Don't Stop Believin'? Maybe?
Glee goes back to its roots, and it's sort of like coming home. (But not 'Homecoming': that's the next episode.)
I think it's safe to say that even those of us who once loved and defended Glee, perhaps even past the point of reason (after the pilot, maybe?), would all agree that the show has been on too long and lost its way. But for a while there, I really appreciated its ambition. I liked seeing high school depicted as a world full of misfits and losers. I liked how they weren't afraid to go very sappy, very dark, or very silly, often within a single episode. I liked how the language of musical theater was making its way onto a network television hit. And I discovered a lot of music through Glee, being an old person who doesn't know what the kids (or at least Ryan Murphy) are into these days.
But as a show about high school, they had a chance to go out gracefully when most of the original characters graduated. Or at least stayed true to the title and been about a high school glee club with the new kids (boring as they were), instead of spinning off into a million plots in multiple cities over the last two seasons. There was a lovely episode last season in which the glee club lost its funding and it seemed like maybe the show was never about Rachel or Finn but had really been Will Scheuster's story all along. They used "Don't Stop Believin'" (third time on the show, for anyone keeping score) and Corey Monteith/Finn's death to great manipulative advantage, put a nice tearful button on Will's journey as a character, and it was sort of perfect.
And then there were seven more episodes in the season.
Okay, fine, so Glee is Rachel's show, so then seeing her bafflingly achieve her dream of being a Broadway star was a natural end point!
...But then Rachel did that last season, and here we still are.
Well, we're all in this together, as the New Directions themselves might say! (Or maybe that's another musical high school property.) The Glee pilot remains one of my favorite pilots ever, even rewatched with the benefit of hindsight, so I'll be hope-watching this, dreaming of an ending to live up to that beginning. We here at Previously.TV know your time is precious, so we'll be presenting the final season of Glee to you Watch/Skip Index-style. Keep your thumb on that fast-forward button and get ready to sing along!
Previously: Rachel became a Broadway star but also went to school and worked as a waitress for some reason, then broke her contract to go to Hollywood; Mercedes became a music star in a series of events we didn't really get to see; Sam became a male model whose level of success was unclear (though his picture was on the side of a bus); Kurt and Blaine continued to present Ryan Murphy's insane idea that it's a good idea to stay with your high school significant other forever, but otherwise had fairly realistic arcs in performing arts college; Artie got VD; Santana did some stuff that mostly didn't make sense but was entertaining and convenient to the plot; Finn died; and a bunch of stuff happened at McKinley, not that anybody cared because nobody cares about the new kids, but Sue became Principal and slashed arts funding.
A Loser Like Rachel
We begin in Hollywood, where we learn that the That's So Rachel premiere was the lowest-rated television episode of all time. Her publicist reads a review that says that the show and Rachel's performance in it are career-ending. The executive who courted Rachel last season has been fired. Apparently, the show was live, so only the one episode has been made and aired. Rachel, in the most Rachely way, asks, "Do you think we can get more people to watch the second episode?" The man just told you he's been fired, you moron. The exec explains that the show was so bad it actually angered people, from PETA to NAMBLA. But he has some sage advice: "Blame everyone else, and then go home." Rachel whimpers, "I don't even know where that is anymore." Maybe you shouldn't have pissed all over your starring role on Broadway, then. Sorry. I'm over it. Really.
An Unfortunate Slight
Rachel sings Alanis Morissette's "Uninvited" and the song doesn't really suit her or the show, but, we get a pretty cool montage of her sets being struck as she's escorted off the studio lot. Maybe watch it on mute? Glee is often at its best when it gets a bit meta, and I've often wondered how much its target audience knows about the ins and outs of its cast and production and found this a strange choice. But Lea Michele has a bit of a reputation (full disclosure: I have worked with her, pre-Glee), and the writers seem to enjoy conflating her with Rachel, especially when Rachel essentially became Lea last season and they could make her into an actual diva instead of just a high school drama club "diva." So maybe it's just me, but seeing Rachel's downfall here is pretty great, and also surprisingly sad. And genuinely unexpected after five years of Glee's rah rah "follow your dreams" stuff.
