Glee: Season 1, Episode 12
Its a testament to my love of Mad Men that I consistently relate most current television I watch to it in some way. That show is so thematically dense, filled with complex, rich characters pushed into examinations of their moral codes, yet it also manages to examine our views of America and how they can both help and harm us. This is all preface so I don't sound quite as insane when I say that I wish Glee was more like Mad Men. The Glee of my dreams centers around deeply drawn characters chasing their dreams of acceptance, success, and stardom and finding that sometimes dreams don't come true, or alternately, that when they do they may or may not satisfy you the way you had hoped. Also, between all of the existential turmoil and character development, ideally the show would have several excellent musical numbers and a large helping of absurdist comedy to weigh against its darker undertones.

When Glee began I was so ecstatic because I saw in it the potential to be all of these things and more. As the season has progressed I have begun to wonder if I am asking too much of this show, if in fact it never wanted to be what I hoped and instead it will be satisfied being a pretty shallow musical-comedy (that often forgets the comedy) about high school outcasts and underdogs who end up winning big. "Mattress" gave me a glimpse of both sides of what Glee can become, and reinforced my hope that it will reach my ideal while also making me feel a little silly for having such high expectations.

For one thing, the fake pregnancy storyline that has been the thorn in this show's side finally came to an end. Let me pause there for a moment to just say THANK GOD! Not only did it end though, it erupted with a bang. Its impossible not to see a little Don Draper in Will's seething anger as he reveals Terri's deception, but comparisons aside, the scene was excellently acted by both parties, bringing out a Will we haven't seen nearly enough of and the side of Terri that I actually believe is a real person.

Will is a man with large dreams who is just now realizing they will probably never come true. He wanted to be a singer, a star, with a beautiful and loving wife and a child of his own. Instead he finds himself living with a cold, deceptive, treacherous woman who dangled his fantasy life in front of him to keep him trapped at her side. Terri, on the other hand, is a woman legitimately terrified that her husband (whom she presumably loves) is going to leave her, and willing to do literally anything to keep him there. Will's heartbreak and disappointment have too often been far from apparent, even in the subtle moments, but both are on full display here. Similarly, the show has too often glossed over Terri's fear, need, and desperation in order ot make her into a more two dimensional shrew. Yet when both are let off the leash, they create easily the best dramatic scene Glee has had so far.

Unfortunately this excellent moment falls in an episode full of the same problems it seemed to avoid. Take, for example, every moment of voice over in the episode. Each character's voice over is so on the nose its actually impossible they would ever think that way. I don't usually agree with the sentiment that using voice overs equates to lazy writing, but this show seems to use the technique to catch us up on really obvious things the characters are feeling, which isn't necessary. Show us their inner conflicts instead of telling us and you end up with moments like Will had tonight as he smiles at the end while his entire life is torn apart. Tell us and you rob any emotional impact out of the event and end up with lines that basically smack you in the face with how the character is feeling. The one instance in which voice over actually worked tonight was when Rachel had to keep herself from crying at the yearbook picture, forcing a smile on her face to cover up the pain inside. Whether or not these character's hearts are breaking, the show must go on.

Which leads pretty excellently to the show's final song, a cover of "Smile" by Charlie Chaplin that I think resonates deeply with the show I want Glee to be. Throughout the episode we have seen several characters forced to push down their pain and paste a smile across their face even as they lose something dear to themselves. The yearbook plotline, which as I watched the episode played as a ridiculous central storyline actually makes perfect sense in terms of the episode's larger themes. Tonight ends with the entire club smiling for the camera even though it is obvious that their faces wil lbe horribly defaced as soon as the yearbook comes out (by the way, another flaw: At what high school do people waste time vandalizing the library copy of the yearbook? Or mock people about how they plan to do this? Also, when do football players pin their Quarterback up against a wall and draw on his face because he's in a club? This all seems more like an '80s movie version of high school than a real one). Tonight we saw Will smile as his marriage and role as Glee Club coach crubled. Rachel smiled as her crush let her down and she was faced yet again with her quest for stardom (this time in making a mattress commercial) getting in the way of anything else she could want (Finn, a Glee Club Victory, etc.). Quinn even smiled as she burned her bridge with Sue Sylvester, calling her out and renouncing the Cheerios in favor of the Glee Club, which must have been difficult to do. In spite of all of its flaws, this episode of Glee may have been the closest the show has been so far to becoming what I hope it does. That's not to say, however, that it doesn't still have a ways to go.

Grade: B+

-To be honest, this grade is more reflective of how much I loved the little moments of excellence than the episode as a whole. Another instance of my grading up based on potential more than substance. Agree or disagree at will.

-The first musical number felt very shoehorned in. It was like the writers realized, "oh yeah, we're a musical. Get a song in there!" The "Jump" scene was pretty fun and clever, though, and "Smile" cinched it all together very nicely.

-Remember when Glee was hilarious every week? I feel like the show has sacrificed a lot of its pitch black, filthy sense of humor recently, and I hope it gets that back for next week's "fall finale" or perhaps when it returns in April.

-"This marriage works because you don't feel good about yourself." Ouch. Both cold and insightful, Terri.

-"And what if I were to innocently murder you?"

-"What's that song about overcoming personal and professional disappointments? Oh yeah!"

-"Aside from nudity and the exploitation of animals, I'll pretty much do anything to break into the business."

"Its like looking at a porno star in a nun's habit."
Tags: Glee
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