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18 November 2012 @ 05:02 pm
...something was very odd about the pacing of this one. It justdragged in places. I’m not sure if that’s what you get for doing an episode about the single most unpleasant musical of all time, but it seems likely.

Anyway, on with the show! I have energy enough for proper writing this week, even though actually doing it, like watching the episode itself, is probably going to take forever...

For all it was clunky and slow, there was a coherent thematic line running through the episode, and it had to do with the idea of the know-it-all, or apparent know-it-all, who knows a lot less than they think they do – and the person who’s working toward something in the knowledge that they don’t yet know all the answers. And interestingly, for once, the know-it-alls don’t always get away with their crap.

Rachel and the Oaf, of course, have always been the champion know-it-alls who know nothing of Glee, and they’re both up to their old tricks here. Rachel, who’s been in New Your studying musical theatre for all of a few months, is doing exactly what she’s always done, substituting theoretical knowledge* for actual knowledge derived from experience – she’s been in town studying musical theatre for all of a few months and thinks that qualifies her to be a ‘fresh new face’ for a major director (it takes alot more work than that to be ready to be a ‘fresh new face’, Rachel), thinks she knows all about what the audition will entail because she knows some things about the production, thinks she can reach out and raise up Cassie July with the force of the Good Girl niceness that positions her as the better person**, thinks she can make Kurt’s not-yet-finished relationship with Blaine follow the same pattern as her finished - or so she tells herself - relationship with Finn.

When Rachel’s done this before she’s often been able to get away with it because the people around her knew even less than she did or were less forceful – only Quinn and Kurt that I can remember ever really called her on it (in ‘New York’ and ‘Sectionals’ respectively, and then it was mild both times). But now there’s Cassie, Rachel’s own personal Sue Sylvester, who draws on her own experience – the experience that broke her – to explain to Rachel that she’s walking into something she’s not ready for yet. Rachel, being Rachel and therefore both arrogant and unaccustomed to challenge, disregards Cassie’s advice, and this is where she ceases to get away with things.

You don’t blow off an oracle and expect things not to go completely and utterly awfully in response****, as anyone who’s ever read any Greek mythology knows. Especially not a modern-day one. The oracles of old might have sat in their knowledge and just waited for the schadenfreude to hit when Arrogant King X tried to get around their prophecies and it all blew up in his face, but Cassie has fewer restrictions. She actively sets out to teach Rachel a lesson – manipulating her out of the way (and incidentally giving Kurt some good advice in the process, letting him break free from Rachel’s control and do what he knows he needs to), luring smarmy Brody into her bed*****, not that that took much, and finally calling Rachel out good and proper over the phone when Rachel protests – and boy does it land: at the end of it all the ‘privileged, self-indulgent diamond’****** is left blubbering over her phone in the sudden, gutting knowledge of how much she doesn’t know about the world (Broadway), other people (Cassie, Brody) and herself (still not that grown-up she claimed to be in 4.04 yet, and probably never will be).

The Oaf, also, has always been one of those guys who’d pontificate about stuff he knows nothing about at the drop of a hat – right from the Pilot, again, when he marched onto that stage and handed out roles and music like he knew anything more than the name of a song. Just like Rachel, he’s reset to that role since Artie brought him on as co-director of the musical and Will asked him to take over the glee club, but also, just like Rachel, suddenly he’s getting challenged on it. Over and over and over again. The instant the announcement is made Tina blazes to her feet, yelling – not even questioning him, just stating facts: he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he has no idea how to direct a musical*******. Sue rattles off a more significant list: he has no teaching qualifications; he has no experience; he has no awareness of the context he’s working in, from who’s allowed in the staff room to which of his ‘students’ are taking physical abuse in the halls. And all the Oaf can do in response to each is bleat I can do it. I can do it. I’ve got ideas. I can do it.

Yeah, you’re really raising my confidence in you there, Oaf.

The Oaf, like Rachel, also substitutes theory for knowledge and experience (his directing practice is informed by ‘What Would Rachel Berry Do?’, which I guess explains why his Grease is such a close copy of the film). And he, like Rachel, repeats old patterns of behaviour: a big ‘apology’ gesture******** that is supposed to erase his mistakes and make everything smooth again. The difference between them, I guess, is that the Oaf is vaguely aware that he knows nothing – he checks in nervously with Artie every time he says something when he’s trying to direct, and what he does say when he forgets to check is often badly off-base*********. The similarity is that, like Rachel, he also expects this new relationship with Sue to work like his old relationship with Kurt, where his apologies were accepted and his failings let slide. But just as Cassie doesn’t let Rachel get away with her Good Girl self-image, Sue doesn’t let the Oaf get away with his Nice Guy schtick. Echoing Burt Hummel’s words from ‘Theatricality’, she calls the Oaf out on using exactly the word he intended to and on being prejudiced and not wanting to face it, and does not back down.

