FOX’s Glee spends a bit of time on its primary villain this week with “The Rise and Fall of Sue Sylvester.” Sue (Jane Lynch) is the loud-mouthed, abrasive, arts-hating, championship-winning cheerleading coach-turned-principal at McKinley High. But why is she this way? What makes her tick? Why is she so bent on destroying the glee club? This hour touches on those things, stopping short of really delving into the part the way it should.
There’s no denying Sue is a complex character, but she isn’t always written that way. In the best Glee episodes, we see that Sue’s harsh attitude comes from pushing the kids to do their best, their future and self in her mind. She rarely goes after anyone for something they can’t help, such as sexual preference, physical disability, or gender confusion. Instead, she attacks their interests and the way they spend their time.
However, like the rest of Glee, the portrait painted above isn’t always consistent. Sometimes, she has attacked for petty or no reason. Sometimes, she shows unexpected kindness where she shouldn’t. Sometimes, her actions just plain don’t make sense. That’s the way this show is written, and it with the end a mere two weeks away, that doesn’t change now.
“The Rise and Fall of Sue Sylvester” makes some attempts to correct those inconsistencies, though it doesn’t go far enough. It attempts to explain away her hatred of the arts, not just because she thinks they are a waste of valuable time, but because they are the passion of her unloving mother, Doris (Carol Burnett). Bringing Doris in, the two sing a healing and fun rendition of “The Trolley Song” from Meet Me in St. Louis, though Sue is not at all changed by this.
Following the number, she takes over coaching Vocal Adrenaline through the energetic “Far From Over,” determined to destroy Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) because of a personal vendetta. What has Will done to deserve this? I always assumed Sue’s annoyance with Will mainly stemmed from his pushing of a subject she detests, and that’s usually how it’s portrayed. They are often friends, especially in the later days of Glee, and Will, along with Beiste (Dot-Marie Jones), stands up for Sue when her character is attacked this week. Why is she going after him now? Other than providing a dramatic showdown for the story, it doesn’t make sense. Though, Sue and VA are a match made in heaven, er, hell.
The character assassination doesn’t make sense either. Becky Jackson (Lauren Potter), Sue’s best friend in the world and near clone of the coach, turns against her for no good reason. Becky exposes some of Sue’s lies to Geraldo Rivera (himself), and they are aired on television. This is a fun sequence with cameos by Carnie Wilson, Michael Bolton, and others, playing themselves, and it works to prove Sue is really insecure, making up things. Either that, or she believes what she says, and others attack her for no reason, like her mother did, also giving a credible explanation for her character. But this refusal to pick one direction ends up making the sequence messy and insincere, ruining it overall.
Lynch is an incredible actress and Glee gives her the break-out role she deserves. It’s fitting she should get such focus just before the series’ end. Too bad it’s done with such weak effort, stopping short of truly giving us an idea of who Sue Sylvester is.
Elsewhere in the episode, Dalton Academy burns down and the Warblers are forced to join with the New Directions because apparently there are no other legit private schools in the area. (This is not true, though it sort of depends on which area you’re talking about, as McKinley’s Lima and Dalton’s Westerville are hours apart in real life, but I’ll leave my complaints about how poorly Glee has always treated Ohio in my past reviews.) This should be a major plot, a coming together of two rivals, but since the meat of the hour is given over to Sue, it’s reduced to a couple small bits and a big, unearned healing number in “Rise.” Apparently we don’t get to see the adjustment arc; they are just now one big happy glee club with enough numbers for Sectionals. Oh, and it looks like maybe half the Warblers actually came, if that, even though the characters talk like the entire group has transferred, and barely a mention is made of how they screw over Jane (Samantha Marie Ware) earlier in the season. So, bad job all around.
The final subplot squeezed into “The Rise and Fall of Sue Sylvester” is that Rachel (Lea Michele) somehow convinces Carmen (sadly unseen this week) to let her back into NYADA, and Carmen relents just as Rachel is offered another Broadway role. Rachel is torn, understandably, with Kurt (Chris Colfer), Blaine (Darren Criss), and Mercedes (Amber Riley) supporting Broadway, and only a disappointed Sam championing school. This decision is actually handled pretty well by Glee, and while I think school has to be her decision, I’m not sure it will be. Thankfully, no answer is given, as this needs more mulling over.
My problem with this subplot is not how it’s done, but when it occurs. Rachel makes a promise to Kitty (Becca Tobin) and the New Directions that she will see them through to the end. Right before their all-important Sectionals, and during a transitional time as two groups come together, she disappears to New York. Then, when she returns, her focus is on her personal life, not them. She is making the same mistakes again and betraying more people. I hope this comes back to bite her in the butt, not because I don’t like Rachel, but because it should to deliver a solid story.
Song wise, there’s also a performance of “Rather Be” in the opening, which is fine, but pales in comparison to the other, better numbers in the episode, which are few, but memorable.
You might be surprised to hear that overall, I am satisfied with “The Rise and Fall of Sue Sylvester.” It is an enjoyable episode with some great moments, such as the Will / Sue fantasy battle in “The Final Countdown,” with the kids looking at them like they’re crazy. All of the complaints above are legitimate and important, but they’re not enough to completely spoil the hour. If you accept that Glee is always uneven, never living up to what it should be, then this episode is graded pretty well on a curve of past installments, partly because of the focus on the incredible Lynch. Or, maybe I’m just going to miss the show, for all its flaws, and I’m willing to look past the glaring mistakes it makes more than I used to.
Glee airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00U0TH00O][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00U0MU3IC]