Glee – “Rumours”

“Rumours”

May 3rd, 2011

“Tell me why everything turned around?”

“Rumours” never pretends that it isn’t an episode built around the songs from the Fleetwood Mac album of the same name: heck, early on Will pulls out the LP with April Rhodes and displays it for everyone, and it becomes the Glee club’s lesson of the week.

What I found interesting, though, was how the somewhat artificial presence of the storyline was ultimately overcome by Ryan Murphy’s willingness to play with the album’s methodology in the script. Rumours, the album, was produced in a very focused environment based on historical record: as Will explains, they only spoke to one another about the music so as to avoid their personal differences from breaking them up before the album was complete. And yet Glee has often suffered for this very reason: because we see so little of these characters’ lives outside of the Glee club with the show so focused on the musical performances and New Directions’ trip to Nationals, the interpersonal relationships that would allow them to develop as characters are left by the wayside. And unlike the songs on Rumours, the songs on Glee are rarely infused with the emotions of unspoken (and unseen) personal conflicts, instead feeling like plot points or iTunes sales.

“Rumours” is quite effective because it allows the central theme of the episode to trickle down through its characters organically, never dwelling on the initial rumors and instead focusing on their psychological effects on ongoing character arcs. Despite the presence of a meddling Sue Sylvester spreading vicious rumors about members of New Directions, what follows feels driven by individual characters confronting their insecurities in a self-aware, nuanced fashion. Parts of it are manipulative, and certainly there are some of the show’s usual leaps of logic, but “Rumours” successfully uses a simple premise to reveal some complex emotions, nicely encapsulating the level of character momentum the show has heading into the final three episodes of the season.

This is going to be shorter than usual this week (which means only 1800 words), as it’s entering that busy time of year again, but there were three key scenes that sold me on “Rumours” that I want to highlight.

The first is between Artie and Brittany. To be honest, as much as I enjoy the increased presence of Naya Rivera and got a kick out of Brittany asking Lord Tubbington about the accuracy of The Aristocats, I think the show has established their relationship well enough at this stage: “Songbird” joins “Landslide” to form a world where Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks were secretly in love with one another and made some beautiful music, and right now the show is cycling them through the same storyline they’ve been in since their relationship first transitioned from a lesbian joke to actual character development.

I think the scene with Artie is more important because their relationship has never made sense to me, and has felt more convenient than meaningful. When I think back to the “magic comb” storyline in “Special Education,” I don’t really think of it in terms of their relationship: I think of it in terms of Brittany, who was clearly the focus of that particular episode. Artie’s side of the relationship has just been “horny dude happy to be dating hot chick,” which has never really sat all that well with me when you compare it to other relationships on the show (and that’s pretty sad considering those relationships). But here we got to see Artie show something of real anxiety about Santana’s threat to the relationship, and he got to respond more like a human being: sure, he was a dick for calling her stupid, but the idea that he didn’t want to lose her was the first time we got to see his stakes in the relationship.

While Glee often creates dramatic stakes on a macro-level, like placing New Directions in jeopardy, the idea of emotional stakes has been somewhat more elusive. This is perhaps most true with Will Schuester, who has been drifting all season without a sense of purpose. Much as “Rumours” offered Artie a bit more agency in his relationship, which was followed up with his performance of “Never Going Back Again,” Will is given purpose again with a single scene where he’s actually honest with himself. Sure, it’s a bit strange to see the character suddenly break down into tears talking with Emma, and the way April Rhodes returns (as part of Terri and Sue’s plan to hurt Will) is all a bit random, but Matthew Morrison deserves credit for playing it well and Murphy deserves credit for bringing it to the surface.

The episode is actually more about Will than it might seem at first glance: given that he performs “Dreams” with April, and that “Go Your Own Way” and “Don’t Stop” take on very different meanings when applied to his own situation, I’d actually say that the show is finally asking the question of why Will Schuester has tied his life to these kids. It isn’t quite the interrogation that I’d like, given that Emma encourages him to leave without actually calling him out on some of his more frustrating behavior, but there was a moment in “Don’t Stop” where it seems like Will is pondering his future in a very real way. As much as the song is about optimism, what is Will optimistic about: that his life in Ohio will make his Broadway dreams irrelevant, or that this is all one step in a larger journey? I worry that the show will go with the former, but elements of the latter remain, and were dealt with nicely here.

