Glee – “Home”

“Home”

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.

Cultural Observations

  • 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).
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6 Comments

Filed under Glee

6 responses to “Glee – “Home”

  1. Tausif Khan

    Two straight hours of Mike O’Malley television!

    I am happy that they focused on the supposed minor characters and that they didn’t go through a million story lines in the course of an episode. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.

    Kurt had expressed a plot to bring his and Finn’s parents together so that he could be closer to Finn in an earlier episode. But this was the first time we saw them dating so Mr. Hummel’s declaration of love seemed sudden. However, the pain that resulted from Kurt’s Dad getting a son that Kurt thought he always wanted seemed genuine and looks like it will continue into an arc in the future so hopefully that bodes.

    I have felt that Kurt has been too much of the scheme villain in the past with his contentious relationship with Rachel and scheming and manipulating Finn. Hopefully this episode turns the character around.

    Mercedes has had a story line where she has felt under appreciated so to finally be able to be a popular and then see it almost slip through her fingers was painful. However, I did feel the song was contrived for the reason that it focused on body image issues rather than just not being on top.

    However, I felt that these were positive steps and hope that Glee moves closer towards this direction and we get to see more character’s back stories to understand the groups inner turmoil and to see why they are the little Glee club that could.

  2. Katie

    Maybe it’s just because I’m an emotional college girl, but I liked this episode because it truly spoke to me. I completely agree; there were plot holes and inconsistencies all up the wazoo. But the show is also about sending messages to teenagers everywhere. Maybe it was a little too PSA, or contrived, and all the girls in my suite watching this episode with me were scoffing at how corny their use of “Beautiful” was. I was barely holding back my incredulity.

    As a girl, whose always been considered quite off-beat and unpopular in her day, I can understand why Mercedes and Kurt acted the way they did. If I had had that chance in middle school, my shallow, insecure little 12 year old self would have pounced on it. It might have seemed inconsistent, but oftentimes given the chance to be accepted can trump one’s long built up wall of confidence, in a moment of weakness. The show certainly had it’s plot problems and confusions, but it got its message across loud and clear. And I don’t care how corny the musical numbers or character motivations were; it made me proud to be different, and it even made me cry.

  3. “…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.”

    Errr…not really. I mean, yes, I’m glad it wasn’t the kids singing it, but the bottom line is that they took a song that just oozes sex and performed it as if it were two flirty teenagers teasing with one another, sucking the song’s complicated longing right out of it. One of Glee’s ongoing challenges (one I feel it usually doesn’t meet) is recontextualizing songs in a new setting and style while still maintaining an echo of their essence. “Fire” was a huge fail in that regard, in my opinion.

  4. This was the first episode of Glee that I actively disliked. The three stories just did not mesh well together, at all, and as much as I love Kristin Chenoweth, her character was almost completely useless in this episode.

    But what’s really getting me is the whole Kurt in love with Finn storyline. I love Kurt. I LOVE him. I feel like he’s a smart kid, and it makes him look incredibly stupid and manipulative to keep going after Finn like this. Finn is obviously straight. Painfully straight. The crush was cuter and more believable when it was on the sidelines. I really enjoyed the Finn/Dad thing, but mixed in with the rest of the episode took away something from it, I think.

  5. I’ve been very upset with Glee for a long time. It started to grate on me during “Sectionals” when they made everything we’d seen so far irrelevant by making the judges ridiculous and untrustworthy. How can the competition mean anything of those deciding it lack the expertise to do so.

    Due to some external circumstances I have continued to watch it. My family loves to watch Glee and so the one time a week we get together, we watch it. it has now become a tradition. One I am hoping comes to a swift end very soon.

    This episode was one that set me off a particular amount for a couple reasons: 1) I like many others wanted to see more of the supporting characters or at least less of Rachel and Finn 2) Kurt is my favorite character and favorite singer (for personal reasons)

    It is important to say that I am a gay man. Kurt is a gay man. I identify with him because of this and have taken a liking to him because of it. I also have a deep love for Musicals and had hoped that Glee could modernize the musical (even the a-typical one) and bring it to forefront of pop culture. (I was going to say American pop culture, but that’s not fair especially considering this website.)

    The way this show has treated Kurt until this episode has been borderline ridiculous, but passable. I’m not sure I agree with him giving up the solo/discrimination argument because of a phoned in threat, but the fact that he did it for his father was nice. I’d love to find a young gay person who would flinch at the word “fag” or hasn’t been called it lots. For that matter, I’m sure straight men have been called this a lot, although it may have less impact.

    Then you have Kurt’s crush on Finn in the episode entitled “Ballads.” I do know some gay men who crush on straight men, I know almost all find some straight men attractive, including myself. But, every gay man knows that going after a straight man is a t best a huge waste of time and at worst a way to get yourself into a lot of trouble. Do the Glee writers expect us to believe there are no other gay men who go to William McKinley High School? It makes very little sense that he would go after Finn. But, I let that go because this is Glee etc. etc. I shouldn’t let things go because of that, but when I talk about Glee’s flaws this is what I’m told. This is how the show is, these are its conventions. It’s conventions are to have terrible plot, writing and characters? I’m not okay with that.

    (I should also mention this episode made me very angry in an unrelated respect. Kurt mentions off hand that the ballad he chose was “I Honestly Love You” written by Peter Allan, a famous gay song writer, and beautifully sung by Jerrod Emick and Hugh Jackman in the 2003 broadway play “The Boy From Oz” about Peter Allan’s life. This is quite probably my favorite musical of all time and it means a lot to me personally as it was when I started to realize I might be gay. Kurt as my favorite character and favorite singer, singing that song, would’ve made me very happy. But, he didn’t sing it.)

    Then we have this episode where it became clear that there are either no Gay men on this writing staff, said nothing, or were ignored. All the sudden Kurt wants to split up his father and Finn’s Mother because he feels left out. WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BELIEVE THAT A GAY MAN IS ANGRY BECAUSE HE IS LEFT OUT?!?! What? We had a whole episode about how his father and he didn’t get each other but they came to respect each other and that they had always loved each other. It’s ridiculous. Kurt feels left out of typically man-ly things like sports, when they are things he has avoided and been uninterested all of his life? It’s ridiculous.

    Glee loves nothing more than to sell-out it’s characters and their developments for bad plot lines and we saw it again tonight with Kurt and with Chenowith’s character, as mentioned above.

    While I might’ve accepted these things if the musical numbers were worthwhile, but their came a time in the season when the numbers became both predictable and uninteresting. The most egregious example of this before this week’s episode was Mercedes singing “And I am telling you, I’m not going” in “Sectionals.” Here are my problems with using this song: 1) It was recently done in the film adaption of Dreamgirls (2006) 2) Jennifer Hudson did an unbelievably great rendition of it in that film adaption 3) It was staged in a terribly boring way 4) these things might have been forgivable had they been able to put an interesting twist on song, but they chose not to try.

    Then last night Mercedes sung “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera at the pep rally. I burst out laughing, hoping that it was a joke. Not only is it the most unoriginal choice for a song at this juncture, but it is recent and most everyone knows it. I have enjoyed the song at different points in my life, but it was a terrible choice. It was also completely unsubtle, but Glee is a generally unsubtle show and I won’t hold that against this episode or the show.

    I honestly think that this show needs to sit down before next season and decide on an arc, character arcs, plot developments, songs and guest stars. If they can think about this and map it out before they start shooting then I believe this show could be a resounding success. I hope that they do this, but I’m not sure I’ll be tuning in again either way.

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