Watching and writing about television is a pretty painless experience in the grand scheme of things. But disregarding the world’s real problems for a moment, watching and writing about Glee can be fairly traumatic, you guys. Every time I think the series has lost its way for good, it pulls me back in with a scene, sequence or even full act that’s full of life (and often despair, but hey, I like my Glee sad). And then, just when I think maybe the writers stumbled into a quality premise or, shockingly, a completely good episode, that goodwill is quickly squandered, often by awkward white guy rapping.
“On My Way” exemplifies the Glee experience about as well as any episode in recent memory. There are 12-18 minutes of legitimately FANTASTIC television within this episode’s running time. But the problem is those minutes are followed up by a half-hour of typical Glee crap: disregarded stories from five minutes ago, poorly-conceived musical selections, random personality transplants for characters, lots of “telling” instead of showing and of course, awkward white guy rapping. I can deal with Glee when it operates within its typical rhythms of unreality full of overstuffed plotting and overheated, preaching themes. But when the series ropes me in with 15 minutes of real, powerful emotion and then jumps right back into that unreality, I want to punch myself in the face for deciding to watch that damn pilot in May 2009 in the first place.
Seriously, if someone ever questions Glee’s ability to create powerful moments, I’ll show them the opening minutes of this episode. This season has been especially adept at using the musical performances in a montage-like sequence to tell multiple stories or evoke multiple, related emotions at once and Karofsky’s suicide attempt set to Blaine’s performance of “Cough Syrup” is the best of them all. Sure, the sequence would have had even more impact had Karofsky been in more than three episodes this season, but even those short moments we’ve spent with him (especially in last week’s episodes), Glee has done a solid job of building up his inability to achieve peace with his identity. And of course it was completely manipulative of the series to use Karofsky’s issues to cast a shadow over the Regionals proceedings, but this is Glee and sometimes its manipulation can be quite effective.
But like so many stories this season, Karofsky’s suicide attempt was quickly disregarded as an A-plot so that the episode could turn its focus to the typical performance episode nonsense and its already-established mediocre plot-lines. My assumption was that Regionals would be the big showdown between New Directions and the now-evil Warblers, but moments after the Karofsky news, Sebastian is completely apologetic about all his actions, mostly because he was also an awful human being to Karofsky as well.
Instead of moving forward with the already-established tension, “On My Way” decides to add a new layer of tension, one that evokes powerful emotions in the moment but completely erases everything that was in-place beforehand. Thus, after one (admittedly heartfelt) apology from Sebastian, his legitimately insane actions over the last month are completely forgiven. I understand that in light of an attempted suicide, attempted blinding by rock salt slushie loses its meaning, but I find it a bit hard to believe that either group of kids was that attached to Karofsky that they’d drop the previous beef so quickly. This is only exacerbated further by the actual dreaded performance part of the episode, which sinks back into the same exact pattern the series established two and a half years ago: Weird judges, poorly-planned performances and a whole lot of friendly competition. Finn and Mike Chang dance along to the Warbler’s performances. Sam blows them a kiss, he thinks they are so good. And the Warblers are similarly enthused by the New Directions truly miserable and uninspired performances.
The episode makes some half-hearted attempt to make Regionals about Karofsky’s problems, but the performances never give the impression that they’re about him, in his honor or about anything, really. The groups just sing because this is a series about singing and this is the episode where they sing even more than normal. Much like Santana’s slapping of Finn earlier in the season, Glee uses Karofsky’s suicide attempt as a way to evoke extremely moving emotions in the moment, but fails to capitalize on them or contextualize them so they matter in the long-run.
And by the time all the typical Regionals nonsense is out of the way, all the emotion and power is sucked out of the episode, replaced by empty victories and uninspired clichés about the future. In a world where Glee isn’t the series it has become, there is a great story to be told about how Karofsky’s suicide attempt coalesces with the graduating seniors’ final Regionals performance and what that means for that ambiguous thing known as the future. And to be fair, the episode tried to do that with the group scene in the auditorium where Will’s almost-suicide. Matthew Morrison did a tremendous job with that kind of hackneyed dialogue and the whole atmosphere of the moment was given a certain amount of reverence and weight that aligned well with what happened to Karofsky. But outside of that short moment and the one conversation between Kurt and Karofsky, “On My Way” uses the tragedy surrounding Karofsky when it wants to and then disregards it when it is perhaps too difficult to actually engage with the issues and tension the event could, in theory, create.
Of course, this analysis disregards the stupidity of the episode’s final five minutes. Only Glee can start the episode with a “It Gets Better” Public Service Announcement, transition to a predictable glut of mediocrity and then finish with a DON’T TEXT WHILE DRIVING PSA. Listen, I agree. We probably shouldn’t text while driving. But Glee is a series where the lead protagonist sending a foe to a crack house was basically disregarded as “oh well, it happens” and where teen drinking is overlooked as “kids, they are cray.” And to use Quinn, a character who has already experienced a stupid amount of tragedy and character assassination, as a way to teach this lesson is even more stupefying. I get the desire to have a big cliffhanger for the extended break, but after the opening 15 minutes of the episode and all that was squandered in the following 20, I can’t even begin to understand why anyone thought this was a good idea, story-wise.
But…this is Glee. Reasons aren’t needed, apparently.
- I didn’t even get to mention Sue’s pregnancy. I’ll say this: Jane Lynch is doing very fine work as this reborn version of Sue and I actually kind of like the character. But A) It’s unfortunate that the writers are making hormones the cause of all her horrible previous actions and B.) We know that they will pull the rug out from under us eventually anyway.
- Mid-way through New Direction’s Regionals performance, the extra girls from the TroubleTones showed up to sing with Santana and Brittany. I assumed that was supposed to be some sort of culmination of a story about Will valuing everyone’s talent, but, LOL.
- There were so many fantastic reaction shots during the Regionals performances: The aforementioned Sam Evans kiss-blowing, Will’s awkward white guy dancing and everything that Jeff Goldblum was doing.