AV Club by Brandon Nowalk (B-)
Birthed in phlegm to the wails of a jilted fanbase in exchange for a thousand romances, the new Glee is finally here. But why does it look so much like the old Glee? Everything takes place at McKinley again now that nothing but history ties New Directions to its expatriates, for this episode anyway. Sue’s a gorgon again, spending as much time tossing off platinum barbs as trying to hold together her established characterization. And Mercedes and Mike return to reenact the good old days where they sit quietly in the back while the real leads sing all the songs.
Even the stories are old, at least at McKinley. Students are auditioning for the fall show, this time Grease, pretty much whenever they feel like it, because Glee will always pick commercial necessities like an hour of evenly spaced treats over any in-universe demands like a comprehensible audition process. Finn spots a new kid, Ryder Lynn, possibly recognizing him from The Glee Project, and encourages him to try out. Suddenly Ryder finds himself playing the fourth vertex in a love rhombus that threatens to topple auditions or at least bore people who already sat through several other renditions of that on this show. And at the end, Finn, who by the power vested in Artie becomes director, posts the cast list. Dreams are made and used and wasted, and then Sue shows up because she has it out for Finn. It's like alcoholic Glee dumped its liquor and then went out and bought off-brand replacements.
Backward is only the way forward for dying political parties. DeGrassi didn’t get to 134 seasons by repeating the same teen pregnancies and comings-oot. Isn’t there any other dimension to teen romance than emotional fidelity? Is there a reason Grease is the big show other than Finn and Fox Marketing think it’s “the greatest achievement in human history?” Sue even acknowledges the consistency pickle she’s in now that she’s been drafted to drop her play-nice attitude and provide some external threat to transgender Unique. Since she brought it up, this is a woman who punched out the lieutenant governor's wife on stage yet resigned the principalcy over an insufficient response to bullying yet physically bullies kids all the time yet sympathized so sincerely with Santana’s coming-out yet now refuses to feed into Unique’s “gender confusion” yet has a 1,000th cheerleading victory to prepare for yet has time for this non-scandal in between amateur taxidermy and murdering hitchhikers. I’ve seen this one before, and it sucks.
Eventually Glee will have to figure out how to keep its new cast from slotting into the old roles, but for now, at least all the old characters have some mercifully—forgive me—new directions. Has Darren Criss ever been funnier? He’s so broken up about breaking up with Kurt that he doesn’t think he can play the truth of Danny Zuko. “I don’t even gel on weekends.” Ever since the season began, Blaine has been trying to figure out how he fits into McKinley without Kurt. He’s so lost he walks down the line of scrimmage singing “Hopelessly Devoted To You.” Now he’ll really get to find out who he is. Apart from the honesty and the comedy, it’s nice of Glee to provide at least the thinnest of reasons that a senior wouldn’t automatically get the lead. Meanwhile Sam prefers the part of Kenickie (“‘Greased Lightning’ is my cell phone ringtone, and I’ve been knocked out by a car door before, so I was really looking forward to recreating the reality of that moment on stage”), and Brittany just gets assigned the part of Cha-Cha. Someday I want an episode about the torture of being the best dancer in a singing group.
Emma and Will are still having the same tiff as before, only they finally communicate like adults, resolving to show everyone how a long-distance relationship is done. Whether they do or not, it’s refreshing to see them trying to be mature. Remember when Emma was conflicted about dating John Stamos? Or when Will was going to “fix” her O.C.D. with Coldplay? Well Emma’s finally taking a page from the Tami Taylor book. The wedding will wait.
At long last, after several episodes of Rachel, the main character is now Finn, who narrates “The Break Up” and formally steps into Will’s schues by taking over glee club while he’s away for three months. There’s a putrid class note to Finn’s opening scene, where he complains about having a steady mechanic’s job in a town with a bunch of friends, but if “The Break Up” earns anything, it’s that monolithic self-pity. Finn truly cannot see past what he’s lost to what he still has. But Artie tells him how inspiring he is, and Finn gets sucked into that role as slowly and surely as Ryder is seduced by the stage. Now he really wants to reech these keeds, to pass on the gift of glee club by offering Unique a girl’s part and selling Ryder on the curricular merits of extracurricular activity. Both instances are seriously moving. When Ryder wakes up from his crowd-surfing audition to an empty stage, he’s another person. Unique thanks Finn by telling him how meaningful a girl’s part is. “I don’t feel right in the men’s locker room, but I can’t go in the girl’s, and I don’t feel right in men’s clothing, but I can’t wear dresses every day.” I don’t see why not—Figgins thinks Unique is hot, which is a whole other ball of wax—but the relief is palpable.
