Monday, May 9, 2011

GLEE: "Born This Way"

This episode was aired in a 90-minute slot, though the actual show was only ten or twelve minutes longer than normal. So while it was nice to have an extended episode, it also meant there were so many commercial breaks. Scene, commercial break. Song, commercial break. It was very distracting.

The group was put into dance boot camp (or "booty camp") to improve their dancing for Nationals. This had nothing to do with the rest of the episode, but I hope they deliver on that promise. During this dance training, Finn accidently hits Rachel in the face and breaks her nose. That was pretty funny, and carries the thread that Finn can't dance, which will continue in this episode. ...Although he seemed to do fine in Acafellas and at his mom's wedding...

Rachel's doctor looks at her nose and asks if she'd like rhinoplasty, since he's going to be fixing the nose anyway. He says that nose jobs are "like a rite of passage for Jewish girls", which I found hilarious. He also suggests that it might improve her singing voice. So Rachel begins contemplating whether or not to shrink her schnoz. I thought this story was handled really well, even though we the audience know that she was never going to go through with it. That would entail the actress actually getting rhinoplasty, which would not happen.

The nose issue leads Mr. Shue to tackle the whole body image issue. The show has mostly avoided this, except in the matter of weight a couple times. And I'm glad they kept it broad. Everyone has something they don't like about themselves. Finn says he doesn't, and Santana
suggests his weird nipples (hee hee). So Shue tells the group to learn to embrace that part of themselves they don't like. They are to sing a song about it, and boil it down to a word that Emma will then silk-screen onto a T-shirt. They will then all wear their T-shirts during a performance of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way". It starts out as a nice enough idea, but the specifics are going to cause complications later on, so I want to be clear on exactly how Mr. Shue phrases the assignment:
"I'm telling you, the thing you would most like to change about yourself is the most interesting part of you."
and later Emma describes the T-shirt: "We will then use this letter press to write a word or phrase that best describes the thing about you that you're the most ashamed of, or you would like to change but you can't because you were born that way."
As an example, Will had Emma do a shirt for herself. He wanted her to write OCD to help her come to grips with her disorder and recognize she has a problem. ...But that's not really the assignment, is it? At least not how they described it above. Her OCD is something he DOES want her to change because it's supposedly harming her.

What Ms. Pillsbury does put on her shirt is the word Ginger. She talks about how she is accepting being a redhead. While the moment is light and silly, and Will is disappointed, I was actually very glad the show did this. One of the more common threads of hatred based on looks these days is the "ginger hating". To write off redheads as "gingers" or "daywalkers" or other terminology that makes them seem like a subspecies of monsters. Yes, some of them are not the most appealing to look at. But that's true of everyone. And this is another line of bullying that's lead to teen suicides and such. Generally nice people have no problem with this kind of nomenclature. It's used all over Facebook, propagated on South Park and I'm glad the series addressed it, if only briefly.

Meanwhile, all the girls want to be Prom Queen. Santana wants it, but doesn't know how to beat Quinn. Then there's this awkward moment when she realizes Karofsky might be gay. She now refers to herself as a "closet lesbian" (again, I don't buy it), and suddenly she has "amazing gaydar" and spots Karofsky right away. No way. Firstly, I don't buy "gaydar" anyway. But the show so far has always avoided it. I love that Kurt doesn't seem to have one, and suspected Sam (was wrong) then wondered about all the Warblers. Now Santana has one? And not only that, she's been gay for like two weeks and suddenly everything is clear? GIVE ME A BREAK. She decides to join forces with Karofsky. If she can get him to apologize and get Kurt to come back to the school, she would be a hero to the glee club and get their votes for queen. She tells Karofsky that they will pretend to be dating so that neither of them is "outed", and make nice to Kurt. Though to sell this she talks about "beards", that is, gay people who date to appear straight. "Like the Roosevelts," says Santana. Hold the phone! No matter what correspondence might have been found from Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR was NOT a beard. It might be funny to a writer, but today's teen who has no clue about American history is going to take it seriously. They were cousins in love. Deal with it.

