Spoilers for last night’s Glee below:
It has become my unofficial theory that episodes of Glee are good to the extent that they do not involve the adults in the cast. “Funeral,” however, upended this expectation, with an episode that saw the return of Actual Sympathetic Human Sue Sylvester, while all but putting the New Directions kids in suspended animation for a week before the season finale. It was like the anti-Glee, with the usual polarities of good and bad reversed.
The best first: one of the most frustrating things about the transformation of Sue Sylvester into a a Cartoon Network supervillain over the past year or so is that, when she’s given the opportunity to portray a person with human motiviations (besides acting crazy and throwing up obstacles to the glee club), Jane Lynch is great in this role. Fleshing out Sue’s relationship with Jean, her sister with Down Syndrome, did not have to transform Sue into a good person; it just complicated her and gave a basis to her toughness and sense of anger.
“Funeral” actually began with the irrational supervillain Sue, plotting with her league of evil to reroute the Glee club’s plane to Libya. This, plus her sudden ejection of Becky, set us up to expect another episode of Sue trying to Stop the Glee Club Once and for All. The news of Jean’s death whiplashes her back into reality, though, and from this point in Lynch nails the episode: not just the emotional reading at the funeral (with the odd but perfect “Pure Imagination” tribute), but also the way in which she lashes out at Kurt and Finn in their attempts to help her.
I’m not sure if Sue the person is back for good, but it’s good to know that Lynch, and Glee, can still access her. Likewise, although the episode didn’t dwell overly much on Will’s Broadway dreams—which will no doubt be central in the New York episode—his ambitions, and guilt over them, make a much more believable and compelling conflict than Matthew Morrison has had to convey for much of the season. From the pilot of Glee, we’ve seen that Will is drawn to the Glee club because he is these kids, not just because he loves music but because he wants to escape Lima.
In a way, in fact, Will and Sue both function as alternative visions of the Glee kids’ futures: they’re both talented people with dreams far beyond the high school’s walls who have ended up in some way falling short of them. (We saw in last year’s finale that Sue, as much of a terror as she is in the school, is aware that she’s a little fish beyond it.) Which is why—although I would have liked to see Lynch read the entire eulogy as a sheer performance—thematically it made sense for Will to need to step in and finish for Sue: Will and Sue have more in common than each other would like to admit.
Most of the Glee kids too have seen enough of reality in their families, economic and otherwise, to know that not all of their dreams will instantly come true either: will that leave them embittered, or will they find fulfillment helping others with their own dreams?
If the latter, will that really be enough Will’s is a poignant, quasi-parental dilemma—how much must he sacrifice for his kids?—and I hope the show does right by it, not just next week but going forward. (Assuming, obviously, that one way or another Will will end up back at McKinley.)
On top of that, we even got a convincing adult moment from Terri, whose character has been a problem for Glee pretty much from the second she was introduced; that Glee could only solve her by apparently writing her off the show made it no less satisfying to see her realized as an adult for once too.
As for the kids? The New Directions storyline played as if the producers realized they had to make one more episode this season than they were prepared for, and had to fill time by essentially turning the episode, randomly, into an American Idol audition. Never mind that there’s no real reason that Will, having worked with these kids for two years, needs auditions a week before nationals to pick a lead, never mind that there are other ongoing stories the episode could have serviced—instead, “Funeral” found a reason to simply give several of the cast one song after another. Having four people stand up and sing solos into a microphone may be music; but it ain’t a musical.
This is Glee of course, so this can all reverse within a week, and probably will. In the meantime, a brief hail of bullets:
* Not a lotta laughs in this episode, obviously, but: “I do this thing where I alternate the kid I hate the most. Right now it’s the dancing Asian.”
* I’m now hoping that Chris Colfer manages to sing the entire Gypsy soundtrack, song by song, over the course of the series.
* So New Directions will perform original songs for nationals. The old ones? Or new ones, which they’ll write… when? On the plane to New York?
* While the Idol-style auditions didn’t do a lot for me, Naya Rivera was really impressive on “Back to Black.” That’s what I call Lima Heights style.