Glee, “Comeback”

I entered my viewing of “Comeback” with loads of dread. Sue has been disastrously insufferable this year and the idea of her joining New Directions just a week after the near-greatness that was “Silly Love Songs” just made me sad. Watching this episode through that lens, I found “Comeback” to be surprising in its general mediocrity. Sue’s presence is certainly problematic, but not inherently damaging to the fabric of New Directions in the ways I assumed she could be. As I said on Twitter, I much prefer Sue’s playful undressing of the kids in glee club than her more vitriolic sense of destruction towards Will or the “glee club” as an overall entity. That probably makes me some sort of child abuse or endangerment supporter, but this is where we are with Sue Sylvester.

Unfortunately, “Comeback” does give us a fair share of terrible Sue scenes, no matter who she’s actually in them with. There’s been a good amount of discussion about what Glee should or can do with Sue now that she’s reached this point of saturation and although “Comeback” isn’t the worst use of her, it’s becoming more and more prevalent that the answer to that question is “probably nothing.” At this point, the writers have little choice but to continue to put her in episodes and let Jane Lynch do her thing, but as we’ve seen throughout this season, that requirement is totally detrimental to individual episodes and the season as a whole. I don’t envy the writers’ position with the character, but I sure hope something gets figured out soon.

Outside of the problem in balancing Sue’s fame with the series’ long-term goals for the younger characters, the writers also have no sense of middle ground with the character. She’s either the most obvious and overt villain that is totally bent on New Directions destruction or she’s a schmaltzy character who we’re supposed to feel very, very sorry for. I think those two shades to the character could work in theory, but without any middle ground where Sue even barely resembles a normal human being, one who isn’t vicious or manufactured to be overly sympathetic. There’s never an episode of Glee where Sue is just around, living a normal life as a person. Thus, when she waivers from extreme to extreme from episode to episode or in the case of “Comeback,” within the same hour of television, it’s simply annoying and poorly constructed.

And perhaps I’m mostly frustrated because after a poorly thought-out and flat-out distasteful opening that sees Sue try to kill herself a few different ways in which Will and Emma try to save her from, Sue hovers around the idea of being an OK human for like 30 minutes. Sure, she tries to get Mercedes and Rachel to fight one another in a diva-off, but there appears to be a sense of recovery in Sue’s eyes that it might be time to stop swinging between those two versions of the herself that we all love to hate (or is it hate to love? I am unsure at this point). She has a few one-liners for the kids and Will, but the vitriol isn’t really there.

Of course, that all comes crashing to a halt in two of the series’ worst scenes ever. In the first one, Will drags Sue to the local hospital’s cancer ward, where he apparently washes the sin of trying to steal Emma from Uncle Jesse away with the smiles of dying children. I hate you, Will Schuester. The two of them sing with the kids, Sue’s heart apparently de-ices and there might have been a slight tear in her eye. THIS IS THE TURNING POINT FOLKS. Sue’s ready to express her more optimistic attitude through My Chemical Romance’s “Sing” to show the kids that their choices for an anthem — which, by the way, is the Regionals theme — and despite the general middling nature of that performance, I didn’t hate what the episode had done with Sue, mostly for what it could suggest for future episodes.

That’s until the episode’s second-to-last episode, in which Sue’s rediscovered optimism leads her to become the Aural Intensity director. Yeah, that’s right, Sue Sylvester is now leading one of New Directions’ Regional competitors into battle after Will and his kids made her feel better. It’s unclear if this was part of Sue’s plan the whole time or her newfound spirit realized it was time to be an evil sociopath again, but good lord does this moment fully undercut the smidgen of goodwill some of Sue’s scenes here created. It was pretty much downhill from the hospital scene because of the manipulative nature of that sequence, but to button it off with such a stupid twist is, well, stupid. And as long as Glee continues to do things like this with Sue, it will be a giant mess.

I guess it’s fitting that in the episode that Glee glorifies the obvious tension between its phenomenon and the value in that phenomenon, it also brings on Justin Bieber. I’m generally not offended by the Biebs and can see both sides of the love and hate that he accrues. When it was announced that the series would be tackling Bieber, some of the discourse circled around the idea that it seemed to serve as some random point of shark jumping, but it actually makes sense to me why the series would use his music. The young characters are in high school after all and despite the clichéd jokes about 12-year olds, we all know Bieber has a good amount of fans in age demographics outside of middle school.

