It’s not that “Jagged Little Tapestry” is bad. It’s just formless, a bunch of blobs of different shapes and speeds and tones crammed together like a mash-up of raw Alanis Morissette and smooth Carole King, which by the way is the theme of the soundtrack this week. Santana and Brittany continue their years-long reconciliation with the latest bedroom scene and a proposal. Becky comes to Tina and Quinn to help her convince her new boyfriend that she really was in glee club. Puck is still here for some reason, but Artie and Mercedes are gone. Postmodern Gay is angling to be quarterback, which involves getting Coach Beiste fired so his ally, Sam, can be in charge. In an early scene Beiste tells Sam he’s got the gift. It’s been, like, three months. Everybody calm down. The other new kids don’t get much to do but sing and throw tomatoes at the stage. Which leaves us with Kurt and Rachel, trying to feel out a rhythm in class while Kurt deals with his bitterness about Blaine dating Karofsky. The songs don’t mean much, the performances don’t make them, and no plot has anything to do with the next. They got “jagged” right.
There’s one thing the new new new Glee gets right: Minorities aren’t objects for the main characters’ growth. They’re subjects. It’s the one thing season six is desperate to prove, a last-rites atonement for Glee’s sins in the opposite direction. In addition to the stories in the premiere, “Jagged Little Tapestry” adds special subplots for Coach Beiste and Becky. The Beiste story is another one that ends in a flood of tears that swallows Lima for 40 days and 40 nights, but first of all, that’s what the thrice-Emmy-nominated Coach Beiste does, and second of all, this is a scene where some cathartic tears are plenty appropriate so all you (me) wiseacres can take a seat for a moment. What happens is, after a clever series of fake-outs and a scene of Sam ironing jock straps, Sue calls Sam and Beiste into her office, so Beiste can tell Sam he’s taking over. Sue’s under the impression Beiste has cancer. But that’s not why Beiste has been acting strangely and missing practice lately. The truth is Beiste has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Next week, Coach Beiste is getting surgery and will start taking testosterone. If I’d prefer a lighter touch, that’s between me and my therapist. The after-school special streak is essential to Glee, and the fact is there aren’t a lot of transgender characters on TV. Coming out is an overwhelming act of liberation. It’s only right for Beiste to cry. I’m not sure telling Sue and Sam, “I love you guys,” is thinking with a clear head, but it happens. Now consider the plotting: Coach Beiste is set up as the object of manipulation. But here at the end, Beiste is the one taking ownership of the story. Beiste isn’t here to teach them a lesson. He’s here to actualize himself.
The Becky plot comes right out and says what’s been wrong with Glee in the past. I’m chuckling at the way these plots set us up to expect the usual Glee savior shtick. This one starts with Becky coming to Quinn and Tina, naturally, to ask them for help while getting impatient and insulting them. Apparently Becky has a boyfriend, Darrell, and to impress him, she lied about her high school success, which cues a montage of Becky in astronaut club and CPR club and the like. So she wants them to help her convince Darrell that she was in New Directions and went to nationals with them. Put a pin in that, but note that Becky solves this problem on her own but with support and good advice.
But back to Darrell. As soon as he shows up, Tina, Quinn, Sue, and Roz Washington playing Sue’s henchman interrogate him. After all, he’s a good-looking kid without Down syndrome. What does he want with Becky? It’s a trap! Halfway through their little meeting, he turns the tables. He likes Becky because of who she is, a toxic monster-woman who tried to pay for Quizno’s with a counterfeit 10,000 dollar bill. Okay, that’s a pretty funny story. Furthermore, he called the International Convention On Down Syndrome And School Pamphlets to clear the relationship with them, and they gave him a green light to hop into bed whenever they’re ready, which is awfully convenient and deserves a double-check but I’ll allow it. And finally, he says, the do-gooders at McKinley aren’t acting out of concern for Becky. They’re acting out of concern for themselves. It was in that moment that Glee finally crawled out of the sea and started walking around on land.
If “Jagged Little Tapestry” were a very special Glee episode about very special Glee episodes, it would be immaculate. The problem is everything else. There’s no greater example of late-period Glee ennui than Santana and Brittany. Both of them have been—and will continue to be—in and out of this story for years. It’s a tapestry show. Not every character is going to have the spotlight every week. But the problem is continuity. Brittany and Santana’s relationship built to “The Break Up.” Hell, it built to the détente afterward. But lately it’s been more scattered. What was a core relationship became one where you had to ask yourself whether they’re together whenever they showed up. Ever since they did get back together, which wasn’t even memorable enough to stand out among season five’s low-level murmur, every time they’re back we get one overly tender scene where Glee is desperate to prove it’s doing right by the shippers. But there aren’t any sparks. It feels like they’ve been together forever. There’s no sense of where they’ve been or where they’re going.
When Santana proposes to Brittany, Kurt pipes up that they’re all too young to get married. First of all, we get it, Glee, you’re learning from your mistakes, but second of all, what a bland proposal. If Glee really wanted to do right by Brittany and Santana for once, it could pull out something more romantic than a classroom proposal. Instead these two are going to go move to New York City or whatever, and when they come back I’m going to have to look it up to remember the state of their relationship.
That blandness, a hallmark of season five, is what’s most concerning about “Jagged Little Tapestry.” Both Kurt stories are phantom plots. We’re all going to wake up tomorrow and realize the reason they’re so wispy is we dreamed them. With him go Blaine and Rachel, and if I’m not mistaken Schu doesn’t even merit a mention. Roderick and what’s her name, the cheerleader, don’t even get to do this week’s assignment, and they’re half of the glee club.
There is one other thread that runs all the way through “Jagged Little Tapestry,” brutal honesty. Hence the focus on Sue Sylvester and her lackeys. Darrell tells the Becky crew exactly what it needs to hear. Brittany tells Tina, “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you. I blocked your voice a few months ago because everything you say is depressing and about you.” Santana sizes up Becky for an appetizer (she can’t sing or dance and is a lazy, toxic person), and Kurt for a multi-course dinner (a showcase tirade laying out numerous theories for why Blaine may have left Kurt, one of which is he got tired of dating a breathier, more feminine Quinn Fabray). At the end the new kids size up the competition and realize that, true to Glee form, they need brutal feedback. “Stop being who you think the other person wants you to be and just be yourself,” Santana says. As someone who has complained about Glee for years, it’s good advice for the show.
- Look, it’s not that Karofsky doesn’t deserve love, too. But the way they (the actors and writers) are playing that character is like someone who’s really excited to share with us the smell of expired milk.
- Great sniping this week. Tina approaches Quinn and says, “Artie told me that you said Brown’s not an Ivy League school.” Without even looking at her, Quinn replies, “That’s not what I said. I said it’s barely an Ivy League school.”
- Becky to Quinn: “Thanks, Kitty.”
- “All healthy relationships are built on lies.” And that’s how Sue Cs it.
- Sue: “I can’t just fire someone for yelling. I’m teaching a class in pedagogical screaming over at the community college. I’d look like a hypocrite.”
- According to Postmodern Gay, Beiste has been wearing items from the Victoria’s Secret truck driver collection.
- Great costuming this week, especially the red-and-gray ensemble of Quinn in downward stripes, Becky in horizontals, and Tina in solids to symbolize their polar mash-ups.
- Rachel tells the class how proud she is for figuring out a way to teach along with Kurt this week. “That sort of sounded like you were congratulating yourselves.” Tina walks in saying, “Get used to it.”