“Swan Song” is a snappy episode that splits its time just right, and for the first time, the New Directions are the most interesting part. The Lima kids lose but stick together while Kurt and Rachel eke out some barely-fought victories on the merits of being main characters on Glee. Carmen's annual Winter Showcase has particularly low stakes for such an extraordinary honor. Kurt tries to gin it up—he’s active on the NYADA blogs—by talking about how Carmen hand-writes and -delivers invitations and how freshmen never get invited. Carmen's favorites go on to win Tonys and in one case an Oscar. Opera humorously scores Rachel’s invitation. She performs “Being Good Isn’t Good Enough,” Brody calls for an encore, Carmen nods. It’s all so arbitrary, and when Rachel is the first freshman to win—apparently it’s a competition—we golf-clap and move on.
Kurt’s victory is more conflicting. Carmen, who is on such uppers that she actually smiles a few times, suddenly decides to add him to the showcase and gives him just one intermission to prepare. Previously she told him that she sees great talent hidden behind decorative nonsense. “You gave me surface when I was looking for soul.” So he settles on a spare rendition of “Being Alive.” But the camera just Glees around the whole time, slowly but surely, which is a problem considering television is just a bunch of shots in a row. Close your eyes and Glee is having a moment. Open them and feel your blood pressure rise. Could you imagine if Glee had held a shot of Kurt taking the stage, slating, and beginning, the camera just sitting there bored, demanding that he earn our attention? Motion has never seemed more distracting than in this climactic performance, which has been specifically designed so as to refrain from superficial bells and whistles. But no matter. Kurt Hummel, special advisor to Carrie Bradshaw, gets what he wants. He earns it, even if Glee doesn't.
Meanwhile, the New Directions lose sectionals. It’s an East Dillon moment, though they lose on a technicality. Wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Everyone goes their separate ways, because this is a High School Musical high school where you can’t be in multiple extracurriculars, even though Blaine’s in six superhero clubs and Kitty has been a cheerleader this whole time. No word on Marley’s status. It’s all fun and games and Tina-rage, except for one little moment when Sam asks, “What about those of us who won’t have a next year?” I was rooting for a sectionals loss simply because I find the motivated musical numbers much stronger and more adventurous than the stage show-offs, but the collateral damage is that Tina doesn’t get that senior year Rachel promised her.
The trade-off might be even better, though. After some sad inserts of Finn cleaning out the choir room as the cheerios practice (during Rachel’s fine performance of “O Holy Night”), Finn gets a call from Rachel that puts glee and Glee in perspective. Glee club is more than competition, she says with zero self-awareness. The club and schedule is just a structure for a bunch of different people to come together and make friends and fall in love and become a team and invest in their dreams. So Finn determines to keep holding glee club, and Marley provides him with a rehearsal space they can’t get kicked out of but which they actually totally can: the outdoor lunch area, where it snows beautifully and not annoyingly. Finn breaks into “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” Marley joins, and two-by-two the newest old New Directions rejoin the club (sans Sugar?). It's the Glee version of the Lions meeting Coach Taylor on the practice field one night, and it's exactly right. But seriously: Wouldn’t mind an update on Marley’s health. It looks pretty cold out there.
The competition loss has spurred the seniors to embrace a last-chance motto. Sam and Brittany, anyway (and Rachel, who must be active on the McKinley blogs). Sam leaves a trail of upturned cheerios on the floor of a high school for Brittany, hoping to start their romance with all the grandeur and germs she could ask for. They sing together, but when he goes in for a kiss, she doesn’t even turn her head. “It’s not just Santana,” she says. “It’s, like, all lesbians of the nation. And I don’t know how they found out about Santana and I dating, but once they did, they started sending me, like, tweets and Facebook messages on Lord Tubbington’s wall. I think it means a lot to them to see two super-hot popular girls in love.” Funny she should say that, because just yesterday I received a form tweet that went out to a lot of reviewers alerting me to the horrors of Glee putting Brittany in a straight relationship. Second best viral marketing I’ve ever experienced, after the guy who coughed popcorn into my hair during Contagion. Needless to say, since Brittany is not a lesbian, the optics are pretty low on my list of concerns. If the Tweedles bring down Glee, it’ll be because of the dumb dumb-blonde jokes.
