Glee s1e22: “Journey”
|REVIEWS - TV|
A barnstorming series finale washes away the taste of last week's effort...
So tonight is the season finale of Glee, whose first episode broadcast over a year ago. The real season didn’t begin until this past fall, then an interminable four months later, the back nine began. The first thirteen hours varied in entertainment value, but they felt like a story was being told and that the series was building to something. Episodes fourteen through twenty-one were a roller coaster of quality (bringing in the following grades: C+, B+, B, D+, B+, A-, C+, and D), jettisoning many of the plot threads and relationships the first batch of episodes set up.
Having become disjointed and gimmick-driven, the second part of the season has left us going into the finale on the heels of the worst episode yet (which pulled in 1.5 million less viewers than the crappy episode that preceded it). The Will/Emma subplot has been thoroughly derailed while the relatively aimless Jesse/Rachel interaction wound up making much less of an impact on the story than perhaps it should have. Luckily, the Second Tier (except maybe Mercedes, who still sort of exists to be the black character and wail on the end notes) got their plots moved forward and Brittany secured her place as the breakout character via the excellent delivery of her brainless bon mots (and I have a big crush on her).
Was tonight’s season finale worth watching? Well... I got misty-eyed three times and raised goose bumps twice.
It’s finally time for regionals: the event the kids have been working towards all semester (off screen, apparently) but lo, Sue’s gonna be a judge. Remember, for some reason I can’t be bothered to recall because it made no sense, the glee club’s future depends on whether or not they win regionals (actually, now they can place and stick around). Turns out that for no reason other than because the show can, the judges of a regional western Ohio high school show choir contest are going to be celebrities and evidently Sue qualifies, having won her fifth national cheerleading competition. Were it not for the subtle reference to a movie almost no one remembers (Song of the South, and old shame of Disney’s they’ve tried very hard to put down a memory-hole), this scene would light my brain on fire since, other than that, it’s just another Sue’s-out-to-sabotage-glee-Will’s-fretting-and-Figgins-says-yet-again-“My hands are tied, William” scene.
This standard (and for this show, stereotypical) scene didn’t give me high hopes for the episode. Following the title card, though, it takes a bit of a left-hand turn when we see a flashback to the night Puck knocked up Quinn. It goes pretty much the way it was described earlier in the season: Puck deflecting Quinn’s protestations with wine coolers and douchey-truths (“Come on, we’re in high school - you think either one of us is gonna give a damn about Finn in three years?”), while preying on her insecurities (“You’re not fat.”). In a rare moment of cinematic skill the show usually doesn’t exhibit, it smash cuts to Quinn staring out a rainy window in Will’s kitchen. She turns toward the camera, hella-pregnant.
In a less skillful move, it’s raining because everyone is mopey, given Sue’s complete hatred of the club and the knowledge that she’s going to hamstring them at first opportunity. Tina starts sobbing about how before glee she only had two Facebook friends, her parents (this is an acceptable measure of one’s self-worth now?), but I have a hard time feeling too sorry for her, given that her terrifyingly fake stutter was in place to keep people from approaching her. If her character was ever actually fleshed out and shown as, I don’t know, suffering from the Hedgehog’s Dilemma or something, I could have a little more sympathy.
"in a world of over six billion people with an infinite number of things that can turn them on, you know someone out there is aroused by medical tool sterilization devices"
Will goes to see Emma the next day, ostensibly for advice or guidance or something, but it’s really so we can find out that Emma has started seeing her dentist, who wooed her with his autoclave. Don’t make fun - in a world of over six billion people with an infinite number of things that can turn them on, you know someone out there is aroused by medical tool sterilization devices. Will is shocked, given all her givens, and indirectly asks whether they’ve gone any further then she and Will had. Though it’s none of his business, she says they haven’t. He leaves, feeling even worse, to break down crying on the side of the road when “Don’t Stop Believin” comes on the radio.
The misfiring Rachel/Finn ship gets a quick defibrillation when she kisses him after he reminds her that she’s the club’s de facto leader and that if she gives up, they have no hope at all. Will forges the set list when everyone is present - a Journey medley. Good! To tell you the truth, most of the numbers in the show’s run have failed to impress me, but “Don’t Stop Believin” from the first episode still gives me a thrill to watch, even out of context, and I don’t really like Journey. Will reminds them (or based on some of their reactions, informs them) that in a few years, they’ll have trouble remembering each other’s names or the songs they sang, so if they’re going to lose through no fault of their own, they may as well do what they’re good at, what makes them happy.
Next scene: BANG! Regionals! Instead of building to the competition as a climax like most narratives (including this show’s own “Sectionals” episode), they cut straight to it. This caught me off guard, given the disturbingly formulaic and predictable nature of the program’s plots and twists, so I was definitely intrigued in a way I hadn’t been in quite a while. To provide us with a reveal (of the lobby), they have Will getting his ticket ripped, collecting a program and going into the auditorium. Umm... why? Shouldn’t he be backstage with his students? This makes no sense, but if the shot was absolutely necessary (which it wasn’t), a random audience member would have sufficed.
