I, like most people, was not too kind to the post-Super Bowl episode of Glee. “The Sue Sylvester Shuffle” was a disastrous attempt to introduce the series’ primary narratives and beats to a new audience. In classic Glee form, the series turns right around two days later and knocks out its second best episode of the season in “Silly Love Songs.”
In my review of “Shuffle” I talked a lot about the spectacle of Glee and how it doesn’t just have to be full of visual eye-popping moments, but also these emotional high-marks that basically force the viewer to grin ear-to-ear, break down in tears or some awkward combination of both. It’s kind of hammy phrasing, but I’m fine when Glee provides the emotional spectacle as well. If I can borrow a buzzword from the episode I think “Silly Love Songs” is an episode that’s light on the visual firework, but certainly gets a lot of the emotional ones lit without too many duds.
This episode could have been a disaster. Ryan Murphy’s script could have easily featured a number of bombastic declarations of unrequited love or some sort of messy story about the definitions of true love. But thankfully, “Songs” just lets the characters interact with one another inside the places they’re comfortable. The last four episodes of the series have, in reverse order, been a super bowl special, a Christmas special, a Sectionals episode and a wedding episode. That’s a lot of “event’ kind of storytelling and it hasn’t been since “The Substitute” and “Never Been Kissed” that the series fully focused on the characters and their relationships to one another. And what’s both refreshing and unfortunate about this episode is that it so easily reminds us of how wonderful most of these characters are and how well they actually bounce off one another when given the chance, without the crux of some major plot point hanging over them.
Although the series has a terribly warped image of what it’s like to be in high school in 2011 or (or really ever), Glee can most certainly dive into the inner psyche of being a high school-aged person with relative ease. The series’ sweeping moments work in the context of a high school kid’s mind when everything appears or feels to be THE BIGGEST MOMENT in your life. In high school, you feel like your current boyfriend/girlfriend is THE ONE and it’s hard to wrap your mind around being without them. You know, until you’re without them and moving on with someone else, WHO IS REALLY THE ONE. High school kids are irrational, hormonal and completely overly-dramatic in their emotional maturity and whether intentionally or not, Glee knows how to tap into that state.
It is then no surprise that the series’ first Valentine’s Day episode is a sizable triumph that probably reminds a lot of the jaded Glee fans out there why they loved this series so much in the first place. If the series knows how to tap into the teenager’s love-lorn state on a regular basis, the Valentine’s Day fears/excitement are only going to ramp those qualities up further. For people who think they’re amid the greatest love of all time or completely alone, Valentine’s Day is a major day. As someone who was in high school within the last five years, I can recall that this is a holiday where the crazy kids in high school like to think they’re acting more like adults (more so than usual), but in reality, they’re just being even more irrational than usual.
“Silly Love Songs” keys in on that intoxicating feeling of being in love when you’re only 17 years old without trying to do too much within the framework. We all know that Glee gets itself in trouble when it tries to hammer home these major issue-based stories or simply relies on doing something people will talk about the next day on Twitter. That’s unfortunate because so often the series’ best moments are fully inward ones developed from the characters and not onto them by outside forces like Sue or whatever random problem Ryan Murphy has with society that week. Much like the season’s best episode “Duets,” “Silly Love Songs” has a simple premise with the members of New Directions singing to one another, but those various pairings lead to an easy framework for short, charming stories about almost every single student character.*
*Apparently Mercedes just doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t want to be controversial and say the writers don’t know to write for minorities (Tina and Mike are still problematic) or that Ryan Murphy’s come one, come all mantra is fraudulent, but COME ON people, give Amber Riley something to do other than say she’s okay with being single.
Again, like “Duets” the pairs structure works wonders, both for the performances and the storylines themselves. Although Will’s presumption that the couples should all sing together is perhaps a bit dangerous, I’m willing to go with it because it’s not even one of the top 20 horrible decisions he’s made in the last calendar year. And more importantly, it allows us to spend time with characters who are both deep in love and those who are COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY ALONE, or at least it seems that way because they’re in high school and it’s Valentine’s Day.
For the happy couples — Artie and Brittany and Mike and Tina — things couldn’t be better. Mike and Artie are so in love with their respective significant others that they don’t seem to be bothered by the fact that the former is now dating the latter’s ex-lover, so much so that they can do a pretty fun rendition of “P.Y.T.” to celebrate their dopeness. This is what happens in high school. Once you’ve moved on to someone else, there’s less concern about the exes and their business — for the most part. And for Tina, this love with Mike is apparently so intoxicating that she can’t finish her love song without breaking down in tears, which is unfortunately the only purely mediocre moment of the episode. I understand that it was supposed to be awkward, but good lord, IT WAS AWKWARD.
For those trying to get with someone new on the big day, Valentine’s Day can be overwhelmingly stressful. In this case, Puck decides to start courting Lauren Zizes. Puck has been criminally underused this season and it’s nice to see him put in a story that’s handled with such a surprising amount of grace and humility for the character. Despite Murphy’s assertions, Glee can often make the weird “Other” characters even more weird and awful than they should be — see the missing forever Jacob — but this episode allows Lauren to be a pretty great character and more importantly, allows Puck to see those qualities as well. It isn’t really a joke that Puck wants to go on a date with Lauren, he sees her inner strength and cool and for a guy that’s had every lady in the school, it’s perhaps time to hang out with someone who meets him on an emotional level. Sure, there are a few ribs towards Lauren’s weight, but it’s not the crux of the story and that’s for the betterment of the story.
