Spoilers for last night’s Glee coming up after the jump:
Last week I wrote that watching Glee was like watching a bungee jump, the way its episodes kept boinging up and down in quality. Allow me to amend that: it’s amazing how Glee can career from excruciating to transcendent within a single episode. Hell, within a single scene.
Thus last night, we had to sit through the (for me, at least) uncomfortable experience of watching Finn sing “Having My Baby” to Quinn at the family dinner table, a moment that dragged on painfully long. Would it actually take two verses for the ‘rents to figure out what he was getting at? (This is one problem with Glee’s presenting itself as a “realistic” musical; to have characters burst into song in a conventional musical as a narrative device is one thing, but if we have to accept that each character is actually singing in the moment, in real life, then those around them have to react realistically—which made this scene very, very weird.)
But that bit transitioned into to Quinn’s surprisingly affecting confrontation with her parents, elevated both by the sad, angry monologue from Riches alum Gregg Henry and Quinn’s revealing to her mother that she knew her mother knew she was pregnant. It was a really nicely handled scene, just this side of pathos, which not only made Quinn more of a person but, more important, brought the whole pregnancy story into the realm of reality—no elaborate deceptions, just a preggers girl in trouble with her parents. (Now if we can only get the ridiculous fake Terri pregnancy behind us.)
The reaction on Finn’s home front, meanwhile, showed how Glee has matured from the broadly caricatured show it was early on. In the pilot—which was fantastic in its own right—Finn’s mom was just the slightly pathetic figure we saw pining after the lawn-care guy. But her reaction to the news was a brilliant bit of characterization through small moments: that is, in the way that she knew what the problem was and comforted her son—while also showing us that she was saddened and a little angry—she let us know that she’s been through tough times, that she’s made mistakes and understands them, but also knows that hugging Finn is not going to make his basic problem any better.
And the scene in which she agrees to take in Quinn reminded me of Kurt’s lovely coming-out to his dad earlier. When it’s not going over the top of the top (which can be delightful in itself), Glee is becoming very good at showing how life happens in small exchanges in people’s laundry rooms and finished basements.
Speaking of which, is anyone out there not completely in love with Finn at this point? I’m really enjoying how the show has subverted his jock stereotype, without completely reversing it either. Yeah, he’s a little thick and very naive. But he’s also self-aware, and heartbreakingly sweet. He’s clearly a little uncomfortable with Kurt’s obvious crush on him, but he also takes pains to show that he’s fine with Kurt being gay, not just out of P.C.-ness (though Finn’s a good enough kid to know how to behave decently) but because he really likes Kurt. He’s also a decent enough kid that he can’t suppress his paternal instinct, and his serenade to not-really-his-baby’s sonogram was more moving than anything he’s sung to his girlfriend.
Meanwhile, the Shue-and-Rachel subplot did its own ping-ponging around. Their initial ballad was gaspingly funny (Matthew Morrison’s facial reactions were a little overdone, but Lea Michele had the crazy-eyes thing down). On the other hand, his “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” mashup was over-literal and just painful to watch. Yet the episode managed to get at the emotional core of this comic plot too. Even Suzy Pepper, who seemed like a throwaway dorky-girl stereotype, was fleshed-out as a person, even if her insights into her own and Rachel’s insecurities were a touch too perfect.
It’s the sort of attention to character that I’m not sure Glee would have been capable of in its first few episodes. “Ballad” wasn’t as good as “Wheels” (it also had the handicap of no Sue Sylvester), and it was definitely inconsistent internally. (Another nitpick: the “Lean on Me” closer was too predictable and too thematically close to “Keep Holding On” to be really effective.)
But that’s the kind of ride you get with this very unusual show. And if you plot the zig-zagging quality of Glee over the season on a chart and smoothed out the statistical variation, the trend line would definitely be up, and that’s a very good thing.