Will tells Finn he’s an adult now, and for the first time, Finn feels like an adult. Physically he’s out of the coveted youth-voter demo, but finally his demeanor, his self-perception is catching up. It’ll be nice to see Finn find himself. Glee is much better at selling the benefits of teaching to the teacher than to the students.
- Sue’s “gender confusion” bullshit is as tiresome as it is old, but I love that she can’t think of any insults for Marley. It’s not only funny to see her wield terms of beauty like weapons. It’s a completely new experience for her character. Fancy that.
- Ryder tells his teacher how hard he’s studying. “I haven’t even seen Dark Knight Rises yet.” “Oh, it was good.” THESE ARE THE PEOPLE TEACHING OUR CHILDREN!
- Artie tells his summoned panel of graduates, “So we cast a brunette as Sandy and a guy as Rizzo. Who’s directing this, Julie Taymor?”
- Sue’s has a point about Grease: “the already oversexualized minstrel show featuring teen pregnancy and the ridiculously unnecessary lubrication of lightning.”
- Jesus, the moment when Finn calls Sue's baby a retard is effective. Sue's eyelid convulses like a flared nostril. Silence means a lot on a show this rat-a-tat. (Remember when Santana slapped Finn?)
- As long as Sue is a vehicle for Glee criticism, I’m all ears. “The glee club is being run by a strange weeping man-child who has lotion in his hair but no adult friends.”
Hit Fix by Geoff Berkshire
It's been five weeks since "Glee's" breakupocalypse, and after tonight's episode, I'd be thrilled if the show went away for another five years.
By then Marley, Jake, Kitty, Unique and Flynn would have graduated high school and "Glee" could quit trying to make any of those duds happen and simply focus on the grown-up lives of the better, funnier, more diverse and interesting characters we've been following since season one.
This was the first episode of season four to not include a single scene in New York, and the result showed how desperately "Glee" needs that balance to be anything close to interesting. (Or, better yet, find the guts to drop McKinley entirely.)
"The Role You Were Born to Play" was a little bit about positioning Finn as the new leader of New Directions, a little less about the return of Mike Chang and Mercedes Jones, and a whole lot about trying to get the audience invested in five universally irritating and dispiritingly bland characters. In the time leftover, we got some token Will and Emma scenes, the return of Coach Beiste, Sue in full on "somebody call an exorcist!" mode, and a "Hopelessly Devoted" solo for Blaine.
Since this episode barely followed-up on the events of "The Break-Up," Blaine's heartbreak over losing Kurt was basically written off with a few jokes. The only couple to get any sort of post-"Break-Up" breakthrough was Will and Emma. They sensibly worked through their problems exactly the way they should've and would've to begin with if they weren't needed in that Coldplay number at the end of "Break-Up."
The "Glee" writers long ago demolished anything respectable about Will Schuester, but Will's speech to Emma about why he wants her to go with him to D.C. was a great reminder of who Will used to be. And Emma's speech to Will about why she wants to stay was a great reminder of who she's always been. Sure, couples get into stupid arguments, but after everything we've seen them work through the spat these two had was far too contrived, even by "Glee" standards.
Anyway, Will and Emma were hardly the most important part of the episode. But they were the best part. And that's terrifying.
And what an even bigger waste the show is making of Jane Lynch. I don't mind the way Sue turns on a dime between glee club supporter and sworn enemy, but nothing that she did tonight made any sense. Even worse, it wasn't any fun. Going on a narrow-minded tirade against Unique was something not even a reliable pro like Lynch could play convincingly. It doesn't help that the real argument to be made against Unique isn't that she's transgendered, it's that Alex Newell is in way over his head as an actor on primetime TV. I don't want to see Unique play Rizzo any more than Sue does, but that's because I'm sick of the sassy head bobs and finger wagging that masquerade as choreography during Unique's performances.
