Glee Season 5 Finale Review: The Hot Mess Express

By MaryAnn Sleasman

May 14, 2014

Glee S05E20: "The Untitled Rachel Berry Project"

Not all that long ago, Glee experienced a creative resurgence after severing ties with McKinley in "New Directions," an episode that was so good that I thought the whole thing was a fever dream in which Glee hadn't grown increasingly awful as the seasons went by. In comparison to the never-ending WTF parade of Season 4, Season 5 ultimately delivered an exciting turnaround for those of us who remember the days when we actually looked forward to watching this show and still want to believe that Glee has the capacity to be great again. My bitterness: Let me show you it.  

While "The Untitled Rachel Berry Project" had its moments—Sam's return to McKinley, everything Brittany said, did, or thought, and even Rachel's realization that Fanny Brice isn't her destiny and that it's okay to develop new dreams and want new things—as a whole, the episode was an unfocused mess that threw back to some of Glee's worst television sins. As usual, everybody got what they wanted, no matter how ridiculous. Guest star Kristen Schaal's awesomeness was wasted on a cynical Lena Dunham rip-off. Despite the stronger writing and performances that resulted from the series' full-time move to New York City, the writers have decided once again to scatter Glee's characters across the country because that worked so well for them the first time around. 

Also, as expected, Santana did not make an appearance in the finale because reasons, and the show explained her absence with a week-long trip to Iowa to shoot a new Yeast-I-Stat commercial

While the episode itself was a hot mess of predictability—of course Rachel sang a schmaltzy pop ballad and it warmed the heart of the meanie writer who disagreed with her and of course Kurt threw a man-tantrum over Blaine's Shirley MacLane thing but got over it in like two seconds because... because—there's still some potentially interesting set-up in place for Glee's currently unscheduled but probably midseason swan song. After four seasons of avoiding real change in Glee-land, once Glee tried it, it couldn't get enough. Still, Rachel's move to LA doesn't sit entirely well with me for two reasons: 

1. The whole point of Glee, since the very beginning, was to get Rachel (and as many other McKinleyites as possible) to Broadway. It was the ultimate dream. It was the dangling carrot, season after season. I was concerned that the series took Rachel to the top too early, and while I applaud the decision to let the character evolve and seek out a new dream, the fact that she needs to (because otherwise she'll stagnate for the rest of the series' run) betrays the fact that Glee jumped the gun with her Broadway stuff. 

2a. Glee is already a parody of itself, and the show is entirely too self-aware for its own good (it's the Skynet of TV, basically). Rachel is moving out to LA to star in a pilot for a series about her life that will also feature singing? Glee. It's basically going to be Glee. Not only did I not love the Glee-parodying we saw in Ryan Murphy's dearly departed The New Normal, but Glee has been mocking itself for a few seasons now, and I'm just nervous that another layer of winking irony is going to be too much. 

2b. OMG, what if the writers take a serious approach to the Glee-within-a-Glee idea? It kind of sounded like the Rachel series was going to be a serious semi-biographical TV musical-or-something. Rachel was really into it and Rachel doesn't have a sense of humor and Rachel also thinks Rachel is really interesting and deep, and I can't really see her getting involved with something that is openly poking fun at everything she holds dear. 

So yeah, I'm nervous about Rachel's westward move. But I'm also reminding myself that I wasn't so sure about the NYC migration either, and then I ended up really liking it. We really won't know how well it works or doesn't work until Glee eventually returns. 

Whatever the show decides to do, I sincerely hope it works. When Glee is at its best, it's a bright, quirky, positive hour of television that's completely different from anything else that has aired or is airing beside it—it's exactly the show Rachel described to Mary Halloran, though let me go on the record as saying there's absolutely nothing wrong with TV shows about "chubby girls who can't keep men and men who kill people," either. Glee's passive-aggressive criticism of TV-shows-that-aren't-Glee never fails to fall on its face, even when, at it's core, the show is making a valid point. There's also nothing wrong with ooey-gooey, teeth-rotting sweetness on a TV series... unless your Season 5 finale is as aimless and weirdly insubstantial as "The Untitled Rachel Berry Project" was. 

When we return to Glee whenever we return to Glee, regardless of where its core characters are in both the country and their careers, a return to the focused writing we saw in "New Directions," "Frenemies," "Trio," and "The Quarterback" would go a long way toward sending the series out on a high note. 


– All of the musical performances were pretty great (though I question the need for two pop ballads in the same episode), but "Pompeii" was a great ensemble song to wrap up the season, and I'm also biased because that's my current jam and it could have been a kazoo cover and I'd still probably be into it. IDK. 

– I'd watch a show about two gay NASA dads. Just sayin'.

– I wanted to like Mary Halloran's original pilot script if only to spite Rachel, but yeah, that was abysmal. 

What'd you think of the finale? What are your predictions/wants/needs for Season 6?

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  • stephaniedonehue Oct 16, 2014

    So I have been catching up on glee. I find that I keep skipping ahead. Since when is this show all about Rachael? And not about the high school showing kids they can reach for their dreams. Im so dissapointed.

