Tuesday, July 19, 2011

BREAKING BAD: "Box Cutter"

The fourth season of Breaking Bad finally premiered this week. I've been an avid viewer since the pilot of the show, and a fan of Vince Gilligan's writing since his time on The X-Files. Because I no longer have cable, I was terribly annoyed that I would be unable to see this season until DVD. AMC doesn't stream it online like it does The Killing, nor does Hulu have it. However, I found that I could buy it on iTunes. Since I just happened to have iTunes cards lying around from Christmas, I was more than happy that I could watch the premiere finally!

The episode is just as disturbing and dramatic as you would think. The part of me that was hoping Jesse didn't succeed in killing Gale was saddened by how the episode opened. No X-Files fake-outs on this show! Actually, they did do that between the pilot and the first episode, so maybe Vince didn't want to push it. The teaser of the episode was a flashback, a style they had used a lot in season 3. We saw Gale first setting up the super lab and discussing whether or not it was worth having Walt work for Gus. When the episode picked up after the title, it picked up the split second after last year's ending. I thought that was cool.

So much of the episode focused on Walt and the dangerous game he plays in the aftermath of his little risk. Can he convince Gus he is still needed? Gus more and more shows that he is not a man to be messed with. In some ways I worry because I don't like this show having a "villain". It headed that direction in season 3 with the cousins, and it felt a bit too traditional. There's already a lot of dramatic irony to contend with. Yet there is a certain reality to the types of people Walt will deal with if he continues to delve deeper into this world. I come to realize more and more that Walt's biggest problems stem from his ego. He is blinded by his own idea of his importance, the purity of his product, etc. Whenever there's a real game change, it's because Walt thought he knew what he was doing and got cocky.

It was good seeing Saul again, who is understandably skittery after his run-in with Mike last season. We also got back to the Hank and Marie relationship. Hank is still not happy with his situation, and who can blame him. I'm not sure how much time has passed here since he left the hospital. It can't have been much. But in the meanwhile he's been buying rocks off eBay. Marie keeps trying to be optimistic and talk to him about how his therapy is going, but he wants none of it. I've noticed this about women in general; they always want to discuss the last thing any man wants to talk about. The shooting, the physical therapy, the indignity, that is all Hank can brood on and the last thing in the world he wants to talk about. To me, Marie would be better off discussing anything else. Though it's also in her character to not be that smart. Side note: I wonder what's become of her kleptomania, and will that play a larger part later in the season?

There's a very shocking moment that comes toward the end of the episode that I won't spoil. But it does put things in perspective. The more the show goes down the rabbit hole, the more I wonder whether Walt can ever be redeemed, or is he sealed to a bad fate? The show is growing very Godfather-esque undertones, with Walt being the Michael Corleone. We just had the shooting of Fredo. Is there any hope for him? So because it's seeming like Walt's hubris will be his undoing, the character I'm most concerned about is Jesse. If Walt started a good guy who is descending into hell, Jesse started the troubled burnout, leading me to hope he can become something better. Whenever we're teased with that, it's been snatched away. Jesse's nobility gets him in more trouble. After what he's gone through the past three episodes, I hope he doesn't stay zombified.

With all the darkness, it was nice to see a few touches of the old dark humor back, which almost all but disappeared in season 3. It was there, but a lot more subdued. There's an awkwardly funny scene where Marie comes to see Skyler. And another reminder of how bad Walt and Jesse are at the tough guy business in a moment that recalls season one. I hope the show retains some of it's humor. I'd also love it if they could get back to the kind of "subversive chemistry lessons" the show used to do in the first season. Though the way the showing is going this seems unlikely. It is odd to feel I should start rooting for Hank. Finally, the show ends with a tease of where things might go that could make life difficult for Gus's operation in the future. The show has started to come down to this trend of ret-conning story threads. I hope they keep it to a minimum. Last year's RV story worked, but too much of that makes a mess of continuity (though this show is very good about continuity) and cheapens drama. At any rate, season four is off to a good start. Though last year had some really great moments for Aaron Paul, I still think the second season was the best so far. Will this year top it? Hope it was worth the wait.

