Glee: The Rhodes Not Taken

We open with the glee club kids sing “Don’t Stop Believing”, and already the episode is off to a fine, fine start. I love Journey. Embarrassing but true. After Quinn rushes out mid-song to vomit, Finn frets to Will that all the dancing will endanger Quinn’s pregnancy. Rachel is still gone, having defected last episode in a flurry of snitty entitlement for the starring role in Sandy Ryerson’s production of Cabaret. The kids figure Rachel’s absence dooms them to mediocrity. As Puck puts it, “That Rachel kid makes me want to set myself on fire, but she can sing.”

(The glee club, by the way, is called New Directions. Not sure how I’ve missed that thus far, but I’m using it from here on out.)

Terri and Will eat grasshopper pie at a garish family restaurant. Their server, who is sporting plenty of flair, turns out to be a former student of Will’s. He’s currently attending another high school, even though he’s 24, because the school keeps failing him so he can continue to sing in New Directions’ chief competitor, Vocal Adrenaline. This gives Will ideas.

Emma calls Finn in to encourage him to apply for a music scholarship. She points out that he’s more likely to win that than a football scholarship… provided New Directions does well at Regionals. Finn realizes they need to get Rachel back for this to happen.

A reporter for the school newspaper interviews Rachel about her starring role. Rachel is totally odious, as is the reporter, who asks her to show him her bra in exchange for positive press. Finn visits Rachel with the intention of luring her back to the glee club, but Rachel isn’t having any of it. As she puts it, “It’s clear my talent was too big for an ensemble.” Oh, Rachel. I sort of hate you these days.

Will tracks down April Rhodes, who was a senior when he was a freshman in high school. April, who was a blazing talent in the glee club, never graduated. Will visits April, who is drunk and sultry. She invites Will in for a drink, chirping, “I just cracked open a fresh box of wine.” Box wines have come a long way in recent years. A realtor arrives, exposes April as a squatter, and kicks April and Will out of the house. Will offers to let April return to high school and get her diploma, as long as she joins the glee club.

Will introduces April to the assembled members of New Directions. She gives them the once-over and describes them, aptly, as “the world’s worst Benneton ad”, then launches into “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret. Because April is played by Broadway powerhouse Kristin Chenoweth, she naturally does a great job, but if we’re going to do Cabaret, I wish they’d gone with “Mein Herr.” Despite her obvious vocal chops, the kids aren’t sure they want her in the group. April does a stellar job of winning them over, one by one. She befriends Kurt with cheap Chablis and muscle magazines, teaches Mercedes and Tina optimal shoplifting techniques, and shows up in the boys’ locker room dressed only in a football jersey and seduces Puck. When April meets Rachel, who is growing exponentially nightmarish, Rachel calls her “ancient” to her face and flounces off. Setting aside the ego trip, what’s with the outright nastiness, Rachel?

After a drunken Kurt vomits on germphobe Emma (requiring an emergency room visit and four decontamination showers), Emma tells Will she disapproves of April -- and of Will giving away the kids’ chances to sing to an outsider.

As part of his plan to lure Rachel back to New Directions, Finn takes her bowling. Rachel protests having to put her fingers into the germ-ridden holes of the bowling ball. Just bowl, you insufferable twerp! Why have they turned Rachel into such a foul, unlikable creature? In a nearby lane, Will bowls with April while confronting her about being a bad influence on the kids. She offers to give up drinking, then takes him to the bar to sing a karaoke duet of Heart’s “How Do I Get You Alone?” Rachel and Finn split some pizza and end up kissing. When Finn asks her to come back to New Directions, she accepts and tells him she’ll quit the play. Finn looks suitably guilty.

The glee club kids cluelessly try to figure out why Quinn keeps getting sick in the mornings, until Puck sets them straight. When Rachel returns to the club, the other kids fill her in on the new scandal. She confronts Finn, who has just turned in his scholarship application, and slaps him for toying with her emotions. Rachel runs into Sue, who offers to give Rachel complete artistic control if she’ll return to Sandy’s musical.

New Directions performs for the first time in front of a real audience. April shows up drunk, but manages to belt out a powerhouse version of “Last Name” anyway. It’s a smash success, but Will refuses to let her go back out after intermission, telling her he made a mistake in asking her to join the club. April takes it gracefully and decides to give Broadway another shot (Will diplomatically suggests Branson instead). Will breaks it to the kids that she’s no longer in the club. Rachel pops up and offers to go on in the second act in April’s place. Or, I dunno, Quinn could do it, or Tina, or Mercedes, or anyone else who’s been to all the rehearsals and hasn’t acted like a monster. But no, Will gives the part to Rachel. She leads the group in Queen’s “Can Anybody Find Me Somebody to Love?”, and it’s a great number, but it’s disappointing to see this episode ending with Rachel getting rewarded for her unbroken string of crap behavior.


levitatethis said…
I didn't mind so much that Rachel got to sing with the group again since she'd had her rose coloured glasses snatched off her face and stomped on in the Cabaret rehearsals...I think she got a nice dose of reality there. Added to that the fact that Finn was cutely manipulating her for his own purposes (even if he kind of likes her) and she had to swallow her pride.

