Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Gleeks on writing: Episode Four

I’ve got a major bone to pick about this whole Jesse thing. I was on board with his presence on the show from the beginning – mostly, I admit, because I saw Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele on Broadway two years ago in the Tony award winning musical Spring Awakening (which, ironically, is about a group of high school aged kids dealing with issues of identity and sexuality) and the way they performed not just as separate characters, but as the emotional center of the show was really moving to me. And in the beginning, that’s what it appeared to be in their new partnership on Glee. The scenes between Rachel and Jesse, particularly in the first two episodes after the show’s return, created a reaction for me that I did not expect, that went beyond my previous history with these actors. Although the scene in the first episode where Jesse kisses Rachel onstage at Carmel High School while Shelby watches from the wings left me nervous about a potential sabotage, Jesse’s decision to leave Vocal Adrenaline, his openness to letting Rachel set the sexual terms of their relationship, and the subtleties of their interactions had me convinced that this was all genuine.

Maybe I, too, was seduced by the eye candy that is Jonathan Groff. But this isn’t altogether bad. At least from my experience, the insertion of Jesse’s character allowed for great opportunities to see Rachel experiment with her own identity, and how after her failed/forced relationship with Finn, she is able to feel wanted.

Now I’m not so sure it was such a good idea. Last week, I was bothered by Jesse’s unacknowledged absence from the show. It seemed like somebody in New Directions would say, “Wait a minute, where’s Jesse?”, or Rachel, upon finding out that Shelby is her mother, would have run to tell him the news. Upon bowing at the altar of the Internet Movie Database after the episode, though, I learned that the air dates of this week’s and last week’s episodes were swapped in order to push the Lady Gaga episode into the series/season finale week for May. Some strategic editing was done for continuity, and when I found out about this, I was willing to let my concerns about Jesse go – all would be answered this week. Maybe. Actually not.

Let’s review what we’ve got here – Shelby uses Jesse as a shiny lure to attract Rachel so she can get her biological daughter’s attention. Jesse’s moment of initiative in this plot occurs when he puts the tape of Shelby singing into Rachel’s dads’ box of baby goodies. But here’s what I don’t understand at all: what’s in it for Jesse? We can assume that in order to gain information about Rachel for Shelby, the following had to take place:
1) Jesse takes on the world’s most elaborate “acting exercise” to get Rachel’s attention. This includes making out with her, accepting gifts of Care Bears from stuff animal machines, having her refuse sex with him, and apparently going to a Wiggles concert.
2) Jesse transfers to McKinley High under the guise of helping the gang snag regionals and making Rachel happy. This means that during his senior year, he moves in with his uncle in another school district and gives up the chance to spend that last year with his own team.
3) Jesse commits the ultimate act of stone cold rejection when he, having done his duty to Shelby, smashes an egg on Rachel’s head and takes off with his buddies.

It looks like an intriguing plot, but here’s what’s missing: what’s in it for Jesse? All of these things involve him giving up an awful lot just to do his coach a favor. I expected an answer to this question last night, and when I didn’t get one, I started to doubt whether or not this was a good move writing-wise. Was there money involved? Did Shelby pull strings to get him into the University of California Los Angeles (“it’s in Los Angeles”?). I’d potentially buy this more if I had some kind of answer to this. Getting a chance to be with Rachel doesn’t work – although it could have, if Jesse admitted to Shelby that he had a crush on her. But even that is too simplistic. With everything Jesse has going for him, nothing I’ve seen explains why he would be willing to even temporarily sacrifice that and go through some serious adjustments just to do something for his teacher. Similarly, if he really did “love” Rachel, does that tell us love equates to public humiliation? As it is, Rachel doesn’t even know the real reason why Jesse dated her to begin with – as she shares with Will, she still thinks it was to throw a monkeywrench in the game right before regionals and make her emotionally cave. In the end, I can’t help feeling that the folks at Glee dealt me a raw deal – give us a potentially interesting character, only to completely strip him of all likability in the end as a way to compensate for that missing information. However, if the plan was to make me as a viewer agree with Rachel that Jesse should be eaten by a lion, then perhaps the writing accomplished exactly what it was supposed to. Having said that…

My finale prediction: Neither of the rival Glee teams will walk away with the title. Somehow, the shenanigans of the last eight episodes, from the Jesse Affair to Shelby making out with Will to the acts of cheating and vandalism both groups are guilty of will be revealed and affect the outcome. If this doesn’t happen, my money is on Vocal Adrenaline. Not because the McKinley kids don’t bring in tha’ funk (clearly they do) but because having them win regionals would give them nowhere to go in future episodes. The show has already been signed on for two additional seasons, and somehow they need to keep the tension up. There is nothing like unachieved goals – or serious rivalries – to fuel that tension.

Other non writing notes

Best Song: Puck, Finn, and an ensemble of Sheets n’ Things workers sing “Loser.” I wish it had been longer. Puck wearing the work apron and playing guitar in the aisle was one of the funniest things ever. But this could also be my eighth grade nostalgia fix talking.

Worst Song: A potentially moving version of “It’s a Man’s Man’s World” by Quinn is totally shortcircuited by a backup crew of grossly pregnant teens trying to ballet dance. Epic fail.

Best Sue Sylvester Line: “You’d make a fine trophy husband. And as you can see from my décor, I love me some trophies.”

Biggest WTF Moment: Terri asks Finn how old he is.

Video Link: Watch Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele perform in Spring Awakening in 2007


  1. Terri asks Finn how old he is because Will will always be that 16 year old boy to her. This sets up the possibility of a Terri/Finn relationship, with, of course, Terri eventually egging Finn since that's how love goes in Lima.

  2. ROFL!!!!!!! I got the sixteen year old boy thing - the WTF comment was more the possibility of Terri committing statutory rape. We all know she's a terrible person. Talk about crushing someone's dreams.

  3. They may very well go there for the finale. After all, Finn did call her a MILF (although, since it's Lima, it should probably be MILTE: Mom I'd Love To Egg).

  4. But wasn't Finn kissing Rachel in the hallway in the previews? Oh wait, that doesn't mean anything. ROFL