In any event, I actually kind of liked the use of Bieber here and what it meant for Sam and the other male characters. Like all the big artist uses, there has to be a few throwaway lines or moments about how the music makes the students feel, but I’d much rather see the young female characters flipping out over the subtle sexuality of Justin Bieber than watching a school-wide sex riot set to the tune of Britney Spears’ biggest hits. I appreciated that the characters were initially ready to laugh their asses off at Sam’s insistence on thinking Bieber was cool because of course Bieber isn’t cool. But by the time he kicked it into the chorus of “Baby,” both the females and the males not named Puck could see that sometimes it’s okay to give in to the draw of a phenomenon and not worry about that phenomenon’s objective quality. Who are these kids to say whether or not Bieber is good or bad — hell, he’s their age and thus should be something of a hero — and therefore, if the song is fun, so be it. There’s a sense here that Ryan Murphy is poking fun at Bieber and his place in popular culture while still embracing it fully and I’m cool with that.

Unfortunately, I’m not as cool with Glee poking fun at other pop culture touchstones while hoping the audience won’t notice it has the same kind of issue. When you bring Justin Bieber’s music onto Glee and have him serve as a legitimate inspiration, no matter how goofy it is or how massive of a tool the kid who comes up with the idea is, you’re either furthering the insanity of the phenomenon or making a mockery of it. And just as I think Ryan Murphy wants the Biebs to serve both purposes in this episode, the writers assume the phenomenon that is Sue Sylvester will accomplish the same goals. Sue has been especially over the top in her actions over the past handful of episodes and even though those episodes have also included some winking meta-commentary about her actions and her representative place as the Glee mascot, the series is still basically throwing its hands in the air and saying, “Yeah, Sue is INSANE, but YOU LOVE IT. You just can’t help it.” Like with the various surprising and elate responses to Justin Bieber, Glee just assumes we’ll shrug off any major concerns and enjoy the ride. But when things are so messy and so manipulative as they are here, it’s too hard to let go.

Moreover, much like Sue’s story feels manufactured and ridiculous, the Bieber’s purpose in Sam’s life doesn’t end up resulting in a whole lot. I haven’t been a fan of the character from the very beginning, but he’s gotten progressively dumber and more useless as time as gone on and though I appreciate the writers’ recognition that they needed to give him an episode, it’s little more than an excuse to do what I talked about above with Bieber and tie it to the character who has been most connected with Canada’s biggest pop sensation. The initial point of the Justin Bieber Experience is to bring Quinn closer to him even though he’s fully in denial about her kiss with Finn, but even though the music does that, Sam’s stupidity and the series’ treatment of it screws that up anyway. Sam doesn’t actually come to realize that he’s in denial, he has to have Santana tell it to him. You know, because he’s stupid and because the series wants to put them together. So not only does the musical element not really go anywhere, but it absolutely does not provide Sam any chance to redeem himself as a character or as a person. He’s still an idiot, he’s still a tool and now he’s those things with Santana. This makes no one better off.

And finally, while I appreciate the fun chemistry between Lea Michele and Heather Morris, Rachel’s desire to have a comeback — huh! — in her life without men doesn’t really serve much of a purpose but to set up the fact that the series is finally introducing its own original music. I think Rachel coming up with the idea and executing it later on could pay off masterfully because those are the kind of moments Glee tends to get right, but here, it’s little more than a runner that emphasizes the episode’s title and is, like Santana’s directive to Sam, is fully manufactured by another character when Finn has to tell Rachel that she’s in fact making her wanted comeback. It’s most certainly the least offensive of the episode’s story, but it’s just as manipulative and unearned as the rest.

After “Silly Love Songs,” this is a fairly substantial misfire, even if I thought it would be so much worse.

Other thoughts:

  • I didn’t even mention the Puck-Lauren moments because I’m a bit short on time tonight, but it felt a bit unearned as well, though still charming. I appreciate the fact the writers are sticking with the pairing and developing Lauren as a character, but it kind of got lost amid all the other moderately lifeless things happening around it.
  • Mike Chang asking Tina if she wanted to see his abs, only to have her completely disregard that question so that she can play a game on her phone is awesome.
  • Also awesome: Santana’s countless jokes about Sam’s massive mouth. I don’t know why I have such hatred for the character and Chord Overstreet in general, but I feel like he deserves both those jokes and my rage.
  • I’d love for someone to explain the flannel outfits for the performance of “Sing.”
  • I actually thought all the non-flannel performances were pretty good this week. The choir room bits have gotten better over the past few weeks and “Somebody To Love” was pretty fun.
  • Next week’s episode looks HORRIFYING. Lots of drinking, some stripping and someone kissing someone. It’s probably going to be terrible and make me hate Will so much more.
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