We also learn that Lauren Zizes was a pageant toddler. That's an interesting backstory for her. And it allows the show to take a quick stab at the whole toddlers in tiaras thing. She hasn't worn a tiara since, and thus also desperately wants to be Prom Queen. She makes it her mission to destroy Quinn and run on the "I'm just like you" angle.

Quinn goes with Rachel to her doctor because Rachel essentially wants Quinn's nose. They take some photographs to do some mock-ups of what Rachel's new nose might look like. This leads into a duet. The girls sing "Unpretty" mashed with "I Feel Pretty" and I really enjoyed it. For the arrangement, and the vocals, but also because it went back to a more stylized visual look for the song. It segued into their performing for the group. I like when the show does this kind of thing of which they used to do more. Also, some of the stuff Quinn sings hints at later revelations in the episode. Just a really strong song sequence overall.

When the show comes back from commercial, there's a scene between Quinn and Finn. I love the way they shot it, from the lockers' point of view. Besides the fact that it's just different, it puts each character into their own little box, signifying how the argument puts them in separate places. It was very creative.

Finn and Mike Chang perform "I Gotta Be Me." I really enjoyed this one as well. The conceit was basically Mike Change "teaching" Finn to dance during the number. It was brilliant.

Tina meanwhile has been wearing blue contact lenses because she doesn't like her eye color. Mike calls her a "self-hating Asian" and she argues there are no Asian sex symbols and she's just trying to be fashionable. First, I would argue that's not true. Maybe there are few Asian-American sex symbols, but to say there are no Asian sex symbols can't be true. What about Lucy Liu? Anyway, she decides she should be that first sex symbol herself. She's decided to live by the philosophy "Be the change you want to see in the world." This is one of those things people think sounds great and makes good inspirational poster copy, but is terribly impractical. I want to see all kinds of change in the world, but I'm constantly told it's never going to happen and I should just get over myself. If I just decide to "be" how I want things, it
doesn't get me anywhere. Nor does one person being a certain way generally have any effect on the global society. It's overreaching idealism.

I'm still confused about Will. He's trying to make Emma accept that she has OCD, but he wants her to change because of it. He wants her to get past it. But that's not the same thing at all. He started this whole thing talking about what OTHERS want to change about themselves but shouldn't. Now he's talking about what others DON'T want to change but SHOULD. He goes on by trying to make her eat unwashed fruit. This is torture and it's not funny. "I'm just trying to help you get better." For some reason, this notion is prevalent throughout our world and I'm sick of it. Just expose someone to something hard enough and they'll get over it? No, that's torture. You see it on talk shows where guests have weird phobias, and then are tormented before an audience on national TV. Stop it.

The episode keeps wanting at this point to say you should never change your body and love who you are. Plastic surgery is wrong. But what about the Soleil Moon Frye scenario? For those who don't know, Ms. Frye played Punky Brewster in the 1980s. As a young girl she developed rather large breasts. She was unable to get acting work past Punky for awhile because she looked too young for older roles, but her breasts made her look to old for younger roles. Add to that the back pain, etc. and ultimately Frye had breast reduction surgery. It's a well known story. Was she wrong to do that? I mean, I always thought she was cute, but I understand her reasoning. She's still a pretty woman. Though I wish she'd stop straightening her hair and let it be the way it was when she was younger. The straight black hair thing looks weird on her. But that's just me and my opinion. It's her hair. My point though is that she didn't do it out of mere vanity, and there has to be an exception to this "you can't change yourself" rule. And they will
get to that later in this episode.

