Note: I’m traveling today, so this will probably be shorter than normal.
Glee has a problem with penultimate episodes, apparently. Last season, FOX swapped the intended penultimate episode “Theatricality” with “Funk” because they wanted the former’s Lady Gaga-centric content to line up with the release of the latest soundtrack. This of course brought us the terrible, unseen plot twists where Jesse broke up with Rachel and left New Directions in the “Here’s what you missed” section of the episode because the production team had no choice. To top it all off, “Funk” was most certainly the most terrible episode of that first season, one that foreshadowed Horrible Person Will that we saw so often at the beginning of this second season.
“Funeral” is not as bad as “Funk,” and as an individual episode, it’s actually quite alright. If it aired in a vacuum, it wouldn’t be considered the best episode of the season, but it is certainly not the worst either. But as the penultimate episode of the season, “Funeral” oddly strips away so many of the season’s stories to focus first on stories we’ve already seen play out previously and second on “developing” the primary antagonist in such a way that she won’t be needed for the finale. That’s a super-odd way to write a penultimate episode, which I guess fits into Glee‘s backwards, mostly flawed way of storytelling. This is just how this series operates, apparently.
The last four or five episodes of Glee have been pretty damn good. The way the series figured out how to pull together the stories of Kurt, Karofsky and Santana was impressive, both for the emotional depth and the fact that these writers knew how to pull together disconnected stories (It’s the little things, people). For better or for worse, those characters (along with Brittany and maybe Artie) have been the driving force of the season. We didn’t quite know it at the beginning amid all the terrible episodes, but the second half of this second season figured out how to make it work. While I was watching last week’s prom episode, it felt like something of a conclusion to those stories. But I didn’t expect the series to treat it literally as a conclusion. Karofsky is nowhere to be seen here, neither is Blaine. Meanwhile, Kurt and Santana are part of the diva-off sort of competition for ND top dog, but there’s no mention of their sexuality, their issues or anything like that. And I’m nearly 100 percent sure that those conversations won’t be had in next week’s finale when the episode is too busy pointing how amazing and inspiring New York City is. Karofsky and Blaine will probably not be there.
So that’s it, I guess. The big stories Glee wanted to tell this season are mostly over and “Funeral” pivots towards something new, which is really something old: Sue and the Finn/Rachel/Quinn/Jesse love quadrangle. Individually, neither of these stories is particularly problematic (of course, they’re manipulative), but their placement here makes very little sense and squanders away the season’s momentum in place of redeeming one antagonist and perhaps creating another. Maybe.
Obviously, Sue is a difficult character to get a handle on. She’s the break-out character of the series, so even though the end of season one hinted at a much calmer, subtler and perhaps helpful Sue, the writers very quickly in season two (as in during the first episode) that she couldn’t be that way. Yeah, she voted for New Directions at Regionals and yeah, she started to see that she shares more in common with them than she would like to admit. But apparently using Sue’s Lima pull to actually help the glee club doesn’t fit with Sue’s overblown persona. It’s not that the writers couldn’t figure out how to write a different, more mature version of Sue, they just didn’t try to do. Every now and again, they’ll give her a moment of humanity, but it comes at opportune and manipulative times in between the periods of mass destruction and Legion of Doom-creating. And really, Sue hasn’t even been used that much in these last half-dozen episodes or so. She’s been plotting, but it’s been in the background.
So of course “Funeral” spends a good amount of its running time on Sue and yet another possible transformation for the character at the end of a season (she surely won’t be in the finale). It is most certainly sad that Sue’s sister has passed away, even if it creates some of the most wildly insane Glee logic ever (we’ll plan your funeral!), and Jane Lynch handles the content of this episode very, very well. But killing off Sue’s sister, having her go through this transformation by recognizing that Will and the kids care about her despite all the awful things she’s done, it’s just not important and not connected to anything that’s gone on this season. It would be wonderful to see what happens in season three with Sue actually helping the glee club or at least not actively trying to destroy it, but then what does she have to do? The writers of this series are not very creative in terms of developing new plotlines for existing characters. Everyone has been living in a circular pattern. I’d love to think that Sue will actually run for office and TRY TO FIX HEALTH INSURANCE ISSUES (this is really what she suggested), but it’s just too hard to believe. We’ve already been done this road before.
And speaking of that, the other big plot of this episode revolves around other beats we’ve seen and others that just don’t matter. Jesse is now a glee club advisor and he suggests having a competition to determine the top member of New Directions. This isn’t the most terrible idea of all-time, but again, it doesn’t really matter in the context of the season. If we were to have followed an interesting story with Mercedes or Rachel or Kurt or Santana (at least as far as music goes with those last three), their showdown might have meant something. It could have been the culmination of all their hard work, blah blah blah. Nope, it’s just a random way to stick in musical performances, right in the middle of the episode. Not only is this a worthless plotline created just so Will can say “No way, we’re all in this together, as a group” at the end, but it completely derails any of the emotional momentum of the funeral plot, however out-of-the-blue it may have been. These feel like two distinct episode ideas smashed into one, where the music showdown was probably the main idea, but then the writers realized they needed an emotional button for Sue’s final episode.
Also, Finn breaks up with Quinn and finally realizes he loves Rachel. But she’s actually charmed by Jesse, who although is clearly just here to serve as a foil for Finn, appears to actually like Rachel. In doing this, the writers have combined their big relationship tensions from both the first half of season one (Quinn/Rachel/Finn) and the end of it (Finn/Rachel/Jesse) to create one giant, stupid story. Quinn can now be the primary antagonist the series so desperately wants her to be, for some reason, and Finn can be heroic in getting Rachel back. I’m sort of invested in Finn and Rachel being together, but I didn’t need to see it happen through the exact same story framework we’ve already seen.
Finally, more out of nowhere stuff! Will is trying out for Broadway! Wait, what? As friend of the blog Myles McNutt pointed out in his review, this is basically the Friday Night Lights season one approach, which I guess is fine? It, like most of this episode, brings us closer to a conclusion that might be emotionally satisfying in the moment, but is not connected to anything that came before it. I guess that’s fitting for a season that’s been so messy, so often.