At this point, there are so many problems with Glee that is much easier to just say “it sucks!” and move on. Fortunately (or more likely, unfortunately) for you folks, I am much more verbose than that, and I am also so intrigued by the reasons that Glee has so many problems that I cannot really just let it go. I probably should, but I cannot. We all have our weakness I guess.
In any event, although last night’s episode, “Hold on to Sixteen,” wasn’t as outwardly offensive and awful as “I Kissed a Girl,” it probably embodies the series’ problems at this current stage of its life even more. In the first season, Glee used the competitions as the catalyst for weekly stories. Sure, the same kind of melodramatic, confusing nonsense happened just as it happens now (perhaps on a less nonsensical plane), but there was a sense, especially in the first 13 episodes, that the story was actually building to something and perhaps more importantly, that the characters cared so deeply about what happened at Sectionals. It was life or death for them.
The second half of season one brought us the second version of the series that I don’t like as much, but it still managed to make the Regional competition feel like a supremely crucial event with all sorts of personal implications. Season two had an otherworldly amount of problems and probably tried too hard to recapture the glory of first season’s competition episodes, but all three of them at least made an effort to feel like culmination to stories and character journeys that we watched previously. At times, those episodes felt like phantom culminations, but it’s hard to not at least appreciate Rachel’s songwriting struggles and the whole “getting to New York” thing that made Regionals and Nationals solid (but very flawed) season two episodes.
Therefore, comparing it to past competition episodes does “Hold on to Sixteen” absolutely no favors. Calling the “resolutions” in this episode “phantom culminations” is an insult to “Journey to Regionals” or “Original Song” or “New York.” Outside of Quinn’s “arc,” which I’ll address momentarily, this episode isn’t the culmination of anything. Instead, it’s an episode that pretends so hard to be the culmination of stories that either were undercooked or completely nonexistent. “Sixteen” brings stories that we were only sort of aware of (Finn and Blaine’s “rivalry,” Sam Evans) and tries to make us feel like that the resolution of those stories is a satisfying end to the fall semester.
Most hilarious of all, both of these stories were only fully addressed in this episode and not even given enough time to play out within Glee’s typically rushed “arc” structure. There have been hints of a Finn-Blaine rivalry, and honestly, it’s a really great idea. Finn’s been the longtime leader of New Directions, but Blaine is clearly more talented and a leader himself. The two of them butting heads over what songs to sing, how to motivate the group, etc. should have been a part of this whole part of the season. Not to mention, Blaine is the boyfriend of Finn’s step-brother, someone he reportedly adores enough to sing a Bruno Mars song to a wedding, another wrinkle that could have made their tension more complex. But this assumes that the writers recognize what makes a good story or how to write it. I find it pretty hilarious that the season hasn’t been interested in telling any stories about Blaine’s transition to a new school. He just fits right in!
Well, until he doesn’t. Even though Glee has dropped subtle clues about the simmering feud between the two men, it only becomes foregrounded early in this episode when Blaine decides that he’s had enough of Finn’s democracy and HE’S ESPECIALLY HAD ENOUGH OF TROUTY MOUTH’S ABS. First of all, what? Second of all, this isn’t the worst idea in the world, really. It’s not entirely connected to anything we have seen before, but it raises the stakes for this episode, which is basically all we can hope the series can do at this point. But instead of even delaying the resolution of the Finn-Blaine conflict until after New Directions wins Sectionals, this episode takes care of it in the very next scene. I’m pretty sure that two random looks five weeks ago, one yelling sequence and then a make-up fist-bump don’t make a story arc, but I’m absolutely sure all those things don’t make a story when the last two pieces come right after one another.
I wasn’t much of a Chord Overstreet/Sam Evans fan last season, but last night’s episode reminded me that it wasn’t really his fault. Because wouldn’t you know, the writers had no idea what to do with the character from the very beginning. He had four love interests in 20 episodes if you count Kurt, got engaged to be engaged to Quinn, then was randomly super-poor. The end!