Oh, and one of the later scenes made me really wish there was a Denny's around here.

Friday, July 15, 2011


I've just returned from a back-to-back (well, half hour break in between) screening of Deathly Hallows parts 1 and 2. My immediate gut reactions from memory will be shared below. Feel free to add your own thoughts as you see the film. I'll try not to get too spoilerific, but there will still definitely be spoilers, so if you do not want to know anything at all, don't read any further.

It's good seeing the movie as one big four hour whole. I'm not sure how the second part will hold up just on it's own, as it is very action-heavy. It does have it's own kind of climactic rhythm, and in a way it's own themes, but Deathly Hallows is very much all of a piece. It's likeGone With the Wind or Kill Bill. Actually, it's structure reminded me a lot of Kill Bill, which I always thought was too heavy on one target in the first part, just as the first horcrux takes up all the time in the first movie, then the next two are dispensed with fairly quickly in part 2. These faults are Rowling's.

We open with a brief recap of the final scene of the last movie, then move right into Hogwarts. We haven't seen Hogwarts at all in Part 1, and this movie will take place almost entirely there.
I should mention also the 3D. They gave out special round Harry Potter 3D glasses, which was cute, but also a little annoying because having to wear them over my own glasses made them feel not quite large enough. While there are some shots that look cool in 3D, the movie didn't really need the conversion. I will say though that there is no frenetic action where the 3D makes this hard to make out. It's the best 3D of a Harry Potter I've seen. Still, there were moments that didn't feel dimensional at all, and other times, like when Harry is in his invisibility cloak, where the effect just looks distracting. I'll probably try to see this again in 2D.

The Dementors are still the bad unhooded version that Yates seems to like. In fact, I think this is the worst the dementors have ever looked in a Potter movie.

For those bothered by the lack of Dobby's gravestone in the last movie, it appears in this one.
John Hurt has a nice little scene with Harry, and it was nice to see him return as Ollivander. We didn't get much of him in Part 1. Though we never learn what happens to him AFTER this scene, as we get pretty quickly into the bank robbery.

Helena Bonham Carter does a great job playing Hermione as Bellatrix. It doesn't last very long, but it's memorable. I notice that in these films the non-human characters seem like they've been made a little more human. That may be why Dobby looked weird to me; they softened him and almost made him too human-like in the face. It's the same with the goblins. Their make-up has been toned down a bit, and sometimes feels too much like midget human bankers. Also, the dragon is so almost flesh-colored, and I'm not sure why. But the bank sequence on the whole is pretty good and kicks off pretty early in the film. This movie continues the conceit from the last one that each horcrux has that tea kettle sound. It allows Harry a kind of sixth sense of being able to hear them, which they come right out and say in this movie. To the point where he is hunting them by sound. While quick and easy for the movie, it takes away the logic of looking for something of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. The cup is never mentioned to be Hufflepuff's. He only knows about the diadem being Ravenclaw's because of flashes from Voldemort's mind.

We meet Aberforth Dumbledore, who is pretty well played. The biggest problem here is that the backstory is not explored enough. It is alluded to, but little more. Here would be the time to TELL us, but the movie refuses to. Aberforth has a beef against his brother, and we see the portrait of their dead sister, but the circumstances of her death are kept vague. No further mention is made of Grindelwald in this movie either. Thus the whole relationship and story leading up to the taking of the Elder Wand are gone. The movie should have tried harder to explain this somewhere over the course of two movies. Otherwise, there's almost no point in even HAVING the character in the movie.

