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Episode 2×16: “Original Song”

DIRECTOR: Bradley Buecker

WRITER: Ryan Murphy

ORIGINAL AIR DATE: March 15, 2011

GUEST STARS: Chord Overstreet, Darren Criss, Ashley Fink, Kathy Griffin, Loretta Devine, Bill A. Jones

REVIEW:

While it doesn’t quite scale the epic heights and swirling emotions of Season 1’s Journey to Regionals (but it doesn’t have to, since that was the season finale and this is Episode 16 out of 22), Original Song is definitely one of the standout episodes of Season 2.  Series creator and head writer Ryan Murphy, who has recently been delegating more and more of the actual day-to-day episode writing to co-writers Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, apparently deemed this one important enough to sit down and hammer it out himself, and it was worth the effort.  Glee is uneven at the best of times, but at least in my opinion, the hit and miss ratio is still slanted in favor of the former, and Original Song hits its targets on nearly every level.  I don’t really have any major complaints about this episode, and a few moments in particular really hit the pay dirt.

Continuing her attempts at original songwriting, Rachel churns out a lament about being an only child (the imaginatively-titled “Only Child”), but when the greatest compliment Finn can muster is that it’s better than “My Headband”, he suggests that she seems to be dealing with easy pain, and has to find the stuff that really hurts and write from there, so it’s more genuine (that deeper pain would, of course, involve Finn, though it’s anyone’s guess how much the vacant Mr. Hudson realizes this).  Rachel also gets a lesson in pain from Quinn Fabray, who is hell-bent on becoming Prom Queen, counting on Finn to get her there, and views Rachel “and her damn talent” as a threat to her ambitions.  To eliminate this, she plots to pose as Rachel’s friend and suggests they write a song together.  This goes about as smoothly as one would expect.

The other big plotline this episode is Kurt and Blaine.  Pavarotti, the canary entrusted to Kurt by the Warbler council, drops dead abruptly (Kurt suspects a stroke).  Dressed in a black outfit with knee-high black boots and a tiny skull pin that makes him look like Kenneth Branagh in Hamlet, Kurt throws wide the doors of the Dalton choir room with a theatrical solemnity that Rachel would envy and tearfully declares that Pavarotti has cast off his mortal coil, and that Kurt wishes to honor his pet with The Beatles’ “Blackbird”.  During the song (nicely-done by Colfer, by the way), a funny thing happens: the camera slowly zooms in on the face of Blaine Anderson, on which a sort of religious epihpany is dawning as he stares at Kurt with enraptured attention.  Soon Mr. Anderson is announcing that he wants to change his planned Regionals solo to a duet, and wouldn’t you know it, he’s dead set on a surprised Mr. Hummel as his duet partner.  And not much longer after that, he’s seeking Kurt out in the senior commons with something important to say…

You Move Me, Kurt

More than anything else, Original Song is likely to go down in Glee history as The Episode Where Kurt and Blaine Kissed and a Million Klainers Cried Out In Ecstasy (while some Hevans shippers shook their thwarted fists at the sky and cursed the name of Ryan Murphy, but I digress).  My only criticism of this storyline is how abruptly it happens.  Thus far the writers seemed to be drawing out the “will they or won’t they” ambiguity by throwing up a series of one-episode roadblocks like Jeremiah and Rachel, and one gets the feeling that Murphy realized he was starting to run out of season and he’d better do something with Klaine soon so he could give this long-running plotline a measure of closure, at least for the time being, and pay some attention to those hundred other storylines that are going to need to start wrapping themselves up in the not too distant future.  Kurt tearfully singing about the death of a bird is a rather random catalyst to extract Blaine’s head from his rear end, especially considering it’s not like he’s never experienced Kurt in song before (remember “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”, where Blaine had a similar look of undergoing some intense religious experience).

Anyway, however questionable the writing might be that got us here, once we get to The Moment of Truth (and boy kisses), it’s handled in a way that feels genuine.  Colfer is as always flawless with his reactive expressions, but it was really Darren Criss who drove the scene and did the vast majority of the talking, and he stepped up to the plate and sold it.  This was definitely the scene Criss has done so far that was the most crucial for him to get right, and he delivered on it.  I was honestly expecting some more dramatic plotline where Kurt returns to McKinley and New Directions and Blaine is shocked to his senses by the separation, culminating in some Warbler ambush in New York City (like the Gap Attack, only successful and hopefully not involving lyrics about sex toys) where Blaine declares his love just in time for a dramatic (and cliched) liplock on top of the Empire State Building.  All things considered though, I actually prefer the Kiss scene the way it is here.  For as over-the-top and melodramatic as Glee can be at times, Kurt and Blaine’s first kiss isn’t done in a flashy or dramatic way, it’s a simple, low-key moment that feels more sincere because of it and resists the feeling that the writers are using it to make a social statement.  Blaine tells Kurt how he feels.  They kiss.  It’s sweet and emotional.  The end.