So although I wasn’t very excited to have him return, I have to admit that the first 15 minutes of the episode (you know, the only part that actually focused on him) were pretty strong. Overstreet seemed a bit more comfortable in the role, perhaps because he wasn’t written like a complete idiot for once, and any scene with John Schneider calling someone “son” is going to be a favorite of mine. But Sam’s return ultimately didn’t have much impact on the episode itself. Most of his financial struggles happened off-screen, so when Pa Kent allows him to move back to Ohio (apparently to live by himself?), it’s the resolution to a story that we never actually saw. We saw the beginning and the end, but none of the middle. And once Mr. Evans made it back to the school, he was forgotten in the shuffle just like everyone else. He provided some wise advice to Quinn and came on to Mercedes, but that’s about it.*
*It’s interesting to me that the male characters have gotten, I guess, smarter, this season. Finn’s been much more intelligent (and supremely more idealistic), Puck feels like the fully-formed, mature 38 year-old that is and here we have a much smarter, if not ridiculously wise, Sam Evans. If there’s one thing I do like about this season, it’s that not everyone is a total idiot. I mean, they’re ALL idiots because the series treats them like so, but at least they’re not constantly saying ridiculously stupid stuff.
Meanwhile, the two “long-running” (which in Glee is two, maybe three episodes) stories that were given their due here were Mike Chang’s struggles with his father and Quinn’s rampage of insanity. The former was probably the most satisfying part of the episode, but only in comparison to the rest of the dreck. “Asian F” is most definitely the season’s strongest individual episode and Harry Shum Jr. has been great all season, but this story with him and his father has been fairly straightforward and repetitive since its inception. We knew that Mike Sr. would eventually break, because that’s what everyone on this series does. It would have been much more interesting for Mike Jr. to stick to his pre-med guns and fall into a despairing sadness, but the series was never going to do that. So I guess this “resolution” was fine, especially since it gave Jenna Ushkowitz something to do (this is honestly the first time that’s happened since last year’s Sectionals episode, so new tradition!?)
Quinn, on the other hand, Jesus. Perhaps we should be happy that the writers were dedicated to giving Dianna Agron material this season, but it’s hard to be satisfied with anything that took place when her characters was on screen this season. In eight episodes, she’s done the following: Become Avril Lavinge’s biggest fan, started smoking, burned a piano, decided she wanted her baby, that she never talked about last season, back, tried to plant evidence to get Shelby arrested by Child Protective Services, thrown herself at Puck, asked him for ANOTHER BABY, thrown herself at Sam and chosen to rat out Shelby and Puck’s sexual relationship. Quantitatively, that is a lot of stuff. Here’s the problem though: It was all awful. Dianna Agron’s a really great actress and she’s done her best with the material, but no one could come out of that looking right.
Despite all that, “Sixteen” did its best to allow Quinn and Agron to get out of it. Yet again, the writers tried to explain all their terrible work as some sort of mutated character development that doesn’t make a lick of sense. First, we were supposed to believe Quinn acted so awful last season because she was having body image issues related to her childhood (that we never had heard of before, mind you). Then we were supposed to believe that she’s been a crazy B for 2-plus years because she lost her baby. Now, we are supposed to take away from this episode that she’s been trying too hard to be too old and mature too fast. She, as the title suggest, needs to hold on to sixteen guys. By the end of the episode, likeable Quinn, you know the one we briefly saw when she was pregnant, is back. She’s wearing white, bringing the failed TroubleTones together and considering going to Yale. So just so you know, you too can plan to sabotage a healthy mother and make it to the Ivy League!
After a season that had so much promise and actually seemed dedicated to telling complex, moving stories about these characters, Glee is back to its old tricks and making even worse decisions. The theme episodes and original songs might be gone, but I’m not sure that this horrible, rushed treatment of the characters is actually any better than what season two brought us. “Hold on to Sixteen” pushes all those previously compelling stories under the rug (and avoids the most interesting one with Santana and her sexuality, of course), hits the reboot and prepares for yet another round of too-fast, underdeveloped arcs that will come with Regionals. Nothing matters anymore on Glee. Nothing.
- Competition episodes typically bring great musical performances, but none of these were particularly engaging or memorable. The Unitards’ performance, including Lindsay from The Glee Project in a sequence that literally said “Wait until next year” as to set up her move to McKinley that’s absolutely happening, was poorly put together and the Troubletones were just boring. New Directions’ random Michael Jackson medley was fine. I like “Man on the Mirror.”
- I saw a lot of people complaining about the disparity between the number of New Directions performances we saw versus the other two groups, but that’s happened in every episode like this, so I don’t know what the problem is.
- Will’s blown kiss to Emma was the most earned moment in the history of television. Poor Jayma Mays.
- So convenient how the ND’ers got out of their “too few members” pickle, eh? What a joke.
- Damian McGinty watch: The camera was actively trying to avoid him. So.
- I’m curious as to why the competition was held at McKinley this year. Budgetary reasons? Tight schedule? THIS MATTERS.