’ve made him believe in love again!
- Fox’s little Twitter hashtags in the corner of the screen have gotten out of control. Who’s going to sit there and mechanically type in “#mrbroccolihead” when Blaine appears with a giant hairdo? (Actually, I just checked, and a sadly huge number of people did.)
- Just tell us how the songs were, VanDerWerff, God!: Aside from the fact that only Brittany herself followed her own directive to sing songs about dinosaurs, I didn’t mind the songs at prom. I’d hesitate to pick out one over another, but as the soundtrack to the kids having fun, they were basically fine. Also: Brittany and a bunch of cheerleaders in dinosaur heads did a dance number, and it was kind of awesome. I’m turning into Mike Chang.
- Straight guys, talkin’ ‘bout Glee: All of the women of Glee had a fine night in their prom attire, but I’m going to give the win to Dianna Agron, who looked suitably stylish in lavender. (I obviously have a future career in fashion commentary.)
- It still sounds so weird when Finn calls Rachel his “fiancée,” doesn’t it?
- Smiley Face Guitar Man was back! I sincerely hope he’s made a regular in season four, and I hope that then he and Piano Man get a spinoff, where Piano Man carefully solves murders by reconstructing brutal crime scenes and nodding at all of the evidence, while Smiley Face Guitar Man stands in the corner and sways back and forth while he smiles and plays his guitar.
- Every time Rachel gets all of the musicians together so she can sing a sad song about herself, all I can think of is when Carrie on Homeland says, “I’ve assembled the group!”
- The moment where Mercedes and her ex shared a little wave was a really nice one and completely true to the high school experience.
- Don’t blame me. I voted for Missy Gunderson.
Hit Fix by Ryan McGee
It’s not surprising that “Glee” dropped the Coach Beiste storyline like a hot potato, at least for this week. After all, who has time to deal with the serious issue of domestic abuse when there’s a dinosaur-themed prom that needs attention? “Prom-asaurus” is another unfortunately hyphenated title, but unlike “Saturday Night Glee-ver,” this one didn’t soar so much as lurch along. It wasn’t offensive, it wasn’t awful, it wasn’t good, it wasn’t coherent, it was just…there. It existed. This episode of television absolutely, positively existed.
Maybe I’m simply still strung out from last week’s episode. I wrote at the time that I wasn’t sure the episode could recover from that mess, and I definitely spent every minute Coach Beiste wasn’t onscreen tonight wondering if Cooter was smacking her around again. No matter how much “Glee” wants to hit the tonal reset button between episodes, scenes, or even lines of dialogue, it can’t do that through sheer force of will. It’s one thing to push aside the return of Awful Quinn when Puck is “crowning” Becky Anti-Prom Queen. But it’s another thing to contemplate all the darkness going on offscreen in other parts of Lima after the show has shone a light upon it.
So rather than just do a straight-up review, I’ve assembled some of the key players in tonight’s episode to do a little round-table to get their perspective on how things went down. After all, we saw how Senior Prom affected many of the students at McKinley high, even though prom this year came out of absolutely nowhere in terms of the show’s collective consciousness. Last season, “Prom Queen” served as the culmination for a fairly long-gestating story that featured many of the program’s primary players throughout the back half of the year. Here? It was an afterthought, not unlike Brittany’s president itself. “Glee” tried to treat the sudden return of that storyline as a knowing commentary on Brittany’s ineffectiveness as student body leader. But I think we all know whom the real ineffective leaders are when it comes to this show, hmmm?
In any case, onto the round table! Let’s kick things off with perhaps the most important aspect of tonight’s episode.
Blaine’s Hair: Hey, guys. Look: Blaine himself coming out was hard. But tonight was all about coming out of my personal closet. It’s only fitting that a good chunk of tonight’s episode revolved around Brittany’s bizarre obsession with me. Do you think it’s been EASY for me all these years? Do you know how hard it was to get that loaded Slushie out of my hair? Blaine’s eye got all the attention, but I suffered too, you know. I suffered in silence, underneath inches of gel, existing both in this world and yet out of it as well.
Quinn’s Wheelchair: OK, hold up a second, can a girl get in a word around here? You’ve been sitting atop Mr. Scream Singing for a while now, but God’s Gift To Yale has been sitting on me and using me as a sympathy prop for some time now.
