Wednesday, 21 September 2011

3x01 - The Purple Piano Project

Hi friends - I've recently been lucky enough to join the team on Glee Chat -'s weekly Glee podcast. One of the things we're doing is also providing written recaps of each episode, but since there are 7 of us, we won't each get posted on the site every week. Since I write so much dribble anyway, I will be posting my weekly write-ups here, as well as anything I feel like rambling or theorizing about. So here you are:

The Purple Piano Project

We open Season Three with a lovely piece of exposition in the format of interviews done by everyone's favourite over-sexed school journalist, Jacob Ben Israel. As Tina and Artie are confirmed as juniors, we establish that Mike's thinking about the Ivy Leagues – well, his parents are - Kurt and Rachel are desperate for New York, and Finn's.. well, Finn's got plans. Sure he does. (Newsflash: he doesn't. His dejected inner monologue tells us, after the first Slushie of the season, that he has no idea what he is doing with his life.)

Stepping away from academics and towards the personal side of things, Chord Overstreet's Sam Evans, aka Trouty Mouth, aka Hobo McBieber, is neatly written out in one line by ex-girlfriend Mercedes, who says their fling ended when Sam's father – who you may remember was laid off and the Evanses became homeless – got a job out of state. Mercedes introduces us to her new, huge, supportive football player boyfriend, who tells us of his plan to make “cocoa babies” with her upon her first Grammy nod. ...Cool, I guess. Santana is fierce, and the Cheerio's top dog, and Brittany, though unconfirmed as a junior or senior, is still classic Brittany.

Cut to: Will's apartment, where he and Emma are now living together. After a reference to morning wood that makes me need to break out the brain bleach, Emma is avoidant and it becomes clear that, as cutesy as packing each other’s superhero tin lunch-boxes may be, Emma's mental illness is still a roadblock in more adult areas of the relationship.

At the first Glee Club meet of the year, Will is determined to let nothing get in the way of a Nationals victory for his departing seniors. He admits he lost focus, what with his personal life and big Broadway dreams – and readers, the idea of him having missed out on a Tony for April Rhodes's show is delightfully hilarious. Finn and Rachel appear to be going strong, with Rachel insisting he stop apologising for the on-stage kiss that may have cost them the title at Nationals – this exchange providing us with the gem “Why is the T-Rex eating the Jew?” as Kurt explains the reaction from that special circle of Hell – the Youtube commentators.

The club's down a few members – Sam's gone, Lauren's dumped Puck for the sake of her reputation, and Quinn is completely MIA. Mr Schu's got a plan though – Motta's Pianos has donated some re-possessed uprights. Will's big idea is painting them purple, leaving them around the school, and when a Glee Clubber finds one, they're obligated to stop and sing a song. This will attract other kids with the music trapped inside themselves, waiting to burst out. There is obviously no way this carefully laid out plan could ever fail.

Kurt and Rachel, who, after two seasons of bickering and competing and growing together, are finally the BFFs of my heart and talk to Emma about their college plans. It becomes apparent that they've been working off of fantasies and not actual research, because Emma informs them that their chosen school, Julliard, does not, in fact, have a musical theatre department. You'd think people with the ambition of Kurt and Rachel would know their facts, but I have always held the idea that Kurt, in particular, is a lot less educated and cosmopolitan than he thinks he is, and will get a rude shock some day. It seems that day is now. After the pair rule out the idea of Midwest schools, no matter how good their musical theatre department is - *cough*Michigan*cough* - Emma suggests the exclusive and fictional New York Academy of the Dramatic Arts, and encourages Hummelberry to attend the Dayton mixer of the Midwest's other prospective applicants.

Sue's congressional campaign is not going so well – polls are in and she's well behind Undecided, “that rapist running from prison,” and I Don't Care, Please Don't Call Me During Dinner. While tossing ideas around with Becky, she realises that her key to success is to tap into the anger of he general public and find something to be “against”. Inspiration strikes in the form of Tina and Mike, who have found a purple piano in the hall and are respectively playing Chopsticks and dancing. She destroys the piano in a whirl of bolt-cutters and racist remarks, in a beautifully co-ordinating violet tracksuit, and I'm sorry, but I can not help but laugh at this: “You have no right to disturb the learning environment of this school by playing your jangly national anthem on Liberace's piano.” Readers, I want to start a band and title it “Liberace's Piano.” Nancy Blethem, geometry teacher of 42 years, thanks her for stopping the kids, and delivers the unsettlingly true statement “People who call themselves artists think the rules don't apply to them, it's so arrogant.” and Sue realises she's found her angle.