The mirror thing is finally explained, somewhat. Instead of the story in the book, where it is given to Harry by Sirius and it smashes (maybe because Kloves didn't write the fifth movie), Harry's shard is a missing piece of one mirror. The rest of it is with Aberforth. He claims to have gotten it from Mundungus Fletcher, who took it from the Black house. It's an explanation that mostly works (though leaving that until the second movie is harsh). However, I'm left wondering why there is only one shard broken out and all the rest of the mirror is fine. How did it break and how did Harry come to have that piece? If he had found it while they were in hiding at the Black residence I would have bought it. But he started with it on Privet Drive in Part 1. That's poor scripting to me.

Then we get to Hogwarts and all our old friends are there. Neville, Seamus, Dean, Cho, even Lavender Brown appears, though she doesn't really say anything. I liked that Cho helped with the discussion of the diadem of Ravenclaw, since we barely even saw her in Part 1.
Snape stands before the school and asks anyone who knows Harry's whereabouts to step forward. No one does, until Harry himself comes forth in a great moment, followed by the Order of the Phoenix. Snape and McGonagall have a minor fight, brought on by the knowledge that he killed Dumbledore. Snape flees out the window.

McGonnagall's take-charge of Hogwarts is good. Once Snape is gone, she brings lights back up. It's still dark, but adds a bit of warmth. Yates still likes his movie to look all grey, but it's not so dark as Phoenix was. And we get cameo appearances from many of the school staff going back several films. Trelawny, Slughorn, even Sprout make appearances. Filch appears, though he's once again played a bit too hard for comedy. Minerva even calls him a "blithering idiot". Though his idiocy is still more in character than it was in some of the other films (especially Goblet of Fire). There's a point when Voldemort's voice calls for Harry Potter to be brought forth. Pansy Parkinson calls for someone to grab him. At that, McGonagall has Filch take all the Slytherins to the dungeon. I like that this is the first reference to the dungeon since the Columbus days. However, I had a real problem with this action, as it reinforces the idea that all Slytherins are evil. How is her rounding up all the Slytherin students any better than the Ministry rounding up all the mudbloods?

The battle on Hogwarts is epic, and hard to describe her. Events which are only talked about after the fact in the book are put onscreen. Still, we don't get everything. Giants do storm the castle, though I at first thought they were meant to be trolls. There is no fake-out Hagrid death. Actually, Hagrid feels a bit off to me in these two movies for some reason.

Neville and Seamus are told to blow up the bridge, and there's a great call back to how Seamus is always blowing stuff up.

Though he gets less to say or do, Dean Thomas also has a couple nice moments onscreen.
I thought the Gray Lady stuff was handled well. The actress was good, and there was a moment where she was scary. However, the ghost effect looks nothing like the ghost effect seen in the previous movies. I know those effects looked cheesy most of the time, so it's hard to say which is better. She's more in color and more spectral and animated. It's a better effect, but not consistent with the other films.

What IS consistent with the other films is the Chamber of Secrets. I'm so glad it's the same sets. Hermione and Ron have a nice kiss here, but it's missing something for me. This is the one casualty of the SPEW storyline being excised. In the book the moment is so perfect when Hermione finally pounces on Ron. Here, it's meant to come as a moment after they both thought they were going to die but it's too sudden for me. At a point a scene or two later, Ron says something that proves he had actually retained something Hermione had said last year. I think that might have been a more book-like impetus for her to kiss him. Though in the film it seems to be a mutual decision. I'll let you folks decide how you like it.

The Room of Requirement and the fire is a great scene. There's even cameos from the pixies from Chamber of Secrets. Since the actor who played Crabbe was arrested on drug charges before filming, he doesn't appear. Instead, joining Draco and Goyle is Blaise, which I kinda liked. It also allowed another black character to have some screen time.

Alan Rickman finally gets something to play beyond brooding and hitting people on the head. The moment when he dies matches what I pictured reading the book. I was always afraid they wouldn't be able to capture the sense at the end when Snape looks at Harry and sees Lily. It's subtle in the book, but I think it says the last thing he saw was Harry's eyes. Anyway, in the film they get the point by having his dying words be that he has his mother's eyes. And it doesn't play like that broken record it's been in previous movies. Harry collects Snape's memories from his tears. I don't remember it being that way in the book, but I liked it.