Becky’s Cardboard Crown: Wait, that only started tonight.
Rick The Stick’s Mullet: Totally. Until now, Quinn has pinballed through five stages of grief, three seasons of storylines, and some Skinemax-esque PT sessions with Teen Jesus. But she hasn’t been the conniving Quinn that lied to Finn about his paternity or tried to get Shelby thrown into jail for a while now. So, naturally, tonight showed her using the wheelchair to earn sympathy votes for Prom Queen.
Brittany’s Tiny Prom Hat: Don’t forget about Brittany’s switch from “sweet but daft” to “raging beeyotch” tonight. I had a great view of the whole thing…until all the cheerleaders with the oversized dinosaur heads started dancing around us. Then the view wasn’t so much “great” as “the stuff of nightmares.” Brittany was perhaps the second-best character on the show last time we saw it stage a prom, but has completely cut the limber legs out from under her this year. If we’re talking schizophrenic characterization, this should be about us.
Quinn’s Wheelchair: Well, did you decide to reveal to the entire school that you could walk at the precise moment a fellow student, glee club member, and ostensible friend was just starting to think her life might turn out OK after all? No? You didn’t? Oh, that’s right….BECAUSE WE DID. Theoretically, Santana and Quinn rigged the vote in order to give Rachel’s a thread of hope in a desperate hour. Then Quinn Fabray, Moment Stealer, had to pull a Cousin Matthew and turn the theme from “Dinosaurs” to “Downton Abbey.”
Tina: Can I just say how happy I was to get lines tonight?
Sue’s Xylophone: Who the hell are you?
Tina: I’m Tina. I’m in New Directions. I’m a character on this show.
Brittany’s Tiny Prom Hat: Not ringing a bell.
Becky’s Cardboard Crown: Nothing’s coming to mind.
Tina: The “Glee” Wiki insists I’m a central character! http://glee.wikia.com/wiki/Tina_Cohen-Ch
Puck’s Flask: That. Is. Adorable.
Blaine’s Hair: Sure, it’s great that What’s Her Face got lines. But let’s face it: Nothing that happened tonight is particularly meaningful because the show has never truly built up enough camaraderie between these characters to make their imminent departure meaningful. Santana chastises Rachel for selfishly not attending prom, because it means the former misses out on the event with the latter. But it’s completely unclear WHY that’s such a problem. If the show has to explain why such decisions matter to these characters, it probably hasn’t done a good enough job simply letting the interactions speak for themselves.
Rick The Stick’s Mullet: If I may follow up, my follicular friend, we’ve seen Santana recently confess to Rachel that she might actually miss her come graduation. So “Glee” is trying its damndest to actually lay some groundwork for such a scene.
Brittany’s Tiny Prom Hat: But you identified the problem right there. “Groundwork” by very definition can’t be laid down this late in the game. “Glee” wants to build a house without bothering to think about its foundation. So the whole effort is as wobbly as Sue’s dance moves.
Quinn’s Wheelchair: OK, but can we all agree those moves were .GIF worthy and maybe a highlight of the season?
Becky’s Cardboard Crown: Absolutely. And while I am biased, I thought the Puck/Becky scenes were surprisingly sweet. They weren’t surprising because there’s no precedent for “Glee” pulling them off, but they have been so few and far between that they are downright shocking. It’s perfectly plausible that Puck will be punching nuns in the face during next week’s two-hour installment, but I really enjoyed being a part of the pair spiking the punch bowl.
Tina: Can I just say one thing?
Kurt’s Outfit For The “Benny And Joon” Remake He’s Apparently Auditioning For: NO!
Finn’s Phallic Scepter: It’s just weird for a show that has recently depicted the domestic abuse of one of its last remaining beloved characters…and has also depicted the struggles of a girl wondering if she’ll ever walk again…to have an episode that focuses instead on the horrible life of…someone that blew an audition. That’s not to dismiss Rachel’s situation as unimportant. It’s plausible for someone in her situation to see life as hopeless. But for the love of God, context matters! Had the show demonstrated just how unreasonable she was being, that would be fine. A lot of the silly wedding storyline this year has been tolerable because “Glee” seemed to understand it’s a really, really, really terrible idea. But Rachel’s moment of “triumph” in becoming Prom Queen is treated sincerely, and that makes the entire endeavor collapse like a deck of cards.
