If there’s one thing that Glee has consistently done well is the competition episodes. “Sectionals” is one of the top five episodes in the series’ short run on the air, “Journey” worked wonders in spite of itself and I actually found season two’s Sectionals episode “Special Education” to be pretty damn good as well. Of course nailing 3 out of 38 episodes isn’t a particularly strong percentage, but it’s mostly why I had little question that “Original Song” would be at least moderately successful.
And in fact, “Original Song” actually works a bit better than “Special Education” and in the abstract, probably better than “Journey.” Although the whole songwriting conceit hasn’t been particularly fleshed out leading up to this episode, Glee surprised me with how much attention they actually paid to it within the context of these 43 minutes. It’s completely and utterly ridiculous that Rachel Berry could write both the lyrics and music to “Get It Right” and just slightly less ridiculous that Will and the rest of the New Direction folk could quickly pen “Loser Like Me.” But this is Glee and they have given us less to go on in terms of believability and realism, so fine. But more importantly, “Original Song” is less about the competition and more about the songwriting process and what it means for the people in glee club, obviously most notably Rachel.
There are some inherent problems with how the first 25 minutes of this episode unfolded. The songs written by Santana, Puck and Mercedes all reinforced the characters as both broad, general stereotypes and less musically talented as one Rachel Berry. This isn’t especially troubling because this series often works in these massively broad strokes, so when Santana, Puck and Mercedes are shown to be the catty bitch, the slightly insensitive, but charming bad boy and the diva it’s not really surprising. In a perfect world, their first attempts at song writing wouldn’t be so clichéd and reflective of their stock character types, but the series did present us with Rachel’s “My Headband” and whatever the name of that terrible song she sang at the beginning of the episode as well. Writing songs isn’t really that easy and even if this episode ends up making it too easy, the few moments of struggle, stupidity and surface exploration were effective in building up the group’s struggles. Those little beats might not have worked for the individual characters — Santana’s worked on a humorous level and Mercedes served to remind us that A.) she likes food and B.) she gets nothing to do, ever — but they provided some context for the group’s overall triumph once the team actually made it to Regionals and dominated some noticeably weaker competition.*
*Question: Why isn’t Vocal Adrenaline in New Directions’ Regional this year? Oh, just to delay their inevitable face-off a little bit longer you say? Okay.
Of course, those individuals’ failure also serves a more obvious purpose: to make Rachel look even better. Again, this is something that should be looked at as problematic because it is reinforcing the same hierarchies the series has unfortunately worked with from the very beginning, but the song writing thing, for better or for worse, has been Rachel’s story and she should be given the chance to prove that fictional talent. The character was a bit rudderless while in her relationship with Finn and if the song writing didn’t work out, I’m not sure how crazy or zany Rachel could have gotten. Of course, this is Glee so Rachel could be crazy and zany in the next episode for no reason, but at least there’s a sense of accomplishment that the character mostly deserves for being the leader. And tying Rachel’s song to the ongoing storyline with Finn and Quinn (which I’ll get to in a moment) makes complete sense, again, even if the song itself is way behind her actual abilities as a song writer based on what we saw in the moments before the “Get It Right” reveal.
If the Rachel-Finn-Quinn conflict allows for one female to dig down deep and come up with a good song, it turns the other into weird, retro villainous version of herself that I don’t even understand. We’d all be ignorant to expect Glee to keep up with a consistent characterization for its cast, but the way that Quinn acts in this episode is completely out of nowhere. What makes it worse is that her motivations — to be prom queen, which dating Finn gives her the best chance to do — make sense for the character and have been explored in recent episodes, but her actions here take those motivations to a completely laughable, early season one version of the character. And what is especially weird about Quinn’s behavior in this episode is that it’s not even remotely consistent from moment to moment. In the beginning, she gets this fairly stupid and evil voice over about trying to destroy Rachel’s chances with Finn that feels like a monologue Ryan Murphy found in an old Word Doc of possible season one beats. But then later she’s much more honest and straightforward with Rachel that she wants Finn and all the “benefits” that come with it — like staying in Lima and becoming a real estate agent — in such a way that her motivations almost sound noble. I guess you could say that the scene was all part of Quinn’s plan, but it doesn’t really play that way and again, even though it provides Rachel some nice moments in the aftermath, it makes Quinn look foolish and shallow in ways that we all wish she wouldn’t be.*
*This is probably just residual Dianna Agron love. I’m not sure Quinn has ever been that likable.
If we think back to “Special Education,” that episode spent a good amount of time exploring Rachel and Kurt’s places within their respective teams so I guess it’s fitting that while Rachel has her big moment in the limelight, Kurt gets to join her.* Ever since Darren Criss’ Blaine joined the cast and introduced Kurt and us at home to TOLERANCE NARNIA, we’ve all been waiting for the two of them to get together and consequently been sort of waiting around wondering why they haven’t made the move. On one hand, it’s provided the series to flesh Blaine out a bit more in episodes like “Silly Love Songs” and “Blame It On The Alcohol,” but on the other, the external assumptions about the direction of the relationship have well-prepared us in a way that by the time the two of them go together, it would feel sort of like “oh yeah.” That more or less happens here, with the Warblers’ bird dying, Kurt singing “Blackbird” in its memory and Blaine suddenly recognizing the beautifulness of Kurt as a singer and as a boyfriend, but the two actors work so well together that their first kiss was actually a pretty fantastic moment.
Unfortunately, like Rachel’s big moment with “Get It Right,” Kurt’s first real kiss and first live solo are totally undercut by a weird attempt at pulling emotion from a situation that didn’t really need another strand of emotion. Much like Quinn and Rachel’s conversation in the auditorium, the final moment with Blaine and Kurt burying the bird is ridiculously manipulative. Blaine overtly saying “THIS REMINDS YOU OVER YOUR MOM DOESN’T IT?!” just screams desperate emotional manipulation in an episode that enough emotional impact on its own. It just doesn’t make sense and doesn’t allow the emotion or the scene to breathe at all, just like Quinn’s character destruction 25 minutes earlier.
Ultimately, “Original Song” works and works really well for Rachel and Kurt. This one still lacks the emotional punch that the season one competition episodes provided, but it at least tries to make an effort within the episode itself to create and then subsequently pay off some story beats. I like that.
- Good for Kurt in getting a solo, but “Candles” is most certainly the worst song the series has ever done that doesn’t include rap music. Thankfully, “Raise Your Glass” was a nice follow-up.
- As usual, Sue’s plan doesn’t really work or lead to anything remotely useful as far as the story’s concerned. Aural Intensity is mostly a joke and she ends up punching the person who announced the winners. She’s from a completely different series and it really shows in these moments.
- Speaking of a completely different series, the judges deliberation at the end of the episode was one of the worst moments of the season. It completely undercut any momentum, narrative, emotional or otherwise, and was just not funny. So so so bad.
- Sam’s holding up the “Hell No” notepad to Santana when she mentioned she had a new verse to “Trout Mouth” was Chord Overstreet’s best moment ever. I still hate him.
- The Warblers’ parliamentary procedure sequences are the best and worst things to ever happen to this series. I’d like to say I could watch them forever, but I could just as easily hate them next week.