The Snape's memory stuff is very good. It's better than the brief bit we saw in Order of the Phoenix. While still not all that's in the book, and missing some key conversations with Lily, you get the emotion and the sense of plot as there is a lot of retcon exposition to give. Unlike in Half Blood Prince, the pensieve images are not all smoky and inky. They only get that way when transitioning in and out of scenes. This is nice because it allows the first meeting of Lily and Severus to be brightly lit and pretty. I also very much appreciated the way footage from all the previous Potter movies was worked in, especially the death of Lily. I'm sure it was hard to match up with a scene shot ten years ago (and so little of it), but it looks almost seamless. Too bad Chris Columbus will not get the credit he deserves for the stuff in this movie that he is responsible for shooting, and for designs he okayed for his films. Why does producer David Heyman get all this credit now? Anyway, these scenes are some of the best in the movie.

I really hate that Harry's invisibility cloak is never revealed to be one of the Deathly Hallows. It made bad sense in the first part when he went to places like Godric's Hollow without it when in the book he had it, knowing that everyone was after him. But I figured that maybe they were saving it so the audience wouldn't immediately grasp that his cloak was THE cloak. But then what? He uses it in the bank and then it's never seen again. Also, the "cloak-vision" is not the same as it always was before. Yates uses the same sort of "magical wall" effect he used with Hermione's enchantments in part 1. He spends a lot of time these two movies flying through windows and barriers and such, actually.

Harry's little reunion in the woods with his dead friends is nice. Good to see Sirius again. The one problem here is the acknowledgement about Lupin's kid. Harry says, "What about your son?" First, only Lupin is there, not Tonks even though we know from earlier that they were both dead. Second, there was only a passing reference in the first movie about her being pregnant. Yes, she must have had the baby in the months Harry was in the woods, but the movie doesn't tell us that. In fact, there's no point at all where Harry would even know that Lupin had a son. I suspect there was a moment shot and then cut out for pacing. Still, it makes me wonder if it was even worth putting the baby bit into this movie. Reminds me of Lost, and how Sun and Jin were killed off leaving an orphan. Actually, the King's Cross scene reminded me of the ending of Lost too.

Hagrid is being held by the Death Eaters in the woods, but with no explanation as to how or why. Harry's "death" is a good moment. The King's Cross scene is nice and I like the whiteness of it all. Though it being a train station also calls to mind the opening of The Matrix Revolutions.

Sissy Malfoy has this odd moment when she checks Harry's body, sees he's not dead and tells Voldemort he is. That's fine, but she says "Tell me he's alive Draco." and Draco's not even there.
Neville has a great little speech about how the fight doesn't end just because Harry's dead. He sums up much of the movie's theme by saying that people we love live on with us in our memory. It also seems like an invention of Kloves' to get Neville to in some way call back to his parents since he doesn't get to personally avenge them.

The slaying of Nagini is cool. It's all intercut with this long fight between Harry and Voldemort. The death of Bellatrix is not as good as it should be. It feels like there's not enough build-up to it. The "Not my daughter, you bitch" feels like it comes right out of Aliens, and yet the delivery doesn't feel like it comes from an emotional place. At least not to me. In the end, Mrs. Weasly fights Bellatrix quickly, nearly strangles her by tightening her corset magically, then BLOWS HER UP.

