I’ll begin by stating the obvious: Glee has always been inconsistent, but season one was generally good. Then things started to slide, until we had the trainwreck of season three. No one thought that the graduation of several major characters would help the series, yet so far season four has been quite solid. And “The Breakup” was one of the best episodes they’ve ever done.
Glee has always been at its best when the fantasy world the show is set in is underscored by heartbreaking realities. Think about “Wheels”, and the sad truth that Artie will never dance like he dreams to, or “Grilled Cheesus”, when Kurt’s only parent has a heart attack and he has to figure out how to deal with that while still remaining true to his own atheist beliefs. When the show deals with sad material without turning it into an after-school special, that’s when things really go well. And that’s what we saw last night.
“The Breakup” wasn’t just about this or that couple breaking up, it was about navigating relationships, young love, the idea that even if you care about someone you might screw up, and that at eighteen years old you have to put yourself and your dreams first.
Rachel and Finn
Last week I said that I hoped Finn was simply returning for a breakup scene, and that we’d never hear from him again. The previews for when Glee returns in November (no new episodes until November 8th) show that that’s not true – he’s directing Grease for McKinley High, and I’ll try to keep an open mind about that. But despite the problems I’ve had with Cory Monteith in the past, I think he killed it in this episode. His acting and singing were both some of the best he’s done on the show, and he and Lea Michele managed to really hit the right emotional tones and get us to the place where we actually care about Rachel and Finn.
Rachel is a character I’ve often liked more than some other viewers, but we all know she can get annoying. But I think the show began to right the course with her when they built up her friendship with Kurt and shook her confidence a little with the botched NYADA audition. I like New York Rachel, and I liked everything she did in this episode. When she told Finn that he made her feel “visible”, my heart broke for her. She’s a much different person now than she was several months ago, when she was willing to throw everything away to marry Finn.
Kurt and Blaine
The Kurt and Blaine material this week was truly fantastic, and having Blaine sing “Teenage Dream” in the bar to Kurt was both an excellent bit of writing and superb execution from Darren Criss. At first you think Blaine is sad because he’s just so lonely, and because his boyfriend has an amazing life in New York that he’s not a part of. But the real punch to the gut is that Blaine was so sad because he’d screwed up. Because he was so sad and so alone that he hooked up with someone else. So he desperately went to New York to see his boyfriend and sang a terribly sad song.
Kurt used to be the only gay kid in his small town Ohio high school, dreaming of being able to have a love life like everyone else. And now he’s just a kid, in a big city, and his love life is just like everyone else’s. He and Blaine are great together, but what Glee got so right in this episode is that timing is everything, and very few high school sweethearts actually end up together.
Santana and Brittany
What I liked about the Santana and Brittany storyline was that it showed that not all breakups have to be loud. Sometimes no one cheats, and there isn’t a big shouting match. Sometimes you just know it’s not working, you know there is no way to make both of you happy, and you have to end it. Santana and Brittany love each other, but they were both miserable.
When you’re eighteen, you can’t make life choices based on your love life. Kurt can’t drop his Vogue.com internship to go be with Blaine – in fact, he can’t even take Blaine’s calls when he’s working. Because he’s in New York, and he’s trying to be something, and that’s his priority even though he loves Blaine. Finn can’t just live in New York because that’s where Rachel belongs just because he loves her, because he knows he doesn’t fit in there. Santana can’t drop out of college, because she likes it and it’s the right place for her to be.
(Sidenote: The funniest moment of the episode was when Santana went on a rant questioning how ridiculous it was that Kurt got a Vogue.com internship. Never change, Santana.)
Will and Emma
That’s why I thought the Will and Emma storyline so nicely complemented the other three couples, even though Will was once again being a bit of a dolt. When you’re not eighteen, these choices become even harder. When you’re older and you’ve made a commitment to spending your life with someone, you do take that into account when making decisions. Will has an amazing opportunity to do something he cares about, but it means spending a long time in Washington D.C. He just assumed that Emma would go with him, because that’s what he interpreted her support as. She was ready to spend that time apart. For Will and Emma, I don’t think the titular breakup was ever really on the table for them. But including this storyline in the episode was a good way to show that these decisions don’t necessarily get easier.
I liked all the music this week, and they killed it with the sad songs. I’ve already talked about how good I thought “Teenage Dream” was, and I liked Santana doing “Mine”. But I adored “Don’t Speak”, performed by Rachel, Finn, Kurt and Blaine. And “The Scientist” was just beautiful, from the arrangement to the way it was staged.