  • thecourt99 May 18, 2014

    I stopped watching Glee a few seasons ago, however I continued to read recaps and summaries, hoping that I could enjoy it again. Why did I stop watching? Because in spite of the supposed message about acceptance of differences and uniqueness, this show turned into a white heterosexual love story with singing. LM is a great singer, however this show was full of great singers. Once she took over the show, in spite of the talents of "Mercedes" and "Santana", I stopped watching. I personally thought that "Mercedes" sang better than "Rachel". I soon realized that the character of "Mercedes" would rarely get a chance to shine. Then I heard Santana sing..and again, she rarely got the chance to shine. So for me, the whole idea of being different went to pot. I find it interesting to see that it really hasn't changed and at its core, this is still a show about "Rachel".

  • KatherinaTan May 18, 2014

    I could be the minority here, but I actually really liked the episode (well most of it). I watched a lot of TV shows and not many of them make you "feel good" at the finale. I enjoyed Pompeii tremendously, especially towards the end when you can always feel Lea popping up missing Cory, I don't know, that part spoke to me. The duet sang by Kurt and Blaine was awesome too, thought Kurt's performance was rock-on.

    That said, I do agree with most that moving Rachel to LA seemed like a creative mistake (which, of course, Glee is filled with). Does that mean she is going to get her ass sued off when they reopened the show? Hmm...

    Seeing Brittany again in this episode brought a huge smile to my face and she danced like a rock star!

  • JohannaSch May 18, 2014

    Anything that happened in this episode was completely and totally wasted on my because of how utterly un-funny and un-sympathetic I find Kristen Schaal. That voice alone is enough to drive me up the wall, and it sort of ruined everything for me. The only highlight was Blaine standing up for Kurt, for what he felt was right, because I never expected either Blaine or Kurt to have a backbone, so yay them!

    "Never let anyone keep you from doing what you know is right" is a nice soundbite, and with that in mind, let's hope the Glee writers will know what the right thing is to finish this show off in a way it deserves.

  • ben45tpy May 17, 2014

    I ranted about this last week so I'll be brief. Broadway should have been a climax for the show and been a source for so much material. They've botched that and Rachel instead being in a TV show is a bad idea. Having the TV show being a story of her life is implausible beyond belief and a vigorously nauseating idea. Mercedes' sudden success as a pop star is ridiculous, especially when it all happened off screen. It doesn't give me much to look foward to in the final season. I never thought I'd be able to quit this show but I'm pretty close to that point now. At least Kurt/Blaine and Mercedes/Sam's couple problems were managed with some maturity in the end. But in the course of a season Rachel has become a monster. We will no longer be able to empathise with her or wish her success. This formerly complex, vulnerable character who had so much sadness in her life and had to struggle so hard has been destroyed. And since the show has morphed into being HER show we're all in trouble.

  • Hovabyte May 15, 2014

    The Lea Michelle show has now reached new depths this week.
    Britney was there but not allowed to say anything.
    The straight gay one actually said 'Wa gwann blood?' during a song
    I was also very unsettled and almost threw up the dinner I was eating when Rachel Berry attempted to break the fourth wall at the end.

    This show was thrown away by the producers and writers. It could have been huge for many more years, but their arrogance in thinking that they could get the audience to blindly follow what in essence was a different show has ruined what was once great fun.
    what idiots idea was it to get rid of half a cast of characters that the audience love. And even after bringing some of them back they're just bit part extra's to support the superstar that they think they've created. (it seems they're now trying to be ironic by giving her her own show within the show)
    What happened to the songs? I use to recognise 4 or 5 chart songs an episode so I could deal with not knowing the other one. Now its the exact opposite. I can't even sing along to this nonsense.

    Oh, they got rid of any attempt to have a plot too, meaning we wouldn't have recognised it as a season finale unless you told us.

  • bejt10 May 15, 2014

    That what happens when you remove the REAL stars of the show- such as Matthew Morrison...

  • vcivi May 15, 2014

    I read the review and have to say that i don't agree. It seems like in the review you keep holding too much of the past Glee.
    A lot of has changed and i have to say, that this is Glee for me. With the old gang and all grown up and trying to do their thing, good or bad...
    I actually love that Rachel is going to LA. I couildn't stand to hear about Funny Girl another season. As always she is growing to become better and chasing her dreams, whatever they may go Rachel.
    Finally sam and Mercedes broke up! The whole NOT having sex thing was becoming very lenghty and stupid. You are so young and full of life...ofcourse you want Mercedes don't and he does...that he would "cheat" *kiss* was eventually to happen...
    Liked the showcase of Blaine, that was daring and i loved it...she loved it! Nice done.
    Then a beautiful song of Rachel in the cafe! Even the weird lady loved it.
    Then the finalsong, was awesome...
    But i loved especially the original song of Mercedes. It was catchy...i even started to shake my head whahhahahahahahahaha...
    Nice season ending...and how many episodes they will make, all is good and wil be watched!!!

  • ark1317 May 15, 2014

    So Glee is going to be about how Glee came to be right? Yay.
    Please let it be just for 12 focused episodes, please.

  • MarieLaureDep May 15, 2014

    I thought the episode was decent. Loved the first "Rachel show" script, especially with Chris Colfer's deadpan voice. I liked the song, especially the one Rachel sang at the café. And the last one really felt like a serie finale. I wonder who's going to be back next season (Lea aside).

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