The end of the movie also plays out differently. Draco never quite redeems himself in the same way he does in the books (which I don't remember well). Sissy definitely turns good, and Draco does have moments where he doesn't want to kill Harry. During the final battles, the Malfoy family just sneaks off and runs away. Lucius, Narcissa and Draco just head off into the woods and that's the end of them. Harry's final confrontation with Voldemort is almost all physical. None of that standing around explaining wandlore like in the book. He just disarms Voldemort and kills him. It was so abrupt to me (it comes almost immediately after Nagini's death) that I was confused. Only later when Ron and Hermione ask does Harry explain his theory about Draco being the true master of the wand. In a way this less dramatic rendering helps iron over the severe illogic of this story point that I've never been happy with. I don't get how Harry is master of the wand for disarming a completely different wand from Draco. That just makes no sense to me. I understand allegiance wand to wand, but some wand shifting allegiance based on ANY wand being taken? It makes sense that the wand wants Draco and thus doesn't work for Voldemort and that is enough for me. It doesn't NEED to be Harry's ability to wield it that does him in, does it?

After this, the movie follows the epilogue and jumps ahead 19 years. This scene is mostly successful. However, it is here that I really fault Yates' direction and muted color palette. It made sense when Voldemort was in power, but this is a happier time that is supposed to recall the glory and wonder of the first movie. So I think it should have been shot with much brighter golden hues reminiscent of those days. If there was ever a time to get back to the Columbus look, it's here. Also, the passage to platform 9 3/4 is now on the other side of the screen, which bothers me. The aging looks good on Dan and Rupert. Emma looks almost the same. The scene is nice, I just wish it were brighter, to give more of a happy ending feeling.

Finally, I think it was nice for there to be music cues from previous films in this score, and in the credits it mentions John Williams' score from "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone". I was impressed they used the real title there in the credits.

Anyway, that's all I can think of right now. I'm sure there are other points that I've forgotten or glossed over. On the whole, it's a good movie despite the missing exposition. Better than some Potter films. Is it the best? That's a tough call. I'm not even sure how to grade it by itself as Part 2, but as a whole Deathly Hallows is a good ride. It's really more a unified film than other similar projects.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Tribute to Sherwood Schwartz

Today television legend Sherwood Schwartz died at the age of 94. What better way to celebrate than with the opening themes to those ridiculous but entertaining shows with the frustratingly catchy music?

Unfortunately I couldn't embed the Gilligan themes, but there are links there.

Gilligan's Island (1964-1965) -- first season

Gilligan's Island (1965-1967) -- intro with Professor and Mary Ann

Gilligan's Island (1964-1967) closing theme

It's About Time (1966-1967)

The Brady Bunch (1969-1974)

Dusty's Trail (1973-1974)

The Brady Kids (1972-1974) -- did every popular show in the era have a nonsensical animated counterpart??

Big John, Little John (1976)

The Brady Brides (1981) -- short-lived series spun off from a TV movie

The Bradys (1990) -- ill-fated one-hour drama version of everyone's favorite blended family

And the less said about The Brady Bunch Variety Hour the better.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

GLEE: "New York"

The time has come...
I've put this off for far too long...
Season finale...
a full season of posts leading up to this...
Nationals are upon us, and Glee goes on location in New York City (that's right, there's a "City" in the name -- New York is a state).
Now let's talk about it.

At first I was going to praise the show for its use of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" opening the show. But then I remembered that's exactly how Woody Allen opened Manhattan. Even so, the montage of Times Square under the Gershwin is a nice homage to Woody Allen's movie. And one that suddenly transitions into a seeming Mary Tyler Moore Show homage with Rachel standing there in her little beret saying, "I made it." Is this a reference to "You're gonna make it after all"?

Rachel buys tickets to Cats from a scalper. Quinn points out that Cats closed 11 years ago. How is Rachel the theater geek so stupid that she doesn't know Cats closed? Why does she still think it's the longest running show? It WAS... but has been surpassed by Phantom of the Opera. I hope another show comes along to take the title back from Andrew Lloyd Weber.

Rachel asks Finn in a throwaway line, "Do you know why it smells like it's wet here all the time?" One of the few points in the episode that shatters the "New York is the best place in the world" illusion otherwise perpetuated by the episode and all other American popular culture. I can't speak to the observation, as it was raining when I was there. But honestly, New York is just like any city, only more so. If you're from nowhere Ohio, then yeah I guess it's magical. But if you've got a city nearby, it loses its luster. In many ways I prefer Boston.