Meanwhile, the main character development here was Sam, who we learned has been taking care of his brother and sister in a motel room while his parents are out looking for jobs after the family lost their home. It’s a clever storyline in the way it manages to make our fundamental lack of information about his personal life into a storyline instead of a sign of the show’s inability to address its supporting characters. There actually isn’t a whole lot of development here: we don’t actually meet his parents, the kids are cute but ultimately props, and we’ve learned about tough home situations before (like Quinn moving in with Mercedes) and seen no impact on characterization.

But that moment where Finn brings in Sam’s guitar, purchased back from either a pawn shop or whoever he sold it to, was legitimately meaningful. While “Don’t Stop” became that moment not unlike “Lean on Me” or “Keep Holding On” where everyone comes together to celebrate their promising future together, that guitar managed to do the same while maintaining a smaller sense of scale. It was just Rachel and Finn as representatives, and Sam as the lone recipient allowed a moment to pause and be overwhelmed by it all. Say what one will about Chord Overstreet, but he was very strong in that scene, embracing the sadsack nature of the storyline and dialing in his usual sadsackness accordingly.

Sam’s storyline was also an example of how the show never actually allowed any of its rumors to be potentially true, at least from the audience’s perspective. While I guess they technically played with the audience regarding Sam, first playing into the presumption among many that Sam was initially planned as a love interest for Kurt and then that Sam and Quinn were reuniting, I never bought either pairing and it was a pretty obvious case of half-hearted misdirection. This allowed the show to focus more on how the rumors affected the characters, treating them less as plot points and more as variables; this is at least partly because the show doesn’t seem like it needs more plot right now, as there are enough entanglements and story arcs ongoing that the characters, rather than the “plot,” can carry the story into prom.

On the one hand, I want to say that the success of “Rumours” is very simple: great music (even if they left off my favorite songs from Rumours), a straightforward central theme, and a focus on characters over plot. However, at the same time, a lot of what makes the episode work is how this simplicity is used to add depth to one-sided relationships, to reveal ongoing character anxieties, and to emphasize a sense of unity that may be central to the series but is rarely displayed on such a small, emotional scale. It’s not exactly what I would call subtle, but I would say that it shows a more nuanced emotionality than I’m used to seeing from the show.

While I think other episodes have been more satisfying, often because they’re allowed to be more self-contained (like “Wheels” or “Duets,” for example), I thought this was probably Glee’s best non-performance episode that actually dealt with ongoing storylines head-on. That seems like a very qualified endorsement, but I think it’s the kind of episode the show has really struggled with in the past, so to see the show succeed is actually quite heartening.

Cultural Observations

  • My favorite songs from Rumours, by the way, are “The Chain” and “Second Hand News.” I guess they thought the latter would be a bit on-the-nose given the gossip storyline, but “The Chain” is actually kind of perfect but was instead used to soundtrack Rachel and Finn’s stakeout. It was a missed opportunity, but I guess I shouldn’t be too shocked.
  • Since I complain about it with The Office all the time, the graphics on “Fondue for Two” were a bit too high-rent for what is supposed to be an amateur production, although I appreciated that they at least tried to make it seem lower quality than the rest of the show.
  • As far as over-the-top uses of Sue Sylvester go, the disguises in the coffee shop were a lot of fun: broad and silly without having to live in their broad silliness for very long. Ridiculousness is fine when it’s in moderation and isolation, and I actually think this was “vintage” Sue.
  • I love Kristin Chenoweth, but April’s involvement here was pretty pointless, and continues to move the character further away from the way Brennan introduced her back in season one. Also, it has to be said: she is looking way too thin. As someone on my Twitter feed mentioned, get that girl back to The Pie Hole.
  • I really wish the show would let a passive aggressive musical performance like Finn and Quinn’s “I Don’t Wanna Know” sound as passive aggressive as it looks.
  • This is Tim Hunter’s first episode of the series, and he’s definitely coming from a dramatic background – he’s got six episodes of Man Men under his belt, and a handful of Nip/Tucks that probably led to this gig. I didn’t think this was particularly impressive in terms of direction, but it was solid.
  • I’ve got to admit it: I like the show a little bit better when Kurt is just another supporting character for a change. After last week’s showcase number, it was nice to see Kurt shift to the background, but still function as part of the storyline.
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8 Comments

Filed under Glee

8 responses to “Glee – “Rumours”

  1. Tausif Khan

    “Will explains, they only spoke to one another about the music so as to avoid their personal differences from breaking them up before the album was complete. ”

    Kurt explains this to Rachel when she confronted Kurt at his locker about his late night rendezvous with Sam at the hotel.

