Note: The following review contains spoilers for all aired episodes of Glee, including the most recent, “Prom Queen.”
Well, “Prom Queen” is much better than last week’s episode, but unfortunately, that isn’t saying much, since “Rumours” was one of my least favorite hours that Glee has ever produced. Ruining my favorite album is, thankfully, something Glee can only do once. Unlike last week, I have no problem with any of the musical performances in this episode. In fact, the musical performances are the only parts of this episode that truly, fully worked for me.
As I have said many times in the past, Glee is at its best when its songs function as theatre, underlining or emphasizing dramatic moments–in other words, when they have a narrative or at least an emotional purpose, and even better, when they are creatively staged. And in most cases, this is true in this episode. Rachel and the returning Jesse St. James’ version of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” is a perfect example. It starts out seeming like it will be a typical Rachel-does-a-solo-on-the-auditorium-stage type number, and then suddenly, Jesse interrupts her, singing from the back of the room as he enters and approaches, and then suddenly, the kids setting up the stage start singing back-up to what has become an a cappella duet for Rachel and Jesse, the lyrics reflecting the pain and the hurt that his actions last season caused her, as well as their continued feelings for one another. It has the illusion of spontaneity in a way Glee rarely does. Whereas Gwnyeth’s Adele cover was a bit too close to the original and mostly reiterated why she isn’t as good a singer, this number wisely diverges from the original, putting a new spin on it that works beautifully, and the idea of the A/V kids turning into a chorus is just a great musical theatre moment, dynamically shot.
I’m a little less enamored of Artie’s Stevie Wonder cover, “Isn’t She Lovely?” Actually, I think the best acting in that scene was done by Chris Colfer, playfully reacting to it. But it is still entertaining to watch, and more importantly, does derive from character and is another example of a number in this episode being presented in a more unexpected way (and it also starts out a cappella). And later on, Artie, Puck, and Sam almost make “Friday” tolerable, in a fun, sped-up, all-male version that keeps its tongue firmly in cheek. The scene works because it doesn’t treat it as a legitimate song. And if there’s any doubt that Glee isn’t mocking it, Brittany’s line that it’s the “best prom ever” immediately afterwards makes it clear. Returning to plot-driven songs, Rachel’s “Jar of Hearts” is extremely effective because of the way it’s shot, the camera swinging from her impassioned singing to the various people on the dance floor, reacting, the tension bubbling underneath the calm surface. Blaine’s “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You” may be less necessary (besides commenting on the Jesse/Rachel/Finn triangle), but it is incredibly fun, with great, bouncy back-up from Tina and Brittany. Glee also again wins points by having Blaine sing a song with feminine gendered lyrics, and even more significantly, a song in which said narrator is crushing on a girl. And “Dancing Queen” is absolute perfection–a triumphant, dazzlingly and appropriately campy way to spotlight Kurt and Blaine’s dance. It’s moments like that which make me love Glee: that it crowns a gay boy queen, and makes his dance with his boyfriend the culmination of their prom episode, in the 8 PM slot on a mainstream network. Yes. Just, yes.
Less impressive, however, is what leads up to that scene, which would have been ten times as powerful if it weren’t for Kurt’s extremely out of character emotional meltdown upon being crowned Queen. I simply do not buy that the same boy who decides to go to prom in a kilt and to be purposely audacious and in peoples’ faces–and in a rather arrogant, obnoxiously self-righteous manner, in the earlier scene in which he refuses to compromise, despite the fact that his dad and Blaine make a good point–would be so incredibly wounded by this gesture. The Kurt I know and love would hear that he had won and rejoice. Remember, this is the boy who would often choose to sing with the girls in their numbers rather than with the other guys, and who did a duet with himself as both Victor and Victoria. I cannot imagine that he would actually be so hurt. Whether or not it was intended as an insult (and, you know what, I’m not even completely sure it was), he would strut up to that stage and own it, to hell with everybody. If anything, Karofsky should have been the mortified one who dashed away as soon as he heard that Kurt was Queen, not later, because of his extreme discomfort with being labelled as anything but masculine and heterosexual.