Karofsky agrees to Santana's plan, and thus the bullying arc comes full circle. The glee club is vocal against Karofsky trying to get Kurt back and they don't trust him. But Principal Figgis tells them to hear him out while he apologized. Karofsky says he didn't mean to be so awful to Kurt. He says Santana showed him stuff on the internet about teen suicides due to bullying (they've finally mentioned this on the show, which we all know was a primary reason for this entire story arc), and he says it scared him straight (so to speak). Now, did Santana really do this? We don't know. But it's possible. If so, it may be that Karofsky really has had some sort of epiphany. And to make sure what happened with Kurt never happens again, Santana and Karofsky have begun a new program: the Bullywhips. They are like a student police squad that stops bullying when they see it start. Figgis says that incidents of bullying have gone down since they began (though how much raw data can there be if they just started?). Several points to make about this: first, wasn't Sue Sylvester going to do exactly that before Kurt left? Second, giving students that kind of power can be dangerous. Third, it won't stop cyber-bullying, unless Bullywhips police known bullies' Facebook pages and such. And really, what kind of a name is that? I get that it's a pun on bullwhip, but let's just say that if Karofsky wants to appear straight, walking the halls in a beret and calling himself a Bullywhip isn't doing him any favors.

Kurt and his dad meet with Karofksy and his. Burt Hummel is suspicious of the whole thing. Mr. Karofsky makes the point that he didn't side with his son in the last meeting, but that this new contrite David is more the boy he raised. It's a fair point. Kurt asks to speak with Karofsky alone. He asks what the angle is. Karofsky reveals that it was Santana's idea to make her Prom Queen. But Karofksy also seems more mellow than he has, and I'm glad because I liked the one we saw in "Sue Sylvester Shuffle" who wasn't a one-dimensional character. Kurt agrees to come back to the school, but also says they have to start a chapter of PFLAG at the school. Really? Why aren't the Bullywhips enough? Why does it HAVE to be solely about the whole gay angle yet again? ...And why is there a public school at this point that doesn't have a PFLAG chapter?
You'd think outspoken Kurt would have done that a long time ago. Before these moments, Kurt tells his father that he believes Karofsky is sincere. But does he? We are never really left with any certainty, because he was suspicious there was an angle. I hope we get to see a normal Karofsky now.

There was a funny bit when Kurt found out about Santana's plan and called her "a Latina Eve Harrington." When Karofsky says, "Who?" Kurt says, "Honestly, if you're going to be gay, you have got to know the reference!" Karofsky counters, "I'm not even sure I am gay." And that's a very important piece here. I'm glad they went there, but I'm also afraid the show only means it in the temporary Blaine sort of way. I very much want the show to decide he is straight because it's just too cute otherwise. I didn't like the "closeted gay being the gay-bashing bully" angle this season. Though after Santana suddenly decided she was gay, and Blaine confirmed it for
himself, I'm worried. Already in an earlier scene Santana wrote Karofsky's future, calling him a "late in life gay" who will only fully come out in his middle age after he's married. Is it so bad to think maybe he's just a teenager with confused feelings who is not actually gay? I was at least glad the show shied away from the "don't you tell anyone I'm gay" Karofsky and gave us the "I'm not really sure" more honest Karofsky.

So now, with the Warblers having served their purpose and lost Regionals, Kurt has no reason to be at Dalton, and the show moves him back to McKinley. And therefore, I was unfortunately proven right. The entire Karfosky bullying arc was just a deus ex machina to get Kurt away from the school for artificial drama at Regionals. Once that function was served, all these threads were wrapped up neatly and everything's back to normal. I hate transparent writing like that.

Kurt's transfer is official at noon. So is it like a half-day or something? Why noon that day? And furthermore, why is the entire group from Dalton there to say goodbye? Don't they have school? Or maybe it's a weekend? Also on the subject of Kurt's fashion sense, I didn't understand his outfit in this scene. He's wearing these black biker gloves and a top hat. In the same ensemble. I'm sorry, even Tim Gunn would tell him it doesn't work.

Kurt saying, "I say old bean, shall we ride our Harleys now, what what?"

The Warblers perform for Kurt in the McKinley courtyard. I would like to know why there is a piano out there. I mean, there's drums and other instruments too, so I guess this was planned as a surprise for Kurt, but moving a whole piano outside? The song they sing is "Somewhere Only We Know", proving once and for all that the Warblers must listen to the same satellite radio station that plays in my local Dunkin' Donuts. Pretty much every song they've done I hear twice a week in there (just today it was "Misery"). I wonder if they'll ever do any matchbox twenty.

