While last week’s premiere was pretty much more in the same vein as last year of Glee, this week revealed some of the changes that the change in writing styles is causing for the show, and it’s definitely for the better. This show hasn’t paid proper attention to continuity since it’s original 13 episode run, often feeling as if the episodes were airing out of order, or important scenes had been cut out of the script, resulting in extremely jarring character development and storylines that would disappear and reappear out of thin air. No one is a better example of this than Quinn, a character that the writers seemed to know had to be a central character, but had no clue what to do with. Way back near the beginning of the first season she had one of the most emotional storylines and made an impressive turnaround from one dimensional villain to become a sympathetic and touching character. However, somewhere towards the end of the first season the writers lost the thread: Quinn barely appeared and we were never privy to any of the details of her life, perhaps because the writers thought her storyline would be too heavy and would bring down the otherwise frothy show. The finale at least wrapped up her storyline pretty nicely, with her giving the baby to Rachel’s mother Shelby, neatly tying up two important character threads. Nevertheless, the second season took things back to square one: she went back to being a bitchy cheerleader, started dating again, got back together with Finn (beginning by cheating with her current boyfriend with him), ran for prom queen, and ended up losing it all. All these events happened with hardly any reference to her baby, and without her and Puck even sharing a scene together (at least not that I can remember). The writers seemed pretty content to pretend none of it had ever happened, and I imagined the show would continue without any real further references to Quinn’s pregnancy.
So it was a pleasant surprise this week to see that Idina Menzel’s return as Shelby was mostly used as a chance to return to that aspect of Quinn’s character, and deal with what she was going through in the second season. This actually led to some pretty complex characterization which helped tie together the various Quinn plot threads of last season: she was just trying to go back to her old life and forget everything, so that she wouldn’t realize how much she missed her baby. I’m not convinced the writers had this in mind the whole time, especially since the whole storyline comes out of nowhere, but it was a good sign that Glee could be more reliable this season, and that it’s making an effort to make the characters more consistent and believable. There were even several pretty strong scenes with Puck, who’s making an effort to get back into Beth’s life, and urges Quinn to do the same. After a season of Mark Salling having nothing to do other than be Lauren’s tagalong boyfriend, it was refreshing (if a bit odd) for him to get such a large emotional role in the episode. There were a few false notes in the storyline: everyone’s insistence that Quinn needs to “get her act together” was a little over the top. She hasn’t actually done much other than quit Glee club and dye her hair, but everyone was acting like she dropped out of school to become a crack whore. However, there may be something to Shelby trying to get Quinn to turn her life around: something about her behavior in this episode gave me the impression that she isn’t planning on keeping Beth forever. We’ll see why that would be (my guess is that she’s dying, though that seems a bit intense for Glee), but this storyline could be one of the best that Glee’s pulled off if it plays it’s cards right. I also like the path it’s taking Quinn’s storyline: she’s already gone back to the Glee club and blond hair, but the writers aren’t resetting her character. She isn’t going back to her old life, but rather embarking on a new path.
But other things happened in this episode as well which were promising. Rather shockingly, the episode directly addresses everything that was set up last week: auditions for West Side Story begin, Brittany helps Kurt out with his presidential campaign, and that Sue running for Congress storyline is still happening for some reason. Oh yeah and there’s a reason that Shelby returned: Sugar’s dad has decided to start up a rival Glee Club, which so far only includes Sugar, and Shelby’s returned to coach it. As usual, the storylines involving the kids are pretty good, and the ones involving the adults are terrible and nonsensical. I realized something about the adult characters this week: it’s not that they’re bad characters in and of themselves, but rather that the writers have no idea how to write good storylines involving them. When they interact with the kids most of the adult characters work well, but when they’re saddled with their own storylines they become shrill caricatures. Luckily there wasn’t much of the adults this week, though it’s odd how Sue is now the worst part of the show. Will actually came off very well in this episode: his big moment was his speech to Quinn, which was probably inappropriate, but still felt like the comeuppance she needed. Matthew Morrison played the scene quite well, which helped, though it would have been more effective if Will was a better role model for the kids.
I also appreciated Kurt’s storyline this week, in which he realizes that the persona he’s developed for himself is detrimental to getting leading roles. It’s an interesting look at a common teenaged dilemma: when the personality you’ve developed to set you apart from others starts to get in the way of your life. Kurt is comfortable with who he is, but he isn’t comfortable for what that means for him. He’ll never get the great leading man roles because they all demand a kind of masculine presence that Kurt can’t hope to convey. Glee tends to paint things a little white and black when it comes to dealing with these kinds of issues, but it doesn’t blame anyone for denying Kurt these kinds of roles. It also, nicely, doesn’t make Kurt’s sexuality the issue: Blaine, who will surely win the part of Tony, and is seen as more traditional and masculine, is also gay. I didn’t much like Burt’s insistence that Kurt just needs to write his own roles if there aren’t traditional leading men’s roles out there for him though. This show weirdly seems to think that in order to b though. This show weirdly seems to think that in order to be creative you have to act as author and performer, rather than one or the other. What indication has there ever been that Kurt could write? Or that that would even be something he’s interested in doing? It’s another example of Glee’s bizarre worldview, in which it treats unrealistic or strange propositions like they’re common sense conclusions. I’m also slightly afraid of where this is going. Is Kurt going to add a character to West Side Story that acts exactly like him? Because that sounds like the kind of embarrassingly stupid thing Glee pulled in some of their worst episodes last year.
Though I’ve mostly praised this week’s episode so far, it still has issues, as always. I’m becoming concerned by how disconnected from the action the songs on this show are becoming: this time around the songs are only motivated by plot, as all the numbers are performed as auditions for West Side Story. The show’s gone down this route before, and I don’t really like it: it feels like after more than two season’s worth of episodes this show still can’t decide whether it wants to be an honest to God musical or just a show where people perform songs every so often. The songs here don’t express what the characters are feeling or thinking, they’re just songs they’re performing because it showcases their talents. The musical numbers used to pack a real emotional wallop and the songs actually expressed the feelings of the characters: now they seem to be there solely to fill time and make money on iTunes. It can be hard not to feel like the songs are taking away time from crucial character development, even when they’re very enjoyable (as they were in this episode). Though all the songs were well performed, they killed the episode’s momentum each time, and felt a bit tacked on. Only Rachel’s “Somewhere” (the only song that even slightly connected the performance to what was going on in the episode) made a real impact. Many seem to be ecstatically praising Blaine’s performance of “Something’s Coming”, but it felt slightly lacking for me, perhaps because the show kept telling us how great it was. I’m tired of the show telling me that I should be impressed: it would be nice to be surprised by a performance for once.
This episode seems to promise good things in this season’s future, but I still have to remain very cautiously optimistic: there’s enough potentially stupid stuff promised here to undercut some of the emotional payoff. The “Sue runs for congress” storyline continues to be awful, and there’s no end in sight, as this episode seems to suggest that Will might run against her. I really hope this is one of the plotlines that gets randomly dropped in a few episodes, but it looks like the show might be committed to dragging this one out. But for better or worse it looks like this show is finally willing to commit itself to sticking with storylines and using what’s happened in the past as a basis for what will happen in the future (and not just by repeating former storylines). If this season can continue in this vein Glee might be due for a comeback.