Glee returns from its baseball-induced hiatus with “The Role You Were Born to Play.” It’s time to audition for the fall musical, Grease, at McKinley High School. Some students are nervous about the roles they want to play, while others worry that a bad casting choice could hurt a relationship. But an alum, at pivotal moment of his life, returns to steer these young people in the right direction.
“The Role You Were Born to Play” is a solid Finn (Cory Monteith) episode. Though I haven’t always been a fan of the character, he has really grown on me, and this installment proves his staying power. Here he is, down on himself, not believing he can do much of anything, but he still manages to provide some good advice to students who are struggling. It’s a maturation moment, where Finn suddenly grows up very quickly and seems like an adult.
There is no question that Monteith can play adult. He is one, after all. But in “The Role You Were Born to Play,” the character starts to seem closer to the actor’s actual age of 30 than what he should be. Recently graduated eighteen year olds aren’t able to show the wisdom Finn displays here. But it’s forgiven because this is television, and Finn has always seemed smarter in some areas than is typical. Even the fact that the school hires him to direct the New Directions, a completely unrealistic occurrence, is overlooked because it serves his story well. And isn’t that what’s really important? A character’s journey?
Of course, Finn also makes mistakes, and he makes a whopper of one in “The Role You Were Born to Play” when he calls Sue’s (Jane Lynch) baby “retarded.” It does not matter that she is fighting him on a casting choice, which, based on past revelations about her character, likely comes from a place of wanting to protect the students, rather than out of bigotry, even if she doesn’t know how to express that. But Finn comes across as the real bad guy in that scene, callous and cold, even when he immediately apologizes. That is just something you do not say, and he has earned himself justified hatred from Sue. This will have consequences in episodes to come.
I think I like that Finn only has one song in this episode, a duet with Ryder (The Glee Project winner Blake Jenner). Monteith does have a good voice, but care must be taken to choose songs that really connect with him, and this isn’t always the way he is handled on Glee. Luckily, the passing of the torch message in “Juke Box Hero” manages to satisfy both as a Finn melody and introduction to Ryder.
With the inclusion of Ryder, the second generation Glee core cast is complete, mirroring the original quartet at the center of the early seasons. Ryder is clearly the new Finn, Jake (Jacob Artist) easily steps in for Puck (Mark Salling), being his half-brother with a similar personality, Kitty (Becca Tobin) is a great Quinn (Dianna Agron) replacement, with a bit of Santana (Naya Rivera) tossed in for good measure, and Marley (Melissa Benoist) is the more relatable, hip version of Rachel (Lea Michelle). It may be a bit of a repeat, story-wise, but the characters are just different enough to still be enticing. Their tales shouldn’t play out quite the same as their predecessors.
Which leaves Unique (Alex Newell) as the successor to Kurt (Chris Colfer). He won’t be apart of the primary love triangles, but he is a fan favorite side character that draws enough attention to pull him into a status just as important as the others, even if that isn’t the original intention. He (she?) also has enough of Mercedes’ (Amber Riley) diva power to make another version of her unnecessary. Unique is easy to love, fantastic to root for, and his struggle with accepting himself, and earning the part of Rizzo in Grease, is both inspiring and moving.
On a side note, Unique’s audition with Marley is a high point in this episode. “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)” is a great showcase for Unique’s vocal strengths, and it also unexpectedly lets Marley out of her box a bit. She exhibits a side of her we have not seen before, and the growing friendship between Unique and Marley, as well as how they help each other, is Kurt and Rachel 2.0 in all of the best ways.
Thankfully, there is no one waiting in the wings to take over for Artie (Kevin McHale) or Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz). Sure, they aren’t gone yet, but they might as well be. Glee would do well to focus on the characters that work the best, and one Artie and one Tina is plenty for this show’s run.
With this new blood firmly established, it does seem a little strange to have the old people hanging around. Finn could slide into the teacher side of the cast (even though there should have been a few year jump to do that properly), but Mercedes, Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.), and Artie, who is still in high school, but feels more a part of the elder group, are mostly hangers-on. It’s sweet they come back to help Finn find his way, but a satisfying turn of events would find each of them realizing their own directions and moving on sooner, rather than later. As much as I enjoy seeing Mike and Mercedes again, not everyone can stick around high school forever.
Relationship drama continues to pull focus in “The Role You Were Born to Play,” as one would expect it to. Kitty and Marley fight over Jake, neither giving that must attention to Ryder, who will surely have a shot with either or both soon enough. Jake and Kitty’s “Everybody Talks” is good, but most will still be rooting for Marley to get the guy. It’s a little early in this drama to judge how well the various chemistries are working, or who will end up with who, but it is exactly the direction Glee always goes in, and should make fans happy.
This love fight culminates in a spirited version of “Born to Hand Jive” that is a highly memorable number for Glee. Anyone who has doubts about the selection of Grease as the fall musical should find them erased when confronted with such a show-stopping number that features many characters, and allows the drama to spill into the music, nicely pairing the two. This is merely an appetizer to what is coming.
Blaine (Darren Criss) is off on his own, separate from the others, mourning his breakup with Kurt. He does this to the Grease song, “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” It’s a heart-breaking sequence, and one just wants to give the poor guy a hug! Blaine is isolated without his support system now, and look for him to distance himself even further from the other New Directions soon. I smell a return of the Warblers!
Lastly, we have Will (Matthew Morrison) and Emma (Jayma Mays), who it’s good to see did not actually break up like the other couples in the previous episode. They are having a big fight, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the end of them as a couple. Fans have been through enough ups and downs with these two that we just want to see them together. It seems that wish is at hand, as they really do accept and support one another.
It’s interesting that Beiste (Dot-Marie Jones) steps up as their counselor. Don’t get me wrong; I live for Beiste scenes, and she’s a much better choice than bringing in another guest star. It’s just odd because her brief marriage ended so badly. However, she is a good friend to Will and Emma, knows them well, and is in a position to help them find the best in each other once more. If she doesn’t officiate their wedding ceremony, I will be very upset.
“The Role You Were Born to Play” is a great return for Glee in what is shaping up to be a strong season so far. There are delightful songs, interesting character development, and it’s just plain fun. It also feels more like a traditional Glee installment without the inclusion of Rachel and Kurt’s tone-different New York, even though I miss them.
Glee airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.