This is a really hard episode to evaluate: it hits all the emotional beats that it ought to, it features the best versions of all the characters, and it restores the power of a lot of story arcs that seemed irrevocably lost. But it also did a lot of the things that annoy me most about the show, and the more I think about it, the more problematic it is. Ultimately however, it really worked for me, so we’ll start with the good.
Like last season’s finale “Journey” this episode seems to come from a different version of the show, one of which only the Pilot, “Sectionals”, “Journey”, “Duets”, and “Special Education” are a part of (Brad Falchuk wrote all but one of these episodes, by the way) . The characters in all these episodes are consistent, the show’s funny without being over the top wacky, and it’s even filmed in a much more unique style. The characterization and acting have a hint of subtlety that isn’t usually present and the couples we’re supposed to root for actually have chemistry. The show remembers that it’s about unpopular kids living in Ohio that are frustrated by their lives in a small town, and dream of being a part of something much greater than some show choir, rather than a bunch of douchey cheerleaders and football players, who claim to be misfits, but around whom the entire world seems to revolve. It has an air of sadness about it, and suggests that it might not be possible to achieve our dreams, but that that doesn’t mean you should stop dreaming. It really recaptures the essence of the show: it’s clear by now that the show will never become this alternate reality Glee, but it’s nice when it drops in.
However I feel like in this Bizarro-Glee universe, in which the show is more heartfelt and consistent, this would have been an extremely disappointing finale. I picked these episodes, not because they’re my favorite episodes (though the Pilot, “Journey”, and “Duets” make the shortlist), but because they have a consistency between them that other episodes don’t, and the way the characters are written and acted have a similar quality. First we’ll start with the biggest issue of this episode: the songs. First of all, I really dislike the way that Glee’s decided to use original songs. It really shows that the writers have no idea why they were criticized for only using covers, or what the advantage of original songs is. Musicals use their songs to portray what’s going on in the mind of the characters, and usually both develop the characters and further the storyline: Glee was criticized for using unoriginal songs to sum up emotions in really trite and simplistic ways, rather than the deeper ones that songs written specifically for that character or situation can. Often the show’s songs stop the story dead in it’s tracks, rather than adding to it. The best musical episode of TV ever made is Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “Once More With Feeling”: Joss Whedon wrote both the script and the songs, and all the important plot developments and emotional moments are a part of the songs, while the dialogue is mostly reserved for plot explanation.
Glee doesn’t use their original songs in this way at all, but rather integrate them into the plot by having the kids write the songs for competitions, which might be the worst possible way to use these. First of all, both the performances in “Original Song” and in this episode have been much weaker than any of the New Directions performances before they began using original songs. The songs themselves are impersonal and pretty generic, often sounding like songs Max Martin intended for Pink, but that got thrown on the backburner. This episode’s “Pretending” is the only song of the four big performance songs with lyrics specific enough to apply to these characters in a deeper way than the covers that they usually perform do. All of the other originals songs have been mere jokes, and while it’s fine to use songs for humor, it’s unfortunate that their not able to find more sophisticated things to do with these songs. The original songs are less satisfying than the covers musically, and add nothing more to the story or character development than the covers do. They usually don’t even feel like they were written with the show or the characters singing it in mind. While I don’t think the writers should give up on the original songs, I really want them to realize how badly they’re being used, and stop using them for the big competitions scenes.
There are three original songs in this episode (well, okay, four counting “My Cup”), and none of them are particularly impressive. Sunshine’s song was dull and indistinguishable from any number of Celine Dion ballads; weak as New Direction’s performance was compared to past ones, there’s no way that New Directions would have placed above them. Also what exactly was Vocal Adrenaline practicing all the time? Sunshine was the only one who had to do anything, there wasn’t even any choreography in that number. Compared to their “Bohemian Rhapsody” at last year’s Regionals, this was a huge step down: Dustin Goolsby should be out of a job. “Pretending” was a decent song, and I liked how it commented on what was going on in this episode with Rachel and Finn’s relationship, it was actually decently used. It was fairly forgettable, but I’ll give it a pass. On the other hand, I have little to say about “Light Up the World” other than that it was mildly better than “Loser Like Me”, though it followed a very similar formula. In a rare turn for Glee, I really enjoyed the scene in which “I Love New York” was used, but the song itself was just terrible, and the performance sounded like something off that would be on the Disney Channel. Matthew Morrison’s performance of his own “Still Got Tonight” was very brief and the scene was extremely corny, making it seem more like a plug for the solo album it came off of than anything else. “Bella Notte” should have been a good scene, but the performance was incredibly awful, and even the way they pronounced the title set my teeth on edge. And then there’s “For Good” which is an excellent song and wonderfully sung, but was certainly the most misused song in the history of Glee.