Josh Groban and Olivia Neuter-John return as celebrity judges alongside Sue and her former flame, local newscaster Rod. While the first group, Aural Intensity (I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere), performs a mash-up of Groban and Neuter-John to curry favor, Nude Erections frets in the green room. Will appears in time to cheer them up; seriously, why did he buy a ticket and go in through the front if he can go backstage?
While Finn and Rachel wait in the lobby for their cues to make dramatic entrances, she wishes him luck and he tells her that he loves her. Ok, yeah, that’s romantic and all, but there was no authentic build to this. It’s been six episodes since any real reference was made to their possible relationship after they failed at being a couple and Finn has spent most of the back nine pissed at Rachel over Jesse, so I don’t really buy this development. I will, however, just shut up and roll with it since at least it’s forward character momentum of some kind. I take what I can get.
Marking the longest an episode has gone without a musical number of some sort, the group performs “Faithfully” before launching into a rousing mash-up of “Any Way You Want It” and “Touchin Lovin Squeezin.” I was afraid they’d skip it in the interest of avoiding redundancy, but they finish out with an up-tempo high-energy rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin,” which, if the show had a theme song, this would be it. Sure, it’s actually about two burned-out blue-collar strangers meeting in a bar and “sharing the night” (if you catch my meaning), but college hasn’t happened to these kids yet, so the surface meaning will have to suffice in order to stay thematically appropriate.
Quinn’s mother, whom you may not remember if you didn’t see the “last time on Glee” lead-in, since she hasn’t shown up since episode ten way back in November, slips in during the performance with no set-up, other than the lead-in. This screams “sloppy” to me; I mean, the show isn’t the biggest stickler for continuity, but this seemed like there may have been a scene earlier in the episode that got cut for time or something.
"A song about a haunted man singing to his mother wherein he intimates he’d rather not have been born woven into a birth scene of an unwanted child works for me"
In the following scene, she drops the bomb on Quinn that her father was seeing some “tattooed freak” on the side and that she’s kicked him to the curb. Judy (that’s her name) wants Quinn to move back in and offers to turn the guest room into a nursery. The shock sends Quinn into labor a month early. What ensues is one of the best things the show has done, though it’s not without problems.
Yay, more Queen!!! Ahem... sorry.
Vocal Adrenaline takes the stage to give a completely, surprisingly unabridged version “Bohemian Rhapsody.” This is intercut, both visually and aurally, with Quinn giving birth, surrounded by her mother, Mercedes and Puck. A song about a haunted man singing to his mother wherein he intimates he’d rather not have been born woven into a birth scene of an unwanted child works for me. Having Quinn wailing and hollering dialogue that mirrors the lyrics followed by birth imagery in the choreography at the very moment the baby slips from Quinn’s (how to put this gently?) birth canal borders on inspired. The only thing stopping this sequence from being the best in the series is Jesse - I’m sorry, but he does not sing rock numbers that well; his voice is somewhat anemic when he tries to go for a throaty rock sound. He’s a competent singer, but some things are just not in his wheelhouse and Queen is certainly one of those things.
Rachel goes to Shelby and embarrasses herself yet again, begging her to be her mother by suggesting she come to McKinley High to co-coach glee with Will. Shelby reveals that she doesn’t want to coach glee anymore for any school, that she wants a life and a family. I can see where this is going and it smells like absurdity. Before that, though, Shelby again thwarts Rachel’s desperate desire for a mother. “I missed out on my chance with you, and it kills me, and I can’t let that happen again,” she tells Rachel, basically reiterating her previous selfishness in that she wants a baby, not this almost-grown-woman. Why don’t you just kick her in the fuckin snatch while you’re at it, Shelby, it might hurt less.
In the judges’ room, idiocy reigns supreme as Groban, Neuter-John and Rod (who “partied hard” with Freddie Mercury in the seventies) babble over who ought to win. Sue tries to corral them into simply voting Nude Erections last. Olivia, who screwed Sue out of any money she might make on their recording of “Physical,” earning her enmity, tears into our heroes, mocking their production values, choice of songs, attitude (“That whole ‘we’re inspiring, we’re a rag-tag bunch of misfits’ thing is so 2009”) and costumes.
In a turn so uncharacteristic that it borders on being out of character, Sue defends them, saying they’re just kids and that not everyone is afforded the same opportunities. Olivia’s not having it, though, and lays into Sue, calling her out on not being a real celebrity, “You just try hard and that’s about it.” They add insult to injury by comparing her to the objects of her ire, telling her that while they will be going back to L.A. later that night, she’ll be staying in Ohio, “just like those kids.”
The group that’s only there to give the illusion that the contest isn’t just between Nude Erections and Vocal Adrenaline (Oral Fixation or whomever) gets second place and Vocal Adrenaline picks up the big trophy, relegating our rag-tag group of misfits to third place. Well, third place is a place; does that mean they get to stay a club? And why was it so imperative that they win anyway? What was the actual reason their existence is in jeopardy in exactly the same way it was at the end of the first segment of the season? I really don’t know since it never really made sense.