- The meta angle of the Sam-Brittany subplot is fascinating. The writers are trying to value a fanbase, plea with them, and ultimately make a case for this new story, but really they’re just wresting autonomy of a character.
- Best moment in the montage of Sue’s takeover: The Individuality poster being sucked down the shredder.
- Sue tells Becky, “I’ve looked forward to this very moment for a long time, and now that it’s finally here, I’m left with a strange empty feeling.” Becky says, “That’s how I felt when I saw Prometheus.”
- “Swan Song” is full of decorative nonsense like “Don’t You Forget About Me,” but contra Carmen, it helps the episode move. I love Sue’s imagined montage of confessionals from the New Directions a few months into the future without glee club. Tina’s chatting with friends but suddenly turns around like she’s in a commercial and announces, “I’m a drug mule in Lima’s crack district.” And Sue indulges either her imagination or a soft spot for Brittany when she imagines her saying, “I’m a finance major at Brandeis. Turns out glee club was really holding me back.”
- Piano Man speaks! “Do you know how demeaning it is when they just turn to you and yell ‘Hit it!’ and you’re just supposed to know what song they’re gonna sing?!”
- Rage-Tina is my favorite. She’s earned more song-and-dance numbers, but I’ll take the wisecracks. “I knew Rachel Berry, I was friends with Rachel Berry, and you, Marley, are no Rachel Berry.”
- In lieu of glee club, Joe has joined an interfaith paintball league “where Christians, Jews, and Muslims can shoot at each other freely.”
Hit Fix by Geoff Berkshire
"Let's just enjoy this week and look forward to our big comeback next year." - Finn
I've reached a point with "Glee" where even when I enjoy a lot of things about an episode -- as I did with "Swan Song" -- it doesn't matter. The recent string of unbearable episodes has completely severed my connection to the show (a connection that survived through Season 2 and Season 3), possibly for good.
It'll take a lot more than a halfway decent episode to bring it back, and I just don't see that happening given the current state of the show.
Before we get to some of the good -- or at least better -- stuff, let's touch on a bit of the bad. Pretty much everything involving the future of New Directions and Sue Sylvester totally sucked. It was stupid. Terrible. Lame. Pick the derogatory adjective you like best. It's ridiculous to believe that disqualification at Sectionals would cause everyone to quit the club, but whatever. That's typical "Glee."
Everyone ignoring Santana's explanation for why Marley collapsed? Kitty not facing *any* repercussions or consequences for what she did? I hate all the new characters enough that I'm happy whenever their screen time is minimal, but that's just sloppy and nonsensical. Of course the eating disorder storyline has never been anything but sloppy and nonsensical, so again I say whatever.
Let's move on to the episode's biggest "controversy": pairing up Sam and Brittany. I like the two characters. I like the two actors. Their duet on "Somethin' Stupid" was sweet and endearing in a way the romantic numbers used to be on "Glee." But I wasn't really sure how I felt about them as a couple (I was sort of into the idea they'd be friends, since male-female friendships aren't explored much on the show outside of Kurt and Rachel).
As it turns out, that doesn't matter. "Glee" wants Sam and Brittany to be a couple, so they'll be a couple. Except there's one tiny problem: The Brittana fans who will never accept it. Instead of letting the audience see for ourselves why Sam and Brittany should be together, "Glee" delivers one of its strangest meta-moments yet by having Brittany address the issue head on:
"I just like you too much to put you in danger," she tells Sam. "It's not just Santana, it's like all lesbians of the nation. I don't know how they found out about Santana and I dating, but once they did they started sending me tweets and Facebook messages on Lord Tubbington's wall. I think it means a lot to them to see two super-hot popular girls in love. And I worry that if they find out about you and I dating that they'll turn on you and get really violent and hurt your beautiful face and mouth."
Now, I guess this is the show's attempt at trying to diffuse a situation but it feels a bit like pouring fuel on a fire instead. "Hey, lesbians! You don't like the idea of Brittany dating a guy again? Well, don't dare say anything about it because you'll just look dangerous and violent!"
