As Glee got more and more popular, solidifying its place in the zeitgeist, there was a notable shift in the way music was used on the show. When it began, it seemed like episodes were written and stories were planned out first, and then songs were inserted after, based on their thematic relevance. From the second half of the first season on, though, it became apparent that song choices were driving the plots, rather than the other way around. The Madonna and Britney Spears tribute episodes are blatant examples, but even something like “Losing My Religion” (which isn’t even about religion) in “Grilled Cheesus” is a pretty clear instance of the song coming first.
What’s nice about the competition episodes, then, is the way the songs can fit in organically, even if they’re not necessarily plot-oriented or thematically relevant. Glee, at this point, has become a music-selling machine, to the point where iTunes sales are a huge portion of the show’s revenue. It’s frustrating when the show indulges that fact by stuffing in songs just for the sake of songs (see: pretty much every Warblers track this season, but at least that’s good for the Tufts Beelzebubs), but at Sectionals and Regionals, there’s an excuse to have that many musical numbers, and they work especially well when they don’t completely steal the spotlight from the main stories.
That’s one of the main reasons “Original Song,” even though it was one of the big competition episodes that have in the past ended major portions of the season, worked. It wasn’t as much about Regionals (since it’s not quite the end of the season, we knew New Directions would win) as it was the characters’ relationships and their influence on their work. Episode titles on Glee are about as unsubtle as they come (see: “Funk,” “Sexy”), and “Original Song” was no exception, but it let us know that the songwriting was the focus of the episode and that the competition itself wasn’t the star.
Instead, the characters were the stars, and some of them became more character-like than we’ve seen in a long time. Quinn probably had more lines in her voiceover monologue than she’s had all season, and Dianna Agron did a nice job keeping Quinn human even as she ripped Rachel apart. Rachel, in turn, turned her pain into inspiration, delivering “Get It Right” to a standing ovation at Regionals. It would be nice to see the two girls become defined by something other than their attraction to Finn (which seems somewhat irrational, given how dense he often is, and that his top-dog status constantly seems questioned by his involvement in glee club), but the two actresses sell it, and the love triangle is at least well-established at this point.
Kurt and Blaine were the other two characters providing the emotional bedrock of the episode. Kurt rightly called Blaine out on having every single solo, and then his tribute to Pavarotti made Blaine realize he did need to share the spotlight. Denying other members an audition, and unilaterally deciding to duet with Kurt wasn’t quite as selfless as Blaine seemed to think, but it strengthened their bond until… the kiss! It was the moment we all saw coming (although it took much longer than I expected), but Chris Colfer and Darren Criss really made it work. It looks like the Warblers are done, now that they’ve lost Regionals, but there’s no uncertainty that Kurt and Blaine will still be in the mix.
One of the more surprising aspects of “Original Song” is that it actually followed through on the original song plot that has been slowly building. Rachel confessed her desire to craft original tunes several episodes ago, but the disaster that was “My Headband” (Brittany’s all-time favorite song) could have been the end of that. But instead of dropping that thread like the writer-producers are wont to do, they kept it going and actually delivered some pretty great songs. I don’t see “Big Ass Heart” or “Hell to the No” or “Loser Like Me” becoming my all-time favorite songs, but they were fun and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them pop up on Top 40 radio.
In fact, there were lots of plot strings that continued through “Original Song.” The idea of anthems was brought up again (in Sue’s lie about her affair with the My Chemical Romance drummer and when Will talked about writing their own anthem), Puck sang “Big Ass Heart” to Lauren to make up for “Fat Bottomed Girls” (not sure if the lyrics were much better, but she seemed happier), Will made it clear he’s seeing Holly now… they even referenced the fact that Quinn gave her baby to Rachel’s mom last season (the worst plot of the season, aside from Terri’s fake pregnancy)! Continuity isn’t necessarily the most important thing, even in serialized TV (as Ryan McGee recently pointed out, in relation to Fringe), but the problem with Glee is that it tries to have its cake and eat it too: it acts like continuity matters, by reminding us every so often about these old plots, but then forgets about whole stories and characters for long stretches.
For such a jam-packed episode, though, I thought things worked just about as well as they could have. There were 11 songs, including 6 originals; steps forward in almost every relationship (including Santana and Brittany’s, which nicely followed up on last week’s development); the Regional competition itself; the requisite Sue Sylvester jokes. Really, if they hadn’t tried to stuff Loretta Devine’s stripper-turned-nun and Kathy Griffin-as-Sarah Palin in there, this may have been one of the best episodes Glee has done all season. The judges were emblematic of the problems Glee has when it tries to do too much at once, and I think “Silly Love Songs” probably did a better job at integrating character, plot, and music, but “Original Song” was still quite strong, and I hope we get more original songs again.
Bits & Pieces
- A few final pieces of Warbler mythology, just before they’re gone: The Council decides who gets solos; they have a tape player for those moments when their parakeet mascot dies and a new member brings in a cassette of “Black Bird” to sing a tribute.
- The jokes about Chord Overstreet’s mouth aren’t getting old. “Trouty Mouth” was a good Santana number, but it doesn’t look like that relationship is going to last.
- As nice as it was to see Mercedes get a solo again, I was disappointed to see it just further force her into the stereotype of the sassy black girl. Really, they need to give her something to do (that also doesn’t involve her weight).
- Why would New Directions not have heard Rachel’s “Get It Right” if it was one of their main numbers at Regionals?
- “Stubbles McCripplepants”
- “I don’t even remember putting that in there.”
- Sue throws sticks at Mercedes’ head.
- “I didn’t even like being pandered to when I was a stripper.”
What did other people think of “Original Song”? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!