After an almost three-month wait, was I stoked to see Glee again? Of course. But did my anticipation quickly turn to dismay? Yes it did.
Though Glee always has used snarky edge if not in-your-face conflict to offset the sweet affections at its heart, Episode 9: Frenemies took such conflict to new — and unpleasant — extremes.
Rachel and Santana hatefully butting heads over Rachel’s big Broadway role — and even getting violent (Rachel can slap too). Tina and Artie hatefully butting heads over being valedictorian, before unaccountably reversing with the insufferable cornball trifle Whenever I Call You Friend.
Even competitive Kurt and Elliott had a passive-aggressive face-off of sorts. I mean, bitter conflict reined on my parade.
But since I embrace Glee as a musical fantasy (people don’t perform full-bore spontaneous musical numbers in stores, ya know), I can forgive the plot contrivance that preposterously made Santana a sudden understudy for Rachel’s Fanny Brice part in Funny Girl. That’s the fantasy part. And since that fantasy’s songs so often overcome story struggles, I also can forgive the painfully grating meanness in this rather joyless episode. That’s the musical part.
You see? Embrace Glee for what is is — a musical fantasy — and it manages to work. Expect it to have constant logic and consistency, and you’ll just be another hater who misses the point.
Those redemptive songs Tuesday included some of the best numbers in any episode this season, starting with two stellar duets by Lea Michele and Naya Rivera’s Rachel and Santana: for the exuberant Brave in a fantasy photo shoot, and for Every Breath You Take as a rueful kiss-off turned soulfully bittersweet in the classic ’80s Police song with its irresistible melody.
I also dug Naya/Santana’s Latina spin for Don’t Rain On My Parade, despite its cacophony near the end. And the metal mania of I Believe In a Thing Called Love played into Adam Lambert’s gift for bombast, though Chris Colfer’s Kurt is sadly out of his league. Artie and Tina’s My Love (You’re Never Gonna Get It) also exuded funky charm. (Notice how most new cast members never got a line? Shades of the Gotham-geared future.)
But Kelly Clarkson’s Breakaway easily was the best non-Rachel/Santana number, fervently performed by Blaine, Tina and Artie in an intercut with Rachel’s bitterly determined departure from the Brooklyn loft she’d shared with Kurt and Santana.
Such songs meant something to me — especially the romantic Every Breath You Take, whose full-length studio version has an incredibly lovely interlude of wordless singing which didn’t make the telecast cut.
Sorry, Naya. You’re great. I love you. But Lea, in truth, is the star of this ensemble, and for good reason. She outsings you on Every Breath, and even your stirringly defiant if oversung Don’t Rain On My Parade wasn’t enough to eclipse Lea’s Funny Girl body of work. That’s even without playing the Finn/Cory card.
I also don’t blame Rachel for feeling betrayed and needing to focus on her own big shot, without her former friend playing Eve to her Margo. The girl has it coming, Santana. Find your own dream role — and your own apartment.
Yes, stories need conflict. But this one had too much for me, taking the “fr” out of “frenemies” and — plotwise — offering one of the few truly uncomf0rtable if not unpleasant Glee shows in its five seasons.
But then there’s the music, which almost always manages to pull Glee through. No other TV show has it — not this way — not in the mode of a traditional movie musical.
I’m grateful for that — always will be. And for now, I’ll savor these new songs as I look forward to Episode 10.
Like Elliott, I believe in a thing called love — a love of music that, regardless of rocky roads, is always at the heart of what makes Glee special.
— Bruce Westbrook