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TV Review: Glee – “Swan Song”

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“Swan Song,” the latest episode of FOX’s Glee, is a mixed bag. Part of the episode is very good, and part of the episode stinks. Scenes and plot make a move for greatness, and then either embrace it, or chicken out. Interestingly, the setting of said scenes tend to be a good indicator as to which end of the spectrum they fall on.

So the New Directions lose Sectionals. Last week’s episode ended with them leaving the stage after Marley (Melissa Benoist) faints. Many assumed the club would pick up their performance at the start of the week’s installment, and while “Swan Song” does begin moments after the previous episode ended, this is not to be the case.

Sue (Jane Lynch) is the instigator who shuts down the New Directions’ chances for good. She has done many mean things, but nitpicking rules to get them disqualified is especially sinister. It seems to just be in the name of fulfilling a personal vendetta against Finn (Cory Monteith) for a rude comment he made weeks ago, as even Sue begins to wonder if she is going too far. But the point is, Sue gets away with it, the glee club season is over, Finn fails as a director, and everyone blames Marley for blowing their shot.

It’s a very disheartening episode. “Swan Song” sees the members of the group meandering, several of them feeling very down on themselves, and the seniors losing all hope for their final year. The various singers switch to new clubs far too fast, and are accepted way too readily to be believable into these new groups, especially Artie (Kevin McHale), somehow scoring a band leadership position at a time when marching band is also over for the year. The thing that hits home is that the glee club is kaput, and they are all sad.

The only person that is truly happy about their failure is Brad the Piano Player (Brad Ellis), who gets his first line of the series, despite having appeared throughout, when he thanks Sue for saving him from the rude kids. It’s a tongue-in-cheek joke that answers some concerns about realism in the show as a whole, without taking itself too seriously.

As dire as this seems, though, there is never any doubt about the end result. Finn and Marley feel bad, they help each other get over it, and then everyone is swayed into returning for a feel good finale to the tune of “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” Not only is this totally predictable, and lets characters off the hook much too easily, the moment is spoiled in FOX’s promos for the episode, which is yet another reason to avoid commercials and previews of any kind.

The story of the loss itself is gripping, but the cop out finale somewhat ruins any pathos generated, making “Swan Song” fall flat. Yes, Glee is a tale of triumph. But flopping so big, so early in the season calls for more than a couple of e-mails and a few inspiring words. Presumably, Glee doesn’t want to spoil its planned happy Christmas episode. However, the series would have done much, much better to focus on the pathos, rather than the recurring themes of togetherness, a move that has deepened the New York story considerably, which I’ll get to in a moment.

And while the New Directions, being disqualified, should be considered third place at Sectionals (out of three), look for the Warblers to be disqualified, too, and the group to get a second chance. If they don’t, and are truly done with competition for the year, it will be better for the series, I think, and it would definitely be a surprise.

For some reason, Sugar Motta (Vanessa Lengies) sits this entire fiasco out. She doesn’t appear in a single scene, including when the group comes back together in the end. Sure, she’s not a main character, but like Unique’s (Alex Newell) recent week off, it’s a glaring omission that spoils the story, knowing a vital member of the club has just disappeared at an important moment. She needs to be there, at least in the wide shots.

Yet, Kitty (Becca Tobin), whose inclusion in the New Directions still baffles, and who doesn’t really seem to care about the club, does come for the cold, outdoor, end performance. Why? It doesn’t make ense.

The other arc happening at McKinley this week is Brittany (Heather Morris) getting with Sam (Chord Overstreet). This has been telegraphed all fall, but it doesn’t make the inevitable kiss any easier to swallow. Even a decent duet of “Somethin’ Stupid” doesn’t make their pairing feel right, and hopefully the relationship will be short-lived, like Brittany’s previous dalliance with Artie.

The reason I don’t like Sam and Brittany as a pair is not because she is previously part of a lesbian couple, despite what her character says on screen in acknowledgement to fan resistance; Brittany is established pretty firmly as being bi-sexual in earlier seasons. Instead, it’s because they just don’t feel right together. There is no spark, no warmth, no connection. I like both of the characters very much, and they deserve better than being thrust together just because they are blond and ditzy.

On to New York City, where “Swan Song” shines. Rachel (Lea Michelle) continues to butt heads with Cassandra (Kate Hudson), which leads to a terrific dance off while singing “All That Jazz.” For a bit, Rachel keeps up, really allowing Michelle to show off just how deep her talent goes, and illustrating the growth of the character. In the end, though, the dancing vet, Cassandra, wins out with the physical moves.

It’s nice to see Rachel find her niche, and learn something about herself. She may not be great at dancing, but the confrontation leads her to redouble her confidence about her singing ability. The dance classes will still be important, as she will have a better chance at parts on Broadway if she is well rounded. But with a rare voice like Rachel’s, there is no denying the power she has, and that she can succeed without being the best mover on the floor.

Rachel has ample opportunity to flaunt her talent when Carmen Tibideaux (Whoopi Goldberg) selects her for a special Winter Showcase, the first freshman picked in years. Rachel’s “Being Good Isn’t Good Enough” brings down the house, so much so that she is allowed an encore of “O Holy Night.” Both numbers soar, and it’s not hard to believe at all when Rachel wins against more experienced upperclassmen. Her voice, and the way that she uses it, is rare, even in the company of other performers.

“Swan Song” takes a more unexpected turn, though, when Carmen allows Kurt (Chris Colfer) to sing in front of everyone at the showcase, too. It’s a trial by fire, the second chance he asked for, but when he least expects it. It may be that Carmen wants to see how he will do under pressure, or thinks that he might be better if he doesn’t over prepare. Whatever the reason, this comes on Caremn’s terms, and Kurt gets to sing “Being Alive,” which is enough to gain his entry into NYADA.

Kurt’s triumph is a great moment for Glee. He’s no Rachel, of course, but he does deserve to be there, and it’s satisfying that he finally is able to show it. It doesn’t feel hokey because of the gravitas that Goldberg brings to the situation, and the sincerity she lends to the twist.

My only regret is that this may spell the end for Isabelle (Sarah Jessica Parker), who has been an absolute joy this year, as Kurt will probably quit his job to attend classes. Please, oh please, give her a goodbye, and not just have her never appear again!

The stark contrast between the New York and McKinley stories, as well as the maturation Rachel and Kurt have gone through, make an argument to ditch the high school stuff completely after this season. It’s not that there are no more stories to tell there, but it’s that the writers seem hard pressed to come up with them. Or, at least, to put as much effort into the students’ parts, as they do the best alumni. For this reason, it may be time to sacrifice some of Glee so that another piece can flourish.

Glee will next present it’s Christmas episode, “Glee, Actually,” this Thursday at 9 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