Now that is a 100th episode. Yes, high-school ditzes turned MIT slaves will note that “New Directions” is technically the 101st episode. Please stop oppressing me with your patriarchal math. “New Directions” fulfills all the promise implied by “100,” in which all the Old Directions reunite to fiddle while the Titanic sinks. At the end April Rhodes and Holly Holliday conspire to save the glee club. As it turns out, they fail spectacularly. But what’s incredible is they don’t seem to acknowledge that failure. Off to the side as the glee club concludes its last meeting ever, they toast to their victory. At first I was miffed. Do these writers not understand what it means when characters announce their intentions in one episode and then do no such thing the next? But now that the episode is over, it strikes me as a singularly Glee moment. No matter how pitifully Glee fails every test, it congratulates itself and disappears into the night to commit armed robbery.
That’s not the only time I feel sold out by the writing. As a Tina fan—no, as someone who buys into the reality each week that regular characters like Tina are no less important than regular characters like Sam—I was delighted to discover that Tina would be going to New York with everyone else. She was my biggest question mark. I feared another Lauren Zizes situation, where we’re meant to identify with a character for just as long as the producers care to include her. And the idea of going to New York without a plan could provide a change of pace from the rest of the career-driven grads. (Now that you mention it, why do Sam, Blaine, and Artie say that they’re just as lost in town as Tina? They each have prospects, if not outright college acceptances. Glee sure has perfected the patronizing musical number.) That’s the way things are going for most of the episode. Then at the last second, right in the middle of a celebration, as if that could stop me from making a scene, Tina announces that she’s going to Brown. All I heard was, “Psych! I’m not joining the rest of you in what remains of Glee. I’m actually leaving the show!” Good for Tina, bad for Jenna Ushkowitz, ugly for my face right now.
“New Directions” may have sprung that on us, but looking back, this is as good a farewell episode as Tina was going to get. “New Directions” has a lot to accomplish. The main plot ostensibly has to do with April and Holly saving the glee club. Then there are ongoing plots for the main characters: Rachel’s feud with Santana, Quinn and Puck, graduation and college plans. Perhaps most importantly, “New Directions” needs to say goodbye to most of what makes Glee Glee, or at least most of what has made Glee Glee until now. The episode doesn’t succeed at everything in the traditional sense, but almost everything that happens in “New Directions” is in the service of saying goodbye.
Take April and Holly. It sure sounded like they would be putting on a fundraiser event, but “New Directions” is more interested in one last classroom fantasy sequence. It begins with Holly playing Temple Grandin to the horrified and embarrassed looks of her students, and then she rips off her wig and launches into “Party All The Time.” Soon enough she’s led the entire class into a night club complete with disco ball and neon lamps, everyone now adorned in appropriate ’80s-wear: gold lamé, bold blazers, roomy chinos. You might think that’s enough, but this is Glee. Halfway through the song, Holly discovers a platform with floor lighting and a pole and leads some students in dance. Eventually soap suds rain down from the heavens. There are cutaways to the same horrified and embarrassed students, now off to the side of the club instead of sitting in desks. It’s extravagant, hilarious, self-aware nonsense. In a word, Glee.
Equally Glee is the arbitrary way all the arcs resolve. Tina’s leaving. Quinn and Puck get a happy ending. They’re dating, which I don’t mean to give short shrift to, because that is quite a step for Ryan Murphy’s favorite Dollhouse doll, but it certainly feels isolated from everything else. Finally, Santana just withdraws from her feud with Rachel. This one’s actually interesting, not least because standing down is a powerful, empowering act. It takes Brittany approximately 0 minutes to discern that Santana doesn’t want to be a Broadway star. She just wants to win. Santana claims that she can be a star anywhere. (My money’s on reality television.) The final line in this sweet, subdued scene between Brittany and Santana, a scene that throws a lot in the air and resolves nothing, is “What do you want to do?” We still don’t know the answer when Santana confronts Rachel. The tension is a palpable contrast to the rest of the episode. Everyone else is settling into his plans for the future, but until Santana and Brittany’s final scene, we still don’t know exactly where they stand with each other, much less with everyone else.
I still don’t positively know what’s happening with everyone, but here is what the future looks like according to “New Directions”: Will has an interview to coach Vocal Adrenaline, and Sue remains supreme dictator of McKinley. Poor Figgins doesn’t even merit a cameo. The juniors will have to do without glee club next year, much less a television show. Glee is leaving Lima for New York for “several consecutive episodes” (the rest of the series, I hope). Santana and Brittany have a long vacation to Lesbos—I chuckled—and then Hawaii, but the expectation is to return to New York together. So long, Demi! Blaine, Sam, and Artie are going to New York, and Tina to Brown. Mercedes will apparently be visiting New York for a while. Quinn and Puck will go date long-distance the hell off our screens. Mike Chang will diminish, and go into the west, and remain Mike Chang.
