March 16, 2011 at 9:56 AM ET
By Ryan McGee of HitFix.com
A lot of people love the competition episodes of “Glee.” I’ve never been a particularly big fan of them for two reasons. One, the performances themselves rarely measure up to the best performances in other episodes. It’s hard to wow the audience at home with spectacle when they get it on a weekly basis anyways. Secondly, the show rarely builds up to these competitions with little more than lip service. Ostensibly, every week of rehearsal should be building towards these specific events, but all too often everything that’s come before the week of the show gets chucked out in favor of musical Hail Marys.
But what “Original Song” did right, and did differently than all other previous competition episodes, was properly frame the competition itself as secondary to the various emotional entanglements going on amongst its participants. That’s a good thing, especially since the deliberation process to decide the Regionals winner was so painful and so tonally off from everything that preceded it that it nearly ruined all the good feelings this episode produced in my cold, black heart. I don’t think “Glee” views these competitions as anything more than a convenient way to frame a season of television anyways, so I’m glad that the show used this particular opportunity as a point at which much more important moments in life could come to the forefront.
Over in McKinley High, things started off shakily, as Quinn rambled off a Tarantino-length monologue that contained more words than that character has spoken all season. The use of voiceover in “Glee” has come and gone over the past two seasons, deployed when the writers feel like it then discarded like last year’s fashion. To top it off, not only was she suddenly front and center in the show again, but she was given a new purpose: sidling up to Rachel in order to achieve her new goal of being prom queen. So much for the past year of post-baby meandering, right?
Well, not so much. Perhaps I’m giving the show far too much credit, but by the time Quinn turned her plot into an excuse to set Rachel free in order to pursue her dreams, I couldn’t help but rethink her entire opening speech as either self-delusion or simply incredibly sad. That strain of melancholy bubbled up to the surface every once in a while on the show, where the strains of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” stop short of its optimistic crescendo and stay focused on a small town girl (or boy), living in a lonely world from which there’s almost no escape. Quinn sees a future with Finn, but it’s an incredibly muted future in which marriage doesn’t mean they will ever leave the city limits.
This isn’t exactly a tragedy, per se, but does reconfigure a host of actions in “Glee” to a gaggle of people acting histrionically about things that are neither unique nor all that dramatic.