And besides all of that, though I am often willing to suspend my disbelief for Glee, I cannot suspend it to the point that I actually believe that there was a write-in majority for Kurt. Are we supposed to believe that the majority of people in that auditorium would rather mock the gay kid than elect the most popular girl queen? Also, again, I think that there is a possibility that at least a portion of the other kids would have thought of it as a kind gesture of support, letting Kurt own his inner diva, but since we never actually get to see the voting occur, it is impossible to tell what peoples’ rationales are. Overall, I felt that Kurt’s reactions and actions didn’t spring from his character, but from the episode’s writer, Ian Brennan, inorganically trying to telegraph a message through Kurt’s lips. I can respect Brennan’s motivations in trying to wring drama from this moment, but it wasn’t right for this character. A great writer cares about writing his characters in a way that is truthful to them rather than true to a particular message he or she is trying to impart. A character shouldn’t, at the drop of a hat, behave in a way that is not right for him or her simply because the plot requires it. This is clunky, lazy writing.
Karofsky’s plot continues to be far better handled that Kurt’s has been lately, though even that has its odd moments here. I can accept that Karofsky has gotten to a place where he feels truly ashamed of how he treated Kurt, and even genuinely apologetic. He’s going through a great deal right now. But–and this a big “but”–never in a million years would he make this sort of apology to Kurt and even break down into tears while standing in a hallway filled with other students. This is even more unbelievable than Santana crying in front of Brittany in the school hallway, because at least there, it seemed to be later in the day with less people around. It just seems to be another case of the writers or the production team not truly thinking out a scene fully. All they would have had to do would have been to move it to an empty classroom to make it more effective and truthful.
Meanwhile, while it is a genuine pleasure to see Jonathan Groff again, it is because I am still nostalgic for the old days when he and Lea Michele were in Spring Awakening, and because they have genuinely great chemistry, particularly when they sing together. It is not because Jesse St. James makes any more sense than he did last season. And while I do appreciate the almost-meta joke about how Jesse’s actions were random and illogical in the past, going from telling Rachel he loved her to egging her with no dramatic transition, that doesn’t excuse or make up for the fact that he is still a hodgepodge of ideas not fully formed rather than a character (not unlike Blaine). Additionally, ever since leaving Rachel for Quinn, Finn’s motivations have been so hard to understand that his fight with Jesse barely registers. This is becoming a serious problem for the show. “Ah, it’s one of those episodes where Finn is suddenly in love with Rachel again,” I thought. Just like “Comeback” was one of those episodes where Quinn suddenly forgot she had ever evolved, a single week after displaying depth in “Silly Love Songs.” And “A Night of Neglect” was one of those where she wasn’t even popular enough to get a handful of people to show up to their benefit concert, even though she seemed a serious contender for Prom Queen the next week, because she is so beautiful and everyone loves her.
As far as Glee episodes go, “Prom Queen” is a fairly middling affair, elevated by some excellent musical selection and musical performances that make it, for fleeting moments, truly fly. But then the script keeps bringing it crashing down with a thud. I can’t help worrying that as the weeks go on, this show will just keep getting more and more broken. Has the writers’ room utterly collapsed at this point, with no communication between Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan going on whatsoever? Because lately, it honestly feels like for every fantastic episode, we get three or four duds, and for each wonderful plot thread, we get three or four that don’t work at all. (What is up with that fourway date? Or the original threeway idea? Are we actually supposed to believe someone who looks like Sam couldn’t find a date? And yes, I know that it’s actually due to his being poor now, but it’s still a really oddly developed plot point.) “Prom Queen” has some good–even terrific–aspects, but this is, at best, a first-draft script that needed more work before being filmed, to correct those moments that didn’t ring true. Episodes like this make me worry that the writers have stopped caring all together.
In 2009, Glee was my top show of the year. In 2010, it was the second. At this rate, for 2011, I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t even make the top ten.