That's an odd strategy for a show that's already bleeding fans.
And it's unfortunate, because it reminds me of this interview with Marti Noxon before she joined the show's writing staff in Season 3. Her time was short and not especially distinguished (her two writing credits were the OK "Choke" and awful "Extraordinary Merry Christmas"), but Noxon had an interesting take on where Brittany and Santana might be heading (before they officially coupled up in Season 3):
"It's so politically incorrect to make a character gay and then make them 'un-gay' again," Noxon said about Brittany. "Like once you become gay, you've crossed over, or, you're not allowed to be a person who doesn't want to be defined by a label like that. You're not allowed to be a person who says, 'I just love that person right now, and maybe I'll love something else at some point, so I don't really want to say if I'm gay or bi or straight or anything else. I just love this person.' I feel like that's where Brittany is. Without overthinking it, she's very evolved."
Noxon raised the issue by referencing "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters Tara and Willow, and noted the writers on that show discussed that sort of "evolved" thinking for one of them (presumably Willow), but never actually went there.
On one hand I think it's great that "Glee" is going there now, and it would be cool if we could really view Brittany in that way. But it takes more than snarky dialogue and meta references to actually pull it off. Brittany is a lovable character and I think most viewers would root for her relationship with Sam if we simply had a reason to. (And it might help ease possible complaints if Santana still had a meaningful role on the show, and maybe a new love interest of her own.)
But just like with Rachel and Brody, or any of the random romances between the new kids at McKinley, "Glee" is diving head first into the deep end, without bothering to see if there's any water in the pool.
Didn't I say I enjoyed a lot about "Swan Song"? I did. Especially Lea Michele's "O Holy Night" and Chris Colfer's "Being Alive" (he's destined to star in "Company" one day). Rachel and Finn had a sweet phone call that wasn't as moving as the discussion between Kurt and Blaine last week, but still showed us a glimmer of what once was.
And I really appreciated these words of wisdom from Rachel: "Glee is about the love of music. It's about people like Puck and Artie not just singing together but actually being friends. And Brittany and Mike dancing just for fun when no one else is around. It's even about the romances. I know they come and go, but they're just as important."
That's a pretty good description of why I really, really used to like "Glee."
The RBI Report by Dr She Bloggo
After pondering "Swan Song" for a bit, I'm guessing that Rachel Berry's post-recital speech to Finn was intended to be the thematic guidepost for this episode. In the face of glee club's probable demise, and Finn's pessimism about the future, she rattles off a laundry list of what the experience is really about. And lo, each of these citations crops up in some form or another through "Swan Song." The love of music kept the glee club going despite their competition loss, romances formed with new members (who sang just because they wanted to), and Kurt didn't give up on his dream. Did I stretch that? Eh. Regardless of theme, the events of "Swan Song" felt both disjointed yet heavy-handed.
After seeing Marley collapse onstage at the end of Sectionals last week, I thought that perhaps tonight's episode would focus on Marley's health, and her friends' concern for her safety and wellbeing. ...not so much. Turns out after one Blaine-supplied juicebox, nobody really cared that Marley had a fairly serious medical issue that one might consider investigating. In fact, they never mentioned it again, until it was time for Marley to blame herself for it, or for Tina to bitch at her about it. Um, wasn't her mom in the audience last week? I guess we're only using Marley's mom to exacerbate her body issues, not resolve them. Ugh. I just want this Marley eating disorder storyline over and done with. Sure, it'd be a little tacky to wrap it up it on the assumption that your friends only sit up and take notice of your ill health when it costs them a trophy, but whatever. It's even more insulting to have no one care at all except Santana, who magically disappeared from this episode after the haphazard continuation of last week's cliffhanger.
Nope, we weren't really concerned about Marley when the whole glee club was on the line! Turns out failure to complete a Sectionals performance results in the disqualification of the team. So, after two years of easy Sectionals victories, the new Finn-led New Directions is up a creek without a glee club. Not only that, but Sue's commandeered every room in the school so that the group has literally no place to practice. (Despite the fact that Brittany and Sam's scenes clearly took place in an empty classroom. Oops, Glee. I'll pretend I didn't notice.) The choir room is now the apparent home of "Sue de Soleil" (not Cirque de Sue-leil?) and can't be used. For my money, this was a nice time to bring back April Rhodes to remind everyone of the auditorium she bought for the glee club back in season 1, that other-other-other time the club faced dismemberment and extracurricular homelessness. But we had Whoopi Goldberg and Kate Hudson to attend to, and let's face it: Glee is not The Good Wife. In many ways.
