It's a night of showcasing, screenwriting, sex-buzzing, and a healthy dose of confusion, as Glee's singing stars wrap up their fifth season

By Jodi Walker
May 14, 2014 at 12:00 PM EDT
Tyler Golden/Fox
S5 E20
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Here’s what you missed on Glee (New York-verse): We left behind the walls and Cheerio fly-away skirts of McKinley for good and headed to the Big Apple with the original gang. Rachel got her dream role on Broadway, playing Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. Blaine moved into the Brooklyn Mansion Loft, then back out because he and Kurt mostly seem to not enjoy spending time together. Except when Blaine doesn’t tell Kurt something, gets upset about it, lashes out, and Kurt forgives him. They’re usually pretty into each other then. Santana and Brittany went to the island of Lesbos, and Santana returned to New York, inexplicably without Brittany. Mercedes prepared to release an album and become a huge recording artist, while Sam convinced her that the few weeks they dated in high school were very serious, so they fell in love, but didn’t fall into bed because Mercedes is pretty into God and saving herself for marriage. *DING*

If you actually missed those things, this Glee season finale might have been right in your wheelhouse. Because if you took it as a standalone episode of television, it was perfectly delightful: the performances were energetic, the songs were great and it was stacked with jokes. If you took it as the culmination of the 5th season of this show, and the launching pad for the last season of the series, however, it was pretty all over the place. The good news is that the last 10 minutes were exactly what you want from a season finale of Glee, set to the perfect finale song (Bastille’s “Pompeii”), giving each character a moment to wrap up their plots from this season and look forward to all the things to come in the next. The bad news is that the first 50 minutes gave us very little indication as to what those future-things could really be.

In that way, it actually felt much more like a series finale, and it would have been a logical one. Last night’s episode, and much of the latter half of this season, ended up being about how, at a certain age, you treat your decisions with a sort of reckless abandon — all gut feeling and intuition and belief that everything always works out for the best if you want it bad enough. Those are the kind of decisions that an audience doesn’t necessarily need to follow up on. Leaving this series knowing that Rachel is about to go make her own version of Glee within the Glee universe (Choir? Theater Kids? Jammin’ with the Top 40? Fame Redux?) would be a pretty comfortable feeling. However, knowing that in 2015, I’ll have to face up to the ramifications of Rachel leaving a successful Broadway show and totally offending her producers, director and cast to star in a TV series based on her life, written by a woman who seems like she probably dabbles in eating her own hair, is a touch more nerve-racking.

But I didn’t come this far to back out now, and I technically already watch a show based on Rachel’s life. So away we go!

The whole gang is gathered for Monday Family Dinner at Rachel and Kurt’s “André the Giant” Loft. Mercedes and Sam, the cutest little couple that could (for six weeks), banter back and forth mid-lap-sit with Sam saying he’s this close to achieving his New York modeling dreams of being half-naked on the side of a bus. You and me both, buddy.

Rachel swoops in when her Protagonist Red Alert sensor goes off and proclaims, “See, this is exactly what my show needs to be about.” Either this is a meta joke that Glee is the pinnacle of what television shows should be, or Rachel is suggesting that her show be about a bunch of friends with vague suggestions of jobs paling around in a big ass New York City apartment while they prepare food they never eat. How novel! She needs to be thinking in terms of TV tropes like these though, because Mary Halleran, the writer her network is sending to help figure out her show (or in Rachel’s words, “understand her essence”), is on her way to meet her. Rachel thinks a knock at the door is announcing Mary’s arrival, but it turns out to be Brittany S. Pierce, back from her Tom-Hanks-like entrapment at the airport in Lesbos (“no, it was Castaway”). She had to ditch her cell phone because of a tough breakup with Kiki, which easily explains why she didn’t know Santana is in Iowa shooting a yeast infection commercial…yeah, okay, Ryan Murphy.