In other non-developments with the new characters, Becca Tobin's Kitty is still singularly hateful without being remotely funny, Jacob Artist's Jake is still completely dead behind the eyes (although he proved can tumble with the best of them... what an asset that will be to building a personality) and Melissa Benoist's Marley is still so boring that not even Sue can figure out how to insult her.
Meanwhile, Chord Overstreet's Sam and Heather Morris' Brittany were essentially reduced to cameo appearances, Kevin McHale's Artie did his usual thing of empowering someone else, Vanessa Lengies apparently picked up a paycheck without saying a single word as Sugar (why is she even there!?), and Amber Riley and Harry Shum Jr. had about as much material as when they were full-time regulars -- which is, of course, not much at all until Riley powerfully belted out a few lines of "Born to Hand Jive" and Shum most excellently got his groove on. Plus, there was that random scene where Mike and Tina argued over the demise of their relationship. Now, that's something I wish the show had more time to explore, instead of pretending we should care about whether or not Marley ends up with dumb or dumber.
But maybe "Glee's" just not for me anymore. Or maybe just not this week.
The RBI Report by Dr She Bloggo
Goodness, but Glee has a lot of characters in the mix. There were roughly sixteen at play in this episode, in varying measures of frantic purpose, and so naturally things were a bit hectic. But what better way to unite a whole group of singing teenagers than a musical? Preparing to stage Grease provided the backdrop - and launching point - for most of the night's storylines.
So, in an effort to breeze through each character's relevant points as swiftly as Glee does, I'll be doing a bulleted list with commentary.
Finn provided the backbone for this episode, as he struggled with life's disappointments on the heels of being booted from the army and also from NYC and also his relationship with Rachel. Poor guy. I'm actually on board with this storyline for Finn, although I wish he were playing a more active role in it. Historically, Finn's the guy that stuff "happens to" - but he's also the first one the writers send into other people's storylines. This episode was really no different, as Finn was encouraged into new opportunity by Artie and Will, and repeatedly showered with praise to help his wounded ego. Show me, don't tell! You're wasting screentime by giving multiple characters slight variations of the same dialogue: Finn, you're special and my hero and a leader please don't be sad. Especially since the episode actually showed Finn being special and a hero and a leader, in some regard - multiple times, with Ryder and Wade and Sue. Altogether, it was overkill.
Look, I know that the plot point that kicked off glee club's magic was Finn joining. I know that grants Finn Hudson some narrative swag. But somehow this idea has extended into the fact that glee club needs a conventionally masculine male lead to be successful. The lineage begins with Will and Finn, and is now precipitating to Ryder and even Jake. Apparently, all you need to make a glee club successful is a trip to the football field. Meanwhile, it's never even considered that someone like Mike or Mercedes or Artie or Tina or even Marley is that "magic element," the "missing piece." It's not the real music students, or theatre geeks, or dance gurus who are special enough to merit all that attention. It's the guy who didn't know he had it in him. So I guess I mean to say, in all of this, that I don't know why we need Ryder. He's Finn 2.0, who is Will 2.0, and this strange Manarchy is becoming the true backbone of Glee, threatening to overshadow the follow-your-dreams-be-yourself mainstay. Turns out there really is no greater joy than to help a young boy turn into a man... except maybe watching it happen, apparently. Over and over and over... and over again.
Finn's involvement with Wade's storyline was both surprising and yet completely expected. As mentioned, he's the go-to guy for encouragement and heroics and generally just making decisions for other people that should be the main characters in their own storyline. (Paging "I Kissed a Girl" and also "Goodbye.") So Finn being the main crusader for Wade-being-cast-as-Rizzo-despite-the-gen
But basically, I wish that Finn himself had a lightbulb about trying his hand at teaching - especially unrelated from Will. Because Will is actually a terrible teacher. Remember when he resigned from the Spanish teacher position he'd been filling for over two years because he couldn't really speak Spanish? Good gravy. Not to mention all his yelling fits and blatant favoritism. But whatever! Water under the bridge that I'm clearly a troll under. My main quibble here is the overly broad job description Will gave teachers: they help kids achieve their dreams. I mean, I guess that's true. But, speaking as a person who was raised by teachers not unlike how Mowgli was by wolves... I find it much more resonating to say that teachers are simply trying to get through to kids. To make a difference in their lives, when that difference can mean opening their eyes to the world and everything there is to learn about it. Helping kids "achieve their dreams" seems slightly left of center, or at least poorly summarized, on most teachers' list of goals. But that's just me, and it's not terribly relevant to the episode. Just my brief turn on the soapbox. Moving on!