Meanwhile, over in Dalton-world, Kurt and Blaine have clearly become much closer over the months we’ve been gone. Blaine knows Kurt’s coffee order and when he starts talking about professing his love to a secret person, Kurt gets his hopes up. Unfortunately, he is not the mystery lover and instead we’re treated to a mildly entertaining/insufferable performance at a Gap. I’ve liked Darren Criss from the beginning, but this is the first episode where Blaine didn’t feel like a cipher or a gay support group leader. In the past, he seemed so put together, so perfect and so knowledgeable about what it means to be a gay teen, but this episode does a really nice job of presenting us with a Blaine who only pretends to have the answers. This immediately improves this thread immensely.
But when there’s just the slightest strain in a relationship, big events like Valentine’s Day can make things much worse. Finn’s riding high after the big football win and decides that it’s probably time to take another go at Quinn since she seems to be generally interested again, which clearly throws a wrench into Sam’s weird plans to marry Quinn immediately or whatever the hell it is he wants to do. Finn has this ridiculous, but kind of smart idea to hold a kissing both for charity so that Quinn will just have to kiss him again and though she declines, Sam more or less forces her to do it as a way to show that she doesn’t actually care about her former flame.
Fortunately for Sam, he was right. Unfortunately for Sam, that means that Quinn has become a cheater for the second time. I noted in my review of Sunday’s episode that I didn’t have much concern about a retread of Quinn and Finn because I don’t really think they got a fair shake from the beginning anyway. They are two of the more inherently likable characters on the series, but that never came to light when they were together because of the pregnancy plots, the cheating, etc. but now it could be something kind of interesting. And perhaps even more intriguing to me is Finn’s obvious hypercritical decision to become part of infidelity when he’s been high-roading both Quinn and Rachel for months/years.
And in general, Finn and Quinn’s hook up ties right back into my assertions about the series’ ability to tap into the high school student’s love experience. Finn is single again, Quinn is both extremely attractive and clearly interested in him, so it makes total sense that he’d abandon his moral high ground just to kiss her again. This is what high schoolers do, they make horrible decisions that not only affect themselves, both those around them. It’s clear that both of them are confused and it makes sense they’d fall back in to this sense of comfortability with one another and while I don’t expect them to have a sustained long-term relationship, I’m fully invested in what happens in the meantime.
With Quinn and Finn reuniting and the sense of the holiday beating down on her, Rachel is not surprisingly, depressed. Like in Sunday’s episode, she tries to convince Kurt and Mercedes that Finn most certainly needs her by his side, but by the end of it, she realizes that it doesn’t have to be all about someone else. Rachel tends to vacillate between love-sick puppy and psycho determined wannabe superstar but has most certainly been more the former than the latter in S2 and that’s kind of unfortunate. As long as she doesn’t send people to crack houses anymore to avoid having to compete with them, I do prefer the much more confident and focused Rachel. We all know the series is going to circle back around to Rachel and Finn, but if it’s going to keep them separated for an extended period of time, it needs to focus on making Rachel less awful and “Silly Love Songs” takes a big first step. I think the character has been much less awful in the last few episodes anyway, but here she’s charming and fun from the beginning, even in her worries about a future with Finn.
Look, next week Glee could be awful again. I know this, you know this. But this week, there’s very, very little to complain about. “Silly Love Songs” is, well, silly, but in the best of ways. It pays off our investment in these characters and sets the table for some interesting threads moving forward in the second half of the season.
- I didn’t mention it above, but obviously Naya Rivera had a helluva great time dressing up in sexy nurse outfits, getting into fights with Lauren over Puck and literally passing mono from a random dweeb to Finn and then onto Quinn. Awesome.
- The final montage also features an interesting look between Santana and Sam, so I guess we’re headed down that road. I still don’t like Sam one bit, but more Santana is more Santana. I assume this means that Quinn will eventually find her way back to Puck as well, which is something this season has randomly avoided like a plague I don’t understand.
- This has been discussed a lot on Twitter this evening, but there is no Sue in this episode and there was no Sue in “Duets” either. This is most certainly telling and while I do still enjoy moments that the character provides, the writers need to figure out how to bring that energy into episodes like this. It looks like next week’s episode is going to try to do that.
- Very little for Will to do yet again, which is both good and bad. We don’t need the Will of “Rocky Horror,” but it’d be nice for him to have something to do other than nod his head or state the episode’s mission statement.
- I mentioned that this was the second best episode of the season behind “Duets,” so I might as well take stock of the season thus far and rank them: “Duets,” “Silly Love Songs,” “Audition,” “The Substitute,” “Special Education,” “Furt,” “Grilled Cheesus,” “Never Been Kissed,” “Britney/Brittany,” “The Sue Sylvester Shuffle,” “A Very Glee Christmas” and “Rocky Horror Glee Show.” You know, in case you were wondering.