Quinn’s Wheelchair: Did you hear when Quinn said being Prom Queen was, and I quote, “Everything I ever wanted”?
Brittany’s Tiny Prom Hat: Oh God, I thought I hallucinated that!
Rick The Stick’s Mullet: She does remember she had a baby, right?
Quinn’s Wheelchair: Your guess? As good as mine.
Blaine’s Hair: In closing: Do we have any idea why this episode spent so much time on me?
Ryan Murphy: I hate Darren Criss, and also happiness as a general concept?
Ryan McGee: That explains SO MUCH! Oops, sorry. I’ll stay out of this. Maybe it’s time to wrap things up, anyways. We have two hours of this to get through next week, and we’ll need all the strength possible.
Fake Helen Mirren: We’re just not going to mention me? Probably best.
Commander Taylor from “Terra Nova”: Was anyone worried I’d appear inside a portal during prom?
ZooeyDeschanel: Is that rain?
Siri: No, it’s oncoming traffic. Go out and shake hands with it!
RBI Report by Dr She Bloggo
Ah, Senior Prom. Literally the preeminent highlight of any teenager's entire existence! Or so Glee would have us believe. Sure, to really buy into all the storylines tonight, you also have to be sold on the fact that everything lives and dies by Senior Prom. Prom is a Big Deal! Prom is high drama! But, "Prom-a-saurus" is one of the better episodes this season, and even though its centerpiece storyline was poorly constructed and sustained, it packed the rest of the hour with rewarding character interactions, meaningful payoffs, and a fair bit of solid comedy sprinkled throughout.
"Prom-asaurus," written by Ryan Murphy, directed by Eric Stoltz
Like with Glee's more successful episodes, "Prom-a-saurus" employed a simple premise that doesn't require a lot of explanation: McKinley High's prom is coming up, and each character interacts with this reality in a different way based on their current situation. Because of this construct, simple episodes like this allow more space and time for the characters to express their emotions through their actions, and for them to interact with other characters in a meaningful way - if all goes well.
For Brittany, prom became of utmost importance in a character-specific way. While I don't love the insinuation that Brittany forgot she was class president after being elected, or the bit of meta about how she stopped talking for awhile, I do love that prom was presented to her as a challenge - and she met it head-on. She had no problems being confident in her leadership, and even though her ideas were unconventional, the narrative never gave her any real opposition, or required her to seek out assistance from someone else to supplement her abilities. Sure, it might have been nice to see Brittany actually doing the planning and having to work through the process, but I dare say I prefer how the episode handled it - setting up a huge task for Brittany, and then literally make it look like she had zero problems accomplishing it. For a character that is portrayed most frequently as either dumb, slutty, or mute, it was actually a reward to see the bar set high and then easily achieved. My only quibble is that it would have been nice to see a little moment with Figgins and Brittany at prom, wherein he communicates to her somehow that she's done a good job. After all, the episode sets up this obstacle for Brittany, and even though witnessing happy promgoers is enough to let us know she did well, it would have been even better to have the payoff manifested in a little specific moment - especially because the stakes were so high for her. Figgins basically insinuated that Brittany's tenure as president has completely ruined the institution of student government, and threatened to abolish the position. The character arc merited seeing Figgins impressed in order to conclude the storyline.
Of course, Brittany's ideas did throw a wrench in one person's plan: she banned hair gel at prom, and that was enough to send Blaine into a tizzy. After two episodes where Blaine's dramatics have been played in complete and utter seriousness, I was happy to see this silly little storyline for him. While it might have been nice to reference his past prom woes, as they did Kurt's, I didn't mind the construct all that much, mostly because I was reveling in Blaine's ridiculata without having to wonder if he was going to bust out an empowering pop song about his hair woes. (I was worried when he uttered the question, "How do you think I feel?" comparing his anti-prom problems to Rachel's and Kurt's, but then Rachel started laughing at him and I felt better about the whole situation. Comedy! Who knew?) The result was nice as well, that Brittany would allow him some gel after he relented and showed his true curls (if only to keep students from turning to stone), and Kurt insisting he liked his hair the way it was. It was simple and sweet, and the narrative kept it that way.
