Review: Glee, “I Am Unicorn”

If Will Schuester runs for public office against Sue Sylvester I will burn down Fox Television Studios, never watch television again and quit Twitter.

Glee has had some terrible ideas in its first two-plus years on the air, but the political campaign portion of season three is already at the top of the list. Having Sue run for office is wonky enough. Having her become a super-popular candidate purely on her platform to take out the arts (a budget cut that wouldn’t make much of a dent in any state or local budgets) pushes my patience levels. But the thought of Will randomly deciding that he’s worthy enough, smart enough and free enough to run against Sue? That’s literally the worst thing that has ever happened on television. Not only is Will completely unqualified, lacking campaign funding and generally an awful human being (well, maybe that might actually be a benefit), but he just spent the first two episodes of the season talking about how all of his freaking time has to be dedicated to getting the New Directions to Nationals. He won’t even direct the musical he’s so damn busy! But now he has time to run for office? That makes sense.

Of course, the probability of Will running against Sue took up very little of Glee’s second episode of its third season, “I Am Unicorn.” Unfortunately, it is reflective of Glee’s biggest problem, one that will probably never go away: The main adult characters on this series are dreadful, uninteresting and boring. Will, Sue and Emma were a big part of the series’ early successes in those lovely first 13 episodes, but the writers have yet to find anything else for them to do and as a result, all three have been stuck in repetitive ruts where they basically re-do the moments and beats from those initial episodes only without any emotional resonance or importance.

Sue’s maniacal desire to destroy the New Directions has only gotten broader and more obnoxious. Emma’s issues are suppressed until the series randomly wants to make a point. And Will has been damaged by this holding pattern most of all, as his hopelessness has turned into an ego-driven desire to put himself before the kids even though he thinks he’s doing the exact opposite. Ryan Murphy and company have failed to come up with any substantial arc or development path for any of these three and they’ve instead stuck with what initially worked only kicked up to 11.

In the back half of season one and into the ridiculously uneven and generally tepid season two, it was easy to right off the issues with the adult characters as simply one problem that Glee had. The whole series was in a creative funk last season, there was no reason to point out just the character assassination of the artist formally known as Will Schuester. But if “I Am Unicorn” is any indication, the continuous mistakes made with the adult characters are now really choking away time from the younger characters’ stories, many of which appear to be very well-done and generally solid. It kind of feels like the writers are figuring out how to write for these kids again, but that only makes the fact that we have to deal with Will and Sue every week that much more frustrating and troubling.

Despite the unfortunate focus on the adults, “Unicorn” is a solid episode of Glee. Instead of stringently structuring the episode around an obvious theme or Will-approved lesson or competition, this one allows characters to disperse into distinct plot threads that feel natural and purposeful. This season is and should obviously be about graduation and the uncertain future that follows and although the premiere episode hammered that home somewhat loudly and busily, this one dials it back just enough so that seniors Kurt, Rachel, Quinn and Puck face important questions about who they are and who they want to be.

Kurt’s micro desire to play Tony in the group’s rendition of West Side Story and his macro desire to be defined more by his sexuality played out very well here. Brittany wants him to fly his gay pride flag high in his campaign to be senior class president, but Kurt knows that to become a successful actor he’s going to have be more than just the flamboyantly gay kid. Unfortunately, high school tends to file everyone down to just a few short identifiers and it is hard to escape them. What I liked best about this story is how even-handed it was played. Coach Beiste, Emma and Artie’s discussion about Kurt’s lack of believability as a leading man was hurtful for Kurt to hear, but none of them were overly malicious in their descriptions of his skills (in fact, they were praiseworthy in other ways). Similarly, Burt’s “you’re gay” speech was very logical, but supportive.

Last season, everything related to Kurt had to represent larger issues and he became an untouchable saint that didn’t really exist in a real world. But here, “Unicorn” isn’t afraid to give Kurt a dose of reality while still allowing him to stand strong. He is persistent is his decision to be Tony, but he is also aware of the challenges. And the people around him are supportive, but similarly aware of what is typical and what isn’t. No one is portrayed as ignorant or wrong and when it comes to Glee and sexuality, that is a welcome change of pace.

Rachel, Quinn and Puck’s stories are all wrapped up in the return of Shelby and I’m of mixed mind about each of their little stories here. On one hand, it’s nice that Glee is trying to make these three characters face their biggest issues – not having a mother, not being a parent to a baby – before the big graduation in the spring. Rachel’s mommy problems are a big part of her identity and she definitely has some things to work out with Shelby. And both Quinn and Puck and the actors portraying them deserve a big, emotionally hefty story after whatever kind of crap the series threw at them last season. Dianna Agron and Mark Salling were understated and great in their respective scenes with Idina Menzel and Quinn’s attitude problems even pulled a great scene out of Matthew Morrison where Will finally blew up at her for consistently bailing on New Directions.

BUT on the other hand, shouldn’t have all this happened sometime last season? Or shouldn’t have it at least been mentioned? In 22 episodes last year, Quinn and Puck shared less than five scenes with just the two of them and their baby was mentioned very rarely, if ever. A storyline that was so dominant in season one was quickly ran away from in season two and now the series wants to get back to it while sort of retconning the characters’ recent actions as actually secretly about giving up their baby and I’m just not sure how I feel about it. I want Argon and Salling to have more things to do and I want Glee to address Quinn’s constant identity crises and Puck’s immaturity, but I also don’t like to be looked at like an idiot. Murphy’s script wants us to believe that the reason Quinn has acted out for so long is that she’s really trying to fill a baby-sized hole in her life and while that’s a solid save, it still points out how terrible the character and the actress has been treated for 25 episodes.

So I’m in, but with some reservations. “I Am Unicorn” is one of the better episodes Glee has done since early season one and I’m hoping that its developments and treatment of the characters’ emotions means good things. But again, this is Glee.

Other thoughts:

  • Will’s dance bootcamp was actually a solid idea, but it probably could have used another scene or should continue into other episodes. I like that the series is addressing the group’s most obvious flaws when it comes to competition. There is some logic in Glee. The more Mike Chang, the better.
  • On a similar note, still very little for Cory Monteith’s Finn this week. His discussion with Rachel about their futures was good, but the “victory” in dance bootcamp was treated as a larger moment than it actually is. So Finn knows a few steps…yay?
  • The series is always going to have this problem just based on the sheer amount of characters on the cast, but Santana, Mercedes and Tina have had nothing to do either. I’m not surprised in regards to the last two. However, Santana arguably became the series’ best, most complex character last season and she’s been relegated to just a few lines in the first two episodes. That makes sense.
  • Only three songs this week! Maybe they weren’t kidding about dialing it back music-wise.
  • Brittany’s description of unicorns was very cute. Heather Morris is almost always the best thing about this series.
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3 thoughts on “Review: Glee, “I Am Unicorn”

  1. I read a spoiler somewhere that it’s not Will who is running for office, it’s Burt Hummel. But I’m not 100% sure on that piece of information.

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