Kurt and Blaine sit in a face-off in their beloved Lima Bean after school. Kurt's being passive-aggressively quiet – it seems that over the summer, the couple discussed the option of Blaine transferring to McKinley and that Blaine has decided against it. Readers, it is nearly impossible for me to write this without going into a rant, but I am trying VERY hard. Kurt says “you promised me that by the first day of school, you would make a decision, and yet, there you sit, cute as ever but still in your Warblers blazer.” Now, most normal people would argue that this indicates Blaine DID make a decision – the decision to stay at Dalton – it just isn't the decision that Kurt wants to hear. Blaine rebuts that he can't just leave the Warblers, they're his friends (let's not get into the fact that disrupting one's education by transferring from a highly ranked private school to a public school in one's senior year – for a the sake of a boy – is both insane and disrespectful to the good money Blaine's imaginary parents paid for Dalton) and Kurt plays his final card – the fact that if they stay at separate schools, they will be show choir competitors – a fact that doesn't seem to bother Blaine – and then Kurt adds on that he isn't sure if their budding love could survive that. Blaine turns it into playfulness - “I have to transfer because you're afraid I'm gonna beat you at sectionals?” and it turns into a cute moment – but it takes me back to when Kurt asked Blaine to prom. Same passive aggressive manipulation, same “I'm giving you a way out but you're going to look like the bad guy if you take it”, and same vibe that if Blaine didn't concede, Kurt would harden and start throwing out ultimatums. I'm sorry readers, I really am. I know we all love Klaine, and I did too, but since they've actually gotten together, Kurt's selfishness has started to pain me.

Finally we see what Quinn's been up to – and it's a big change. With scraggly pink hair, a tattoo, and 80s Madonna/Robert Smith fashion, she looks, in my opinion, like an utter stone fox, but she's clearly gone a bit off the rails. Her attitude is mellow and disdainful, rather than aggressive – mature, in a way, but I think we all want to know what the hell is going on here. Santana and Brittany beg her to come back to Cheerios, reminding them of their long-standing friendship. I love the moment when Santana refers to them as the Unholy Trinity – a fandom nickname for the three girls which the writers decided to pick up on – but she rejects them, showing us her new group of friends, who call themselves the Skanks. Rachel also approaches the group in their smoking hideout, and in a very touching and earnest moment dishes out a lot of compliments and sympathy to Quinn, tells her that they're still family, and asks her to come back to Glee – whenever she is ready.

Over on Sue's Corner, Sue is telling America about how Western Ohio's schools are falling behind in academics and her promises if she is elected to Congress – to cut all arts funding until all students are reading at or above grade level. Will and Emma watch this on TV in horror, and the next day, Will bursts into Principal Figgins's office, full of objections – including that the arts help kids who are struggling, and have the lowest records of substance abuse - “Tell that to Janis Joplin.” He also brings up his job security – um, didn't you teach SPANISH, Will, and Glee was just for fun? - and then rapidly dissolves into misery about his and Emma's sexual issues. To throw back to a season one Sylvester quote, “Well isn't this just lovely and normal.” Sue then goes to her office to tell Becky and Santana they are Cheerio co-captians – and neither are happy about it. She enlists them to “accidentally” destroy the purple pianos, and after Sue taps at her insecurities, Santana agrees.

The Glee Club is at lunch – all eating together, a fact I find adorable – and Rachel chastises the group for ignoring the piano, and tries to convince them to do the big Go-Go's number they'd been planning. Artie says it's unfair of Will to have put the piano there, that the lunch room is too much pressure – and I am inclined to agree, but Will's bullying teaching methods never sit that well with me – however Finn agrees and prompts the club to perform “We Got The Beat”.