The same awareness of scope, character, and screentime was unfortunately not afforded to the centerpiece of the evening: a rehash of the Quinn/Finn/Rachel love triangle, accompanied by rehashes of Quinn's slightly deranged prom-related plans, Rachel's debilitating insecurity over Quinn and Finn's nonexistent relationship, and Finn's enduring need to make a choice between these two females. This truly was an all-around display of frustrating regression on all angles, basically until the storyline's conclusion, where it took a turn for the better - but still made you wonder if all that other nonsense was necessary.
It begins with Quinn. As soon as I heard that damned tinkly piano music when Quinn announced her plan to walk at prom, and again when she deviously took advantage of voter sympathy, sirens went screaming in my brain. Were the writers going to seriously try and convince me that Quinn was still hellbent on being her high school's prom queen, exactly like one season ago? What about all that character development that happened? Sure, it all happened at random times and completely offscreen, but you can't just replace a character with a robot version of herself from a year ago. It's like how "Funeral" tried to use Quinn-wanting-prom-queen as a character thing... literally the exact episode after prom happened. So, character regression to support basic villainy is not something the Glee writers are above, especially with Quinn Fabray, and all scenes with Quinn raised my hackles as a result. She wanted to be able to walk in at prom as a surprise, which is actually really understandable and kind of heartbreaking considering her circumstance. But given her history as deranged crazy liar bitch, her role in Finn-and-Rachel storylines, and that creepy-ass piano music, the episode made it too easy to believe that she was up to no good.
Are we supposed to believe Finn when he calls Quinn a crazy liar and yells at her about how selfish she is? About how she has everything, and how Rachel has nothing? Last I checked, Quinn Fabray has never had everything. I would love it if other characters would stop negating Quinn's canon struggles and telling her she has everything she wants. Because even when it looked like she had everything, she really didn't, which, I repeat for the umpteenth time, was the point of the character. And she certainly doesn't have everything now, as she's recovering from a near-death experience and trying to regain her ability to walk. And it's here where a second layer of insult is added to Quinn's portrayal in this episode - is Quinn's status as wheelchair-bound really being wielded to make us suspicious about her intent when it comes to a prom queen vote? It is bad enough that this storyline has thus far been incorporated into the narrative as equal parts non-issue and half-assed romantic storyline with a random. It's bad enough that the writers are trying to fly the idea that no one is going to physical therapy with Quinn except Teen Jesus. It's bad enough that Quinn was simply absent for two episodes and seems completely fine when she is present. I'm not sure the fallout from this car accident could have been any more haphazardly handled, unless Quinn died, incorporated as a ghost, and then followed the students of McKinley around, pelting them with wads of chewed gum without any explanation whatsoever.
Regardless, Quinn had a plan to walk at prom, and Finn thought this was the most nefarious thing ever, and tried to physically force her out of the wheelchair so that the whole school could see what a "crazy liar" she is. (More points against Glee not taking Quinn's spinal injury seriously - there are no real consequences for Finn potentially jeopardizing her personal health like that? Oh, okay.) He also accused her of being the reason he's not at the anti-prom with Rachel. Ah, don't you just love an aggressive and violent Finn Hudson who doesn't take responsibility for his own actions? I'm so glad he's around to call Rachel selfish and also to tell her how sexy and beautiful she is! Give that boy a crown!
Of course, Rachel didn't really emerge from this situation smelling like a rose either. She went ragemonster at the first suggestion that Quinn and Finn were campaigning together, and refused to attend prom if she was going to have to watch her fiancé dance with his ex-girlfriend who, need I remind the writers, she is canonically friends with now. This side of two weeks ago, Rachel was still blaming herself for Quinn's accident, and now she's completely dismissive of it because she's having a tantrum? Yikes. But it was another incident for Finn to accuse her of being selfish, which is funny, because he did the same thing to Quinn, and I find myself wondering how it is that this love triangle is supposedly built with two females that are polar opposites, but both get chastised for their ambition by the boy in the middle.
So, Rachel planned an "anti-prom," because of Quinn and Finn, and only shows up to regular prom when she has Finn on her arm. For some reason (read: no reason), Rachel decides she needs to apologize to Quinn for her behavior, and explains it's because she still sees Quinn as the beautiful popular head cheerleader with claws in her hopeless crush. (Well, at least the regression to Season 1 dynamics is acknowledged, I guess.) She says she's proud that they're friends, and that she voted for her. So, when Quinn wins by that one vote, she chooses to pencil in Rachel's name instead and give up the crown so that Rachel can feel special.