Get It Right

The other most compelling moment in the episode is between, of all people, Rachel and Quinn.  Overhearing Quinn badgering Finn about Prom in the hallway (Glee wouldn’t be Glee without characters loudly discussing secrets in public places with people milling all around them), Rachel confronts Quinn and straight-up asks if she and Finn are together, which Quinn admits to.  Rachel protests that what was between her and Finn isn’t over, to which Quinn snaps that it is, and then delivers this nice little monologue:

Do you want to know how this story plays out?  I get Finn.  You get heartbroken.  And then Finn and I stay here, and start a family.  I’ll become a successful real estate agent, and Finn will take over Kurt’s dad’s tire shop.  You don’t belong here, Rachel.  And you can’t hate me for helping to send you on your way.

I really have to give Dianna Agron props for pulling off the conflicting emotions in her delivery in this scenes.  It starts off being cold and vicious, as we’ve come to expect from Quinn, and if read by a more one-dimensional actress, it could have stayed that way, but it ends up being rather sad.  By the end, Quinn is closer to the verge of tears than Rachel is, and we understand what has only been hinted at before: Quinn doesn’t hate Rachel, she’s jealous of her.  She’s not boasting gleefully about her future life with Finn, she’s depressedly resigning herself to it, knowing Rachel will go on to escape Lima and make something of herself, while Quinn feels like she’ll always be trapped there.  It was a rare moment for the Queen Bitch to let her guard down and show the insecurity and sadness behind her coldly power-mongering exterior, and Agron played it pitch-perfectly.

The third emotional strand belongs to Rachel herself.  Original Song is not only the best episode for Quinn in quite some time, not only the most substantial episode for Blaine thus far, but also one of the most sympathetic episodes to Rachel Berry.  For all her irritations, this episode affirms that Rachel is fundamentally well-intentioned and really, at her core, wants nothing more than to be recognized and appreciated as an individual and feel like she matters.  Her sitting down and forging ahead through tears after Quinn’s verbal bitch-slap to write “Get It Right” is the third most compelling and affecting scene in the episode.

Hell to the No!

With all this drama swirling around from all corners of Glee‘s heavily-populated universe, it should be pointed out that Original Song also has some damn funny scenes, mostly related to the kids’ various original songwriting attempts.  First we have Rachel’s would-be epic “Only Child”, in which Rachel actually somewhat wittily calls herself the “only Berry on my family treeeee!!!”.  Then we have Santana’s ode to Sam, “Trouty Mouth”, which includes lines like “I love sucking on those salamander lips”, Puck’s rockabilly love song to Lauren, “Big Ass Heart”, and Mercedes’ “Hell to the No”, which is actually fairly catchy.  Not only are the lyrics hysterical, each is also tailor-fitted to the voices and styles of the singers, from Rachel’s emotional powerhouse melodrama to Santana’s sultry sexiness, to Puck’s good old boy obliviousness, to Mercedes’ sass and ‘tude. 

Once we actually get to Regionals, the judges are a predictably random assortment of oddballs, including the always-welcome Rod Remington (I admit to getting a little excited when I see Bill A. Jones’ name in the opening credits), “Twitterer and former Tea Party candidate” Tammy Jean Albertson (Kathy Griffin), a thinly (very thinly) veiled caricature of Sarah Palin/Christine O’Donnell, and “nun and former exotic dancer” Sister Mary Constance (Loretta Devine).  The obligatory post-competition judge discussion was amusing but a slight letdown, with Rod not getting enough to say and Kathy Griffin trying a little too hard with her on-the-nose Palin roasting.  The most points for comedy go to Loretta Devine, who gets most of the best lines, including when she says what half the audience is thinking by asking if Dalton is a gay school or “just a school that appears gay”. 

Being Aural Intensity’s “part-time coach”, Sue is also lurking around, though none of her predictably and by this time tiresomely petty tactics amount to much (she booby traps Santana and Brittany’s locker to spill dirt on them, throws sticks at Mercedes’ head, and tries to get Tina’s name legally changed to “Tina Cohen-Loser”).  Although I did like how we continue the theme of using others’ attempts to beat you down for self-empowerment and applying it not only to Rachel but to New Directions as a whole, when Will writes a list of things Sue and others have called them on the choir room blackboard and then erasing them until only “Loser Like Me”, the name of their second Regionals number, remains.   

I liked a lot of things about this episode, both big and small.  I liked another moment of a character saying what the audience is thinking, with Kurt calling Blaine out for his monopoly on Warbler solos, and how this comes back around after their duet when Blaine pulls Kurt into the spotlight and steps out of it, showing both a refreshing moment of humility for himself and rightfully acknowledging Kurt’s special talents.  Kurt Hummel is too unique an individual to be relegated to swaying in the background with the faceless, nameless backup Warblers.  Speaking of Klaine, as worth the wait as The Kiss was, I almost liked their interaction at Pavarotti’s burial even more (handholding!  cue the “awwws”).  I  liked the writers taking a brief moment to remember Santana’s love confession to Brittany from the episode before and show that this plotline is continuing (along with a closing throwaway reference to Will’s new relationship with Holly Holliday, who is MIA in this episode but whom we obviously haven’t seen the last of).  I liked Rachel’s closing speech when she accepts her MVP award, and how her teammates surround her in a group hug.  It underlines her fundamental sweetness and good intentions, and was a refreshing moment in which her teammates appreciated her talent instead of constantly treating her like an irritation.  And while Sue was generally ineffectual and an irrelevant side nuisance this episode, as she has been for most of this season, her punching out the Lieutenant Governor’s wife after finding out she lost Regionals was the first time in a while that she made me involuntarily burst out laughing, something that used to be a fairly regular occurrence whenever she opened her mouth. 

