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Glee: “What The World Needs Now”

Illustration for article titled Glee: “What The World Needs Now”
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“What The World Needs Now” is a neocon nightmare. It may also be a no-holds-barred gay-pride bacchanalia. All I know for sure in the afterglow of such an infuriating return to form is gay marriage is the springboard for a drama that pits blood family against singing family, and singing family wins. At the end everyone smiles and laughs about how Santana has replaced her sick old abuela with her fair-weather friends from singing class, first at her wedding and theoretically in perpetuity. Gay marriage has destroyed the family unit. At last Glee has ascended to its final form.

What’s keeping it from being a pure expression of Glee is how honest it is, which I’m not really holding against it. But it’s notable that Brittany and Santana give Abuela one last, sincere try before deciding they’re fed up with it. They earn that blow off at the end, and they earned it in the episode where Santana came out and was promptly rejected, and they’ve been earning it ever since. They discuss Abuela’s rigid, anti-family homophobia more than once. Brittany sneaks her way into Abuela’s life—using my favorite Get Out Of Jail Free card of a line, “The agency sent me”—but even her goal here is relatively un-manipulative. She’s just trying to get Abuela to send a message to Santana, through Fondue For Two, that family matters so that Santana will bend. Which she does, by way of a personal performance of “Alfie” on the McKinley stage, at the end of which she reveals that she and Brittany are getting married and Abuela’s invited.


Abuela still just can’t accept that her granddaughter wants to marry a woman. But this is no time for the sad piano. Brittany suddenly turns on her. Abuela’s walking out the door, and Brittany says, “Good.” She then goes off on a rant. The gist? We’re all just waiting for her generation to die, only not in quite so many words and in Brittany’s friendly singsong voice. Heather Morris doesn’t overemphasize. She’s still daffy Brittany. But her speech stings. And more power to her. For all the alleged sad comings-out on television, you’d be hard-pressed to find one this unapologetic. Brittany and Santana tried to be “good progressives” demonstrating the social benefits of gay marriage to the backward, but ultimately they’re sick and tired of subjecting themselves to such hatred. Right or wrong, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Abuela eventually came around, what minority can’t relate to that? What an undershown (unshown?) honest expression of anger. And what a direct one on a show that’s usually just firing snark every which way.

Glee has felt so low-energy these past two seasons. You get the sense that there’s a skeleton crew filming every scene, and the whole thing is way out in the far end of a studio lot. “What The World Needs Now” certainly starts that way, with some terrible “awkward” interaction between Rachel and Sam, but the fact that a song starts almost immediately should be our first clue. The two of them playfully pass off verses of “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” while wandering McKinley, surrounded by people who are falling in love. But things don’t really pick up until the next musical number, “Baby It’s You,” and the next, “Wishin’ And Hopin’.” The episode sneaks up on you, until finally you realize this is the most energized anyone in the cast has been in years. Glee should have destroyed family values sooner.

Take Brittany, whose performance has been especially lethargic in the past couple years. Here she starts off the same, with a terrible scene with her parents (Jennifer Coolidge and Ken Jeong, cast primarily to reverse their respective intelligence stereotypes) that involves a greater attack on Stephen Hawking’s dignity than Eddie Redmayne. It’s all very lame, but you try going from “Whoa, my dad isn’t my dad” to “Mom, dad, I’m getting married!” in two lines. But then we get a Brittany-Santana scene that actually feels like romance, and then Mercedes starts ordering everyone around, and we get eight relaxed but elegant musical numbers in addition to a Fondue For Two segment. “What The World Needs Now” is a party.

The other plot has to do with Mercedes getting Rachel’s groove back. The romance part of that is busy work for all involved, but I can’t help but notice “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” has the smoothest mix of Rachel and Sam’s voices and singing styles yet. Mercedes is comically on top of the world. It’s like the agency sent her to come clean up McKinley. She gets Rachel a Broadway audition, and she gets Sam to help get Rachel back in the dating game. Which means, yes, Mercedes even has a boyfriend (on top of her tour and a single ranked 89 on iTunes). He’s a Christian rocker, and he wants to wait until marriage too. Also Sam’s crush on Rachel is a hypnotic suggestion of Sue’s but whatever. The point is, Mercedes keeps trying to get Rachel back in the game, and Rachel keeps resisting because she’s scared. Eventually Rachel agrees to go on the audition, and only then does she break down and confess how scared she is. It’s the best Rachel scene in forever. Instead of breaking down and then being convinced to go on the audition, the script does the more complicated approach of having Rachel decide on her own to take the audition even though she’s this worried about it. It leads to another Lima-to-New-York montage as Rachel sings, “Promises, Promises,” and at the end her auditioners even give her a light applause. No word yet on callbacks, but for once I agree with the received wisdom: Rachel Berry is made for the New York stage.


Anyway, after all that’s said and done, wedding planner Artie (“Why me?” “Partially because it feels like you’ve had nothing to do all year”) invites Brittany and Santana to the auditorium for a private performance. He tells them there’s a seat open at the Lopez table now, but several other members of Santana’s family want to sit there. Which brings us to some kind of rightwing dystopian advertisement for destroying traditional families. One by one the main characters say something about family that would make Hannity wince. Family isn’t blood. It’s love. Gayness is the future. Vote Kucinich 2016. Things like that. Which is all a lead-in for the final performance of the episode, “What The World Needs Now.”

It could have been the finale. No, it should have been the finale. I’ve been joking about Glee’s ability to pull off a gay separatist rally for years now. Not only does it do that, or something close enough anyway, but then it codes it all as love, as in that stuff the world needs now. It’s just as generic but powerful as the New Directions’ first motivational poster, “Don’t Stop Believin’.” And it mostly takes place over a montage of everyone gathering at Will’s. Some couples are rekindling, and everyone’s happy like they’re in a commercial, and they’re all there to celebrate a gay marriage. It doesn’t get any Glee-er than that.


Stray observations:

  • I’m telling you, Glee should have ended right then and there. But it wouldn’t be Glee if it didn’t fly right past the perfect exit.
  • So what should Glee’s final song be? “Don’t Stop Believin’” is an obvious choice, but I kind of like the idea of the show transitioning from that (especially with its emphasis on Cory Monteith) to a different anthem for late Glee. But what’s a good song they’ve done lately? That or end with “Don’t Stop Believin’,” but cut to black early and hold it for 20 seconds. Automatic A if the Glee finale does The Sopranos.
  • Seriously, every musical number nails it, from the Troubletones arm choreography of “Baby It’s You” to the simple but elaborate-looking heaven set for “Wishin’ And Hopin’.” “Promises, Promises” is the one I can’t get out of my head, but special mention to Santana doing “Alfie” and Blaine “Arthur’s Theme.”
  • Queso Por Dos is great on its own, but the idea that Brittany actually sold it to Univision is a bridge too far. Always fun to see where those lines are, and to see Glee go way past them without noticing.
  • Loved the costuming in that final number too. Santana’s in a short, tight blue leather jacket with various metal zippers, and Brittany’s in a long, comfy tee decorated with lipstick kisses.

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