NEXT: Shake out your Garfield sleeping bag, it’s time to get down to work

When Mary does finally arrive, she’s played by Kristen Schaal of everything-funny fame, which feels like assurance of the comedic direction of the episode. Her bottle cap glasses and prom dress in the daytime might be a little much, but the unfurling of her child-size Garfield sleeping bag when she and Rachel get down to work really got me going. She immediately reveals herself to be capital-C Crazy, beyond just the sleeping bag, refusing to learn anyone’s name because of her narcissism disorder and talking pretty extensively about Chinese food giving her the “Lady Di’s.” Rachel’s eyes get wider and wider as she tries to tell Mary about herself for the show and is met with, “Two gay dads…amazing! Do they work for NASA? They work for NASA.”

After a sentence-long mention in the first few minutes of the episode, Mercedes has apparently released her record and launched into her nation-wide mall tour, beginning in New York. She convinced her record label to make Brittany her lead backup dancer, and they’re going to meet up with Santana in Reno (yeah, OK, Ryan Murphy), just like Charlie’s Angels. Brittany will be the one that can shoot lasers out of her eyes. They launch into a performance of a Mercedes original, “Shaking My Head,” in front of a bustling crowd, and if I know anything about popular music, this song will be re-branded as #SMH in 5, 4, 3, 2…Amongst the things that have Mercedes shaking her head: “How come Jesus looks just like a white guy when he’s from Palestine?” and, “Like, how come I drink Diet Coke and I keep gaining weight?” B

Blaine meets back up with his sugar mama, June Dolloway (Shirley MacLaine), to put the finishing touches on his debutante ball showcase. When she arrives, he’s measuring the paces of the stage so he won’t fall off if he wants to “freestyle” during his performance. He’s got enough to worry about, considering he’s still trying to get June to put Kurt in the showcase — because he’s still telling the lie he told Kurt weeks ago, even though June was never going to let Kurt be in the showcase. And even though Blaine is about the least convincing person in the world, especially when he’s making sad, puppy dog eyes about a problem that he caused himself. June tells him as much, exits stage right, and he bolts to the piano to sing his feelings through John Legend’s “All of Me.” It’s lovely, if a little overly-pained for the lyrical content — but I’ll always take Blaine singing at the piano, trying not to cry. B+

Kurt arrives mid-song in a pair of pants that have risen to truly Joaquin-Phoenix-in-Her heights. Kurt can tell something is up immediately, and the moment Blaine sings his last note, he sensitively blurts out, “June doesn’t want you in the showcase. And she never did.” Kurt is reasonably upset, as they’ve had long conversations about this showcase, have been planning it for weeks, and Blaine was lying to him the whole time. He doesn’t know how he can believe anything he says anymore. You will think Blaine will find some way to make this up to Kurt and they will get through this. You will only be half correct.

Sam goes to a casting call for Treasure Trailz, one of the biggest brands in manscaping. The brand’s sexy photographer, Charlie Darling, tells the models to make her want to get in their pants. She’s brought in some sexy ladies to aid them in their audition, as you do. The thing is, Sam is feeling extra sexually frustrated because he and Mercedes aren’t having sex until they get married. He’s got a rubber band that he snaps on his wrist when he starts getting URGES, but that’s not really cutting it when everyone breaks out into “Girls on Film” in full 80s garb. There are women in leotards grinding all over his junk, and a lot of straddling, and thigh-rubbing…and it gives Sam just the sex buzz Charlie is looking for, so she gives him the part. B+

About that time, the girls-plus-Kurt sit Mercedes down to tell her she has to break up with Sam, and the boys do the same with Sam. Nobody really says why they think they need to break it off specifically, just that “it’s the gentlemanly thing to do,” and guys are going to be throwing themselves at Mercedes. So, you know, she’ll want to be available to not have sex with them.

I respect this waiting until marriage storyline, and I think it’s an interesting viewpoint to try out on a show like Glee…but perhaps they should have consulted Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey for a slightly more realistic approach of a pop star and her boyfriend staying abstinent. Their logic on the matter seems frequently skewed.