On the whole, this outcome is great. Rachel and Quinn got a chance to shake off this gross sexist love triangle bullshit and actually communicate! Quinn's (and Santana's) actions provided a strong and rewarding payoff to the original dynamic between Rachel and the "popular girls," and the fact that Rachel will never be aware of the gesture makes it even more selfless. Yay for lady friendships that used to be unhealthy but now aren't! (Unless the writers change their minds again.) But I wish the road to this result was stronger, especially since Rachel's in-episode arc was off-character, and interacting with Quinn and Santana would have helped make it better.
Coincidentally, this is where the "Prom is everything!!!1!!1!" conceit is a bit wobbly - in connection with Rachel's character. "Prom-a-saurus" communicates, right from the get-go, that Rachel has now laid her Broadway dreams to rest and is instead looking forward to prom, and her wedding. Ouch. This is rough. Just because Rachel didn't get into NYADA does not mean her Broadway dream is dead, and I wish that someone had reminded her as such, if apparently Rachel is now a kind of character who just sits back down when someone tells her no. In a well-characterized world, Rachel would have still been hellbent on getting her dreams through whatever means necessary, and I find it disturbing and insulting that she's coping by peacefully saying goodbye to her dreams and instead putting stock in her high school experience. Who is this person and what has she done with Rachel Berry?
It's not that Rachel doesn't canonically seek the approval of her peers, when it all boils down to it. She has historically wanted to be accepted and loved just like anyone else, and it's fine if prom queen means that for her. But the construct was always that Rachel had something beyond high school to help her get through her crappy teenage days, and that the big dream would sustain her. This episode specifically communicated that because that dream is dead, she actually cares quite a bit about her prom experience to fill that void. This weakens the character, and turns her deep-seated insecurity with her peers into a desperate need to feel good at something, because right now she has nothing else to believe in. This is sad, and weird, and incongruent to what we understand about Rachel Berry's self-confidence when it comes to the way she behaves with regards to her dreams vs. her popular peers. Frankly, it already means something for Quinn and Santana to give the crown to Rachel - why fuss it up with a plot device that is essentially out-of-character and slightly insulting? A prom queen crown and a dance with Finn Hudson does not all problems solve - especially when the problems are related to Rachel's ambition, and not her status as high school misfit.
There are several things that could have been done instead. For one, strike the opening monologue. Rachel's need for acceptance does not need to be set up as connected to her lack of Broadway future. It's already there, separate from her ambition, and the payoff with the prom queen crown stands strong without pitying Rachel's lack of dreams as well as her loser status. Second, make Rachel create the anti-prom because she doesn't care about prom when her dreams have all crashed down around her. This is far more relatable than not going to prom because of Finn and Quinn, and connects her emotional state more to her current situation than to her delusions of what happiness is going to mean for her now. Beyond that, I'd much rather see an angry and bitter Rachel than a petulant and self-pitying Rachel. (Angry and bitter Rachel is actually pretty funny - if anyone remembers what she was like after breaking up with Jesse - and would still strike the right note of sympathy from the audience.)
Even if you're going to communicate that Rachel's rechanneling all her energies into prom happiness because a dream snuffed out, why not construct her storyline around Quinn's sooner? These girls didn't interact until the last second, when it was made perfectly clear that there wasn't even any conflict between them. Whoops! But Rachel's actions are pretty similar (read: identical) to Quinn's when she was convinced she had no viable future, and therefore, Quinn would be a solid candidate to tell Rachel to snap out of it, in so many words. It would also help deflate the eye-rolling idea that somehow Quinn Fabray might be the villain in this scenario, and bonus points if it included Santana as well. Santana had perhaps the best words of advice for Rachel the whole episode, in a reality check that perfectly balanced her snark with her softer edges. Ultimately, she pointed out that Rachel's anti-prom was actually her way of coping with her NYADA failure. If Santana had had more involvement in Rachel's storyline, perhaps we could have steered away from the notion that Rachel was simply throwing a hissy fit over Quinn and Finn and dealt with the real issues without simply putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. That way, when Rachel gets the crown, it's less about the crown solving all of her problems and more about what happened for her to get the crown - Santana and Quinn helping her deal with her stuff. The crown is just a bonus, and a manifestation of reward instead of pity.
