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TV Review: Glee – “Born This Way”

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FOX’s Glee presented a special hour-and-a-half-long episode last night. Among the big events are the return of Kurt (Chris Colfer), and Emma (Jayma Mays) finally seeing a medical professional (Kathleen Quinlan, Prison Break, Family Law) about her problems. The Warblers may also have given their last performance. Besides these, Santana (Naya Rivera) forms an alliance with a chastised Dave Karofsky (Max Adler), and Brittany (Heather Morris) encourages Santana to embrace who she is. All of the New Directions try to convince Rachel (Lea Michele) not to get a nose job, and Santana, Quinn (Dianna Agron), and Lauren (Ashley Fink) begin their battle for prom queen. All of this, with no sign of the scheming Honey Badger, a.k.a. Terri (Jessalyn Gilsig), in sight!

First up, this episode is practically a PSA to combat the bullying of homosexual teens, in a purely good way. Santana gets the ball rolling by realizing Dave is gay when she sees him check out Sam’s (Chord Overstreet) butt. Immediately formulating an evil scheme, which she is uber-good at, Santana blackmails Dave into helping her. Threatening to out him, she forces Dave to apologize to Kurt and the New Directions, setting the stage for her to take credit for taming the beast, and be launched into serious prom queen candidate territory. Plus, just like that, the days of slushie face may be gone for the beloved glee clubbers.

Santana is a seriously force to be reckoned with, and she’s come so far in a mere two seasons. “The only straight I am is straight-up bitch” may be Santana’s new motto, but at least she uses her powers to encourage tolerance and acceptance. She’s only mean to those who deserve it anymore, other than some blunt, but honest, comments to her friends from time to time. Now that she’s in good with her fellow singers, all the remains is for her to embrace her own homosexuality, which will be made easier when Brittany finally dumps Artie and comes around to Santana. It’s bound to happen, possibly by season’s end.

Adler, for his part, kills with nuance. During Dave’s apology to Kurt, he does go off on a tangent, citing teen suicides and YouTube videos. But it is believable that he is starting to change, as Dave’s dad (Daniel Roebuck) claims to be witnessing. Dave may be forced to start an anti-bullying group and PFLAG chapter, but he does do it, and with little complaint. His apology to the New Directions and Kurt sounds sincere, and there is even a hint that Dave might be grateful to Santana for forcing this change. It’s way too early to start lobbying for Dave to come out of the closet, and he will probably never be a member of the glee club, but every step is a welcome one.

How long will the Dave / Santana beard relationship last? Will anyone buy it for very long? Neither is out, but each secret is known by a couple of people. Even if friends, and Kurt, stay faithful to their promise to keep their mouths shut, surely someone will start to notice. After all, Dave is doing a sudden 360 with his attitude in public. Someone is bound to question his motivations.

McKinley’s most-missed student, Kurt, returns to much fanfare this week. Appearing on the outside steps of the high school, he is left with a farewell musical number, “Somewhere Only We Know,” from his former group, The Warblers, as he rejoins his friends.

The only disappointment in Kurt’s transfer back to the public high school is that he leaves behind boy toy Blaine (Darren Criss). Blaine’s popularity has been huge, but rather than joining Kurt at McKinley during this triumphant moment, Blaine hangs back and says goodbye. Rumors are already swirling that Blaine may hang up the tie and jacket by fall, and considering how much fans would love that, and Criss’s willingness to commit to the series, it looks likely Blaine will only stay on the outside a short while longer.

Kurt is deeply missed by his former classmates and viewers alike. Just after he once more graces the halls, almost an entire act, commercial to commercial, is devoted to Kurt singing “As If We Never Said Goodbye.” It is a high point of the season, a song much more extended than most of Glee‘s numbers, showcasing Colfer’s incredible range. It’s hard not to be moved as he nails the high notes in his unique falsetto. Kurt makes his mark immediately, and thankfully, his absence has at last come to an end.

Also back where she belongs is Emma, finally rid of Carl (John Stamos), and flirting with Will (Matthew Morrison) again. But Will is no longer content to stand by and watch Emma be paralyzed by her OCD, so he pushes her to get help. She resists, even claiming “Ginger” as her biggest flaw to overcome, rather than her real issue. It’s a big step to take for someone who doesn’t even admit they need help. Emma acknowledges she has a problem, but declines to seek to correct it, even though she admits she wasn’t born this way.

