While other episodes have had more thrilling musical numbers, or more fun stomach-fluttery Rachel/Finn romancey stuff, or cracklingly-gooder Jane Lynch zingers, last night's Glee was, I think, the best the series has done so far. Why, exactly? Because it finally gave us the other side of the show we've long wanted, but that's only been hinted at previously. I'm talking about the true dark undercurrent of the show—its wired and frightening mania, the grim way it talks about obession and ambition. Last night's episode, "Mattress", was both scary and heartbreaking, without an ounce of sunshine to brighten even its edges.
Obviously I'm talking about the huge blowout between Terri and Will, who finally (finally!) found out about the fake baby horror. Did anyone think Matthew Morrison capable of that kind of scene before last night? I mean, he still isn't Brando, but there was a genuine tearing and aching and anger in his performance during the menacing kitchen fight—he finally uncorked that bottled-up chaos that is usually kept so in-check by his neat, almost fussy acting. And what a boon that scene was. It was scary and utterly believable, despite the bizarre circumstances of the argument. What a dark panel in this comic book of a show it was, almost reminiscent of the famous "Whitecaps" episode of The Sopranos, only passed through that same strange, sharp helium that gives this series its peculiar perk. I just liked how long the scene seemed to last, how it all felt like a single, agonizing take. Props should also go to the marvelously detestable Jessalyn Gilsig, who made me pity her for, if nothing else, her utter patheticness, for her mind-bogglingly dumb and cruel gamble, and its inevitable and epic failure. Well done.
Also well-done, and almost equally as scary, were the bits that colored-in some of Rachel's obession with fame. I'm thinking in particular of her crazed desire to be in every Yearbook photo so she can practice her relationship with photographers, and the wrenching/creepy scene at the glee club photoshoot in which she suffered a massive disappointment but then collected herself with an eerie, mirror-staring pep talk. I just love this idea, love how it shades the character, of Rachel being, well, a little bit crazy. Not like wacky "crazy." Like, actually crazy "crazy." Or, at least, wildly delusional. It makes her kind of a Faulknerian unreliable narrator—are we seeing things as they actually are, or through the creepily bright-hued way that Rachel wants us to see them? This show is best when none of its characters are made to be saints, and Rachel, while we felt bad for her, certainly wandered farther off the reservation last night.
And, yes, Jane Lynch provided more barking anger this week than her usual biting sass, so that was just nice and mean to watch. I really do like this show when it's darkest. Utlimately it's a feel-good program, but it's always more interesting to watch when those flowers spring out of a heap of manure. To end with that melancholy "Smile" song—whose lyrics are just the eensiest bit unsettling, no?—playing over the inevitable defacement of that wistfully banal yearbook photo was the perfect sweet and sour note to end a bleak and satisfying episode. It was an episode that really felt like it was about something, an episode that showed that there is a fraught and concerned heart beating at the center of this often sing-songy show.
And to have that joyous "Jump!" number lead to such ruin! Oh how cruel, Ryan Murphy. Oh how delightfully cruel.
What'd you think? Do you appreciate Glee's dark streak as much as I do? Or do you prefer things a bit sunnier?