NEXT: Baked goods + Bathtubs = Hit TV

Mary has been meeting with all of Rachel’s friends, convincing Brittany that she’s a genius (“the armrest is the sweetest meat”) but everyone else that she’s a big ol’ weirdo. The crew sits down for a table read of her first script in the Brooklyn Loft with Special Willy Wonka Expanding Walls. The moment Rachel is introduced as eating a sheet cake in the bathtub, you know what’s going on: they’re making this first script a generic Girls parody. But whereas most of the parodies Glee has pulled since moving to New York have been loving (like Friends/Chums), this one feels a little more mocking.

Kurt is in a dinosaur costume the whole time, Rachel speaks in a constant whine, and there’s a coffee rave. (Wait, that sounds ideal.) When they skip ahead to the scene where the characters based on Blaine and Brittany sleep together — dodged a bullet there, eh? — they both agree it’s weird, but want to say what they’re really thinking on the count of three: “Let’s keep sleeping together and start an art gallery in the performance space downstairs!” Even Sam says the script is dumb, and Rachel knows she can’t leave Broadway — nay, get herself blackballed from Broadway forever — for this script. She decides she’s not going to just bow to Mary’s “genius” and declares, “If I’m going to do this, it’s going to be my show or no show at all.” Because in Rachel’s world, on a scale of “the worst script in the world” to “a show that is entirely about her,” there is absolutely no midpoint.

Rachel takes Mary to the diner to try and explain that she’s missed the mark with the script. Mary sets the record straight in between, like, stuffing doughnuts in her bra and tapping out Morse code messages on the table, telling Rachel, “I know TV…people want antiheroes. They want chubby girls who can’t keep men and men who kill people.” That is true; but to be fair, the girls can also wear glasses in lieu of being chubby. Rachel says that back in her Glee Club days, it always helped her to explain things through song: “I just want to show you my essence.” Listen, you cannot refer to showing your essence all the time without sounding like a creep. Just tell her you want to sing her a song about yourself! And that song is P!nk’s “Glitter in the Air.” I can think of about zero similarities between Rachel and P!nk, but it’s a beautiful rendition and somehow manages to show Mary Rachel’s essence (ick), because she goes from “OH GOD, NO,” to approaching the stage with a new, open-mouthed understanding in no time. Mary says no one will buy it, but she’ll write the script how Rachel wants it: a show that will make people happy. Because at some point, making people happy became Rachel’s prerogative. I only wish there had been more aerial acrobatics in the process. A-

Sam goes to his Treasure Trailz photo shoot with Charlie Darling, but he’s not giving off the same about-to-get-an-erection sex buzz she saw from the casting call. That’s probably because he’s feeling a minestrone of emotions, like if he doesn’t give her what she wants then it will ruin his career. And, of course, what she wants is to have sex with him. She kisses him and we see him start to kiss back, then there’s a cut to Mercedes greeting him with a tray of cupcakes and him admitting that he cheated on her. Mercedes stays calm and asks him what happened, and Sam tells her that Charlie kissed him. Then he got so upset that he started crying. She took some pictures of him crying in his underwear, and then he left. Mercedes informs Sam that he didn’t really cheat on her, but all this makes her realize that she “can’t do this to him anymore.” He tells her over and over that he’s willing to wait, but she says that with touring and all that’s coming her way, she probably won’t be ready to get married until she’s 30, and she doesn’t want him to resent her. “I think that we’re holding on way too tight, and we’re not believing in our love, and we’re going to break it.”

And with that, even though they’re in love with each other, and even though they’re both willing to wait to have sex until they’re married, they break up. It was rushed in the beginning and didn’t originally make a ton of sense, but I had kind of grown attached to the dynamics of this relationship. I just wish they could have found a more dynamic way to deal with this storyline than Mercedes being worried Sam would resent her, even if the end result would always be their breakup. If abstinence was really the thing that was going to end the relationship, a little more tension than a few rubber band pops may have been necessary. If they were willing to let it go so easily, how are we supposed to believe they were ever all in?

NEXT: How are we gonne be optimists about this?