Oh, yeah - one last thing. Finn's gonna be the glee club teacher-not-teacher now? I mean, sure. I'll go with that. He can write buzz words on the whiteboard with the rest of them. Maybe after Will's stint in Washington, Finn can start working towards his certification. The academic nerd in me would be weirdly excited to see that, actually. Maybe community college will open his brain up just like glee club did!
Will and Emma
Speaking of Will and Washington, we were treated to a continuation of this conflict from "The Break-Up," and the only non-Grease storyline of the hour. To recap: Will's going to Washington to ensure the achievement of every child's dream, and he wants Emma to come with him for the few months. Emma does not want to. Conflict! Beiste tries to coach them through it, and when Will basically begs Emma to accompany him, she concedes. But, in another example of characters telling other characters what decisions they need to make (because how else would they fit all these characters into the narrative otherwise?), Shannon basically calls Emma out on defining herself as Will's wife, and implores her to tell the truth about what she wants. She also says something about how Will loves Emma like a farmer loves his Blue Ribbon pig, which I really hope is not true, for so many reasons. (Seriously. Let your brain go in all directions, and realize that every aspect of this comparison is not ideal.)
In the end, Emma tells Will she doesn't want to resent him if she succumbs to his pressure about Washington. Then they have a conversation they should have had ages ago, in which they sort out what values are important to them in their relationship! How... adult. Will says trust, Emma says acceptance, and they realize that those priorities transcend physical distance for a few months. (Meanwhile, every broken-up couple who succumbed to long distance looks at Will and Emma and says, "Really? You had this crisis over a few months apart?") At first I thought this storyline was a bit pointless, considering it boomeranged back to Emma's original opinion from the previous episode. But there were a few important kinks worked out of their dynamic in the process, especially in regards to Emma's role as "The Girlfriend" or "The Wife." I'm always here for specific delineation that Emma is not just an accessory in Will's world! Now, can we get her some scenes without him? Maybe something that shows us she loves her job and helping kids like she says she does?
Speaking of long-distance relationships, we got an update on Blaine, post-NYC break-up. To be honest, I'm not sure why we needed one, because we didn't actually gain any new information. (Except that Blaine's apology gifts involve boxed DVD sets of Gilmore Girls.) The episode barely remembered just why Kurt and Blaine broke up, finding it totally reasonable to give Blaine a "Hopelessly Devoted to You" solo. I mean, I'm all for showing Blaine's POV in this scenario, but let's call a spade a spade here, and also give us some details about that spade. What exactly happened with this cheating business, and can we please remember that it actually did happen? We don't need to flog Blaine for a transgression that countless other characters on this show have committed, but how about a little reality check on the Olivia Newton-John solos? Seriously, unless "Hopelessly Devoted to You" was meant to be ironic... it's rather an out-of-touch choice given the circumstances.
I also can't decide if the writers intended Blaine's post-audition crying jag to be dramatic or comedic. I can totally see it being either one, given that Blaine's comedy tends to come from exaggeration and also Glee is no stranger to comedic crying. (Sorry, Tina.) But mostly I just felt confused about what I was meant to be feeling.
One final quibble: we got updates on Blaine's situation with Kurt, and references to Finn's falling out with Rachel - but not one single throwaway mention of Brittany's break-up with Santana. Sigh! Could they not think of something dumb enough for her to say about it? All snark aside, one teensy reference would have been appreciated, for the sake of balance and continuity. (I'm pretending Glee holds those two concepts dear.)