Speaking of things that do less than make sense, Quinn and Puck are looking in at their daughter, Beth, whom Quinn does not intend to keep and she asks him if he loved her. When? The one time he had sex with her? His response is “Yes... and especially now.” Wait, when now? She asked a past tense question and you gave a present tense answer. So, does he love her? That would make no sense as their woefully under-developed connection couldn’t realistically be portrayed as “love” since there were hardly any scenes depicting them getting along. This typifies the troublesome nature of the episode and of the back nine in general. There are several things it does extremely well, but it tries to shoehorn some emotion in where none realistically fits because it’s the season finale and something has to happen.
Emma loses her shit when she finds out glee has been cut and has a screaming match with Figgins over his nonsensical handling of the situation. Will catches up to her and she yells at him about just laying down and taking it, asking him why he doesn’t fight for the kids. He insinuates she’s also talking about their aborted relationship and declares his love, planting a kiss on her, setting up next season’s Will/Emma/Carl the dentist love triangle. And who will be playing the dentist? John Stamos, who Emma once dismissed as talentless. Oh, metahumor! He leaves her stunned in the hallway as Rachel asks him to come to the auditorium.
Instead of being in class, the former members of the glee club line up on stage and each tell Will about who they were and what glee has done for them, even Mike and Matt (Yay, lines! I’m sure their mothers are ecstatic). As far as they’re concerned, they won because they got to be his students; it’s all very Mr Holland’s Opus. Everyone except Brittany, Mike and Matt get at least one line to sing on their own (the writers giveth and they taketh away).
But what’s this? Who’s that in the back of the room with tears in her eyes? It’s Sue, who actually voted for her hated rivals to win and when they didn’t, she waited for Will to finish packing up the chorus room before telling him that, in the interest of psycho-socially torturing him for another school year, she has blackmailed Figgins into giving them another year to prove themselves. Though she hates Will, deep down inside, she wants to see young people succeed, even if it means subjecting them to her own inhuman treatment of them for the betterment of themselves.
In the final scene of the season, Will tells them of their reprieve (which is, of course, met with glee) before he and Puck do an acoustic version (with ukulele!) of “Over the Rainbow.” The kids share moments of affection, togetherness and understanding in the final moments while Shelby swoops in and adopts Beth, creating a just-add-water family - replacing one daughter with another.
So that’s it - twenty-two hours down, at least forty-four to go. Despite rampant inconsistency and a mostly disappointing second half to its first season, due to the glimmers of genius that peek out from behind clouds of ineptitude and inanity and its dedicationto its own central conceits, that connection is imperative and music is the common language of humanity, Glee remains worth watching.
Grade: B+ (I wanted to give it an A- based solely on the strength of the first two musical numbers, but the rest of the episode pulled it down a notch)
“Faithfully/Any Way You Want It/Touchin Lovin Squeezin/Don’t Stop Believin” - Journey
“Bohemian Rhapsody” - Queen
“To Sir, with Love” - Lulu
“Over the Rainbow” - Judy Garland
Brittana - At a meeting to pick what songs the club will perform at competition, they are still in uniform for no apparent reason, but Kurt isn’t. This is the last time I’m going to bring it up. I kept hoping that there would be some kind of realism to this by the end of the season, but I now know it’s simply a pet peeve of mind and I have to just deal with it.
Albert Brooks - When Will walks into the auditorium as the judges are being announced, he’s in an aisle seat on the right-hand side of the screen.
The ________ Episode - If there was an obvious “Madonna episode” and people wanted to call “Theatricality” the “Lady Gaga episode,” why doesn’t anyone want to call this the “Journey episode?” I mean, it’s got twice as many Journey songs as “Theatricality” had Gaga songs; the episode’s even called “Journey” for fuck’s sake!
Jesse - sprays spit while he sings. You can see it twice near the beginning of his performance while he’s backlit. Eww. He’s also badly faking playing the piano.
Queen - So far, we’ve had Finn and Rachel doing “Somebody to Love,” and Jesse singing “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Seriously, stop. They did an ok job on “Somebody to Love,” but only due to my deep, abiding love for that song does it get by. Objectively, they weren’t good enough and Jesse certainly wasn’t. If you aren’t going to have Mercedes, Kurt or Santana (who has a surprisingly powerful voice) do it, please just don’t do any more Queen. I love them too much for you to keep turning in lackluster renditions of their music. That being said, I would kill for a gimmicky Queen-oriented episode.
Sue - (to Will) Your hair looks like a briar patch. I keep expecting racist animated Disney characters to pop up and start singin songs about “livin on the bayou.”
Announcer - She is fresh off her fifth consecutive national cheerleading title and author of the soon-to-be-published memoir I’m a Winner and You’re Fat, Ohio’s homegrown iconoclast, Coach Sue Sylvester!
Sue - And I know that you think I’m a bad person because I remain unmoved by your nattering of trite platitudes to your ill-shapen students about how the human condition can be improved by - yes - singing about it!