I like that Kurt says "I feel like Eloise." Though I've never much liked the Eloise books.

Okay, hold up here... they are in New York for the competition and they still haven't written any songs yet??? And yet they think they are going to win?? With unwritten, unrehearsed music? This is wrong on so many levels. It's irresponsible. And it's bad TV writing. Did they come prepared with ANYTHING??

While the kids are left to work on songwriting, Mr. Shue goes to work on the April Rhodes musical. The first of the kids' song attempts is Brittany's ode to a cup. It's funny, of course, but proves why they should have had something solid written before they left. There's a great shot where Santana is struggling not to laugh. But what I also like about the song is that it makes perfect sense coming from somebody whose favorite song is "My Headband". In that way, it's a nice homage. And if you watch the previous scene closely, you'll see Brittany is playing with a cup. So that's nice motivation for her writing it.

The kids decide to go out into the city, thinking the inspiration will help them write songs. They do this bizarre ode to New York mash-up thing that totally destroys the opening from On the Town until it is unrecognizable. Leonard Bernstein is rolling in his grave. I don't know where this song came from, but I hate it. I also would like to know where all the people are in this city. I noticed it throughout the episode, but particularly this part. It seems like there should be a lot more folks out on the streets than there are. There are shots where it frankly looks like the production crew drew an imaginary radius around the actors that nobody could cross. So it's like the club is in the center, there's big empty space around him, and THEN all the normal people hanging or walking around. I know there's a certain "musical" aesthetic we are used to, but it's very hard to know whether this episode is supposed to have a realism or not. The sequence ends with them up on this raised platform around a fountain... how did Artie get up there? Did they lift him up just so he could be there too?

The show perpetuates another myth: that of girls pillow fighting. And why are they always feather pillows with feathers going everywhere? That's not real. And somebody is going to get charged for ruining all those pillows.

Meanwhile, Mr. Shue is alone on an empty Broadway stage back at April Rhodes' theater. So he stands there and sings a song for himself. ...Who is lighting it? April and the crew have gone to dinner. A theater worker comes in and tells him he's got talent. He says he was trying out something for the show. Actually, it was just a way for Glee to plug Matthew Morrison's new album by showcasing him singing his song, "Still Got Tonight".

The guys advise Finn to try having a romantic day with Rachel in the city if he wants to date her. He tells her to meet him at the bridge in the park and dress up. I like that the score in the background is "Someone to Watch Over Me". They eat at Sardi's, and Patti LuPone is there, so Rachel goes up and speaks to her. It's weird for celebrities to play themselves on this show when so often they play other characters. She tells Rachel to "never give up". You know, like they always do. Did this show need her cameo? Not really. And if I haven't said so already, I don't get why people love Patti LuPone so much. She's all right I guess, but I wouldn't go out of my way to talk to her. As night comes, and Finn and Rachel walk down the street, the other guys are there to perform "Bella Notte" from Lady and the Tramp. Since when can Puck play the accordion? Finn goes to kiss Rachel, but she says, "I can't," and leaves. The guys take no notice and finish their song.

The next day, Kurt and Rachel go have breakfast at Tiffany's. You know, as you do. And once again the score gets points from me for being "Moon River". It's the best incidental score of the whole season. Rachel has decided that she is coming to New York for college when she graduates because it is where she belongs (you and a million others, kid). She doesn't know whether to choose Finn or Broadway. Kurt says he can help her decide and brings her to the theater where Wicked plays. They sneak into the theater. Some usher catches them, but gives them fifteen minutes, like this happens all the time. I like the ghost light on the stage.

