Wednesday, March 12, 2014

GLEE 5x11: "City of Angels"

New Directions travels to Los Angeles to compete for their second National championship, honoring Finn's memory in the process. With the fate of the glee club in their jazz hands, the stakes have (finally) never been higher.

"City of Angels"
Original Airdate: 03/11/2014

For all of my trash talk, I'm fully aware that Glee is, in fact, my favorite (currently airing) show. I've become like an overly-critical parent, who just wants their child to be the best he/she can be. Inconsistencies abound, from characters to storylines and beyond - so for someone like myself so obsessed with fictional continuity, you'd think that I would have given up on Glee a long time ago. Yet here we are, on the edge of 100 episodes...and I've never missed a single one. This speaks at best to my loyalty, and at worst to my masochism. But after a long absence from my recaps, I felt compelled to return after watching "City of Angels".

It has been a rocky road for these characters - and without question, the actors who portray them - in the past 18 months. Ryan Murphy and company were well aware that the biggest challenge they'd face was carrying on the stories of (most of) the main characters outside of high school. A new class of misfits was introduced to fill out the choir room back in Ohio, while the core McKinley graduates took on the big city in New York. Season 4 was...difficult. Glee is no stranger to splitting itself up, of course. The earliest examples of this are Kurt's defection to the Warblers at Dalton Academy way back in season 2, and to a lesser extent the Troubletones arc in season 3 (a concept so misguided that literally no character has so much as mentioned it since).

And then, between the 4th and 5th seasons, that was no longer the show's biggest challenge. The tragic death of Cory Monteith changed everything, and the loss of Finn Hudson altered the landscape of the show, somewhat irreparably. I give the cast and crew a lot of credit for their tribute episode "The Quarterback", especially given how relatively soon it aired after Monteith's passing. But it didn't make me feel the things I thought it would. In fact, the only true moment of emotion I felt was with Finn's mother, Carol. I will never understand the devastation of losing a child, but in that one scene, I didn't have to understand it. I just had to feel it.

Last night's appropriately-titled "City of Angels" was, at least for me, a better tribute to the memory of Finn Hudson - and of the show that will never again exist. New Directions have against all odds made it to Nationals in Los Angeles, only their motivation has changed. Where their first showing at Nationals at the end of season 3 was arguably for Mr. Schue, this one is all for Finn. Burt and Carol agree to chaperone the trip with Will, and can we just give Romy Rosemont an Emmy, already? Carol's struggle to be supportive of her late son's friends while accepting once and for all that he's gone...well, I felt it once again. When she whispers to Burt during New Directions' set that they're singing all of Finn's favorite songs, I had only a brief moment to collect myself before breaking down AGAIN when the sweet, simple clips of the erstwhile quarterback played over their impeccable performance of U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For".

This episode also worked well to tie up the show's ongoing loose ends, before it transitions full time to New York in the coming weeks. Sure, many of those loose ends revolve around the New Class - but at least we get some form of resolution for these characters we were forced to care about for a season and a half. Lauren Zises, Rory Flanagan, Joe Hart, and Sugar Motta weren't so lucky. For a season that prior to this episode had absolutely no sense of urgency, the undercurrent of an imminent end is palpable throughout the hour. This is (presumably for real, this time) the series' last competition episode. The seniors are set to graduate. Oh, and Glee club has been officially disbanded.

That's right. Principal Sue Sylvester has achieved her sometimes wavering goal of putting an end to McKinley's show choir, but there doesn't seem to be the satisfaction in it that there would have been for her say, 3 years ago. When she calmly and logically explains to Will that she has to cut glee club in addition to a slew of other extracurriculars, it's probably the most levelheaded Sue has ever been. Hell, she even points out how much New Directions has accomplished in spite of her constant meddling. Her final line speaks volumes on the state of the series itself: "You didn't lose, William. The game's just over."

She's not wrong. Even with the extended cast returning next week to pay their respects to the glee club, "City of Angels" feels in so many ways like a series finale. The show we've loved, hated, loved to hate, and hated to love over the course of 4.5 seasons is over. We're headed into a world where even the title has little significance. Rachel, Kurt, Blaine, Sam, Artie, and (maybe) Santana will likely be the only ones who know or care what a glee club even is, and this will be a tonal shift the show has only slightly prepared itself for since the beginning of season 4. While I was skeptical of the NYC-set stories originally, I'm cautiously optimistic that - given that there is now a definite end point - Glee can pull itself together and make the remaining 1.5 seasons count. It will look, sound, and feel completely different than what we've known, but it has to. These characters are young adults now; perhaps it's time to put away childish things and embrace the future.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

- Tina finally gets her time in the sun: She's the female lead of New Directions! I don't agree with the "stories" they've saddled her with this season, but for all of the building her up in the last few episodes, it's oddly comforting to see her once again the butt of a running joke. Of course Tina would be unintentionally insensitive towards Carol - and I laughed every time another character acknowledged that that's just who she is.

- Sam. Evans. They've never really been sure of who he is as a character, but bless Chord Overstreet for always rolling with the punches and just doing it. I didn't care too much for Sam being chosen as leader from beyond the grave (it's always been Blaine, come on), but his emotional breakdown with Mr. Schue after their set really got me. Kudos, Trouty Mouth!

- Only on Glee can a main character, given relatively little to do for multiple seasons, get an entire offscreen arc/success story. Welcome to the show, New Mercedes!

- "America" was easily the best (and most) choreographed number New Directions has performed in over a year. The vocals were pretty evenly distributed, and they weren't just dancing around in a circle!

- In a strange twist of fate, I wrote this entire review at Starbucks while sitting next to Adam Shankman, director of "The Rocky Horror Glee Show" (season 2), "Pot O' Gold" (season 3), and "Glee, Actually" (season 4).

Blaine Corner

Song Ranking

#1 "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"
Performed by New Directions
Originally performed by U2

#2 "America"
Performed by New Directions
Originally performed by Neil Diamond

#3 "More Than a Feeling"
Performed by New Directions
Originally performed by Boston

#4 "I Love LA"
Performed by New Directions
Originally performed by Randy Newman

#5 "Vacation"
Performed by The Amazonians
Originally performed by The Go-Go's

#6 "Mr. Roboto / Counting Stars"
Performed by Throat Explosion
Originally performed by Styx / OneRepublic

Hmm. Something tells me I'll probably be back for the show's hundredth episode next week.

"100" airs March 18th at 8pm on FOX.

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