April 27th, 2010
“I don’t try to change you, you don’t try to change me”
There is nothing I hate more than a show doing everything I ask it to and nonetheless leaves me cold. If you had asked me to focus on some of the prevailing problems to this point in Glee’s Spring season, I would have pointed to the narrow storylines which tend to focus on the central love triangles rather than the supporting characters, so to have an episode that so clearly focuses on characters like Kurt and Mercedes seems like it should be right up my alley.
The problem with “Home” is that it feels like the show is being changed rather than changing, characters emerging from their prison of one-dimensionality and returning to the last time they had anything close to character development. At times this results in beautiful musical numbers and emotionally resonant scenes which speak to the larger series, but as an actual episode “Home” feels equal parts honest and dishonest thanks to the sense that none of it has been earned from a narrative perspective.
You could make the same argument about “Wheels,” I realize this, but I think that this episode contained more of both sides of the show’s schizophrenia as it relates to certain characters, and comes directly after an episode which presented such wildly different versions of these characters that the jarring lack of continuity cannot be overcome by an emotional performance of a Burt Bacharach song, no matter how hard the show tries to make it so.
I’m aware that I’m not your average Gleek, and I sometimes have strange expectations of this show. However, I think that Kurt Hummel is perhaps this show’s best character (“Preggers” and “Wheels” are both examples of this), and yet he’s also the one that the show seems to mistreat the most often. Episodes like “Home” depict Kurt as someone who is expressly lonely, and whose obssession with Finn leads him to set up his father with Finn’s mother and plot out a perfect sitcom existence for their two families. The result is Kurt getting everything he thought he wanted only to find out that Finn isn’t so happy about this arrangement, and that his father treats Finn like the football-loving son that he never had as opposed to second fiddle to his own existence. It’s a complex storyline, and it results in some really heartbreaking scenes for the character both musical (his performance of “A House is Not a Home”) and non-musical (yet another conversation with Mike O’Malley that breaks us down), and Chris Colfer is really great throughout.
The problem is that this story did not exist before this episode, or at the very least the aggressively fast-paced coupling of Finn’s mother and Kurt’s father had absolutely no development, and so the show does two things. First off, it rushes everything as it tends to do, as the two are “in love” and ready to move in together in order to fit into the episode’s theme of home; I’ve accepted that is part of the show’s modus operandi, and I’m not going to pretend that’s going to change anytime soon. However, it completely muddled Kurt’s motivation in this situation: was he doing this because he wants to be closer to Finn (behaviour which speaks to the character’s intense loneliness, pining after his straight friend hoping he will come around to his true feelings), or was he doing it because he’s desperate for some notion of “Home” in his life? What happens in the episode is that the former, which to me is problematic and which the show needs to address at some point instead of just laughing off, is more or less replaced by the latter once Kurt performs “A House is Not a Home,” which is beautiful and emotional but which seems to rewrite, rather than encapsulate, his motivations. Songs shouldn’t feel like they’re changing emotions, they should feel like an expression of those emotions: right before that scene, Kurt was being quite selfish, and yet the way the song plays out implies that we’re supposed to empathize with him. Eventually we do, and eventually we feel his pain as his plan to bring the two families together has him feeling more like an outcast than ever before, but the show manipulated its way to that point.
I’m fine with the show manipulating things on occasion, as the show’s style is open to that sort of narrative, but the issue here (as compared with “Weeds”) is that last week Kurt was showing confidence by joining the Cheerios in what supposed to be a moment of empowerment. Instead, because the show needs him to be vulnerable, that moment is rewritten as a desperate attempt to fit in, and his desperation emerges in a hateful and honestly disgusting speech to Mercedes about how they’re finally popular now, and how she has to lose the weight so that she doesn’t place all of that in jeopardy for them. It made me want to strangle Kurt, and it seemed entirely out of character based on what we saw last week. The argument the show seems to make is that Kurt is so unsure of himself that he’s losing track of his own identity, but that requires him to lose all of the self-awareness he showed in “Wheels,” and all of the courage he showed in “Preggers,” and threatens to undo everything but the character’s quippy exterior.
It’s even worse with Mercedes: a week after confidently convincing Sue Sylvester to try out some new style, and joining the Cheerios amidst an environment of female empowerment, Mercedes is suddenly insecure to the point of allowing Sue’s threats about her weight to entirely define her, requiring Quinn to step in and rescue her from a terrible fate. You could argue that this is consistent with past behaviour: when she was teased by the girls in “Acafellas” for not having a boyfriend she became obsessed with Kurt, showing hidden insecurities about how people perceive her. However, those insecurities are entirely absent in episodes where she isn’t part of an “extra special” storyline, including just last week and in just about every episode. Most of the time, her intense confidence is the very definition of someone who has no insecurities, and it’s not like those episodes feature little hints that the character is somehow less secure than we imagine. The idea that joining the Cheerios would change this character seems so unfathomable to me that no overwrought Christina Aguilera ballad in the world is going to be enough to convince me that this feels like something that this character would actually act in this fashion.