Original Song was the last episode before Season 2’s second hiatus, and provided a solid point to pause, with New Directions triumphant at Regionals, clearing their path for their finale journey to New York City for Nationals, and leaving Kurt and Blaine poised at the start of a new level to their relationship, and it would have been hard to ask for a more satisfying point to leave off at while we waited another frustrating hiatus to see what came next.

Favorite Musical Number:

Blaine and the Warblers- “Raise Your Glass (Pink)- With all respect to “Get It Right”, which is the kind of emotional power ballad Lea Michele does best, and “Loser Like Me”, which is cheery, if somewhat teeny-boppy, fun, I don’t know if I buy that their cheesy, oh so high school lyrics were good enough to win them Regionals, and damned if I don’t think “Raise Your Glass” was the best number of the night.

Least Favorite:

Kurt & Blaine- “Candles” (Hey Monday)- I like it when Kurt and Blaine sing together, and it’s pretty enough, but the brand new couple making lovey-dovey eyes at each other onstage while singing an angsty breakup song about being all alone is jarringly ill-fitting.  Incidentally, Chris Colfer shares my opinion: when asked at a Q & A session to name his least favorite song of the series, he named “Candles” and cited the same reason I did, that it made no sense in the context of the scene.  Vocally, the song isn’t bad at all, and Colfer and Criss have much more pleasant voices than the original’s lead singer, but there were so many better-fitting songs they could have chosen.

Funniest Moment(s)- “Trouty Mouth”.  Sue decking the Lieutenant Governor’s wife.

Episode MVP- I’ll just agree with New Directions and vote Rachel Berry.  Although good for Blaine for finally getting his head out of his ass.

Best Acting- Dianna Agron, Lea Michele, and Darren Criss all stepped up to the plate this episode.

Choice Lines:

“Kurt, there is a moment when you say to yourself ‘oh, there you are…I’ve been looking for you forever’.  Watching you do Blackbird this week…that was a moment for me…about you.  You move me, Kurt, and this duet would just be an excuse for me to spend more time with you.”- Blaine

(after their first kiss)  “We should practice.”- Blaine.  “I thought we were.”- Kurt.  (they resume kissing)

“First of all, I would just like to say, I am not a witch.”- Tammy Jean Albertson

But I don’t think it would be too much to ask for written evidence that these kids were born in the United States of America.”- Tammy Jean Albertson

I am sorry, but I’m a politician, and when I lost my last election–and there will be a recount–I didn’t go around singing about being a loser.  I Tweeted that Obama’s a terrorist.”- Tammy Jean Albertson

That Dalton Academy, is that a gay school, or is it just a school that appears gay?”- Sister Mary Constance

My hairdresser is a gay, and for fifteen years he’s been with his partner….also a hairdresser.  I see no reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to marry and raise a family of beautiful wigs.”- Rod Remington

“I’m so sorry Kurt.  I know this is really upsetting for you.  Reminds you of your mom’s funeral, doesn’t it?”- Blaine.  “The casket was bigger…but yes.”- Kurt

You did win.  So did I.  We got each other out of this.  That beats a lousy trophy, don’t you think?”- Blaine

Random Thoughts

  • Glee has a recurring pattern of couples either breaking up or getting together in competition episodes.  In Season 1, Will and Emma kissed for the first time at the end of the Sectionals episode, and Rachel and Finn got together right before Regionals.  Earlier this season, Rachel and Finn broke up in the Sectionals episode, and now we have Kurt and Blaine getting together before Regionals.  Just an interesting observation.  When a competition episode is on the horizon, start taking bets on who’s hooking up or breaking up.
  • Parallel #2: Kurt has an emotional solo early in the episode while Blaine watches with a captivated expression.  Late in the episode, Rachel sings an emotional solo while Finn watches her the same way.
  • Was I the only one who noticed the two background Warblers exchanging grins when Blaine announced he wanted to sing the duet with Kurt?  Their faces screamed “oh, we totally see what he’s doing there!”.  Cute to see either some of the Warblers or some of the extras themselves are Klaine shippers.
  • Brittany’s favorite song is “My Headband”.
  • Darren Criss makes Maroon 5’s “Misery” much easier to listen to than Adam Levine did.
  • Darren Criss really laid one on Chris Colfer.
  • Some felt Glee was insulting Christians by making fun of Aural Intensity’s cheesefest song-and-dance routine to “Jesus Is a Friend of Mine”, but I thought it was mocking phonies who engage in what Sister Mary Constance called “cheap pandering”.
  • Mercedes was wearing a Lady Gaga shirt during “Hell to the No”.  Mama Monster gets a lot of love from Glee.

Overall grade- A+

 

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