But instead, Rachel Berry was given an emotional investment in prom, and the crowning played more like a fairy tale moment for an insecure girl, and her boyfriend, who finds her sexy and inspiring. If only Rachel had done one inspiring thing all episode - like confronting her problems and getting back on that figurative horse to go to Broadway. If only Santana and Quinn had helped her get there through actual storyline content, instead of just through a single crown that had to be injected with meaning through a episode-opening and character-derailing monologue. Alas, alas, alas. This was a storyline that had so much potential, and still paid off that potential, without really hitting the right notes along the way, and supplanting an unnecessary character reason to give emotional resolution to something that already had meaning. Whoops.
Frankly, it would have been nice to see a little more screentime devoted to Santana in general, who has done a complete 180 since last year's prom - in the form of actual character development and not destruction. It was nice that Kurt and Blaine and Sue all referenced the events of junior prom, but Santana should have been included in this as well, simply because of the positive change. Last year, she went to prom with her beard, both of them too scared still to be outwardly accepting of their sexualities. This year, Santana flat-out announces that she plans to attend prom with her girlfriend, so they can have a good time. What a difference a year makes! I wish that there had been even the tiniest acknowledgement of this character development. But, at the very least, Santana's change was manifested in how she was wielded in the episode - happy, proud, snarky but not cruel, and surprisingly zen. (It doesn't hurt that Naya Rivera slayed every bit of material thrown her way.)
Truly, the best storyline of the evening belonged to Puck and Becky, both of whom chose to skip out on prom because they were basically depressed, and, in Becky's case, angry. In a wonderful return of Becky's Helen-Mirren-voiced narration, we discover that she wanted to be prom queen to show everyone that queens can look different, and be different. Unfortunately, she doesn't score enough votes for a nomination, and so Becky wages war on xylophones and cafeteria lines. (Seriously, how hilarious was that mini-montage? So fantastic.) Puck wasn't really in the prom mood, after last week's failure, and the heartbreaking confession that he can just go again next year. So, they hole up together at the anti-prom, and play strip poker, and hate the world.
I have to say, I love that Becky's reaction to prom queen rejection manifested as actual anger, and not emotional withdrawal, which is more common to Glee's females who are met with opposition. This choice really helped the emotional resolution of the storyline as well, wherein Puck carved two crowns out of empty beer boxes and declared themselves king and queen of the anti-prom. Instead of designing the scene for Becky to be indebted to Puck's kindness, she instead exclaimed "I did it!" and we were lucky to skip over Glee's favorite trope: heavy-handed male heroics. This extended even further to the idea that Becky distracted Sue so that Puck could spike the punch and fulfill his prom dream from the year previous. The icing on the cake was Puck thanking Becky for making all of his dreams come true, and calling her "my queen." Praise be! This interaction was handled with far more equality than most others on the show, and I loved it. The idea that two wallflowers celebrating prom their own way because of emotional setbacks was perfect, and the storyline felt almost like it was lifted right out of a John Hughes movie and doctored for Glee's focus on creating bonds between seemingly different people. It was glorious.
"Prom-a-saurus" also treated us to some great sidecar interactions. First, there was emotional closure on Sam and Mercedes, who ran into Shane and his date at prom, and caused no drama whatsoever. Bless everything for that little wave, and every corner of that love triangle handling the situation maturely. We also got a moment with Mike and Tina, the latter of whom doesn't want this year to end. Does this mean we'll get a storyline about Tina, as a junior, being left behind while everyone graduates? She's got a solo next episode, so I've got my fingers crossed, but no breath held.
Overall, "Prom-a-saurus" was enjoyable, touching, and funny, despite bungling the middle parts of its main storyline. However, there was enough meaningful resolution, with solid storylines and character interactions surrounding it, to make the hour one of the more entertaining that Glee's offered so far this season.
Also, as a note: next Tuesday is my birthday, and apparently Glee is giving me my present in the form of two episodes to watch and review. Sigh. So, I won't lie; I will probably not have the recaps for "Nationals" and "Graduation" up in any timely manner whatsoever, as I'm not sure I want to spend my birthday evening muddling my way through two episodes. So bear with me, and hopefully I'll have them done in the following days.