"I Feel Like I Died And Now I'm In Hell"
After a period of "seclusion," Rachel returns to Lima, her childhood bedroom, and the always-welcome Brian Stokes Mitchell. ...who tells her that on top of everything else, her dads are getting a divorce and the house is up for sale. Sad for Rachel, but also sad for us because no Jeff Goldblum. Rachel and Blaine go to the coffee shop, where ex-Principal Figgis is now working and obnoxiously calls attention to her. Can we talk about the trope of fictional celebrities thinking that wearing giant hats and sunglasses in places where people don't do that will draw less attention to them? Anyway, Figgis sees her as an inspiration, since "things can always get worse." Heh. "All I've ever wanted was to come home and have everyone know my name, and now they do," Rachel pouts. Blaine exposits that he and Kurt broke up after all their friends left New York at the end of least season because in fact they were too young and "everyone always says this is exactly what happens to high school relationships after the first year of college" (hi! over here!), and he got depressed and his schoolwork slipped and he got kicked out of NYADA and conveniently came home to Lima, where he's now even more conveniently coaching the Warblers. As much as I approve of this relationship development, mopey Blaine is no fun, and the Rachel pile-on is already getting monotonous. (There's also an Ebola joke, which come on.)
Blaine cheers Rachel up with a duet of "Suddenly, Seymour," which is a 100% realistic thing that these two people would do! If you had asked me five minutes ago whom I'd cast in a celebrity Little Shop Of Horrors I probably would have had these two on my list. I would have been very, very wrong. Maybe it's the arrangement. Maybe it's the giant chunk they've taken out of the middle of the song. Maybe it's the way they're just singing whatever notes they feel like. But nope. It does lift their spirits, though.
Release Jane Lynch
Sue voice-overs that her reign as Principal has been a complete success. She's increased test scores and physical fitness, overhauled the cafeteria, and instituted "mandatory random weigh-ins and body shaming" and guard dogs. And, of course, eliminated the glee club. She went so far as to transfer the New Directions and Will to other schools. Rachel shows up to visit, finds the choir room turned into a computer lab, and makes an angry face.
Why Doesn't He Just Call Adam Lambert?
In New York, Kurt seems to be doing well, despite his outfit. He's about to start his junior year, which includes an internship where he'll be directing a stage adaptation of The Real Housewives at the retirement home -- (a) eyeroll; (b) which Real Housewives? details matter! -- and has just started dating again. This last goes badly, and not just because of the string of Brooklyn "jokes" he meets at speed-dating. Can we pause for a moment to discuss that Kurt goes to a musical theater conservatory? Really unclear why he has to go speed-dating in Brooklyn to meet guys.
Blaine invites Rachel to help with the Warblers, bringing us a performance of Ed Sheeran's "Sing," which isn't really for me but I love when there is actual a cappella on this show (heavily processed though it may be). The Warblers are always fun in small doses, and Rachel even gives Blaine shit for joining in with the performance since he's not a student.
What A Dick
Sam is now the assistant football coach at McKinley. Rachel overhears a player say, "Could you stop being such a whiny homo and get back in there?" She chastises him, and Sam says, "No, it's cool, Spencer's totally gay." "I'm kind of a postmodern gay teen," Spencer explains. "You see, positive representations of gays in the mass media has given me the confidence I need to be myself. Which it turns out is kind of an arrogant jerk. Oh, and your show sucked!" See? Meta. It's working for me. Anyway, McKinley is now an awesome sports school but has no arts, blah blah blah. Rachel confronts Sue, who explains, "You were the very best the arts had to offer. Which means the arts clearly don't have much to offer, now, do they?" Ouch.
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do Even When It's Best For All Parties Involved
Flashback to Kurt and Blaine's breakup, in which Kurt is exhausted by wedding planning (maybe because he's twenty years old??) and Blaine's housekeeping/hygiene rules (which sound absurd, and I say this as someone who has my share of those rules). The scene is painful and real and makes perfect sense until Blaine says, "I will never forgive you for this," even though ten seconds earlier he seemed to be agreeing that maybe they're too young to live together, let alone get married. But I guess that's the point: they're also too young to process this stuff like adults. In the present, Kurt waits for a date he's clearly not ready for with a boy who arrives to find him crying. I'm not full of dating tips but #1 would be don't choose the place where you broke up with your very serious ex for your first date afterward, no matter how low the set budget is. Also if those two get back together, so help me....
Strangely Low On Adrenaline
Oh, Will's still on the show. Yay? He's coaching Vocal Adrenaline now, so he's trying out dance moves in front of his (pretty damn cute) baby. "No more waiting until the last minute, no Mercedes to park and bark, and [sob] no Journey." So what exactly qualifies him for this job? Cut to Rachel sneaking into a VA rehearsal (in what appears to be the McKinley auditorium -- see above re: that set budget) of "Dance The Night Away" (so, no Journey but Van Halen is fine?), which is loud and acrobatic and totally boring. Will dismisses the group and says that his "office door is always open if any of you have any problems," which they don't. Aw, poor Will can't meddle inappropriately in the lives of his students anymore. Even Will struggles to find something nice to say about Rachel's show ("I actually liked...um, a bunch of it"), but says he knows she'll get another shot. She's not so sure. She's also disappointed that he quit fighting at McKinley, but Will says that with a baby and
the original cast of the show his favorite students gone, he took the chance to keep coaching at a higher salary instead of fighting with Sue. He gives Rachel a pep talk about finding her purpose, and she wisely doesn't buy it.