  2. Tausif Khan

    When Brittany and Artie had the fight in the beginning of the episode I thought finally another heartfelt Artie episode like Wheels but then the plot line was dropped as per usual for Glee. I am pretty sure we will not see the ramifications of this either with Glee focusing more on Santana’s development and eventual movement out of the closet (a plot line I like as well because of Naya Rivera). A big missed opportunity for Glee here.

  3. Tyler

    Myles, as you know, Glee is a garbage show. There are many people who like it, and I suppose that makes it worth watching and discussing to some extent, because it is culturally relevant. But really, if you want to talk about this show with honesty, the central fact is: the suck.

    Plots make no sense. There’s no reality to what happens, no consistency (either with “real life” or even within the series). There are no characters, only wildly exaggerated characteristics and whatever’s needed ad hoc for that week’s songs. The acting is fine but everyone’s a cartoon; just about any decent actress could play an over-the-top caricature like Sue Sylvester. The “style” of the series, in view of all the other weaknesses, winds up seeming garish and forced. It’s as though the writers can’t do anything else right so, goddammit, they’re going to be cool! But even that’s tired; Glee just keeps reusing the same storylines and themes that it’s been using from about, oh, season 1, episode 1.

    Anyways, your entire approach of “3 Glees” and sentences like “Parts of it are manipulative, and certainly there are some of the show’s usual leaps of logic, but ‘Rumours’ successfully uses a simple premise to reveal some complex emotions, nicely encapsulating the level of character momentum the show has heading into the final three episodes of the season”… it gives this series *way* too much credit and feels like pandering. This series is worse than Heroes season 3. By which I mean it’s very, very bad. Are some of the musical numbers well-produced? Yes, yes they are. Do they sell on iTunes? Sure. But if you’d like to do more than just sound off — if you’d like for your critiques to resonate — it’s time to take off the gloves, even at the risk of offending people, and say what’s real. Honesty is the first duty of a writer, and Glee is a garbage show.

    • I don’t usually sound off on this blog, but here goes:

      My question is, with the utmost amount honesty and no insult to the previous poster, why continue watching the show? Don’t get me wrong, I emphatically agree with some of your points: the lack of consistency with characterization and plot, the occasionally infantilizing of Brittany, over the top musical productions, the ridiculous villainy of Sue (the show is a better show without her at this point. She don’t even see her with the Cheerios anymore).

      I know I watch because of the heartfelt moments (there have been a least five solid episodes this season, amongst the kerfluffling) and the genuine belief the creators have in the show. It’s one of things that I like about the writers. There’s no doubt in the minds that they have a genuine love for their creation. And futhermore, Glee is probably one of the highlights of my week, given how ridiculous and stressful my life is. I know I’m not going to get highbrow drama or Oscar worthy performances. But I know I’ll be entertained, perhaps hear a good cover every now and then.

      Glee is a show about the high school underdog (it’s been DONE TO DEATH, yes), and even with its abundance of celebrity appearances, tribute episodes, and nonsensical plot points, I don’t think it’s ever lost sight of that. It’s probably the only thing keeping the show together at this point. And for that matter, ALL series’ reuse motifs, extended metaphors, etc. over the course of its show run and I believe that to be the case with Glee, albeit lacking finesse at times. Of course, you can only do so many plots on high school. There’s a definite shelf life here. Pregnancy, race, sexuality, sexual orientation. High school is probably the most cliched time of our lives. And yes, it is up to the writers to make these reususals fresh and exciting to the viewers, which I still think Glee is capable of. Also, I don’t even think Glee is a plot driven show. It feels that the approach the writers have taken here, at least in this season, is to use a bunch of caricatures and stereotypes and throw them in a room together. Bouncing them off one another usually gives them some thread of plot that will eventually lead them an emotional understanding by the end of the episode. Then, add songs. (At least, that’s what I think Glee wants to be.) Over the course of the season, at least in season one, perhaps some overriding arc will appear. Perhaps. If you’re expecting anything else, then maybe you should just stop watching. Because I think you will continue to find yourself disappointed. Frankly, I think it’s flippant to call the show “garbage” despite how problematic the second season has been to some viewers. Especially when it’s quite obvious that you continue to watch it. There has to be something redeeming in the show you continue watch, if only to criticize it.