The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: B
Dance Numbers: B
Episode MVP: Becky Jackson
“Big Girls Don’t Cry” -- Rachel, Kurt and Blaine
- TV Line: Grade: B-
- Washington Post: The harmonizing sounded good, depending on your tolerance for Kurt’s ever-peaking high notes. It was nice, just nothing earth-shattering. Grade: C+.
- Entertainment Weekly: I loved Rachel soulful version of this on her own. I wasn’t as big of a fan of Blaine and Kurt’s harmonies in the later verses. B
- Rolling Stone: Rachel channels her inner Fergie and fumbles her way through the sort-of belt-y ballad, before Kurt joins her in an uncomfortably high voice for the chorus and Blaine balances things out with complementary harmonies.
- TVL: Grade: D+
- WP: So I’m kind of thinking that the reason Brittany “randomly” came up with dinosaurs as a prom theme was because someone got the rights to use this Ke$ha song and decided it should be tossed into the prom episode. As a result, we got to see Brittany dressed like Wilma Flintstone and shaking her thing, while a bunch of Cheerios wearing weird dinosaur masks joined her in the spirit of random prom choreography. Uh-oh. When I insult Brittany’s dinosaur prom dance number, does that count as bullying? Grade: C-
- EW: … In our live blog poll, 72% of you voted "So Bad It's Great."
- RS: Ok, fine. Brittany doing her best "K-Dollar-Sign-Ha" (that's Ke$sha for anyone who isn't Figgins) impersonation is, dare I say, a small victory in this episode. The performance is full of Brittany-isms, the back-up Cheerios wearing dinosaur heads add flair, and the degree of Auto-Tuning is mercifully low, since the song is mostly spoken.
- TVL: Grade: B
- WP: Good news: this rendition of the Selena Gomez and the Scene hit was more effective than the dinosaur number. Even better news: Brittany changed into more appropriate prom attire, an ensemble that clearly involved shopping at the same store where Ron Swanson also acquires impossibly tiny hats. Anyhoo, this was an improvement over the previous two numbers, so ... grade: B-.
- EW: The dino theme kind of went extinct after one song. The original “Love Song” is a standard pop jam with limited vocals and is undeniably fun and catchy. This Santana cover was the same. Which means I’m also going to be jamming to this in my car as well. B
- RS: Santana does a convincing Selena Gomez (though not as entertaining as James Franco), while Sam and Mercedes reflect on their first dance together at last year's prom. Dare we say it, this song is so unchanged it's almost boring.
- TVL: Grade: A
- WP: Oh, boy. Phone the neighbors. Summon your preteen daughter. This is the part where “Glee” covers One Direction. And you know what? It was the best number of the night. As a matter of fact, I think these five members of New Directions did a more solid job with this generic piece of pop than One Direction did on “Saturday Night Live.” I’ll probably be stoned alive by a bunch of One Direction fans for saying that, but they were probably planning to stone me anyway, so what’s the difference? Grade: A.
- EW: All I’m going to say is that if Sam, Mike, Artie, Rory and Joe formed a boy band, I would buy that CD. B+
- RS: Jar Jar Binks (Sue's new nickname for Joe) recruits Rory, Mike, Sam and Artie to set hearts afire with their best boy-band impersonation. While One Direction's original manages to pack a pop punch, Glee's take kind of hits the mark. (Literally. The Glee boys prance across the stage in the same path as the U.K. heartthrobs.) The best part of the song, and the night, is Sue giving in to the need to shimmy.
- TVL: Grade: B
- WP: So Rachel and Finn got their prom dance in the spotlight, viewers got a montage of everyone mugging with fake dinosaurs and we heard Quinn and Santana croon the love theme from “Top Gun” while Quinn got her miraculous “I can stand again” moment onstage. A little cheesy but also kinda sweet, especially that Brittany/Santana wink. Grade: B
- EW: Cheesy '80s number at the high school prom? Check. I actually really enjoyed Santana and Quinn’s voices together. The silly prom photos were a nice touch. B+
- RS: I unabashedly love this song and pretty much adore Quinn and Santana's faithful rendition, complete with keytar.
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