Mike and Mercedes
And, here we are to another aspect of tonight's episode that was terribly underexposed. I missed these kids, dammit! They breezed into town to help out the Grease gang with choreography and vocal training, which makes enough sense to fly. But there was absolutely no update on what the hell Mike and Mercedes' lives are like now. Nothing about their schooling, their professional opportunities, their creative projects, or any possible energy exchanges they may have had!!! (I still think the phrase "energy exchange" is the dumbest and most endearingly hilarious way to describe looking at someone and smiling. Bless you, Santana. You have strange definitions when it comes to the world of dating.) No, Mike and Mercedes did the Hand Jive, and that was about it. No Mercedes interaction with Sam, and only one free-floating interaction between Mike and Tina. It was nice to get the screentime for the latter pairing, but having almost no information about their current status made the scene somewhat startling. We hadn't seen Tina all episode, and only obliquely heard that she refused to audition for Grease because of Mike. Not only that, but we only knew about their break-up from dialogue references. I literally have no idea what to make of Mike and Tina's relationship status, and "The Role You Were Born to Play" didn't provide a whole lot of insight either.
The takeaway here: if you're going to haul back two graduated seniors for an episode, then use them.
Ryder and Marley and Kitty and Jake
The New Generation are getting lumped together here. I don't mind these kids, frankly, although I'm a bit wary of all the Love Square nonsense. I don't particularly want to be reminded that these four are basically a transposed Finn-Rachel-Quinn-Puck for the younger class. For my taste, I'm already exhausted with the longing looks, the thinly veiled jealousy, and Kitty's dour bitching. I do find her dynamic with Jake intriguing, though - they're broken up but on decent enough terms, so they have a snarky, truth-telling, bro-type relationship which amuses me. Plus, their audition of "Everybody Talks" was strangely charming - and they actually did more than just stand there and sing! Sure, it was basic walk-around choreography, but hey, they're high schoolers. I appreciated the effort.
As for Marley, I rather enjoyed her part in the "One Last Kiss" performance. It was a Marley colored outside the lines a bit, which is key to making her character interesting. There's a reason Sue can't come up with a mean nickname for her! There's almost nothing to uniquely identify this girl, except perhaps her driving caps. It occurred to me the other day that I almost wish Marley were a cheerleader. The exact same character, but on the Cheerios. Then you'd have a cheerleader who's in it for the sport of it, and not the high school bitch factory that Glee seems to think it is. On top of that, it'd create natural conflict for Sue Sylvester that doesn't require her to get involved in random storylines like Wade's simply to fill the role of villain. But alas! This is not so, and so mostly I'm hoping for a Marley who shows a little punch and gusto. (On a shallow note: her hair looked damn good during her duet. Why hide it under Newsies caps?!)
Finally, Wade. Or Unique, I suppose. Glee's not being all that specific in communicating how exactly Wade identifies. They've bounced back and forth between portraying Unique as a "drag persona" and a real permanent identity for Wade, without delineating the difference. This episode finally made the distinction, from Wade's own mouth - she feels more herself when she dresses in women's clothes and uses the women's restroom, but it's not easy to do that every day. On top of that, she says that people see her performances as Unique a drag stunt only - not as genuine identity expression. (Alluding to the fact that they actually are.) So! Hopefully Glee will continue to tidy up this muddled representation of Wade's identity, and start to afford her the opportunity to have her own screentime and POV as a transgender teen.
As for Sue's part in Wade's storyline... it was basically a hot mess. Kudos to the writers for remembering Sue's place in the Karofsky storyline of Season 2, although boasting about gay Cheerios doesn't seem all that worthy. (Did she go to the mat for Santana during the campaign scandal? I can't remember.) Anyways, Glee always has problems finding appropriate villainy for Sue, without making her an actual terrible human (which she's proved not to be, on occasion), and this opposition to Wade playing Rizzo feels a bit sloppy and contrived. Not only that, but she's setting her sights on Finn Hudson as an enemy, which is a little sad. I can't imagine this will play out any differently than Sue's original wars with Will, in the long run.
In all, there was a lot going on in "The Role You Were Born to Play." Most of the parts that were emphasized strongly could have been scaled back or redirected - particularly in Finn's, Will and Emma's, and Blaine's sections. Then there was definite underutilization in Mike and Mercedes' parts, and only a few moments where they hit the beats just right. Truthfully, there are just too many characters to really create well-developed storylines on an individual level. Moments of choice are rushed and contrived, dialogue is sloppy and expository, and specificity is sacrificed. Corners must be cut, and "The Role You Were Born to Play" definitely showed that.
The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: B
Dance Numbers: B
Episode MVP: Wade
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