Before I go further on this scene, I want to mention that Kurt has his gayest hairstyle ever in this scene. And I don't really understand why gay men seem to all want their hair to be pouffy and pointy on top. I've always thought it looked tremendously stupid. Anyway, Kurt tells Rachel to imagine singing with an audience. Then suddenly he waves his hand and the whole set changes. At what point did Kurt obtain MAGICAL POWERS?? And in case you think this is all imaginary, they use all the set pieces as they sing, and it doesn't change back when they are done. Kurt and Rachel perform "For Good" from the show, and it's pretty good. I'm not a fan of the show (it is NOT Oz), but most of the music is fine. Last year I thought that the album duet of "Defying Gravity" was the best version I'd ever heard. This performance tops it, maybe because the song is better. It's one of the few I kind of like. Though I dislike how it treats the characters. But I still like the song all right, and sometimes have entertained the notion that it will be my wedding song. The performance is good, but I don't really see that it answers her question any. It was just an excuse to put the Glee kids on the set of Wicked. There was a moment when Kurt sings "I guess we know there's blame to share" that it almost sounded like "Blaine to share" which made me laugh to myself.

Quinn is still upset about Finn. There's a funny moment where she thinks Santana is coming on to her. And then Santana and Brittany give her the same pick-me-up advice that Steve observed years before on Coupling: to get a haircut. There was this one rant where Steve says that men would never "reach that level of earth-shattering boredom and mind-numbing despair where we would get a haircut recreationally." But that's apparently what Quinn does. The real reason is that Diana wanted to cut her hair, so they wrote it into the show. I grow tired of these young women chopping all their hair off, but at least the end result is better than Emma Watson's pixie cut. We never actually see the haircut though. This makes me wonder if the scene was written after the fact to explain it.

Hey, nice continuity! The hotel guy chastises Mr. Shue about the destroyed pillows in the girls' room. And here I was complaining. On the whole I will say that having done hotel stays with large groups of teen drama kids, the show has a pretty good sense of what goes on. The Vocal Adrenaline coach knows that Will is planning a Broadway debut and is using it to his tactical advantage. he told the kids about it, and they are angry. I don't really understand what everyone is so angry about, since the plan was to do the show after Nationals during the summer, and then be back. But Will decides that he already had his moment on the stage, so he's not going. Wait, why can't he still do it over the summer? There is no reason to worry about it, or tell the kids about it. I have never felt there was any drama in this story point.

Why does Will think they have "a really good shot at winning this thing"? Has he even heard their original songs? When the heck did they rehearse them? It didn't seem like they were ever all in the same room very long! We are informed that the Nationals level is a multi-layered event with several rounds of finalists. From 50 schools, it's narrowed down and then narrowed down again. So this is a built-in trick of the writers to ensure that there's always a level for the group to strive for and lose next season.

The first group we see is an all-girl group doing some standard club song. Their outfits are these grecian things which look nice when they are standing still, but ridiculous when you see their choreography. It's mostly white girls trying to act black. There were some black girls too... why didn't one of them get the solo? And can I just ask why anyone continues to call girls "Shorty"? Do any girls actually like this? Mercedes says, "They're really good" and I'm thinking, no they're not!

In the bathroom Rachel runs into Sunshine. Remember her, the girl that left the school back in the first episode? She's so nervous and hates Vocal Adrenaline, so she is thinking about going back to the Philippines. There's a sort of reconciliation here where Rachel helps her get over her nerves. This character was one who went nowhere this season.

So Vocal Adrenaline performs. But I spent more thought wondering why there are always these glittery microphones. It starts with just Sunshine on an empty stage, but ultimately the rest of the group comes on. You know, like New Directions did for Regionals. The choreography was good, though we've seen better from the group.

Backstage, Finn makes a good point: all Rachel's ever done is beg to be with Finn and now he's basically begging for it and she says no. These conversations always happen just before they go on, don't they? So they come on and perform a duet called "Pretending" which is all about whether they should be together. I wonder if Finn wrote it. It's basically an anthem to underlying sexual tension. I'm waiting for someone to do a little YouTube video about Mulder and Scully with this song. The song ends and before you can say Mitch and Mickey, Finn and Rachel kiss right there onstage. Many in the audience are shocked. Jesse St. James considers it unprofessional. I think they might have gotten away with it if it weren't so long.