It's a really fun, high-energy number, What I don't get is why people hate on it so much. Does this entire school hate fun? Are we meant to think that the teenagers in Lima hate music as a general rule? Because it isn't a bunch of nerds singing Broadway or something that may be considered “lame.” It's the captain of their cheer squad, dancing on tables, singing a jammin' pop-rock number. How is this, in any way, a bad thing? I don't get it. However, it isn't met with the applause it deserves, it's met with vitriol and flung spaghetti – a huge food fight ensues and ND return to the choir room, disappointed. They're met there by Sugar Motta, (played by Vanessa Lengies)– daughter of the man who donated their pianos – who witnessed their performance and wants to join Glee. Sugar claims she has self-diagnosed Asberger's, meaning she can say, in her opinion, whatever rude thing she wants. She has hopes of stardom and auditions for the club with Big Spender – except she's bad. Really bad. She thinks she's amazing, but, to quote Artie, “her ears should get to park in my handicapped spot.”

Will is in conflict, citing the former rule that anyone who tries out gets in but Rachel, backed up by the club, reminds him of his promise to let nothing stand in their way, and says that Sugar will bring the whole club down. Will repeats his worry to his friends on the staff, and Coach Bieste tells him she doesn't like cutting football players either, but it must be done for the best interests of the ones who do make the team. Emma brings in the news that Sue's passed “Undecided” and “Anyone White” in the voting polls, and Will decides, in a show of manliness, that if Sue is declaring war on the arts, he's declaring war on her.

Kurt and Rachel reminiscence about their New York “Wicked” experience while preparing a number to do at the Dayton mixer. They have high hopes of scaring off the competition with their talent. They perform a jazzed-up version of “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” in a beautiful show of camaraderie and silly voices – it is a gorgeous moment, as all Kurt/Rachel moments are becoming, and they end it confident in themselves and each other.

At Cheerios try-outs, Will comes to confront Sue on camera about her campaign. He then throws glitter on her as a representation of the kids whose hopes and dreams she is crushing. He scuttles out with Emma and if there was a further point to this it has escaped me.

Up next: loafers with no socks, red highwaters, a bowtie, and a trademark pair of Darren Criss coloured wayfarers – Blaine Anderson has arrived at McKinley. At first Kurt thinks that he's just there to visit him, or pick him up, but Blaine draws attention to the fact he's no longer in uniform and Kurt gets the hint, and leaps on his boyfriend in joy. He then has a – to give credit where credit's due – fairly genuine panicked reaction that Blaine has done this for him, and that it could lead to resentment and a break-up – these things should not have been an AFTERTHOUGHT, Kurt – but Blaine tells him no, he did it for himself – and for a split second, I regain hope, and reason for living – and then finishes up with “because I can't stand to be apart from the person I love.” Which is very unhealthy, and takes us right back up to my issues discussed previously. And I wonder how he sold it to invisible Mr and Mrs Anderson. Look, at the end of the day, I'm never going to be comfortable with this storyline – not least because Mr Criss himself stated in a dozen interviews before production for s3 started that even though he's a regular now, he himself did NOT want Blaine to leave Dalton – I'm always going to be glad to see more of Blaine, but I'm always going to have underlying resentment about WHY I'm seeing more of him.

They did use, in this scene, Kurt and Blaine's piano theme, which will always tug on my heartstrings since that first Slow Motion Hallway moment in Never Been Kissed. Dammit, Glee.

My angst evaporates, or at least is put aside, though, when, after Kurt mentions needing a way to ease Blaine into New Directions and Blaine tells him he has that all figured out. In a very character-typical oblivious-of-what's-appropriate, over-the-top move, Blaine performs It's Not Unusual on the courtyard steps, and Santana brings the Cheerios up to dance with him and it is so charming and infectious that I was clutching my hands to my face. I don't think anyone else in the cast could have pulled off such a cheesy number, but tiny Blaine, all yellow shades, grin and flailing arms, just kills it. I also absolutely loved his confused face as Santana joins him, which soon turns into joyous enthusiasm – maybe it's just the outfit co-ordination, but I for one think they look fantastic together and would love to see a Blaine and Santana bromance. (Given how lovely Darren Criss and Naya Rivera sound together, this could also make for some awesome duets - see here) – the only thing that's missing from this number is a re-enactment of The Carson.