Theoretically, though, I dig the idea that the writers could possibly try and sustain a show called "Glee" without an actual glee club competing through this season. I think it's possible to achieve, and deserves points for trying. After all, this show is so spread thin at this point, do we really need the competition format to keep things going? Not really. Everything runs well enough on its own steam without it. I do wish, though, that more of "Swan Song" showed the glee kids in their new extracurriculars. It actually irked me that Finn gave the gang so much crap for joining new clubs, when part of me is interested to see what would happen with the scattering. Wouldn't it be a nice message to deliver that these kids have become close enough friends that they don't need a club to stick together? I think that's what Rachel's speech was going for - that glee club transcends competitions, and is really more about the music, and the relationships. I can jive behind that, but this episode did little to prove it. In fact, we mostly got Finn mourning the club and griping about people ditching it. I hope future episodes actually try to demonstrate that these kids don't need a club to be important in each other's lives.
(Or, being that next week is the Christmas episode, will there just be a contrived holiday miracle to put everything back the way it's supposed to be? I fear I know the answer.)
Actually, "Swan Song" did choose to show two kids sticking together after glee club's disbanding. Sadly, it was not Tina and Blaine on the Cheerios. No, it was Sam and Brittany, who coughed up their true feelings for one another and chose to brave the dangerous waters of angry lesbians in order to pursue true happiness.
Now, I'm going to stop right here. Because I suspect that when Murphy & Co. reference a disapproving "lesbian blogger community," that surely, from their perspective, I shuffle right into that category. I enjoyed Brittany and Santana's relationship back when it was just but a throwaway joke, and I've long been dissatisfied with the way the writers have handled Santana's coming out experience as well as Brittany's bisexuality. Oh, and I talked a lot about it here on ye olde interwebz. It's difficult to imagine how I, specifically, wouldn't qualify as a Glee-certified angry lesbian blogger. So with the writers patently kicking down the fourth wall and punching me in the face with meta, I'm not sure how I should react to the whole ordeal. Was that supposed to be funny? Should I get angry? Should I leave it alone and not prove myself to actually be, in the end, an angry lesbian blogger? God, I should probably just realize that love is love!
I suppose I'll just do what I've done all along: talk about how poor the writing was. This storyline could not have been more unnecessary in this episode, nor more scantly developed. There were literally two scenes: one in which Sam and Brittany talk about how much they like each other and Brittany reveals she's scared of the lesbian nation that would feel betrayal for her kissing a guy... and then one in which Sam and Brittany talk about how much they like each other and Brittany reveals she's no longer scared of the lesbian nation that would feel betrayal for her kissing a guy. What changed her mind, supposedly, was Finn railing at everyone that they shouldn't miss out on anything, and seize last chances or something. I don't know. It didn't make sense to me, because wasn't the general gist of that argument that Tina & Co. didn't want to miss out, and Finn was actually on the opposite side, in a way? And did they even show Brittany at all in that scene? I don't even remember her being there, and it was theoretically her moment of choice. Show, don't tell! (That phrase may as well be tattooed at the beginning of each S4 review, frankly.)
What with the complete lack of in-episode support for this story arc, the fact that it mostly comprised flat and expository dialogue, and that it rose and fell within two scenes before the midway point of the episode... it makes it difficult not to think that it existed for the sole purpose of breaking the fourth wall and delivering a message straight to those haterz also known as lesbians on the internet. Why else was it there, in such a hurried, pointed, and underdeveloped way?