Each of them, in other words, now has a character who knows herself ruthlessly********** focussed full-force on them, whose job is to make them know themselves and define themselves – who they really are, not the Good Girl Ingenue and the Nice Guy Leader they’ve told themselves they are because they like how it makes them feel. It remains to be seen if either of them will rise to the challenge. If one of them does, I suspect it will be Rachel, if only because the Oaf is – at least for the moment – still way more protected from himself than she is.

The thing I really worry about is that the choir room may protect the Oaf, but the instant he came back into it, it became a profoundly unsafe space for all the other people in it – so who’s going to protect them? Are they going to survive the Oaf's makeover into humanity, and if so, how many of them, and how bad will the scars be?

Also in the category of know-it-all in this episode, but contrasted sharply with Cassie and Sue, is Kitty Wilde, who really shouldn’t have shown Marley those trophies, because seriously? Most tongues spoken at Bible camp? Could they make it any plainer that everything she says is complete and utter nonsense – meaningless sound intended to manipulate, draw attention and impress?

Oracles speak plain. Kitty speaks in tongues, and she does not even speak the truth unknowingly en route to something else. Everything she says on the subject of Marley’s weight, or weight in general – even the things that might have some basis in fact, like the fact that genetics can affect one’s body shape and weight – and everything she ‘advises’ Marley to do about it, is total and utter garbage, chosen and distorted to have a specific effect. She is knowingly and intentionally gaslighting Marley into an eating disorder.

Kitty may be working under the same ‘teach her a lesson’ principle as Cassie and Sue, but she is not an oracle or a Trickster. She is not there to make Marley face and know a self she’s been dodging facing for three years. She’s out to kill her, for reasons of simple spite.

Marley’s mother absolutely isn’t out to kill her, but she may end up having the same effect, because what she knows about her own life and says in response to Marley’s worries about her body image have the entirely unintended effect of reinforcing Kitty’s garbage. ‘You have control over yourself and your body’ ties to Kitty’s ‘binge and purge’ so painfully it make me curl up and whimper. ‘I didn’t raise a victim or a quitter’ teaches Marley to be at war with her own body (and suggests that Mama Rose has been at war with hers her whole life, and makes me want to hug her). ‘We’re both on a strict diet’ actively takes control of Marley’s body away from her just as Kitty’s constant commenting and 'advice' does.

And then there’s Ryder, who like his sponsor the Oaf barges into the territory of McKinley's women without so much as stopping to knock and takes it on himself to dictate to a girl about her body and her choices. With his story about his second cousin he positions himself as an expert, ignores Marley’s bitter kick back (‘I’ve seen all the health films’, unspoken rider being ‘and they bear no relation to reality and the pressures I find myself under, so shut up and go away’***********), and reduces the whole deal to ‘You don’t want to smell gross to guys who might want to kiss you, do you?’ – reinforcing, one more time, just like Kitty, the need for Marley to have absolute, perfect, sweet-smelling, feminine, attractive-to-boys control over her body at all times because her body isn’t hers.

The sole voice for personal, nuanced body knowledge in all of this – Tina, with her ‘Maybe it’s stress bloating? I get that.’ – is ignored at the outset.

In a similar vein, there are all the people around Unique telling her than they know better than her, protecting her for her own good by policing her body and her gender presentation, stripping her of her identity. Her parents. Sue, who’s using her (Sue is not an oracle; she’s a Trickster, and she works differently, with collateral damage). Figgins.

Unique knows that this is wrong************, but she doesn’t get to speak. All she can do when forced to live as Wade is look in from a window and sing from the audience.

Finally, there are the know-it-alls – probably a somewhat harsh and slightly inaccurate designation here, but I’ve got the term in place, so I kind of have to keep using it for consistency – on the relationship front: Santana, Mike and Blaine. Santana, returning to McKinley after her ‘sensible’ and ‘mutual’ breakup with Brittany, pronounces herself born to play Rizzo and word-perfect in the part (and, hey, give her this much – she’s right about knowing it), and continues to lay down the rules of the break-up when she talks to Brittany, reminding her that it’s ‘totally okay’ for Brittany to start dating someone else. Mike, it seems plain to me after this episode and the last, is the one who ‘sensibly’ and ‘mutually’ broke up with Tina, and now shows up talking confidently about how it was a mistake and they should get back together. And Blaine? Well. ‘Know-it-all’ really doesn’t fit Blaine as a descriptor here, but, desperate for healing and the relief of pain, he has a very defined view of what to do: keep talking at Kurt, one way or another, until Kurt listens to what he needs to say. So he’s sent flowers and apologies and texts and gifts, and when Kurt appears backstage it suddenly seems that, beyond all hope, his strategy has worked*************, and he follows Kurt in the face of much evidence to the contrary to finish doing what he thinks he has to do: make his confession to Kurt and be granted absolution for the thing he’s done and the part of himself he can’t bear to face.