I guess, based on the theme of this episode, the show has finally come down on the side that gays are indeed "born that way". I have this itchy thing in my brain that objects to that kind of simple determinism. The kind that says that because your parents were drunks you are predisposed to be an alcoholic too (basically, you're an alcoholic before you ever take a drink), or that your soul is stained with original sin. I have a real problem with what I'm going to call biological destiny as a construct. At least, in it's "this is always the case" form. And so far in the episode everything else has been a physical trait, with the exception of Emma's OCD (which she suggests she wasn't born with, but developed early) and Finn's dancing. Which also brings up a question: was Finn born that way? And if not, should he be putting that on his shirt? Because the assignment was to pick something you can't change because you were born that way. But he can be a better dancer, right? Or was he born with some sort of dyspraxia which makes him incapable of dancing as well as others? ...Do you see what a slippery slope this whole "acceptance" theme becomes?

While I'm thinking of it, I think it's interesting for the episode to focus on acceptance when the glee club had such a hard time accepting Karofsky in this episode. Oh! And that argues yet another point! What if Karofsky the bully was "born that way"? What if he was genetically predisposed to be a sociopath or something? Do we just let him embrace that, accept it and try to avoid him? See why this sort of liberal pop philosophy doesn't work in reality??

With Kurt back in the school, he performs a little "I'm glad to be back" number for the glee club. It's from the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical version of Sunset Boulevard, which is just perfect. This choice was really smart and appropriate as it lyrically expresses everything Kurt wants to say, but is also exactly the sort of song a person like Kurt would pick. Add to that the role being originated by Patti LuPone, who the character adores, and you have another great number. The one odd thing is how it starts with Kurt walking through the auditorium. There's a set there for something, but we don't know what. It's like waves, and students are painting it, but it's also moving. Why are they making the waves move when they are trying to paint?

One of the most interesting dramatic revelations on this show occurs in this episode when Lauren uncovers something about Quinn. I always thought that Quinn was an odd, TV-sounding name, and we learn that it is not her real name! Her real name is Lucy. Quinn is her middle name. There's a whole backstory for Quinn that's revealed here. She was a fat, ugly middle-school kid named Lucy who all the children would tease. It tormented her so much that finally she begged her father to let her change her appearance. She got a nose job (hence her perfect nose), got super athletic and dropped the weight (there's also a nod to the cheerleaders' awful liquid diet from last season) and changed her name. And Quinn doesn't regret any of it, because now she's beautiful and people like her. It's a very moving element, and much more organic to the story, which is why in this case the bullying theme works. ...Though part of me was annoyed that everything once again came down to bullies, it made an interesting point. The photograph we saw of young Lucy was a little much. It felt to me like it had been badly Photoshopped. Is this a real picture of a young Diana? In the photo, her hair looked red or brown. Are we to believe Quinn's blonde hair is a dye-job? Because I've never believed that, and I think Kurt would have spotted it. That part bothered me, but otherwise I thought it was a very interesting choice. While there's a sense of ret-con behind it -- why would a Bible-thumber like her father allow his daughter plastic surgery? -- it never felt like it wasn't her character. Santana's bisexuality or whatever for me came out of left field. This backstory on the other hand seems organic. Quinn, the popular cheerleader to whom popularity was everything, fits this model and I liked that.

Lauren Zizes really hits below the belt by putting up posters all over the school with the young Lucy on them. Quinn is understandably traumatized. I feel really bad for her. Also, I think we can definitely agree that Lauren's actions here TOTALLY qualify as bullying! Where the heck are the Bullywhips??

The gang still wants to convince Rachel not to change her nose. They continually invoke the name of Barbra Streisand to make their point. This ultimately leads to them using a flash mob at the mall to sell her on embracing her nose. The show did this sort of thing once before last year, but it was a dream. This time it's real.

Emma's OCD is really bucking the whole "born this way, embrace it" theme as I've said before. But it's good for the character to be doing more about her anxieties on her own. So far the series has only shown her make progress through the love of a man. Now we see her in professional counseling. These scenes are difficult, and I think were written well to reflect both characters in the room. In the end, it is suggested Emma start medicating to keep her impulses under control.