Speaking of logic leaps, Kurt approaches sad-eyed-Blaine feeding some pigeons and launches into an extended metaphor about leaving the nest and flying for the first time. It’s like giving someone your heart in a relationship, he says. Kurt also says he probably would have lied to Blaine about the showcase too, if the tables were turned. WHAT?! No, he wouldn’t have! Blaine stays lying as a short-term solution and Kurt stays acting like it never happened. Kurt says that trust is a choice, and he chooses to trust Blaine even when they’re scared and even when they get hurt. I am not actively rooting for these two to break up, but I do feel certain that if someone somewhere tried a little harder, they could get to the same endpoint without St. Kurt always having to make these huge leaps in logic and understanding. Love isn’t logical, sure; but it also isn’t so blind that it can’t recognize a bi-monthly pattern.

Alas, all is forgiven, trust has been rebuilt, and it’s time for Blaine to show off his vocal range and showmanship with…Pippin? In front of 15-ish people? We aren’t really told who all is there for the showcase, but they must be important, because there are about three half-full 8-tops — including Blaine’s buds. He and June sing “No Time at All,” and it feels a little more “grandmother and grandson at a holiday party” than “one time to show ’em what you got, kid.” But I’m assuming a few more rousing performances had come before this one. Not to mention, their coordinating black suits of various textures and fabrics are divine. B Blaine must be geared up, because despite June previously telling him not to even think about crossing her, he announces to the crowd, “If you all came here to get to know me tonight, then there’s no better way than seeing me with my one true love,” and invites Kurt up onstage.

When the first notes of the song play, I absolutely cackle at the idea that “American Boy” is their go-to song, should they ever call upon each other for an impromptu performance. And I do love that song! Apparently it was all a very calculated risk, because June LOVES it: “Never let anyone, even me, make me doubt what you’re sure of.” She’s won over in about 10 seconds flat, and then the whole showcase full of career-shaping people are on their feet. I guess we can assume that Blaine will be taking his mall tour or quitting Broadway next. B+

Rachel gets a new script from Mary, and the last scene in the loft opens up on her reading the closing line of her pilot: “The thing about love is that it’s not a scarce resource; the more you give, the more you have to give.” Is that…dialogue? Voiceover? Who knows, but Rachel loves it. She always thought Fanny Brice was the role she was born to play, until she read this script, and now: “This is it…this is my dream role, you guys.” I’m not willing to sit idly by as I’m told to forget that I was asked to follow Rachel’s Broadway dreams for five seasons, only to informed that they were not her dreams. But I am willing to admit that “Rachel” is undoubtedly Rachel’s ultimate dream role. We’re not given much time to dwell on it, though, because Sam spots something outside and runs out to see his own dreams coming true: he’s half-naked on the side of a bus in his Treasure Trailz ad. And in a twist I did not expect, he says seeing his even nipples on a bus was all he wanted to achieve; he’s going back to Lima.

Everyone is scattering, it seems: Sam back to Lima, Mercedes and Brittany on the mall tour, Rachel to LA, Kurt, Blaine, and Artie in New York (probably), and Santana, trapped in internet rumors. Rachel says after everything she’s lost this year, she can’t stand to lose anything else, so they make a pact to meet back at that very spot on the street in six months…and they mark it with a group hug and a song. Everybody hits the streets singing Bastille’s “Pompeii,” and it finally hits the perfectly bittersweet tone of what this episode should be. Each character has a different read on how they might “be an optimist” about what they’re leaving behind and moving toward; notably, it’s toward all different places, even though they’re still expected to make another episode of television together. A

You can’t totally save a disjointed episode in 10 minutes, but you can accomplish a lot with a well-timed breaking of the fourth wall. The feeling I got, and I bet a lot of people got, when Rachel looked up to the sky to remember what she’s lost, and then straight to the camera, to the audience that’s been following her many, many dreams for the last five years…well, it’s the “something” about this show that keeps compelling me to watch it. Will you still be so compelled in 2015, when Glee is expected to return for a 6th season?

I thank you for watching this show with me, and being forgiving, even when our Glee palates don’t always align! I hope I’ll see you here again, and if I do, I hope we’ll all be slightly less confused.

Episode Recaps

Jane Lynch, Lea Michele, and high school anxiety star in Fox’s campy musical.
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  • 05/19/09
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