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Episode 3×08: “Hold On To Sixteen”

DIRECTOR: Bradley Buecker

WRITER: Ross Maxwell

ORIGINAL AIR DATE: December 6, 2011

GUEST STARS: Chord Overstreet, Damian McGinty, Idina Menzel, John Schneider, Keong Sim, Grant Gustin, Vanessa Lengies, Lindsay Pearce

REVIEW:

Like last season’s Special Education, Hold On To Sixteen brings the Sectionals competition with a dash of New Directions infighting and former teammates pitted against each other, but this time the writers also clearly use it as the climax point for the first third of the season, resolving various conflicts that have been brewing since Season 3’s opening.  The writers generally accomplish what they set out to do; Hold On To Sixteen is not a perfect Glee episode, but it’s up with Asian F and The First Time as overall one of the most solid and plot-heavy episodes of the first third of Season 3.  It also marks the return of Season 2 recurring guest star and New Directions member Chord Overstreet.

On the eve of Sectionals, Finn worries about their loss of performers since half the girls’ defection to The Troubletones.  Deciding they need “star power”, he sets out to track down Sam Evans (Chord Overstreet), who’s living with his parents in Kentucky.  Finn and Rachel are shocked to find out Sam performs as a stripper in a country bar under the name “White Chocolate”, but manage to convince “Trouty Mouth” that New Directions is where he belongs.  After a nice little chat with Pa Evans (John Schneider), who laments that Sam had to grow up too fast and missed his teenage years, Sam makes his triumphant return to help New Directions prepare for Sectionals, but a disagreement about dance moves brings the sometime simmering tension between Finn and Blaine to a boil.  Meanwhile, Quinn plots to assure an ND victory by reporting Shelby’s relations with Puck to Figgins and getting her fired, but an appalled Rachel (banned from competing, remember?) tries to talk her out of this, and Tina tries to convince Mr. Chang that dancing is Mike’s passion, not just a hobby.

The Bad

The biggest problem with Hold On To Sixteen is Glee’s long-running pattern of spending a lot of time setting up conflicts, then resolving them too neatly and easily.  Finn and Blaine have a little locker room male bonding (though definitely not the kind of, ahem, “male bonding” that Blaine and Kurt explored a few episodes ago), exchange a fist bump, and suddenly they’re bros.  Blaine and Sam’s spat is apparently resolved offscreen, as they’re buddy buddy the next time we see them together.  The most problematic is the Quinn v. Shelby plotline.  Like Dave Karofsky before her, the writers have built Quinn’s actions up to be so extreme that it feels too easy when she sees the light and snaps back to reality.  Here, she seems to come straight up to the verge of complete self-destruction, then with a little speech from Rachel about doing the right thing and another speech from Shelby about enjoying her youth, and she’s all better.  It feels too easy and too simple.  Of course, this is largely par for the course for Quinn, who with the arguable exception of Sue Sylvester (who is entirely MIA this episode, and unmissed) is the worst example on the show of a character who acts like an evil bitch 2/3 of the time, then redeems herself in heartwarming fashion but conveniently forgets growing a soul and is back to her dastardly ways by the next episode because the writers don’t know what else to do with her.  By the end of this episode, Quinn’s switch would appear to be flipped back to “Sane”, but I’m in wait-and-see mode for how long this lasts.  The other issue is the same one that’s hampered every competition episode since Season 1.  Everybody really knows New Directions is going to get another season finale shot at Nationals, so there’s no suspense.  We know New Directions is going to win, and we also know that Mercedes, Santana, and Brittany are going to rejoin them.  This happens, of course, just in time for the fade out, with a closing song and hugs for all, in a resolution that’s a little too kumba ya, kumba yay.  By the same token, it’s predictable a mile away that Mr. Chang will stubbornly refuse to acknowledge Mike until he shows up at the last minute at the competition and climatically stand up and applaud his son, and we even know before we get to it that there’s going to be a “pursue your dreams, son” speech afterwards.  But if you’ve watched Glee for this long, you’ll probably just accept this and smile along, and even get a warm and fuzzy feeling.  It’s okay.  Me too.