Next up is a song that allows almost everyone a solo moment, which is nice. Some of the choreography was nice. But it was mostly clear that it was a bit thrown together. It was a fun performance, but not a winning one. So it was totally obvious that they were not going to place. Actually, I figured from the beginning they wouldn't win, because that would give next season somewhere to go. In the realm of predictable television, you can generally bet that Glee will continue losing in each finale. The show is built on struggling losers. Once they win Nationals, it becomes about maintaining a title, which is a different energy. Like comparing Karate Kid III with the first one.

It's a shame they couldn't have at least beaten Vocal Adrenaline. The best thing about the list of Top 10 schools is some of them have really funny names. Names like Singaz Wit Attitude, an obvious parallel to N.W.A. Then there's Teenage Scream, Soundsplosion, and Jefferson City Airplane. The writers room must have had fun coming up with these. But my personal favorite is The Waffletoots.

Maybe it's sad, but did they really think they could coast into Nationals that way? They came to the city completely unprepared and they were SURPRISED they didn't place? Santana goes nuts, like Ricky Ricardo nuts, shouting in Spanish. When Kurt tells it all to Blane afterwards, he doesn't mind. He got to sing on a Broadway stage and all. Then they exchange "I love you"s faster than any couple ever has on this show. Kurt says, "When you stop and think about it, Kurt Hummel's had a pretty good year." What?? Maybe Kurt's had a pretty good two weeks. But we are talking about the same Kurt Hummel who had to change schools because of threats to his life, had an unwelcome kiss from a closeted homophobe, the bird he was watching died, his father nearly died of a heart attack, and he was embarrassingly singled out as queen of the prom. And he had "a pretty good year"? Time to put down the glass of optimism, Kurt; it's now half-empty.

We also learn that Mercedes and Sam are indeed now an item. Which is good for Mercedes, but not an odd ending knowing now that Chord Overstreet is not returning as a regular next year. Will Sam at least show up here and there?

Brittany and Santana have another of their weird locker love scenes. Brittany sums up the year saying it was about acceptance. As if any of us who watched it all couldn't have figured that out. Trust your audience a little more, Ryan Murphy!

Finn is blaming himself for losing Nationals. To blame it all on the kiss is wrong, since they lost out of their own lack of preparation. I fear that they won't see it that way now that they have something else to blame. Rachel at least has decided it's okay to date Finn for awhile.

They finished in 12th Place? Why are they so depressed? Don't they know how fantastic that it? That's out of FIFTY. That means they did better than more than half of the schools. That they were two slots away from placing. And that was all with stuff they threw together in a hotel! If they actually planned and prepped properly, they could EASILY place next year. So why not learn from this and be optimistic?

In the end, this season has been all over the place. The finale was okay, but was it as good as it should be? Probably not. But better than some other episodes this season. Much that was teased last summer didn't happen. The MySpace audition search for new cast members was essentially a lie; that all got thrown out. Did any of those people end up on The Glee Project? One could seriously charge them with false advertising, I think. Characters were introduced that went nowhere. Mercedes was supposed to get a boyfriend this year, and it took the whole season. Not fair to her. I did like Coach Beiste, probably the best new character. A shame she seemed to disappear at the end of the season. The series had some of its lowest points ever, and relied too much on Kurt and being preachy, but there were great moments of the sarcastic wit that made this show so good originally. Those few times showcased why it's still a good show and if they can harness that back again, they can pull together an amazing third season. If not, the show will continue to steadily decline. I hope not.

My hope for next year? Nationals in California, and a Beach Boys-themed episode. That would be awesome. See, I should write for this show. If you're out there reading this, Ryan Murphy, can I join your writers' room?

Songs in tonight's episode:
New York, New York
My Cup
I Love New York/New York, New York
Still Got Tonight
Bella Notte
For Good
As Long As You're There
Light Up the World