      I don’t think the Myles has ever put on the kiddie gloves when it comes to Glee. I admire that. And if you still feel that way, maybe you should review a few of the past critiques of this season. And if you still continue to feel that way, maybe you should start your own television critique blog and show us what resonance is. I’d be interested in that.

      • Erigion

        Not the OP, but Glee is for damn sure not character driven so it’s pretty much entirely plot driven. Sure the writers have taken a bunch of stereotypes and caricatures and thrown them into one town, but then they find a story or message they want to spread and shoehorn it into an episode, maybe two if we’re lucky (unlucky?), sticking in whatever character(s) fit into the plot they want. Whether the characters learn something from what they’ve been through is always up for grabs.

        Frankly, I was amazed that we were given a peak into Sam’s life outside of school because we’ve seen pretty much no one else’s. It gave us a tiny bit of character development from a secondary character that felt natural, unlike say Night of Neglect where the show did a piss poor job of shoving it into our faces.

        Also, subtlety, thy name is not Ryan Murphy.

        • I’ll give into your response a little and say that yes, some episode are almost entirely surround some sort of nonsensical plot. But I do think the first season attempted to portray characters, hence why it why this season pales in comparison. We learned why Artie lost the ability to use his legs, we followed Quinn through her pregnancy, Finn’s daddy issues, we followed Kurt through his developing gaydom ALOT (which, I would say he’s largely the only character, save for Sam, we’ve actually focused whole episode upon this season. I won’t count Rachel’s nose job bullshit). There was definite development in that regard. I wish that Glee would focus more on Mike, Tina, Mercedes (save for her finishing songs with sassiness). Maybe Season 3?

          I should clarify that I think Glee genuinely WANTS to be a character driven show, but can’t, largely because of 3 Glees Theory. Depending on who’s writing the episode, it’s a coin toss at to whether we’re taking a stab at character or plot. Ideally, these three would STOP WRITING SEPARATE EPISODES, stick their asses in the writing room together and create some sort of writing checks and balance system. Because it’s clear this shit is not working.

          • Erigion

            I agree that season one definitely was much more balanced in terms of plot v character and was much better for it. Half a dozen to a dozen of the episodes of season two have been tribute episodes or based around some one off lesson that the writer wanted to teach the gleeks, leaving little room for any sort of development.

            The problem isn’t the number of writers or who writes what or what they write about. Okay, the last one is a problem but it’s a symptom of the main problem on the creative side of Glee. Every show with a consistent plot/characters has a show runner and I’m pretty sure Glee definitely doesn’t have this. A show needs someone to be the final word with where the primary plot and characters are going. Individual writers can basically do whatever they want on the episodes they write, but they have to fall in line with the show runner’s vision.

            On Glee it seems that whoever wrote an episode is the de facto show runner for that episode and it doesn’t work at all for developing story arcs that last through a season, multi-episode story arcs, or characters. Sadly, Brad Falchuk hasn’t written as many episodes as he did in season one which might have balanced out some of the spectacle dished out by Murphy. Oh well.

  4. distopean

    The Three Glee Theory has been shown on numerous occasions to be wrong–the writers work on each episode together, though one is tasked with primary responsibilities for pulling it all together, hence their separate credits. Falchuk has taken lead on some duds, too–“Sexy,” for instance. The problem is not Murphy’s “flashiness” or Brennan’s “zaniness” or Falchuk’s “sentimentality.” All three are capable of writing good both stuff and shit. “Night of Neglect” was probably the worst episode in the series–because everything was artificial about it. And the songs were mostly uninspiring–except, perhaps, Mercedes’, though it wasn’t quite the show-stopper the characters all thought it was. The show has enough characters as it is–we don’t need Charice, or Paltrow, or Chenowith anymore. While this episode was much stronger, the shoehorning in of Chenowith did not work. And instead of developing Shuester’s character, we got another scene of him with a woman in front of his fire place (only two episodes ago it was Paltrow in Chenowith’s place) who delivers unto him a revelation. There are just too many stories going on and it is unwieldy to give equal weight to all the characters. Night of Neglect certainly tried to make up for that, but its script seemed like a first draft. “Rumours” was more polished but Chenowith did not need yet another solo instead of a deserving cast member–like Tina, whose songs have ended in tears the last two times out.

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