The Good

Ironically, the strongest thing about Hold On To Sixteen is also part of what was the weakest thing about it.  It’s plot-heavy and character-oriented.  It actually does things.  It’s one of those too-few episodes that is pivotal to the overall ongoing narrative and essential to the season.  There’s also a theme about holding on to your youth (the title comes from Sam’s favorite line from “Jack & Diane” and is part of his advice to Quinn about not growing up too fast), which is interwoven throughout in a way that’s not exactly subtle (both Sam and Shelby give Quinn little speeches about being young), but also isn’t as heavy-handed or preachy as it could have been and is applied in greater or lesser degrees to Quinn, Sam, and Mike.  It was nice that the writers remembered that Sam and Quinn and Sam and Mercedes both have histories (Samcedes shippers who had been forced to accept that all hope was lost will be excited by Sam’s declaration that he’s going to fight to win her back, Shane be damned).  I liked the cute moment when Mercedes suppresses her fond smile at Sam’s dorky dance moves, and how she tries to discourage his attempts to win her back but obviously not-so-secretly enjoys it.  Finn’s reasoning for getting Sam back- “we need star power!”- felt like a flimsy excuse on the writers’ part (Sam is likable enough in a boy-next-door kind of way, but doesn’t exactly radiate star power, at least to me, and wasn’t even heavily featured at the competition), but overall, while I felt largely indifferent to him for most of Season 2, it was nice to get ND’s lost member back.  Also, I dislike Shane and feel he’s a bad influence who encourages the worst of Mercedes, so hopefully Sam will wrest her away and help her chill out a little.  I liked that Rachel and Santana are getting along better these days, and how Rachel reaches out to Santana to pull her by the hand onto the stage at the end.  While it’s all over the place for how consistently it’s portrayed, I think the ambiguous friends/enemies/romantic rivals dynamic of Rachel and Quinn is interesting and could be one of the more multifaceted and complex relationships on the show if the writers ever dedicated time to it (wishful thinking?  Probably).  I also liked Blaine’s reveal that he took up boxing after being bullied, for three reasons.  1) the continuity of acknowledging previously mentioned character backstory, 2) we learned something new about a sketchily-developed character (even if what little we know about Blaine seems to be a random assortment of traits, but sometimes you have to take what you can get), and 3) It can be chalked up with his football fixation and stacked against his interest in Vogue, Marion Cotillard, and Patti LuPone for giving him some ways in which he is a stereotypical gay man but also other ways in which he is not.  We were as surprised as Finn to learn the mild-mannered, inoffensive, small gay boy with the slickered hair and bowties has a boxing hobby, but I liked it.  When Kurt (and to a lesser extent, Blaine) fits so many of the gay stereotypes, it’s refreshing to see a gay man pounding a punching bag and gushing about the Ohio State Buckeyes instead of Victoria’s Secret Fashion Week.  It was also refreshing to see Finn acknowledge for once that yes, he had been acting like a jackass.  This episode felt like it was clearly foreshadowing Blaine stepping into Finn’s shoes as ND male lead next season, and he’s clearly qualified for the job.  It’s also a good thing for Blaine as a character that we’re starting to see him interact independently with other characters besides Kurt; it helps move him into the category of being a full-fledged character and team member unto himself instead of just “Kurt’s boyfriend”.  Also, Blaine is usually just so perfectly put-together that I liked seeing him lose his temper and hammer a punching bag.  It makes him feel more human (that, and it gave us a chance to see Darren Criss sweaty and disheveled, but we won’t dwell on that…just take a screencap or two).

Speaking of Kurt, he didn’t have much to do this episode, but he did get a delicious scene early on where he trades barbs with the reappearing Sebastian, still intent on worming his way into Blaine’s pants.  Smiles plastered to their faces until Blaine gets up for a refill, they immediately declare their mutual dislike and insult each other’s faces, hair, and future prospects.  Sebastian drips with smug superiority, but Kurt unsurprisingly gets in the best jabs (my personal favorite is accusing Sebastian of having a “smirky meerkat face”, which, come to think of it, apologies to Grant Gustin, he kind of does).  If anyone had any doubts that Sebastian would be a recurring thorn in Klaine’s side, his reappearance here makes it clear this plotline is not over.  So far though, for being hyped up as a “major villain”, he’s coming across more like an annoying pest than a real threat, and Blaine has yet to seem remotely interested.  I’m waiting and seeing where they go with it, but so far the specter of Kurt leaving for New York while Blaine spends another year at McKinley seems a more serious threat to Klaine’s longevity than Sebastian Smythe.

Ross Maxwell had quite a full plate in writing this episode, tasked with wrapping up Finn v. Blaine, Quinn v. Shelby, Mike v. Mike Sr., and New Directions v. The Troubletones, along with Sam’s return, and overall I give him credit for resolving it all as efficiently as he did, even if it was in a little too much of a neat little bow, and for working some substantial character moments in along the way.  As the climax point for the first third of Season 3, it’s a worthy stopping point.  A worthier one than its immediate successor, as it would turn out…

Favorite Musical Performance:

New Directions- “ABC” (Jackson Five)- This number was fun and energetic and earns major novelty points for featuring the seldom-heard voice of Tina front and center, and for featuring Mike as male lead, while Kurt and Quinn also drop in a couple lines here and there.  Also check out Colfer’s midair split over Mike’s head.  Looks like Harry Shum’s not the only limber one.

