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Glee: Ballads

Will: "Ballad. Who knows what this word means?"
Brittany: "It's a male duck."

If "Vitamin D" was the comedic gold standard of Glee's first season, then "Ballads" is certainly its emotional one. I think tonight's episode is about as close as the show has come to achieving the near-perfection of the series Pilot. Without question, Will, Mercedes and Finn delivered their best musical performances to date. Artie was pretty darn impressive, but "Confessions" was just too awesome to be beat.

In "Ballads" - defined as a story told through song - Mr. Shue asked the kids to practice expressing themselves musically in preparation for the never-coming Sectionals. With Rachel's self esteem and popularity issues, Kurt's unrequited crush on a straight boy, Puck's resentment of his best friend, who "gets everything", and Finn, Quinn, and "Babygate", as Mercedes calls it - "Ballads" let loose a dam of pent-up frustrations and finally allowed the truth to come tumbling out.


Tonight, Glee's signature "bop bops" and awkwardly inappropriate moments were back in all their glory with two doomed crushes: Rachel's on Mr. Shue, and Kurt's with Finn. I never thought I'd miss the squirming and cringing uncomfortableness of a watching a sure-fire train wreck, but oddly, Glee hasn't felt quite right without them. Maybe it's because high school - and, in fact, life - just isn't realistic without them. Maybe it's because "Push It" has recently been topping my playlist, and I totally crack up every time I hear Artie's "Holla!

I could not stop laughing (and squirming) at Will's face during the "Endless Love" duet. Matt Morrison thus far has played the straight man to all the kooks around him (the scene with Tanaka's athlete foot issue and Will's cookie comes to mind), but his expression was priceless. Of course, my favorite part of the scene was when Tina pulled out "Other Asian" from the hat. LOL. See? He'll never have a name!

I also loved Will's desperate attempt at discouraging Rachel with a brilliant mashup of "Don't Stand So Close To Me/Young Girl". Of course it failed miserably - even I fall in love with that man every time he sings, and I’m not a 16 year old girl with a crush. "So, Rachel, do you think you understood the message I was trying to get across with that ballad?" Will asks. "Yes," she answers earnestly, "I'm very young and you can't stand too close to me." (I should mention that I've been looking forward to this episode ever since that line aired on the preview.)

More awkward uncomfortableness ensued with Kurt's futile attempt to convince Finn that he should give up girls because they suck. Sure, it didn't have a snowball's chance in LA, but you know what? It was real. I wonder how many gay teenage kids, still coming to terms with their sexuality and who don't fully understand the complexities of love, are as naive as Kurt and think this would work? I can't say, but I can tell you that when I was a teenager, I thought up all manners of crazy schemes to get my crushes to like me.

The "Crush" section would not be complete without a shout out to Suzie Pepper, portrayed with quivering insanity by Sarah Drew of Mad Men. The midnight call, those horrible socks, and cheesiest of the cheesy "More Than Words" on her headphone - all too funny. But in the end, it was the Pepper-Berry showdown that brought Rachel back to reality. "Let me tell you a few things I've learned from 2 years of intense psychotherapy and an esophagus transplant," offered a surprisingly insightful and helpful Suzie. "You need to find some self-respect, Rachel. Get that mildly attractive groove back... Let me be a cautionary tale." That's one of the things I love most about Glee - just when you think things are heading for a plot cliche, the writers pull a 180, and show us humanity at its best.

"I'll Stand By You"

But for all the lightheartedness of high school crushes, the heart of "Ballads" was Finn's and Quinn's individual struggles with her pregnancy. Finn, in a surprising burst of frustration, lashes out at Kurt (who found it "fantastically compelling and inappropriate"). I knew that he’s been trying his best to be responsible and supportive, despite Quinn constantly taking things out on him, but I did not realize just how upset this kid was at the prospect of giving up his daughter, or how much he already loves her. It was amazingly touching, and wonderfully underscored by a heartfelt rendition of "I'll Stand By You" - which as I mentioned before, is easily Corey Montieth's best performance to date.

This week, Glee continues it's focus on family dynamics. While everyone's been wrapped up with the Finn-Quinn-Puck baby drama (and how it will tie into Terri's deception), I think we've forgotten just how scary it is for two teenagers to be having a kid. In addition to sobering weight and responsibility of parenthood, they must feel terribly alone, hiding it from the people that they need the most for fear of getting in trouble - their parents. It's clear that Finn wanted his mom to know - otherwise, would Finn have left his laptop open? - and very likely that Quinn was hoping that her mother would guess and help her.