Lauren had hoped to bring Quinn down a peg, show that her perfection was a fraud, and thus earn votes for the Zizes Prom Queen campaign. I'm glad that her plan backfired splendidly (though I knew it would). The regular girls who were on Lauren's side now decide to vote for Quinn since she's not only beautiful, but also is really one of them deep down. I'm also glad Zizes apologized to Quinn for what she did to her.

There's a scene between Brittany and Santana where Brittany has made her T-shirt for her. It says "Lebanese" though she means lesbian. I'm not going to repeat everything I've said about this storyline. But Santana is still hurt that Brittany is with Artie.

Finally we come to the capper of the end of the show, with the performance of "Born This Way". Some of their shirts are brilliant (Sam's is Trouty Mouth), others are not so much. For example, Brittany's is funny, saying "I'm With Stoopid" with an arrow pointing up to herself. ...But was she born stupid? Is that something she can't change? I guess it's okay to embrace yourself, but it's not quite how things were set out at the episode's start. Also, Kurt's shirt says "Likes Boys". Well, we know that. But this seems just a way to further advertise sexual orientation in the mix (and as an element of the song), and not part of the assignment. Again to quote Emma, "The thing you're most ashamed of, or would like to change but you can't." Does that fit Kurt to you? Because Kurt has never seemed to me to be ashamed of his homosexuality. Now, Santana in this regard actually does fit the assignment, and we see her sitting in the auditorium wearing the "Lebanese" shirt she had previously rejected, though she doesn't join the performance. I also don't get Mercedes' shirt. It reads "No Weave!" Now, is she proclaiming that she has no weave and is mad about it? Or mad that she was born without a weave and thus wears one? Why does it have an exclamation point? I get that it wants to ride on the whole issue of black hair that's in the popular mindsight now, but I'm not sure where it stands in relation to it. Though I guess nice to see it wasn't about her size.

The performance of the song itself was alright. It was better Gaga than the previous Gaga episode, though I don't exactly like that a whole episode was written around a song that just came out. Considering how television works, this was probably penned immediately on the song's release. As I've said before, riding on what's hot now is a slippery slope. Anyone remember the irrelevance that was TaTu some years ago? It's not a fabulous song, but works enough for the theme. I also think that the show's version helped the song's weaknesses. Santana's malaprop shirt makes the mention of Lebanese in the song carry more weight, and also overshadow the "orient" lyric that follows. That lyric has caused some recent controversy for Gaga, as people find the term oriental offensive these days. Personally, I've never really understood why, since its more appropriate to me to the region than Asian which covers a whole continent. I mean, Saudis are "Asian", right? So the Lebanese thing (Lebanese! Also Asian!) does take focus off that. But also, the lyric works on its own for Tina and her storyline about embracing her Asian eyes.

In the end, Emma finally does appear in a T-shirt that reads "OCD", and as I've iterated above, I really think that goes against the point.

Oh, and Rachel doesn't get the nose job. Obviously.

On the whole, this was a mostly solid episode if not fantastic. The longer running time helped provide more good to even out the predictable or aggravating. I applaud some of the more interesting visuals, the final coffin nail in the stupid Karofsky storyline, and the Quinn story. While the episode thematically was all over the place, well-intentioned but unfocused, the song choices and performances were strong. I don't think there was one that I really hated, which is rare for this season. Actually, the flash mob wasn't the best, but wasn't awful. And no Sue Sylvester at all. I guess having her berate everyone goes against the love fest of this episode. Though I didn't exactly miss her. Still, that meant delaying Terri's return until next episode.

Songs in tonight's episode:
I Feel Pretty/Unpretty
I Gotta Be Me
Somewhere Only We Know
As If We Never Said Goodbye
Barbra Streisand
Born This Way

Next episode: I'll be finally caught up, and just in time when I review "Rumours". Terri's back, and Glee takes on Fleetwood Mac! Now THAT's what I'm talking about!

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