Glee somehow manages to deliver some of its best stuff and its worst in this week’s episode, “The End of Twerk” this week. Much of the hour was a very inane statement about freedom of speech and “twerking,” while the rest was about rebelling in a good way, the best of ways, really, standing up for yourself and fighting back when things aren’t fair.
Since when did a particular obscene dance move count as free speech? And assuming that it does for a moment, as that’s really neither here nor there, when did public schools have to hold freedom of speech over decency standards? Most K-12 institutions would never be considered on the cutting edge of what’s acceptable, taking a much more conservative approach. It feels like a strange battle and an even stranger battleground.
Will (Matthew Morrison) comes out of the gate strong which his argument that the kids should be allowed to twerk, leading what seems like the whole school in a rendition of “Blurred Lines.” The number is highly inappropriate, not to mention, where did all these other students who are joining in the dance come from? It feels staged, false, and is bound to make some, this reviewer included, terribly uncomfortable, based on the setting.
I actually respect Sue (Jane Lynch) for dressing down Schue afterwards. Firing him is going too far, though it’s very strange how the rest of “The End of Twerk” acts like Will still has his job. Even the school board meeting scene is Will fighting against a twerking ban, with nary a mention of his career. So as much as I enjoyed both the point Will makes about different dance styles and his mocking the principal with a Sue-style tantrum, Sue is in the right here, and story is mostly poorly concocted.
I could also complain about the reference to “Western Ohio,” but I feel like I’ve got nothing new to say about how no writer on Glee apparently has heard of Google, and how disappointing it is to see a series get just about everything about the Buckeye state wrong, so I won’t.
The other bit that sucks this week is Marley (Melissa Benoist) finding out from Bree (Erinn Westbrook) that Jake (Jacob Artist) is cheating with the Cheeri-o. As mentioned in last week’s review, this seems out of character and comes from nowhere. Not to mention, it just isn’t entertaining story. We get a decent performance of a terrible song as Marley croons “Wrecking Ball,” but other than that, this plot is irredeemable.
Thank goodness the other major McKinley story, this one involving Wade “Unique” Adams (Alex Newell), is fantastic! Bullied by his classmates, Unique seeks a bathroom he can use in peace, and instead finds himself in the middle of a battle that results in Sue bolting down a purple porta-potty in the choir room. The New Directions come together to support Unique, and by the end of the episode, I dare anyone to not be moved by this student’s story.
I can’t imagine any other series giving viewers as real a portrayal of a transgendered teenager in the modern era. Glee broke new ground a few years back with its depiction of homosexuals, but Unique is even bolder territory. It’s easy to see how and why stupid adolescents would pick on Unique, but the brave way the character is used makes Unique feel fully realized and sympathetic.
The climax of this thread happens when Unique laments “If I Were A Boy.” The most moving number in quite some time, we feel the pain. Newell is very much like Unique in real life, as those who watched The Glee Project will attest, and I think that brings a level of rawness an actor separated from the part would struggle with achieving. Unique’s tears are the tears of many a kid out there, and should be required viewing for all high school students. Who could still pick on a person like Unique after watching this and feeling her frustration and hurt?
Kudos to Glee for standing up for what is right and humanizing an issue that is far too often reduced to political or religious squabbling.
In New York, Rachel (Lea Michele) and Kurt (Chris Colfer) feel stuck in their lives, still lamenting Finn’s (Cory Monteith) passing, and decide they need to make some bold changes in order to feel like they are alive again. To do this, first Rachel fakes a new hair style without checking with her director, Rupert (Peter Facinelli), which doesn’t go over so well until she proves she’s still sexy in a charged performance of “You Are Woman, I Am Man” with Paolo (Ioan Gruffudd). Then, Rachel and Kurt get drunk and get tattoos, which doesn’t quite go how either expects.
I like both that Rachel’s “haircut,” which actually fits the part she’s playing very well, causes a problem, but also that it does not become a big, lasting thing. Her attitude that she is untouchable is a little too diva-ish for a young actress getting her first break, but I can see what she is going for, and by donning a wig, not actually trimming the locks, she shows she is smart enough to leave an escape hatch. Rupert has every right to be mad at her, but when he decides he likes the change, that’s a satisfying pay-off, too.
Also, while not a big fan of the side tattoo, Rachel having the name Finn scrolled on her is a sweet tribute. It’s not like she got the tattoo of a boyfriend while he was still alive; it’s a memorial to a loved one who died too soon, making it all right, even as she will eventually move on with someone else. Keeping it a secret may seem a little strange. but it’s really no one else’s business, anyway, a mark done truly only for her own benefit. Very nice.
Kurt’s tale with the tattoo place is actually even more unexpected and cool. At first, Kurt lashes out at the artist (Bradford Tatum, Magic City) for a misspelling that is actually Kurt’s own fault. While some tough guys would kick Kurt’s butt, this particular man sympathizes, offers wise advice, and even helps Kurt out. It’s a surprising pairing, surely a single episode guest stint, but it’s also a really neat one that gives Kurt just what he needs. Well done.
Oh, and then there’s the big finish number of “On Our Way.” Not particularly stand-out, but a feel-good ending in the series’ own style, so it works.
When Glee sticks with its more mature stories, the ones in New York, it does right by its fans. When it continues the original mission of promoting tolerance, diversity, and acceptance of others, as it does in a fresh way with Unique, it soars. There are some things Glee does wrong, and much of the criticism it gets is justified. But there are also things it does exceedingly well, and those should be acknowledged, too. “The End of Twerk” has both, and as much as I might wish for more of the latter, at least it’s true to form.
Glee airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.