April 27, 2011

Episode Review: GLEE, "Born This Way"

Gleeks got an extra special, extended version of Glee, which meant we got a heck of a lot more commercials. While the added time to the actual episode didn't contribute much to the overall experience, "Born This Way" was one of the better episodes of the season, and hopefully it was the show's return to form.

The extra "30" minutes allowed the creators to get a few more scenes and musical numbers into the overall episode, but for the most part the story lines were kept to a manageable number with a somewhat coherent flow. Some will complain about how some aspects of the characters were fabricated just for this episode, or about continuity, or one of the other flaws critics love to harp on, but I felt it was pretty solid from start to finish. Sure, it wasn't perfect, the added time led to some pacing issues and there might have been a tad too much Kurt, but it was a vast improvement over "A Night of Neglect".

Rachel's Rite of Passage
The episode kicked off with New Directions working on their dance moves, and Finn accidentally broke Rachel's nose. The doctor brought up the idea of Rachel getting some work done to improve her looks and her talent, and she actually considered it, which led to the theme of the night: self-acceptance. Those who cared about her tried to convince Rachel to keep her original nose, but even Finn and Puck couldn't sway her. Leave it to Kurt and his Barbra-vention to finally help Rachel realize that she's beautiful and fabulous as is.

For the most part, I felt that Rachel's nose job was a decent story line, but not particularly ground breaking. The show's made enough jokes about her beak, that it was natural for an episode about embracing one's imperfections to focus on Rachel, but the writers also missed an opportunity to widen the scope of the show. Rachel's story spawned a mini-plot point that involved Tina and how she's not always happy about her eyes, which has caused some tension between her and Mike.

Maybe it's because I'm half-Asian and have dealt with being ashamed of my eyes, but Tina's situation would  have been way more fascinating than Rachel's. A Tina-centric approach would have fleshed out her character a bit more, put a spot light on her relationship with Mike, addressed how some Asians white wash their looks to be sexy, and could've finally given us a story line that a big chunk of the audience could relate to. It also wouldn't have been too far-fetched since the writers can only focus on the fact that Tina and Mike are Asian. Unfortunately, I don't think three white guys can effectively write about what ethnic minorities have to deal with in high school.

That last point has to be the one aspect of Glee that bums me out the most. The show always gloats about how diverse the cast is, but it's painfully obvious that Mercedes, Tina, and Mike have become token characters that are trotted out when an episode needs some sass or a Sriracha flavor. I'm glad that we're getting some young minority actors on our TV screens, but you have to question if they're making any impact when they're given so little to do. Luckily, Santana's gotten some love. ¡Viva La Raza!

I don't want to rag on Rachel's story too much because it accomplished what it was supposed to, but we really didn't learn anything new about her, which was a shame since we could've gotten some really interesting character development for Tina. It's too bad her one episode of the season was wasted on "Neglect". Ah well, rant over.

Quinn vs. Zizes
Rachel was not the only member of New Directions who had to come to terms with her physical appearance. Quinn continued her campaign for prom queen, and she picked up an unlikely rival in Lauren Zizes. Apparently, before she was a wrestling champ, Lauren was a major player of the toddler in tiara set in Ohio. Puck was able to persuade her to throw her name into the prom queen race, and she dug into Quinn's past to get an edge of her competition. Before Quinn moved to Lima, she was an overweight girl with pimples who was able to reinvent herself into who we all know today. The Z-I-Z-E-S tried to make Quinn out to be a fraud, but the plan backfired and some of the homelier girls ended up supporting Lucy Caboosey.

Earlier this season, I complained a lot about how Quinn was totally ignored (which she was), but she has become more interesting ever since she left the Cheerios. Her obsession with being prom queen started to make more sense after this week's episode, and her back story was compelling. I do have to admit that making Quinn a former chubby girl seemed kind of easy, and it didn't really match up with how she treated people back in Season 1, but I found myself caring about her again. She didn't even have to get knocked up this time!

The Diva's Back
Besides focusing on characters embracing their physical forms, "Born This Way" also allowed some to come to terms with their sexual identities. The newest residents of the closet, Karofsky and Santana, decided to join forces and become each other's beards. This idea may sound outlandish, but it made sense when Santana came up with it. She's still in love with Brittany and figured that the one way she could finally get her was by becoming prom queen. You see, Santana figured that Brittany's so gullible that she could force her to date her by decree. If praying on someone's naiveté doesn't say love, then what does? But Santana knew that she couldn't get enough votes on her own, so she blackmailed Karofsky to join her.

In order to convince New Directions to support this new union, they had to bring Kurt back to McKinley. Dave, his father, Kurt, Burt, Figgins, and Will had a sit down where Karofsky tried to convince the Hummels that he learned his lesson. Kurt and Burt were understandably skeptical, but when Kurt had the chance to talk to Dave one-on-one he found out what was going on. He decided to come back to McKinley if Karofsky agreed to start a chapter of PFLAG with him. When it was all said and done, Kurt was back in full force.