All is not well, however, when at the end of the number, Quinn disdainfully flicks her lit cigarette at them, it lands on the wet keys of a purple piano, and the instrument goes up in flames. Everyone is struck dumb, and we must assume that when the Cheerios danced around the piano, they were spraying it with kerosene – Sylvester sabotage. (My main question? How did they know that Quinn would throw the cigarette directly onto the piano? Were they counting on this?)

Kurt and Rachel show up at the DoubleTree Inn for their NYADA mixer, where they're expecting to scare off their competitions. In this absolutely hysterical scene, they enter the ballroom where the event is being held and are stopped in their tracks by the realization that the other attendees are dozens of virtual clones of themselves. They're greeted by Harmony – Lindsay Pearce, runner up of the Glee Project, who looks beautiful, natural and effervescent – who asks their names and past performance credits. All the other kids seem very kind and enthusiastic towards Hummelberry, but they've been meeting for a long time and their standard of performance is high – and with a glint of condescension in her eye, Harmony seats the pair and has them watch as the group performs a mind-numbingly great mash-up tap number of Anything Goes and Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better, with Miss Harmony on lead. It is far and away one of the best, most show-stopping, and yet most natural numbers EVER done on Glee.

We cut to our dears sitting in Rachel's Chevy – nice product placement, Fox – crying their eyes out. “I've never been so humiliated in my life.” “Me either. And that's a really high bar.” and the conversation that follows is so beautiful and touching that I don't know how to do it justice. Kurt and Rachel have had a reality check - “we may be hot stuff at McKinley, but outside those walls, we aren't even stuff.” Kurt calls them deluded, and arrogant, and worries they're not good enough to make it. Rachel says there's nothing for it, they'll have to move away, change their identities and resign themselves to a life of community theatre. Not everyone's dreams come true. It's painful to watch. But they beautifully, beautifully pull each other back up, and try to create a new plan. Kurt particularly is so touching, and delivers Rachel a you're-not-giving-up speech so heartfelt and selfless that she declares “You make me want to be your boyfriend.” No you don't, Rach, once you're his boyfriend he'll start ignoring your wants and needs, that's how he rolls – but gosh, what a brilliant friend he's become.

Will is dreading going into school and telling Sugar she can't be in the club, but with a bit of motivation from Emma – she finds his manning up hot – he manages it. “Your ears are busted,” Sugar declares. “I worked that song like a hooker pole.” She reacts angrily to his rejection, declares her outburst WASN'T a result of her Aspberger's, and storms off. Sue catches the exchange and uses the opportunity to tell Will his glitterbomb stunt failed, and it helped send her further up in the polls.

Will brings Blaine to the choir room, where he greets the club with his usual amount of Hufflepuff-lian attempts at people-pleasing, social awkwardness and desperate enthusiasm. “We're gonna have a great year, I can feel it! We're all gonna go to Nationals!” The girls are excited, but all of the boys aren't too impressed with Blaine joining. Finn speaks for them, saying they want Blaine to know that this isn't the Warblers, that they're not into the “bells and whistles” (what? They were an A Capella group who performed in uniform. You've used a RAIN MACHINE.) or the “ball-hogging” - and Blaine asks, with a hint of snark, if he's done something wrong. Finn accuses Blaine of setting the piano on fire, and Santana steps in and says that no, that was an act of political protest, and that Sue made her. Upon this, Will kicks Santana out of the club, saying they have no room for divided loyalties, and Santana, defensive and hurt, leaves. Everyone looks awkward and Will turns stern, once again repeating his mantra of “nothing will stop us from Nationals”. Rachel and Kurt announce their plans – after the failed attempts at Cabaret and Rocky Horror, Rachel is finally getting the school to put on a show that works - West Side Story. And Kurt will be running for class president.

We close out the episode with some motivational words about not letting anything get us down, and the club performs You Can't Stop The Beat from Hairspray – starting with a slow Rachel solo in the choir room and moving to a full production number on the auditorium stage, a perfect number worthy of the original production, complete with swing dancing and cartwheels.

Quinn Fabray watches on, conflicted.

Welcome back, Glee.

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