None of these work, and it’s because each of the people they’re dealing with is one of the characters who’s busy trying to work things out, and who therefore have their own perspective on things.

Brittany’s always been wiser than Santana in many ways: she doesn’t lie to herself like Santana does. This season she’s been starting to work out who she is with Santana elsewhere; she’s taken herself through a breakdown and a comeback and made new friends, and Santana doesn’t get to set the terms for their emotional engagement any more. Brittany reminds Santana that their breakup hurt – hurt Brittany, and hurt Santana – and that Santana doesn’t have to pretend that it didn’t, because Brittany knows. And so Santana stops pretending, and sings Rizzo from the heart, and now she can move on too.

Since ‘Props’, Tina has been finding her voice again. No more stutter, no more silence. She has things to say and she’ll yell them if necessary so that people will hear. She acts like Rachel, she grabs that Britney solo and won’t let go, she fumes over Mike coming back without a warning and upsetting her fragile equilibrium and she shouts her anger over Will leaving with no warning, the Oaf being put in command of the choir room and the Oaf dragging Santana back to school to play a role Tina could just as well do and was prepared to work incredibly hard to do so as not to let the production down (why the hell are all the people she was supposed to be getting out from under still hanging around this year, denying Tina chances? I’d want to know too). And all the time she keeps getting the message: Plan Jan**************. Be the nice, cute, pigtailed girl in the background, supporting the team, not asking too much attention. Don’t be a Bad Girl. Don’t make trouble. Don’t yell.

Well, tough luck, world. As Tina tells Mike, she’s finding out new things about who she is now and she likes it – and good for her, because anger makes you powerful – and he doesn’t get to set the terms of the relationship any more. They can talk about it, sure, but it’s going to be really, genuinely mutual this time, and no guarantees as to the result.

And Kurt?

Oh, Kurt.

At the start of the episode, Kurt’s stuck. He’s in an emotional holding-pattern, living on Ambien and The Notebook, and all he knows is that he needs to see Blaine again. He doesn’t have answers. He doesn’t even know what he’s feeling. He just knows that he needs to do this, to go back to McKinley and see*************** Blaine again, and then maybe he will find ‘closure’, as Cassie suggests****************, and be able to move again.

And it works. Since Kurt acknowledged the presence of a fairy godmother in his life, he’s been more aware of the magic around him*****************. He can recognise an oracle when he sees one, and he doesn’t make Rachel’s mistake. He takes Cassie’s advice and her frequent flyer miles, goes back to McKinley, sees Blaine – not in the backstage scene, too personal, too close, involves talking, but onstage as Teen Angel, Kurt’s teenage dream, the boy who failed him telling him that he’s failed at New York and should just give up on growing up, diminish and come home: Beauty school dropout, wipe off that angel face****************** and go back to high school.

In seeing Blaine, he gets his closure. He can put a name to what he’s feeling: broken trust, the shattering of the thing that was the absolute foundation of their relationship from the moment Blaine took Kurt’s hand on that stair at Dalton. He can pull himself out of his silence, speak, end the interaction on his own terms (like Tina, like Brittany), and go on.

For each of these pairs, the problem has been named. The ones who thought they knew what they were doing have had to readjust, deal with information from the other person’s perspective that they’ve overlooked because they were so caught up in their own. Those who were feeling stuck have got themselves unstuck, spoken for themselves and are able to move on, taking control of their own stories – unlike the other kids trying to work things out, Marley who’s still trapped by all the toxic narratives our world tells about girls’ bodies, and Unique who’s trapped by the toxic narratives the world tells about all bodies and gender, and who are both left singing to themselves because nobody else can hear them. The relationships they're in can move forward from here too – in whatever direction those involved in them might choose.

Against that, what can one say about Rachel and the Oaf, other than a plaintive question about why we had to sit through a third break-up conversation for the same break-up*******************? Well, the conversation did showcase once again some of the many ways in which their relationship was shallow as a teaspoon and toxic in the extreme – come on, Oaf, you feel possessive of the ability to make Rachel cry? Gimme a break. And Rachel, if the most important thing about the Oaf was the fact that he made you feel special, well, even an Oaf doesn’t deserve to be used like that (let alone any of the other people you use, aka everyone in your life). It also showed up the fact that they still don’t know what they’re doing and they’re still lying to themselves and each other – their ‘You’re the One That I Want’ fantasies show that they’re still bound up in each other and their past – and they’re still stuck. Total absence of communication? Next time they run into each other, unless Cassie and Sue have got really, really lucky and made the pair of them over from a pair of destructive grotesques******************* into human beings in the interim, they’re going to pick up right where they left off.