The marked contrast between the two families was interesting. Finn's mother has been portrayed as not having a lot of money, and somewhat "white trash" - she wears too much tacky denim, was into that lawn painter guy with the mullet, and seems to be constantly doing laundry. Yet, without question, she loves and will stand by her son. I almost lost it first watching her hold a sobbing Finn, trying desperately to hold it together and be strong for him, and then when she welcomed Quinn with open arms.

On the other hand, Quinn's family clearly has money; they are concerned about status and debutante balls, they’re conservative, religious, watch Glen Beck, and, I suspect, not natural blonds. Everything about them come across as superficial, judgmental, and cold - from the old, dark wood of their decor, which just screams male-dominated household, to the seating arrangement at the massive dining table. And they kind of reminded me of Josh Groban and his "blowsy alcoholics". I wasn't surprised that they were not supportive when they found out about Quinn's pregnancy, although I didn't expect the father to kick out Quinn, and the mother to actually choose her husband over her own daughter.

I do have to admit, though, that the scene where Quinn's parents are confronting the two kids wasn't quite as powerful as it could have been. The writing was pretty solid, and I thought that the reactions of all 4 were completely understandable. Unfortunately, I just didn't think Diana Agron's acting skills were strong enough for that scene. I actually found Rachel tearing up at the end with Mr. Shue to be more heart-tugging.

"Lean On Me"

For me, the final number, "Lean On Me", captured everything that makes Glee so wonderful: it was an authentic and emotional ensemble piece, uplifting and hopeful during somber times, filled with heart, camaraderie and, yes, glee. It was able to communicate the club's support of Finn and Quinn in a way that words cannot do. From a musical standpoint, I loved it because it brought something new to a classic - I loved the "hum hum hum hum" opening and the gospel-like crescendo at the end. Mercedes perfectly hit all of her high notes, and I saw Brittany actually hug Rachel in the middle! I have to say, I misted up at least 2 or 3 times during the episode, but managed to hold it together until this song - then I just started crying with no shame.

"Endless Love"

The song wasn't completely relevant to the storyline, so I saved it for last. During the episode, the song was diluted by the voiceovers (which were so funny, especially the totally random Puck "total commando" one), as well as the crazy close ups of Rachel's and Shue's faces. But then I downloaded the full version on iTunes, and it completely blew me away.

It's the first number to feature our Broadway giants Lea Michele and Matt Morrison, and it is amazing. Lea is always great on all of her numbers, but I didn't realize until I heard this song just how much she's been holding back. Matt Morrison is honestly the only one who can match her talent, and listening to these two go toe to toe was incredible. (Have I mentioned that I fall a little bit more in love with him every time he sings??) Even if you don't download the full version, at least listen to the preview. It's fantastic.

Last, But Not Least…

Without question, the best scene of the episode was when Mercedes confronted Puck. I was expecting her to be speechless, and thought she'd immediately start gossiping about it with Tina or Kurt. But it was really mature and sobering; I actually stood up and started cheering her when she gave it to Puck straight:
"You need to get something through your mohawk real quick. You're the baby's daddy, but it takes a lot more to be a father, and that's role's already been cast because Quinn chose Finn. You need to accept that and move on, because you have no business messing up that girl's life more than you already have."

Bits & Pieces:

-- No Sue. I missed her on principle, but it was such a great episode that I didn't even realize until the end.

-- Finn: "I have to go, they'll think I'm pooping."

-- Terri was back in shallow, evil shrew form tonight, but I did enjoy her lines. In particular: "Listen, you little psycho. This is Will's wife, and if I don't get enough sleep, my antidepressants don't work. And then I'll go crazy and I'll kill you."

-- Man, I hate "More Than Words". Whiniest. Song. Ever.

-- Kurt: "You do well with classics, especially of the soft rock mode."

-- OK, the one thing that took away from the powerfulness of "I'll Stand By You" was when Finn did the Reach To Nowhere at the sonogram.

-- Tina: "All the baby drama is making my rosacea act up." Hmmm... didn't see her and Artie interacting all night.

-- Quinn's Dad: "He wears a helmet when he plays, right?"