What's frustrating, too, is that I actually did not have pitchforks and torches ready for the writers, upon learning that Brittany and Sam were going to date. From where I sit, this is an opportunity to shine a light on Brittany's bisexuality, since the only real statement Glee's ever seem to have made about the issue was that one time Blaine got really drunk and that made him bisexual and Kurt got really mad at him even though they weren't dating. Awkward. With Brittany, what we can assume is bisexuality or pansexuality has largely been handwaved away with her portrayal as unintelligent and/or "slutty." Dumb jokes go to Brittany; sex jokes go to Brittany (or Santana). Brittany gets turned on by people's armpits, and apparently needs help crossing the street. She wins school elections not for her pro-women ideas, but because she dances provocatively and offers to take her top off weekly. Her existence as a bisexual/pansexual woman on this show is a mess of offensive stereotypes, which are kept that way because of the writers' inability to project her coherently and cohesively into her own storylines. She's marginalized from her own POV, and not only that, but her presence as a secondary character Santana's coming-out storyline was silent at best.
I get why people would be - and are - upset by a Brittany-Sam relationship. I've seen the graphs, and the statistics, and I, too, hated "Mash-Off" and "I Kissed a Girl." I, too, loathe the writers' apparent Samcedes-lobotomy, and I, too, want Brittany to be a real, talking character with her female relationships as much as her male relationships. But I could get behind Brittany dating Sam to remind the audience that she is bisexual - as long as it's written well. "Swan Song" just did not write them well. What's worse is that "Swan Song" seemed to imply that I - if I'm to assume that I am one of the easily-driven-to-violence online lesbian community based on my previous opinions - would simply dislike the pairing because I don't want to see Brittany with a boy.
Actually, I dislike that Brittany and Sam seem to be paired off because they're both dim - with song choices like "Somethin' Stupid," that seems to be the general gist of their dynamic. I dislike that Brittany's bisexuality isn't explored in a meaningful way, as she's yet again infantilized and reduced to unintelligence. I dislike that the characters just yap about how much they like each other, and make stuff up so it seems like it's been that way all along. I dislike that instead of demonstrating why I should like this pairing, as all good writing would do with any relationship, gay or straight, the writers chose instead to just tell me "love is love," wrapped up in a blatant "fuck you if you think otherwise," standing on the assumption that lesbians would be driven to violence at the thought of a bisexual woman dating a man. Ah, there's nothing like quickly leaping to the "man-hating feminazi lesbian" stereotype. Oh, Glee. You sure do know how to make a girl feel special. (Floor cereal also makes me swoon.)
Let's move on. The last aspects of "Swan Song" belonged to Rachel and Kurt. Rachel, having somehow listened in on the same "seizing opportunities like it's my last chance" pep talk that Brittany heard (in what I can only assume was her own head), adopted the mantra for her turn at the NYADA Winter Showcase. I thought this storyline might endeavor to drag out Rachel's invitation to the prestigious performance for up-and-comers and sustain the question of whether or not she might get one, but as soon as Kurt finished explaining what the hell it even was, Rachel had a golden ticket in her hand. I didn't quite know if it was just a Rachel Berry fantasy at first! But I don't mind that the episode skipped the "will she or won't she?" nonsense and cut straight to the obvious: she will.
After that, Rachel had a weirdly sexual and mostly-unnecessary dance-off with Cassandra July, which naturally resulted in Rachel informing Cassandra that she's a better singer. I swear, if I were one of Rachel's classmates, I would be so unamused by my teacher constantly feeling the need to duke it out with a freshman. These kids are paying astronomical amounts in tuition, I can only assume, and that class time is being wasted on Fosse-fueled bitch drama between teacher and student! I'm waiting for the NYADA administration to call Cassandra and Rachel in for inappropriate student-teacher conduct, just so they can see how awkward they've been all season long.
Anyways. Rachel realizes that while dance class has given her hell, her singing is still exceptional, and so she gets a chance to indulge in her specialty with - what else? - a Streisand number belted to the rafters. And, sue me, I enjoyed it. I mean, at this stage it's perhaps the easiest bet to put Lea Michele in an auditorium and let her sing to high heaven. There was no lack of magic in "Being Good Isn't Good Enough," and I quite appreciated that it was actually used as a moment of triumph and confidence for Rachel. She also sung "O Holy Night," which was really abrupt and unnecessary, even before the tonally-and-thematically dissonant cross-cutting to sadface Finn packing up trophies amidst enthusiastically stretching circus performers. Regardless, "Swan Song" featured a very Zen Rachel Berry in her element. (Despite the fact that she was also in her element when she bungled up her NYADA audition. We'll just pretend she's grown since then, and not in a hair-extension kind of way.) Was this storyline actually the wrap-up to her Dance-Class-From-Hell arc, though? I sure hope so. It didn't quite seem that way in execution, but conceptually it makes sense and I hope for Kate Hudson's sanity that this is the case.
