Glee Watch: Lohan and Losers

Was Glee's Lindsay Lohan moment really about comeback—or does something darker lurk below the show-choir sparkles?

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Adam Rose / FOX

Nationals judges: Lindsay Lohan guest-stars as herself in a special two-hour "Nationals" episode of Glee airing May 15, 2012 on FOX.

Spoilers for last night’s big two-hour Glee bonanza, a pair of we’re-going-to-nationals-and-learning-life-lessons episodes that would have been season-finale material in any year that didn’t include a graduation:

Hour one, entitled “Props,” was heavy on the lessons and light on the music. See, the Flashdance-inspired welding masks that Sue Sylvester wanted the kids to wear during their “What a Feeling” number weren’t the only props to which the title referred. Sometimes we treat people like props, too. Especially if those people include Tina Cohen-Chang. Tina tries to quit glee club because nobody notices her, but then she falls into a fountain at the mall and hits her head, leading to a Freaky Friday-style body switch between Rachel and Tina—a bit of foreshadowing for hour two. (Although, even in Rachel’s loafers and cardigan, Tina can’t hold a candle to Lindsay Lohan in her prime trying not to kiss her mom’s boyfriend.) Of course, it’s all a hallucination, which is clear as soon as we see the other outfit-swapping pairs at rehearsal, notably a quite-funny Sue and Schue. The vision-quest aspect of the concussion helps Tina and Rachel make nice so that Tina can realize that her turn will come later and right now she should help Rachel continue trying to get into her dream school. (Coach Beiste, meanwhile, leaves her abusive husband and has a moment of shared defiance with the bullied former bully Puck.) Tina comes out ahead in the end, though, with the one-liner of the evening: “It takes a lot of crystals to make something shine.” And, in case it wasn’t clear, she doesn’t just mean costumes. She means all of us.

Episode two, “Nationals,” is the kind of hour of television that, depending on your devotion to the show, feels like either five minutes (more big group numbers please!) or five hours (why does everyone get her own plot?). Mercedes gets food poisoning. Quinn is having trouble dancing. Finn bet his and Rachel’s honeymoon money on New Directions’ victory. The team has the dreaded first spot. Rachel wants this to be her second-chance audition for college. Vocal Adrenaline has an awesome tumbling routine to go with Nicki Minaj’s “Starships.” Will “Edge of Glory” plus “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” plus a fairly impressive rendition of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” be enough to carry the day?

(MORE: Glee Watch: Back to Basics?)

Even bigger spoilers: yes. The McKinley High gang finally, finally, finally wins. Then they get a hero’s welcome home, complete with Slurpee cups full of confetti and all sorts of high-school hallway make-outs. There’s a big trophy. Mr. Schuester wins Teacher of the Year and they sing “We Are the Champions.” And there’s still another episode before the season finale!

But that’s not really what you care about, is it? The other big score for “Nationals” was the casting: the celebrity guest judges for the show-choir competition were Lindsay Lohan (as herself), Perez Hilton (as himself) and Entourage’s Rex Lee as a glee-loving local politician. Even though Glee means more than one take—and thus less possibility of SNL-level floppage—Lohan’s appearance was overshadowed by weeks-old reports that the actress had shown up hours late and been a “diva” on set, as per Us Weekly. The stories were started by some errant (now deleted) tweets from Dot-Marie Jones, who plays Coach Beiste, but Lohan didn’t interact much with the regular cast so it was impossible to catch glints of disdain (or worse) in the actors’ eyes. Still, Lohan’s appearance isn’t likely to do much to help her on her road back to Mean Girls-era respectability. The obvious question is: why the fictionalized Lindsay Lohan would judge a high-school singing contest if she doesn’t love glee like her fellow judges do. But the writers head that one off at the pass with an easy answer: she likes to support young artists…and she needs the good publicity. The more important question, then, is why the real Lindsay Lohan would allow herself to be given lines like “Is there anything better than someone making a comeback?” Lohan’s soft spot for underdogs may help New Directions, but it’s not a funny enough self-mockery to do any good for the actress.

(MORE: SNL‘s 5 Best Skits: Lindsay Lohan’s Less-than-Stellar Comeback)

Lindsay Lohan’s not-distastrous (but sort of depressing) appearance is, in the end, just a distraction from the more unsettling message of “Nationals,” and perhaps of Glee as a whole. The show has always won kudos for its celebration of the little guys and people who don’t fit in. That’s New Directions’ secret weapon, how they’re planning to win Nationals and how they do in the end. It’s okay if some people think you’re a loser, they say, as long as you don’t stop believin’—that was, after all, the song that made the show a hit. “Nationals” throws away the show’s celebration of loserdom: it’s not just that the losers win, it’s that they stop being losers. Everyone at school throws them parties. Cute girls kiss the awkward boys. In a major moment of the episode, Emma decides to sleep with Will because he’s a winner and “deserves to be treated as such.” And of course everyone gets to sing Queen’s anthem to the joys of winning. It’s hard to begrudge a bunch of high-school kids a coveted trophy, but the way the win is handled  erases any progress made by the cross-caste loves of the Finns and Rachels of the world. There are losers. There are winners. And, yes, it matters which you are.