Least Favorite:

Sam- “Red Solo Cup” (Toby Keith)- Like most things associated with Toby Keith, the song is moronic, although like most Glee songs it’s more entertaining to watch than listen to, especially for the way everyone gets into it except Kurt, who eyes his cup with skeptical disdain and mouths “what is wrong with you?” at Blaine, who of course is giddily going along with it.

Funniest Moment(s)- Santana’s notebook of Trouty Mouth insults she’s apparently been carrying around with her this entire time, “just in case this day should ever come”.  Finn and Rachel’s reactions to Sam’s stripper routine.  Finn- “That’s not an image I’ll ever be able to get out of my head!”  Rachel- “Give me a dollar!”.

Episode MVP- Finn and Blaine for settling their issues and working together to lead the team to victory.  Rachel for talking Quinn out of reporting Shelby and welcoming  Mercedes and Santana back into ND with open arms (literally).  Tina for helping Mr. Chang see the light and mailing Mike’s dance school applications for him.

Best Acting- I have often felt that Quinn’s inconsistency as a character has led to Dianna Agron being underrated as an actress, and she continues to make her topsy-turvy character as believable as can be expected.  Blaine’s long-overdue “what is your problem with me anyway??” outburst at Finn reaffirmed my opinion that Darren Criss is capable of more than the gratuitous musical numbers and background reaction shots he’s usually limited to.

Choice Lines

“Can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to enjoy a crisp pickle, but couldn’t find anyone to suck the lid off the jar.”

“I assume you’ve been working as a baby polisher, where young mothers place their infants’ heads in your mouth to get back that newborn shine.”

“Don’t look so surprised.  After getting bullied so much I took up boxing.  I even started the Dalton branch of Fight Club, which I obviously can’t talk about.”

“I don’t like your smirky little meerkat face.  I don’t like your obnoxious CW hair.”

“You smell like Craigslist.”

“I got a taste of how it feels to do the wrong thing.  It feels awful.”

“You’re so young.  Pretty.  It goes away, you know.  Not the pretty, you’ll always be pretty.”

“Oh my God, it’s the Gerber baby.”

“Just think, I’m a sophomore and I’m already this good.  Next year will be a bloodbath!”

Random thoughts

  • The Troubletones’ “Rumour Has It/Someone Like You” Adele mash-up from Mash-Off was far superior to their Sectionals mash-up of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor”.  If they’d done that at Sectionals, they rightfully would have deserved to win.
  • New Directions’ second number, the Blaine and Artie-led “Control” (Janet Jackson) was their least number, but still decent.  Darren Criss proved that he might not be Harry Shum, but he’s not a bad dancer himself.  “Man in the Mirror” was a nice tribute to MJ, and I liked the vocals shared between Finn, Artie, Blaine, Puck, and Sam.
  • I know it’s unlikely, but I’d like to see Lindsay Pearce’s Harmony as a main antagonist at competitions next season.  Her performance of “Buenos Aires” from Evita was on-point, and in my opinion deserved better than third place.  Also, Rachel and Kurt’s horror at seeing her again, their outrage at how good she is (and Rachel’s insistence that “I should be the one singing that song!”), then mouthing along in spite of themselves was some of the funniest background reaction shots at any competition.  Chris Colfer can make hilarious reaction expressions without saying a word.
  • Was I the only one who smelled Blaine’s influence over ND’s choreography and those spiffy tuxes they were wearing?  It all felt a little Warbler.
  • I liked the way “We Are Young” echoed”Dog Days Are Over” at the end of last year’s Sectionals.  The background and the ways they were filmed were obviously similar.
  • Who was Random Warbler #2 who was sitting next to Sebastian in the audience.  I didn’t recognize him, so I’m assuming he’s a new one.  I like to imagine he’s a random boy toy Sebastian is amusing himself with while waiting to steal Blaine.
  • It was nice that Mr. Chang showed up to Sectionals, but where was Mrs. Chang, who’s supported Mike all along and proudly attended West Side Story?  Was Tamlyn Tomita busy this week?
  • Glee Writers’ Self-Contradictions #341 (or something): In the Season 3 opener, Blaine joked that Kurt only wanted him to transfer because he was afraid Blaine would beat him at Sectionals, indicating New Directions and the Warblers would compete again, but now we find out the Warblers have already won at their separate Sectionals competition.  I’m going to assume at this point, considering how they’ve hyped Sebastian as the “major villain” this season, that they’re saving the showdown with him and the Warblers for Regionals.
  • Overall Grade- B+
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