Fresh off of their victory at Nationals in last season’s sappy (but enjoyable) finale, the kids of New Directions found themselves suddenly among the ranks of the high school elite because that’s totally how high school works. When my marching band brought the big trophy home with the highest score in division history (at the time) we were suddenly so cool we didn’t know how to function. Wait, no we weren’t. Well, some of us were, but only the kids who were part of the in crowd before we won. See, in actuality, being a theater or a band geek is not the social death sentence Glee would have you believe that it is. No, not even in Ohio.
But in order for “The New Rachel”—and, frankly, Glee as a whole—to work, we have to buy into that stereotype. We also have to buy into a few others: The Midwest is a hellhole, New York City is the only place where “different” people can possibly find happiness, and admitting to your friends that the obese lunch lady is your mom will get you shunned. I think that if I were currently watching Glee as my 16-year-old self, I would worship its worldview as truth... but having grown up a little, I kind of just want to build a time machine to go back and punch myself in the face. For all of the self-proclaimed blah blah about being progressive and revolutionary, Glee is certainly fond of clinging to its tired tropes.
Okay, fine, so I’m annoyed that Kurt went to New York after all. The idea that ending up “back home” after graduation, rather than striking fame and riches among the bright lights of the big city, is the mark of a true failure is a very real line of thinking. Moving back in with the parents is every student’s worst nightmare, especially if you were one of those people who was absolutely certain that your hometown was the worst place on the planet.
Kurt Hummel’s story had a great deal of potential to dispel that notion. His exile in Lima came not from laziness and not from choice, but a simple bout of bad luck. His NYADA audition didn’t go the way he had hoped. It wasn’t the end of the world. He could audition again and in the meantime, he had Blaine and the glee club and an enormously supportive father at his back. I’m sure it felt like the end of the world, but that’s how you grow. Disappointing things happen and you deal with them and they turn you into the person you’re supposed to be.
But in the end, Kurt was shuffled off to New York City anyway because he just didn’t BELONG in Lima, man. He was DIFFERENT.
Small towns all over the country suffer from a chronic exodus of young people, slowly dying due to the lack of young blood around to innovate and invigorate. I grew up in a place where our teachers told us to get out, get far away, and don’t look back... transforming our town, like so many others, into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Young people leave because they are told that they can’t possibly be happy where they are, that there is no opportunity. As a result, the places they leave become places where no one can possibly be happy because there is no opportunity, when in actuality, it can be quite lucrative to be an artist in a small town or city: less competition and lower cost of living. But these factors don’t exist on Glee. Glee only deals in stereotypes.
Not gonna lie, though, for as much as his sudden ditching of Lima irritated me, that last scene between Kurt and his dad broke my heart. Especially his father’s declaration, “You can always come back... but you won’t.” Oh man, pass the tissues. Pass ALL the tissues.
And so, despite my generally ambivalent attitude toward Miss Rachel Berry, I actually found her storyline to be the more interesting one of the two main narratives running through “The New Rachel.” For all the idealizing of New York, Rachel was forced to face the reality of life at a highly competitive performing arts college. Her dance instructor (played by a delightfully sadistic Kate Hudson) was a monster. Her roommate sucked. She missed her friends and her family back in Ohio. Life was not perfect and wonderful and shiny just because she was in Manhattan. This new Rachel has had her confidence shaken by the rapid changes her life has taken since graduation and it shows. She already seems more mature.
The other new Rachel took McKinley High by storm, dazzling Schue with an audition for New Directions and earning a place on the team. Melissa Benoist as sophomore Marley Rose is the exact opposite of Lea Michele’s leading lady— timid, NICE, lacking the buckets of confidence that occasionally pushed Old Rachel into obnoxious mode. New to Lima, she and mother, the latter a target of lowbrow lunchroom taunting due to her girth, saw a spot on New Directions as an investment in the future. Mom even pointed out that the last lead singer (meaning Rachel) had gone all the way to Broadway. New Directions was suddenly the in crowd at McKinley.
And they promptly blew it. Kurt had the decency to call Blaine out on the group’s sudden mutation into something potentially ugly when Blaine told Unique to take off her makeup before the cheerleaders and football players at their table saw. However, it took new girl Marley’s outburst in defense of her mother after yet another lunch period full of vicious comments that finally set the group back on track, “I thought you were different!”
Don’t worry, Marley. You’ve shamed them back to decency. For now. Give it a few weeks and they’ll be back to bickering over solos. At least Glee consistently gets one thing right about high school musical theater geeks.
– Ugh, Schue, stop being a hypocrite. Yeah, New Directions is all about teamwork. That’s why you showered Rachel, your strongest singer, with solos the past three years.
– Momma Bear Sue has the potential to be amazing, yes?
– My Glee playlist for the evening? Darren Criss’s “It’s Time” and the ensemble performance of “Chasing Pavements.” What’s yours?
– Does Rachel/Brody (Brachel?) have the potential to break up Finnchel? NOOOO.
– Jake claims to be nothing like his brother, Puck. That’s why he acts EXACTLY like his brother, Puck, right?
What did you think of the episode?