I know that Kurt was going to be back with New Directions before season's end, but I was hoping they would've kept him at Dalton for a little while longer. It's not that I didn't want him back where he belonged, but having him leave felt like a cheap trick since it only lasted a handful of episodes. His departure and return made sense from a narrative standpoint, but I don't think the writer's really gave it the appropriate time or attention to make it impactful. After "Born This Way", Kurt's time with the Warblers felt like a gimmick. At least we got Darren Criss out of the whole ordeal, but please keep Blaine at Dalton.

Honestly, at this point I'm more intrigued by Santana and Karofsky as they take their journey towards self-acceptance. The fact that such a positive change (the return of Kurt and the establishment of the anti-bullying club) came from such a selfish and deceptive act had me torn, especially when it came to Dave's role. While I don't doubt that he'll eventually embrace his sexuality and will genuinely make amends to Kurt, I felt a little uncomfortable and upset because his apology started off as just an act. That being said, I can't wait to see where things for from here.

Will and Emma
Even the adults had to recognize and address their weaknesses, as Emma and Will tackled her OCD head on. At first, Will was OK with enabling Emma's condition by helping her clean her grapes, but he was also expecting her to take the initiative to get better. Emma played off her OCD as if it wasn't a big deal, and it was just a quirk she picked up as a child (an actual call-back to S1?). Will wouldn't be dissuaded, and he made it his mission to have her admit that she had a problem so she could get the help she needed. Emma finally gave in and met with a therapist, who was finally able to convince her to manage her illness.

Out of all of the stories, Will and Emma's was my least favorite. I was glad that Emma was finally able to move forward, but I couldn't shake the feeling that she was bullied into doing it (which completely contradicted the message of the season). I totally got that Will was using tough love with her, but the scene where he tried to force her to eat unwashed blueberries was a bit much. I didn't have a problem with the intent of Will's actions, but the tone he took with her was too hostile, which undercut his good intentions. Will's never been a perfect character, but his continued journey towards becoming a complete ass doesn't seem to be ending anytime soon. It's just a shame that Ryan and Co. cannot figure out what to do with the foundation of their own show, and it doesn't bode well for Season 3.

On The Music Front: "Born This Way" was the first time I actually liked all of the song choices and performances. By far the best number of the night was Rachel and Quinn's mash-up of "Unpretty" and "I Feel Pretty". It was so beautifully performed, it worked so well with the theme and message, and it was amazingly shot. It was near flawless. Finn's version of "I've Gotta Be Me" and his dance routine with Mike was fun, and the Warblers cover of "Somewhere Only We Know" was swoon-worthy. "As If We Never Said Goodbye" was a good showcase for Kurt and his return. Only "Barbra Streisand" was a weak spot, but that had more to do with the fact that it was another flash mob scene. Even the titular "Born This Way" was one of the better final numbers that the show has given us in a while.

Other Odds and Ends:
  • No Sue = Better Episodes. Who'da thunk it?
  • I did miss her League of Doom though.
  • Finn seems to be a better boyfriend for Quinn than he was for Rachel. Maybe Finchel isn't end game.
  • Puck's mission to crown Lauren prom queen was oddly sweet. I'm digging him more now that he's paired up with her.
  • I'm pretty sure I'm a Fang (Finn + Chang) shipper now.
  • Schue pulling Mike away from Tina was cute.
  • Speaking of Chang, Harry Shum, Jr. and Heather Morris should be guest coaches or something for So You Think You Can Dance. Just a thought.
  • Faux Guardian Angels = Bad Ass
  • Mike O'Malley was on fire! Gotta love Burt.
  • At first the piano sitting in the middle of the courtyard bugged me, but I'll let it slide since it looked like Mercedes staged the entire Warblers performance.
  • Is it just me or did the Warblers seem like better teammates than New Directions?
  • Quinn's newfound respect for Lauren was a nice touch.
  • I loved it that Brittany used the hammer of truth on Santana. She's not as stoopid as people might think.
  • Apparently, a lot of people had problems with the t-shirts because of the unclear lesson Will was trying to teach the group. I saw them as symbols of something they were initially ashamed of but now loved about themselves. Maybe I was over-thinking it, but I'm sure most people just didn't get the point.
  • Best T-Shirt: Tie between Brit's "I'm With Stoopid ↑" and Puck's "I'm With Stupid ↓"
  • Worst T-Shirt: Mercedes' "No Weave". Even her t-shirt was underdeveloped and slightly racist.
  • "Self-hating Asian."
  • "I really prefer neat freak or cleany bug."
  • "I'm a closet lesbian and a judgmental bitch, which means one thing: I have awesome gaydar."
  • "The only straight I am is straight-up bitch."
  • "Is she here?" "This is a mall in Ohio."
  • "Because you're Lebanese and I think I'm bi-curious?"
"Born This Way" was not the home run that the creators and FOX probably hoped for, and part of it was because the extra time was more of a hindrance than a blessing, but it was still a pretty darn good one. It was once again able to combine the humor and sadness of being a teenager with a moving soundtrack, and it was a reminder of how good this show can be.


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