Glee is totally reinventing itself, so you can see why “New Directions” lives or dies on its goodbye sequences. I’m thrilled to report that each and every one is Glee at its best. Tina’s concussion fantasy, a multi-camera Friends knockoff called Chums, finally brings some of that old-fashioned silliness back into Glee. The jokes are underlined for an adoring studio audience, the characters get to do a couch sequence, Sam walks around in his underwear—what’s not to like? Best joke: Rachel sports a Rachel. I’m not entirely sure why Tina is dressed as and acting like Santana in her own fantasy—perhaps just because this is a “Props” sequel and Tina played Rachel last time—but it contributes to the trippiness. What better way to say goodbye to Tina then another creative head wound?
The other sequences range from restrained, as when the New New Directions share a huddle in an empty choir room and reminisce about the late-series peak of “Dynamic Duets,” to the maudlin, as in the students’ overblown praise of their teacher, but together they build an even more powerful episode and experience. There’s a grainy video of the cast talking to the camera, there’s disembodied audio, there’s the aforementioned soap party. The centerpiece is one last rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin’”—for now, anyway. During “100,” I was impressed that Glee managed to wrangle so many of its released inmates for a reunion episode, but I didn’t really appreciate the meaning of all that history until I saw the five original glee club members on the McKinley stage for the last time pointing to the sky to Journey. They take turns on the lyrics. Kurt tries his best Finn Hudson. The season one recruits parade around them one by one, and then Sam and Blaine lead Generation X past Will to the stage. Will even gets to join in for once, and he performs with Mike, dances with Brittany and Kitty, holds onto that feeli-i-ing (Rachel). It’s probably the most democratic number in Glee’s history, everyone getting his or her chance to say goodbye to Mr. Schu. The costumes are a rainbow of colors and patterns, the set is a simple stage, the choreography is casual. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt farewell number, and it’s not the only high point in the episode. “New Directions” is so full of energy and focus I can’t wait to see how the show fizzles from here.
- “New Directions” is written and directed by Brad Falchuk.
- Rachel asks, quite understandably, “What is it about with you anymore, Santana? I just, I don’t get it.” Santana just looks back at her, says, “Yeah,” and walks off. At the time it plays as meaningful. What is it with Santana anymore, we’re meant to ask. Apparently, it’s nothing. It’s manufactured meaning. Nice to have the old Glee back.
- It’s worth more than a bullet point, but I love the way Santana and Rachel energize an entire room just by singing mostly from stools and with minimal movement. Granted, the electronic percussionist is playing his heart out, but still.
- Extra points for all the gay pride. I’m not convinced it’s Will Schuester who should be getting all the credit, but nevertheless, I was moved by everything from Santana’s hopeful vision of the future in the video to Santana and Brittany kissing on-screen once again. Their reunion has been so monotonously sedate that it’s great to see some actual blood flowing through these teenagers’ veins.
- Blaine’s piano ballad covers tend to be more heart-breaking than sweet, but I enjoyed the new “Loser Like Me.” Although the lyric, “I know one day you’ll be screaming my name,” plays a little differently when Sam is slowly singing it to Tina. Or maybe I was just thrown by Sam wearing pants.
- Santana: “I’m too lazy to do eight shows a week.” Truth. Also, it highlights that Rachel, though unbelievably charmed, is a really hard worker.
- Public outrage threatens the glee club for the last time, too. Sue doesn’t take kindly to Holly’s musical interlude out of deference to the One Million Moms. There aren’t actually a million of them, she concedes, but there are about 100,000, “each and every one of them an uptight bitch.” (And for the record, a cursory fact-check suggests even that number is overblown.)
- All it takes is an “Artiepants, I need you” from Gwyneth Paltrow and Artie’s ready to break-up text Kitty. Which reminds me, I wonder what’s to come of Kitty if Artie’s sticking around? Smart money’s on “written off in a punch-line and never heard from again.”
- Will gets an invitation to the real last glee club meeting. “Dress code: Jeans and a sweater vest. Tie optional.”
- Puck picks up a student’s dropped book and hands it to him. He compliments him like it’s a threat: “That sweater’s legit.”
- At this point, I’m gonna be pretty disappointed if Rachel never takes a midnight train going anywhere. Series finale, you’re on notice.