Tuned In

Glee Watch: Once Upon a Mattress

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FOX

Spoilers for last night’s Glee coming up after the jump:

Finally! Maybe acknowledging the most obvious and widely discussed flaw in the show, Glee stepped up, as it eventually had to, and ripped the Band-Aid—or rather the pregnancy pad—off Terri’s fake baby belly. Was the discovery of the deception any more plausible than the deception itself? Of course not, seeing as how it hinged on Will’s discovering a belly pad that he had failed to notice for months on his wife’s own body. (Actually, if their relations are strained enough that Will hasn’t reached under her shirt all fall, that’s a marital problem in itself—but in that case, you’d think this episode would mention that very problem.)

But here’s the funny thing: when Jessalyn Gilsig described the plans, and Terri’s motivations, in the harrowing showdown scene, the ruse actually made a kind of emotional sense for the first time. Not because it seemed any more realistic plot-wise, but simply because we were hearing it, for the first time, from something approaching an actual human with feelings and motivations rather than a caricatured ice sculpture of a super-bitch.

See, here’s the thing: a heightened-reality show like Glee can get away with implausible storylines. They just have to be populated by plausible characters. When Terri was presented as nothing but a shallow, materialistic, emasculating harpy, her deception was a storyline from a bad soap opera. But last night it seemed more like a storyline from—well, a good soap opera. One in which it suddenly seemed believable that Will might once have genuinely loved Terri.

The Terri that Gilsig delivered last night—because the script finally allowed her to—was a villain who knew she was a villain, who was scared, in over her head and all too aware of her limitations. “This marriage works because you don’t feel good about yourself”—yeah, that’s a bitch-queen line, but it’s also a terribly sad thing to feel compelled to say to your husband, and Gilsig made me feel for once like Terri knew that.

You may or may not like the Will-Terri story now. For the moment, I still don’t think it’s as interesting as the kids’ stories. But seeing it laid out—two small-town kids who married too young, Terri acting not out of fiendishness but panic—it makes sense now. It would have been better if Glee had set that out from the beginning, of course. But it’s good to see that (even in what was not one of its best episodes), Glee now sees itself as the kind of show that owes it to us to take its characters that seriously.

It’s not all the way there, mind you. But I have to spot Glee some points for the difficulty of pulling off a weird combo of genres and tones that is really like nothing else on TV.

The yearbook/mattress story, meanwhile, mostly served to throw in some comic relief (as well as an obstacle to keep Shue out of sectionals). But it also had a core sadness that meshed with the grownup story, returning to the theme of how hard it is to break out of old patterns and pecking orders. You can pull together, find your pride, and smile though your heart is breaking: you’re still going to get your teeth blacked out in the yearbook photo.

One more week before the hiatus. On to sectionals! And on to the hail of bullets:

* The show usually keeps a handle on Sue Sylvester, a tough character to keep in balance, but this was one time she seemed more of a straight-out, belligerent dramatic heavy rather than an amusing villain. But Jane Lynch still got in some good lines. One of Sue’s best features is her ability to meta-comment on aspects of the characters and actors we’ve all noticed at home, in this case, the amount of product in Matthew Morrison’s hair: “I mean, today it just looks like you put lard in it.”

* Chris Colfer continues to be a multiple threat: dramatic star, rival to Rachel and, this episode, archly funny commentator. Not many of the kids on this show could have pulled off the quasi-Behind the Music dialogue the script put in his mouth as he displayed the past Glee club photos, such as: “…with a cartoon knife stuck in her head, in a macabre tableau that, in four years, would prove eerily prescient.”

* Brittany, meanwhile, is becoming one of my favorite peripheral characters, getting a lot of comic mileage out of her deadpan delivery of a few lines like “He barks at my mom.” I’m hoping she gets a spotlight episode in the back half of the season.

* Finally, as funny-ridiculous as the mattress-commercial version of “Jump” was, the real payoff was seeing it in all its grainy, local-TV glory and Sue walked by it on the monitor. Mattresses are not just for sleeping and fornicating anymore!

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