Mental illness is a tough stigma in modern society. At the time when mankind is finally starting to understand these types of diseases and find ways to treat them, many still consider it supreme weakness to admit to suffering from them. Emma is no different. But her willingness to eventually seek help, in the form of therapy and medication, sends a positive message to viewers that it’s OK to embrace who you are, and to ask for help as needed. Far from looking vulnerable, it’s a testament to her strength that she can get past pride and shame to find relief.

Glee is strongest when tackling the serious dramatic issues of its characters, but often, it has to get past the silly to get to them. While comedy is an essential element of the show, there is a fine line between funny and goofy. This week’s closest dance to that line is Rachel getting her nose broken by Finn’s (Cory Monteith) bad dancing. Poor Finn just can’t move gracefully, though he seeks help from Mike Chang, shown with their performance of “I Gotta Be Me.”

Finn’s bad footwork leads him to unintentionally bop Rachel in the face, causing her nose to look like Jan’s from The Brady Bunch after its unfortunate meeting with the infamous football. Further comments, such as the doctor saying that a nose job is a right of passage for Jewish girls, only make the scene less realistic. The final nail in the coffin is that neither of Rachel’s dads even show up for the consultation or at the doctor’s office. True, they have not been cast, but if there’s any time Rachel needed them, it’s now.

Instead, Rachel’s friends have to convince her that surgery would be a mistake. Many speak out, and things come to a head as Kurt, Puck (Mark Salling), and others lead a flash mob to Duck Sauce’s “Barbara Streisand.” Believe it or not, though, the singing and dancing through the mall has real emotional impact, and turns a ridiculous plot into something real to contend with.

Quinn also faces her dissatisfaction with herself when Lauren, in a bid to lead Quinn in the prom queen polls, digs up pictures of Quinn from middle school, pre-nose job, pre-hair dye, pre-weight loss. It’s a startling contrast, but those who care about Quinn, including eventually Lauren, are supportive. The move backfires, and Quinn gains fans all over the school, upsetting Lauren’s plot. Luckily, Lauren is classy enough to apologize, and the two form some mutual respect.

Rachel and Quinn’s stories converge with the two dueting to “Unpretty”/”I Feel Pretty.” It’s a sweet summation of what is going through Rachel’s mind as she contemplates getting Quinn’s nose, as well as a bittersweet look back, in retrospect, to Quinn’s past. Lauren doesn’t join in because she is already comfortable with who she is. But these three girls really find out something about themselves this week.

The whole message of “Born This Way” echoes both the song by the same title, which the New Directions perform spectacularly at the end of the episode, and the theme of the entire series. Glee is all about overcoming whatever life throws at you, and accepting who you are. The show has dealt with this message directly before, and does so here again. Perhaps this is why Lady Gaga is their unofficial mascot, as she preaches the same.

A quick look at some of the “flaw” t-shirts the club made, which they wore during the closing number:

Will – “Butt-Chin” Seriously? This is the best the writers can come up with? Are we supposed to believe Will is perfect, save for his face dimple? No.

Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) – “Brown Eyes” Why is she upset about having brown eyes? When she laments about the lack of pretty, female Asian role models, she is clearly forgetting Olivia Munn, Lucy Liu, etc.

Rachel – “Nose” Big noses are beautiful. I’m not Jewish, and I’ve always believed that. Why can’t girls with big noses realize it?

Sam – “Trouty Mouth” So I guess Sam and Santana are just done then, with no break up? Yet he wears a shirt with her “pet name” for him, so…

Santana – “Lebanese” Far more appropriate than the one she made, this is the latest in a long line of Brittany mistakes, which elicit serious laughs.

Brittany – “I’m With Stoopid” (arrow pointing up) and Puck – “I’m With Stupid” (arrow pointing down) Puck often thinks with the wrong head, and Brittany knows she isn’t the most educated. While both are purely for fun, they score as hilarious, and the best of the bunch!

Mike – “I Can’t Sing” and Finn – “I Can’t Dance” Yep on both counts. Mike’s bad voice has been referenced before, most notably in “Duets”, which begs the question, why is he even in the club? Except, every glee club needs an awesome dancer, and between Mike and Brittany, New Directions has two.

Kurt – “Likes Boys” Not a flaw. Come on, Glee! You spend a whole season telling us there’s nothing wrong with being gay, and then Kurt puts it on his shirt here?

Bottom Line: Funny is good. The others didn’t work so well.

Glee airs Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com
  • Unique

    I think you missed the point of the shirts. It wasn’t about stating there flaws. It was about accepting something about them they feel insecure about. Thats what they mentioned in the beginning of the episode that a lot of them are insecure about something that actually makes them unique and special. So You obviously didn’t understand the episode.