I understand that the show isn’t going to be a character serial, with characters always changing week by week and showing some sense of progress: the nature of the story is that they’ve got a few too many characters to focus on, and so there will be weeks where Rachel and Will get the A-Stories and everyone else become joke machines and backup singers. However, when they do emerge into the spotlight, the show seems to be going with a strategy where the characters have in fact been having an entirely different life unseen by the cameras, and it picks up that life as if we’re just supposed to draw a line back to some character moment ten episodes ago instead of trying to place their actions in context with more recent behaviour. And while there are situations (like “Wheels”) where this is laid out in a way which feels true to those characters, here it felt like the show wanted to do a story about dealing with body image and a story about family and used Mercedes and Kurt because it fit some broad generalization of their characters rather than their recent behaviours or a logical question of how these characters would respond if place into this situation based on those behaviours.
If you’d never seen Glee before, perhaps the storylines would have made a lot of sense: bigger girl joins the Cheerios to be popular but isn’t prepared for the insecurities, leading to behaviour that threatens her health and which (with the help of a friend who’s been there) leads her to reclaim her independence from the pressures of societal expectation. However, the Mercedes I know would be changing Cheerios, not the other way around, and no hullabaloo about a journalist would be enough to stop her from performing “Beautiful” in support of her fellow cheerleaders as opposed to overcoming her own insecurities. Similarly, if I hadn’t seen Kurt act so consistently in the past (or at the very least act inconsistently in a way which is self-aware and with clear motivation), I might have found his story here simply heartbreaking.
In some ways, my reaction to Kristin Chenoweth’s guest starring turn is sort of similar: by completely underwriting all of the development the show made the first time around in “The Rhodes Not Taken,” the show is effectively just saying that they want to have Chenoweth around to do some duets with Matthew Morrison and have no interest in taking the character in any new directions. In the case of a guest star, that’s fine: I love Chenoweth, her songs are fantastic even if the story around them (Will selling his apartment) is embarrassingly thin, and while I think the show missed an opportunity to continue drawing the parallel between April’s position as a washed-up dreamer with the Glee kids and their futures it’s at least fun to watch. The problem is that you can’t treat your supporting characters the same way: for April to pop up as the same character is one thing, but for Mercedes and Kurt to pop up as different characters than they’ve been since the last time they got a real spotlight episode makes it little but contrived.
In musical terms, where they separate the music from the book, there are some who would argue that Glee is all about the music, and the book is just there to string together musical numbers. However, I’ve always felt this is a pretty huge cop out, as the show clearly wants the book to be something more: they want to tell these complicated stories that required some dramatic scenes, and they still have recurring storylines that work towards an eventual goal (in this case, Regionals). So while they might want me to pretend that each episode is a different book, and that we shouldn’t expect consistency, there are other parts of the show which scream otherwise, and other episodes (like “Wheels”) which do a hell of a lot better job at creating a standalone story which doesn’t stand in contradiction to that which came before.
“Home” contains a lot of really great moments: most of the songs are strong, there’s a few clever lines, and there are moments in the Kurt/Finn storyline which seem earnest and honest…when considered out of context. In context, the episode seems to anachronistic to the show I’ve presumed myself to be watching and the characters I thought I knew that I just can’t endorse it. If Glee truly wants me to accept its inconsistency as a consistent part of its identity, then I cry foul: the show is capable of better than this sort of shotgun storytelling, and the point at which it realizes that will be the point where it actually becomes an honest to goodness television show.
- I knew that my brother was going to have something close to an aneurysm when he discovered that Glee (which he has placed in the “Not For Me” column”) was covering Springsteen, but even he agrees that “Fire” ultimately works thanks to placing it in the hands of Chenoweth and Morrison, and sort of accepting that it’s the roller skating cabaret version of the song.
- In another installment of Finn singing to inanimate objects (see: computer sonogram, which does not count as a person), which I refuse to take seriously, the character serenades his father’s chair (and a picture) as he works out his feelings about his dead father.
- I hate to admit this, but I laughed when Finn stopped Kurt’s father from sitting down and moved his ashes from the chair. It was creepy, not heartwarming, and I thought the entire “dead father” angle of that story seemed like it was taken a little bit too literally (with the urn) when it could have stuck with the chair and been fine.
- Also, the show deserves to be slapped for the “A chair is just a chair” reference from the song being directly placed into Finn’s storyline: that sort of connection with the songs is just getting way too cute, and the same goes for every nearly slow-motion annunciation of the word “home” in the episode.
- The “One Less Bell to Answer”/”A House is Not a Home” mash-up was an entirely unnecessary interlude (and the Bacharach seems like a stealth product placement for Promises, Promises, Chenoweth’s new broadway show), but it was really beautiful, and probably the episode’s musical highlight.
- I’m fine with an episode featuring absolutely no Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff on occasion, but it was still a little weird to see them quite so passive, especially after a week where they were so central. I’d have liked to see them perhaps get a few lines of dialogue to establish that they’re in the honeymoon phase or something. It’s just weird to see usual lead actors relegated to backup actors, even moreso than Artie or Tina (who got lines, which Groff did not).