Don't get me wrong, Rachel can be a royal pain in the ass, but I wasn't so bothered by her getting back into the group (as long as the others still get a chance to be stars in their own right) since I'm more interested in the dynamics in that group then having it all split up.
Morgan Richter said…
I think Rachel crossed a line when she made a reflexive and spiteful appearance-based comment about April -- to April's face -- within seconds of meeting her. What the hell, Rachel? I appreciated that Rachel got her comeuppance a bit with Sandy being cruel to her during rehearsals, but I hated that she was allowed to waltz back in after a string of bad behavior and retake the lead in her second-choice option, the glee club. I would have liked the ending much more if Will had told her, "Nope, kiddo, you're welcome to sing backup, but Mercedes (or Tina, or whomever) has been rehearsing this part for the past several weeks, so she's taking the lead this time."

There's something inherently very likeable and sympathetic about Rachel, so I don't find it at all entertaining to see her behave like a monster (unlike Sue, or Sandy, who are both so over-the-top unsympathetic that they're fun to watch). With Rachel, I just want someone to sit her down and tell her to grow up. Instead, she's getting coddled.
levitatethis said…
Fair enough...though I wonder if part of this (Rachel being back in Glee so fast) is due to the fast pace of this show. Story lines are really going by quick which can be fine except that there's not always time given to a build up (or breakdown) of characters and their motivations. So where we may have seen Rachel having to accept that coming back to Glee meant moving to the background, instead we're getting her right back where she started.
Morgan Richter said…
That's a good point, and you're probably right about the shorthand they're using to move the plot along. I guess I just wish they'd dial Rachel's behavior back a notch -- it's not so much her actions (Rachel feeling underappreciated in the glee club and deciding to be a star in the class play instead seems like a very plausible reaction), it's how she's gone about doing it -- insulting everyone and dicking around the rest of the glee club (she may be a stronger singer than Tina, but telling that to Tina and the entire club last episode was unnecessary and cruel). Not that I think Will or anyone else deserves high marks for their behavior -- calling in April as a ringer instead of finding good uses for the talent he has on hand? Bad, Will. Finn manipulating Rachel through her crush on him to get her to return to the club? Downright despicable -- but somehow it irks me the most with Rachel, just because it feels like we're supposed to view her as a good kid. And yet her gratuitous nastiness and unchecked proclamations of superiority aren't the actions of a good kid.
Hi, new to this blog, but just wanted to say that I think you hit upon exactly what I've been finding so annoying about the Rachel character. I know that Ryan Murphy excels at making unlikeable people likeable (see every single character in Nip/Tuck), but somehow in last night's episode, Rachel just came off as a monster with no real lessons learned. And don't even get me started on the whole Mercedes thing. I actually wrote about it in my daily column this morning:
Morgan Richter said…
Etc from Fierce and Nerdy, that's an excellent point about Nip/Tuck, which is a show I love even though every single character is wholly despicable. For some reason, that patented Ryan Murphy formula isn't quite working for me when it comes to Rachel. And your column is bang-on about Rachel being deified at the expense of Mercedes. Rachel's a talented kid, but wow, why on earth aren't they making the most of Mercedes, who is amazing? There was something faintly insulting over all the hand-wringing over Rachel quitting the club -- "Oh no! We'll never make Regionals now!" Well, why on earth not? Just stick Mercedes front and center. If Rachel comes back, great. If not, don't assume it's automatic doom for the club. There's a lot of talent in that group.
Jason Gilman said…
It's interesting that you're so down on Rachel when Glee is pretty much all about over the top bad behavior by basically good people/kids. Yes, even Puck and Quinn- I've seen enough glimpses of humanity from them too.

I got a kick out of Finn as manipulative seducer because he actually kind of likes Rachel and his end goals were essentially positive- get Rachel back in Glee, do well at Regionals, get music scholarship. The way it blew up in his face was kind of awesome too.

I understand what you're saying about Rachel getting the lead role, but Will completely undermined himself when he brought April on to front the group. He had Rachel, drove her away to and then didn't nurture the remaining talent like he should have (what was the point of standing up to Rachel last week otherwise?). Rachel had full creative control of the musical, but chose to come back to New Directions because she realized she missed and valued her friends. That's good enough for me.
Morgan Richter said…
Rachel had full creative control of the musical, but chose to come back to New Directions because she realized she missed and valued her friends. That's good enough for me.

I think my whole point is that it shouldn't have been her choice to come back and automatically reassume the lead in New Directions, when there were people who had much more of a right to that role just by virtue of sticking it out and doing a damn good job. I wish there'd been some, any, repurcussions for Rachel. With the other viewpoint characters, there's more of a balance when they misbehave: as you point out, Finn's treachery completely backfires on him, and now he's made things worse for himself. Will absolutely should not have brought in April, and the show made it clear it was a bad course of action, and by the end of the episode Will is well aware that he fucked this one up. With Rachel... I don't know. I don't get that she had any learning curve, other than "Sandy yells at me, whereas the glee club kids like me, so therefore I'll go back to the glee club." It wasn't enough for me. If she hadn't automatically assumed the lead again -- if Will had benched her for an episode, or if she'd sung backup, I would have been satisfied that the show wasn't, in fact, condoning her behavior. As it is, I get the impression the show is trying to say that it's okay for Rachel to crap on other people because she's so talented. There's a different tone to the treatement of Rachel than there is to either the treatment of the other flawed "good" guys -- Emma, Will, Finn (none of whom have ever been as outwardly spiteful and unpleasant as Rachel) -- or the sometimes-human "bad" guys -- Puck, Sue, Sandy. It makes me uneasy.

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