This dovetails with another point, so lets talk about the show’s episode to episode consistency. It’s been a bit better in the second half of this season than for a while, but it can still really derail some of the characters, and Quinn really suffered in this case. In the last scene of the previous episode, Quinn threatened that she had some great plan that could hurt the their chances of winning at Nationals. This was barely addressed in this episode, and it only came up in one scene where Quinn threatened to tell Mr. Schuester that Kurt and Rachel snuck off when they were supposed to be in the hotel writing songs, which would apparently get them suspended in the world that Glee is set in (more likely it would get Mr. Schue in trouble), and hence unable to perform at Nationals, a plan that she could not possibly have come up with earlier than a few hours ago even if it did make any sense. However, Brittany and Santana manage to talk her out of her devious plan with a couple of sentences about how Glee club is the only thing that makes them happy, and offering to give her a haircut. Really, this should have been exploited more: Quinn could have concocted some more elaborate plan that would prevent them from competing at Nationals, and nearly carried it out, until Rachel finds out about it at the last minute. There could be some scene when Rachel confronts Quinn about all the issues they’ve had in the past, and ultimately wins her over by singing “For Good” with her. The relationship between the characters in “Glee” and the ones singing the song in “Wicked” is so similar that it could have been a truly magical, emotional moment that would cap off her (poor) storyline this year, and pave the way for future character development. Instead, Rachel and Kurt sing the song simply because it’s from Wicked and they’re on the Wicked stage. The lyrics don’t mean anything for those characters and that situation, and the tremendous emotion of the song is completely wasted. Rachel and Kurt could have even simply sung it to Mr. Schue and the Glee club at the end as a way of parting for the summer and I would’ve been tearing up. It really seems that Glee’s song choices are getting more arbitrary as the show goes on, to the point that the writers are just sticking songs into scenes almost at random, with only the flimsiest of pretenses that the songs represent anything the characters are feeling.
Similarly, the writers have been building up Mr. Schuester’s potential departure to Broadway stardom for a few episodes now, and it really seems like he should leave Ohio to pursue his dreams, since the show hasn’t provided a compelling argument as to why they should do otherwise. But Matthew Morrison is a regular and probably signed on for years and years to come, so they can’t write him out. Apparently sensing the hole they’ve gotten themselves into, this episode’s writer, Brad Falchuk, doesn’t even attempt to come up with a good reason for Schue not to pursue his Broadway dreams: it’s what he’s always wanted, the kids support him and think he should, he’s made his goodbyes to Terri, Emma, and Sue. Yet he doesn’t because he has “unfinished business” with New Directions. Uh, can’t he just coach them at Nationals and then star in April’s show? Why is this an either/or thing? And isn’t it way too late to ditch “Crossrhodes” since it’s about to open in a week? It was obvious this storyline would end with something like this, but the way Falchuk doesn’t even attempt to make it dramatic, or seem anything less than pointless, is grating.
However I really liked a lot of this episode, and if it had had stronger musical performances and made better use of “For Good” it would have been one of my favorites of the show. It managed to revitalize the Finn and Rachel relationship beautifully, and I like the way the writers are reshaping the relationship so it’s between Rachel, Finn, and Rachel’s future, rather than bringing in some other unnecessary love interest for one, or both of them. I’m hoping the writers will show them in this comfortable, more drama free kind of relationship next season, and not create lame drama and obstacles like they did this season. The last ten minutes were absolutely wonderful as well: the scene where Kurt told Blaine he loved him was really touching, and the Brittany and Santana scene was nicely underplayed: there have been complaints about it, but I like that the two of them aren’t being forced into a relationship right away. There’s really a lot for both of them to work out before that point, especially Santana who is still uncomfortable with the idea of coming out, and the two of them staying close friends (presumably with benefits) was a nice way to leave that relationship. I also like how the writers have rethought Brittany’s character a bit more in the last half season, when they started to develop the character more, to make her less of a blonde bimbo, and more just a quirky girl who says whatever outrageous thing comes to her mind, and loves outfits and crazy dancing. It’s not like they’ve made her someone really intelligent suddenly, but they’ve made her into something that resembles a real person more than the Brittany of old, without taking away from what made the character so enjoyable in the first place.
I’m still not sure how I feel that New Directions lost at Nationals: I do think it was a nice touch that they didn’t even place in the top ten, but a loss was very predictable at this point, almost the easy thing to do. Winning Nationals next season will also be kind of a cheap way to create emotion for next year’s finale, after which the current characters will leave the show. Next season would be a bit more interesting if the characters had already achieved their goal, and had to look for other dreams and think of gaining bigger achievements. Still, it was nice that the episode emphasized that the experience itself was the real achievement and I liked how it underplayed the loss rather than creating more drama about it, like in last season’s finale. All in all I think this season, though weak and disappointing in a lot of ways, ended with a strong run of episodes that give me hope for next season. With any luck Falchuk, Murphy, and Brennan will rethink some of the things they’ve done wrong this season, and the additional writers that are being brought on board will help lend the show more consistency, and more satisfying dramatic story arcs. And if not, well, it will still be the same Glee we (or at least I) know and love, for better or worse.
“New York”: ☆ ☆ ☆ 1/2
Season Grade: ☆ ☆ 1/2