This Actually Doesn't Seem Very Rachel
Will, Blaine, Sam, and Brian Stokes Mitchell stage an intervention. They think Rachel will never get over her failure until she faces it and realizes that it "wasn't so bad." They're making her -- and us -- watch That's So Rachel. We see Cert, Infinity, Nittany, and Blartie, all of whom we heard about last season when Kristen Schaal was writing the script, so points for continuity. Cert is older and chubby for some reason, and he makes a joke about feeding his "worm to a warbler," which (not to ding Glee too hard for realism) couldn't possibly make sense to anyone watching this show in the fictional world. Blartie is played, I shit you not, by Carrot Top. There are kittens (who, Lima Rachel explains, peed everywhere), Carrot Top forgets his lines, and a light falls on Cert's head, possibly killing him. However it's not very funny (to the real-life audience, I mean), nor shocking, nor much worse than several real-life shows that got more than one episode this fall. It was so much better in the first scene when Ryan Murphy and company just let us imagine how awful it might have been instead of trying to show us. Rachel finally can't take it anymore and makes them turn it off, and everyone pep-talks her. "You're not going to be defined by this failure. The future will judge you based on what you do to come back from it."
When You Fail, Go Back To Your High School
What Rachel's going to do, apparently, is meet with the school superintendent to fight for the arts at McKinley. When he claims there's no money for new programs, she offers to donate her remaining savings from That's So Rachel. The superintendent has no love for Sue and agrees, on one condition: that Rachel run it. (So by "arts programs," I guess we just mean "show choir" again and fuck painting or whatever? Okay.)
How Do These Kids Travel So Much?
Rachel goes home to find Kurt waiting for her. At the end of last season, everyone had made a pact to reunite in six months, and apparently only Kurt showed up. He's lonely and miserable and loves Blaine (ugh) and wants to quit school and move back to Lima to "have our redemption" with him and Rachel (double ugh). Of course this means exactly what you think it means, and at least in TV terms, it makes perfect sense: Rachel and Kurt are running the glee club now. This will be Kurt's NYADA "work study" instead of his retirement home job (not what work study means and not how a semester abroad works either and definitely not how conservatory training works, but I'm so relieved Kurt's not actually quitting school that I'll allow it). Sue is furious and vows war. Jane Lynch is still the best thing about this show but blah blah blah. Of all the beats we've seen repeated ad nauseam on Glee, Sue is the nauseamest, and doesn't even the benefit of being musicalized.
This Is What Happens When You Only Know Three Gay People
Kurt and Blaine meet up in suitably tacky gay bar and Kurt announces that he's here to "get [his] forgiveness and then...get [his] heart back" (ALL THE UGHS). Blaine reveals that he is seeing someone. Enter, awesomely, Dave Karofsky. They are adorable and Kurt is horrified, including a voice-overed "When did Blaine start liking bears?" which is unflattering to Kurt but totally believable. He retreats to the bathroom and cries. Colfer sells the hell out of this and I know the "Klaine" fans out there are with him, but I think I've made my opinion on this matter very clear!
It's Time To See What Glee Can Do
Will visits Rachel as she sets up her office at McKinley, commenting, "I always thought one day Finn would take this place over." Rachel says she's only planning to stay for a few months, and that Broadway is still her dream: "I had it once and I lost it, but I'm gonna get it back." Good! And actually fairly plausible! Will gives her a keepsake from his old office and reminds her that she's going to be competing against him and Blaine at Sectionals, so she'd better start recruiting. As she posts the sign-up sheet, she sings "Let It Go," because it's 2015 and that law doesn't expire for another year. For some reason, wind blows as she walks through the hall, as if she's actually Elsa, and we see Sue frosted over. We also see Rachel onstage in a beautiful dress, belting her heart out.
We're all sick of this song but this is a classic Glee episode closer, and even though the lyrics don't make much sense, the sentiment does, and it's very well sung. I have no complaints.
I don't want to get too optimistic, with twelve more hours ahead of us, but it looks like Glee might be one of those shows that needed to have an ending in sight to get good again. This episode is a much-needed reset that actually makes internal sense too. Fingers crossed they can keep it up and end on a high!