And unfortunately, we’re the ones who are going to have to watch it.

Oh, well. At least most of the characters I care about are in a better state, and I know that things are going to be addressed for Unique and Marley. That’s all that matters to me, really.

Music round-up:

‘Greased Lightning’: Dull, dull, dull. Musically, vocally, visually dull and lacking in energy (twice zero is still zero, Oaf).
‘Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee’: Also dull, though Becca Tobin’s voice is somewhat more interesting than Blake Jenner’s.
‘Beauty School Dropout’: Darren Criss’s voice is perfect for this song, and so was his performance (and Vanessa Lengies’ reaction shots throughout were priceless. What’s really interesting, though, is the breakpoint when Blaine sees Kurt in the audience, and the song suddenly stops being a copy and becomes real.
‘There are Worse Things I Could Do’: I loved the line division, and Santana, Unique and Cassie all sounded great, with lots of punch to their voices (plus, the turnaround of Cassie using the song to narrate exactly what she was up to was neat), but it would have been good if they could have got Tina in there as well. In performance, though, the three parts of the song didn’t seem to be talking to each other very well, which is a shame.
‘Look at Ma, I’m Sandra Dee’ (Reprise): I’m not entirely sure why this was here, and I’m not entirely sure Melissa Benoist was the best person to sing it either.
‘You’re the One That I Want’: Dull, dull, dull.

*Which, going by her track record on matters Broadway, will be partial, inaccurate and strongly biased in her own favour.
**Ie, she’s interacting with Cassie the same say she used to with Quinn. Baaaaad choice, Rachel.
***There’s been some fantastic meta written about Kurt and Rachel and how their alleged friendship works, and therefore why Rachel is doing this, around this issue here, if anyone’s interested. And, well, let’s just say that Rachel’s ickily possessive hands all over Kurt in this episode very much reinforced the idea that that pattern’s in operation here...
****But then, Rachel has no magic and has always been utterly dead to the possibility of magic – that’s why she’s such an unbearably terrible performer – so it’s hard to be surprised that she doesn’t recognise Cassie for what she is.
*****Look at his predatory grin the moment Rachel says she’s ‘officially officially broken up’ with Finn and try to tell me he was planning to respect her boundaries for even a second while 'helping' her prepare for her audition.
******Oh, how I wish we’d got to hear the end of that insult string. I’m sure it would have only got better as it went along.
*******Stop propping him up, Artie, please. You’re going to have to come out from behind your frontmen eventually.
********I suppose we should be grateful he didn’t dress up in some kind of household furnishing this time?
*********Artie’s satirical response to the Oaf’s blather about the ‘themes’ of Grease was one of the highlights of the episode. Wisdom of Solomon, you can haz it not, Oaf, and Artie Abrams knows it.
**********The self-awareness of Cassie’s lines in ‘The Worst Thing I Could Do’ was marvellous. Though Saskia Duncan would like to inform Cassie July that her standards are set too low, and until she’s broken Rachel’s back in class and then put the blame for it onto Rachel herself, she won’t have hit the worst a dance teacher can do – not by a long shot.
***********I haven’t really connected to Marley yet – I keep almost getting there and then not quite – but Melissa Benoist really impressed me in that scene. I finally felt like Marley was a person with history. Also, speaking of Marley, and her mother – let us note the confirmation that Papa Rose is not on the scene. This really is the season of mummy issues.
************The solution is not to make Unique disappear for her own good, any more than it was to make Kurt disappear for his. The solution is to remake the world so that Unique is not in danger any more. But that’s not a solution that occurs to anyone in power, and so the work will fall to Unique, just as it did to Kurt and Santana.
*************Even when Kurt’s body language and lack of eye contact suggest that it really hasn’t – not that Blaine doesn’t pick up on that, but he’s on a course and can’t get himself off it, not right now, because he doesn’t see any other options.
**************Did anyone else think of the Brady Bunch Jan here?
***************See. Not necessarily talk to.
****************’I have closure,’ objects Rachel, ignoring the fact that Kurt patently doesn’t in an attempt to shut down a trip toward something she’s scared to face.
*****************I meta’d some about this here, if you’re interested.
******************New York is heaven, remember? No, I don’t think at all that that’s what Blaine’s thinking when he sings – for him, ‘Beauty School Dropout’ is all about his own failures, especially after he sees Kurt watching him, disconnected and drained instead of glowing and engaged, and breaks persona. But I think it’s how Kurt interprets the song in the wake of all Blaine’s attempts to continue connection and communication. Can’t cite anything to prove it, but it just fits together that way in my head based on expressions etc.
*******************What I tell you three times is true, I guess? Ugh. Doesn’t make it any easier to put up with.
********************Glee’s very own personalised Weeping Angels? Heh.
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