Rachel's sage advice and enthusiasm was also used in support of Kurt, who found himself nervous about reapplying to NYADA after his rejection in last season's finale. This storyline was frustrating because a) it was founded on something arguably inaccurate, b) it paid off something that never really happened in the first place, and therefore c) it could have been so much more satisfying, but didn't quite make it. The idea was that Carmen told Kurt he didn't have enough complexity, depth of emotion, and vulnerability in his performances - he relies too much on bells and whistles. And while I guess this has occasionally been true, my brain immediately started scrolling through Kurt's solos and thought, "Haven't this kid's performances been defined by emotional authenticity and vulnerability?" Or is that breaking the fourth wall, because his solos have been in conjunction with his storylines and are therefore tonally dependent? Whatever. All I know is that "Defying Gravity," "A House is Not a Home," "Rose's Turn," "I Want to Hold Your Hand," and "As If We Never Said Goodbye" involved me and/or Chris Colfer tearing up. I guess in-show, non-narrative performances like "I'm the Greatest Star" and "Not the Boy Next Door" are more flashy, but still. The claim made me question just how true a statement it was.
Anyways, when Rachel reminded Kurt of his emotion during "I Want to Hold Your Hand," Kurt countered that the authenticity was because he dedicated the song to his dad. Who would he dedicate this performance of "Being Alive" to? Rachel replied, simply, "to yourself." Which I genuinely loved, because I'm always first in line for identity- and independence-based storylines. I adore them an absurd amount. But the problem with this construct is that it wasn't set up! Yes, Kurt received rejection at the end of last season, and needed prodding to leave Lima and pursue his dreams. But once he got to NYC, his character has been mostly wrapped up in the Candyland World of Isabelle Wright and the angst of breaking up with Blaine, as well as delivering the expository dialogue needed to float Rachel's storylines. "Being Alive" paid off an arc that never quite happened with Kurt: witnessing him adrift in the city, a bit discouraged and unsure of his place there, away from home for the first time and trying to keep his feet beneath him. I wish we had gotten a better sense of this untethered feeling, so that "Being Alive" and Kurt's acceptance to NYADA would feel more rewarding.
(Although I suspect his admission to NYADA will force him to choose between the theater school and the job at Vogue.com, giving him a new in-episode arc and a possible new career choice.)
I do feel it bears mentioning my favorite part of the hour: seeing Tina, Artie, Blaine, and Brittany talk to directly to the camera, in weirdly-spaced frames, letting us know what exaggerations befell them after the club's demise. I almost wish we could get a dark comedy spin-off with those kids being charming delinquents, a la The Breakfast Club. But I could be biased, because I'm also loving Tina and Artie's new roles this season: to "bitch pls" everyone who offers up an earnest idea. They're so saucy, and I love it. I mean, if they're not going to be real characters anyways, I will happily accept the comedy of shade.
By the end of "Swan Song," the glee club came back together to sing "Don't Dream It's Over" in the snow, having left Marley's issues unaddressed, and the fate of the group uncertainly certain in their unofficial togetherness. Kurt and Rachel are now both officially NYADA students, and Rachel is probably going to start writing fortune cookie messages in her off-time from aggressively battle-dancing with her teacher. In all, the hour was unevenly paced, a bit disjointed even under the umbrella of its solid themes, and bearing the unavoidably Glee traits of heavy-handed execution despite underdevelopment. Show, don't tell!
The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: A
Dance Numbers: N/A
Episode MVP: Kurt Hummel
More Recaps and Reviews:
AfterElton | "The Lesbian Blogging Community Responds to Glee's Commentary on the Lesbian Blogging Community"
Wall Street Journal
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