-- Brittany: "I bet the duck is in the hat."

-- Rachel: "Wow, I never noticed this before because he's always trying to destroy my career, but Mr. Shue has really nice eyes."

-- Emma: "I too am very curious about the power of the ballad. I'm thinking about doing some career counseling in song... SAT prep perhaps... I'm sitting."

-- Finn: "You think I should bring a gun?"

-- Will: "I'm taking Rachel home."
Terri: "Can you ask her to dust the blinds in the craft room first?"

-- I have the same notebook Rachel was carrying in the hallway. In fact, it's my Glee review notebook :-)

-- Rachel's Flowers: "Sorry I've been acting crazy!"

-- Kurt: "Your t-zone is dangerously dry." Finn looks down at his crotch.

-- P.S. I loved Kurt's robe and full skin care kit in the football locker room.

-- In this week's fashion report: Emma had on a pair of gorgeous shoes during Will's "Young Girl" performance. Kurt sported two very nice pea coats - one trimmed with red, one in red tartan. But that weird Peter Pan outfit he was wearing during Finn's solo? Ugh. Lose the long, asymmetrical tunic.

All in all, a strong, solid, emotionally rewarding episode. I think part of the reason "Ballads" worked so well is because, like the characters, the writers are probably better at expressing emotion through music then words. It's clear that all of the songs chosen for this week were carefully thought through, and it's refreshing to have the music carry the story, rather then just part of the plot (e.g., a Glee Club is supposed to perform, a homework assignment). Hats off to the writers, all of the singers, and especially Corey Montieth for an exceptional outing.

Four out of four male ducks.


  1. I have been following you on Twitter and absolutely love all of your reviews (well the reviews on shows/books/movies that I have an interest in).

    I, too, loved Endless Love and it has been on repeat for a whole week, believe me. I also fall in love with Matt Morrison a little more each time he performs on the show. Gorgeous.

  2. I loved this episode so much; it was my favorite since the pilot. Matt Morrison's face during the duet in the opener was priceless, the ending number was so touching, and everything in between was great. I was just a bit thrown by Rachel's sudden crush. You'd think that with a teacher who looks like Mr. Shue, pretty much everyone would have a crush on him, permanently.

    Terrific review, Serena.

  3. Best episode ever; for all the reasons you said. The Shue's face when singing Endless Love to Rachel had me in stitches. I must have watched that part a dozen times. And Rachel and Emma's faces when the Shue was singing his Don't stand so close to me/Young Girl mash-up was equally amusing. Poor Shue. He can't do right for doing wrong.

  4. Am I really the only one who thought this was a weak episode? It didn't feel good to me, not natural for some reason. And the acting in Diana Agron's scene was so off, I just couldn't help but laugh. I think it was the weakest episode since "Accafellas". But 'Hairography' was brilliant again :)

  5. I also was not a fan of this episode. I thought it was the weakest in a awhile, and mostly because of the music. Usually, even when the plot lines are cheesy and awkward, I can get some joy out of the music, but I found nearly all of the song choices and performances this week just meh. And I particularly disliked Finn singing I'll Stand By You to the sonogram. It was beyond cheesy.

    I did kind of like Lean on Me at the end, but only because Mercedes and Artie got to do their thing.

    I also enjoyed Suzie Pepper, and some of Finn's moments with his mom and Kurt were quite touching. But overall, I thought this episode was very painful. I'm hoping 'Hairography' is better (which I haven't seen yet due to Thanksgiving travel).

    Still, a nice review Serena. You always find a way to make episodes I didn't like sound great. :)

  6. Hi, Serena, I'm adding this little introductory sentence after the fact to emphasise that the fairly opinionated comment below is in no way meant as an attack on the quality of your review or on you as a writer/person:

    As a man, I find it thoroughly depressing that Mercedes' speech would be considered the "mature and sobering" voice of reason when, though part of it's got a good heart (be sensitive to what Quinn is going through), most of it is about rejecting any notion of parental rights for men. It is not Quinn's place to "cast" who the father is. Nature has already done that, and to insinuate that a man has "no business" fighting for the right to be a father to his own child is nothing short of disgusting.

    Sorry, I really needed to get that off my chest. Otherwise, it's a lovely review as usual, Serena. I too laughed out loud during Will and Rachel's opening ballad. Quinn is quickly becoming one of my favourite characters.


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