Last night’s episode of Glee saw the much hyped couple reaping episode of Glee, aptly titled “The Break Up.” We saw popular couples Finn and Rachel; Kurt and Blaine and Brittany and Santana call it a day on their long-term relationships and Will and Emma have a serious fight. Showrunner Ryan Murphy described the episode as the best they’ve ever done on twitter – it’s not. It is however one of Glee’s stronger recent efforts, particularly if we forget Glee is billed as a comedy.
The episode attempted to illustrate the hardships of long-distance relationships and the reasons why they often don’t work. It’s a good aim that might have been more effective had the characters spent longer than two or three weeks struggling with trying to maintain their relationships – the fact that the break ups seem rushed (with the exception of Finn and Rachel, who are really just making their split a formality) does do something to tarnish their stories. In each break up, the show notes that one partner feels ‘left behind’ whilst the other flourished. Brittany and Blaine were literally left behind at McKinley as Santana and Kurt explored college and a Vogue.com internship. Finn has been left far behind by Rachel in regards to personal growth and maturity. A bizarre parallel sees McKinley’s Rapture club (don’t ask) stage a fake rapture to scare unconvinced member Dotty into believing she had been left behind as the others travelled to heaven. It’s a nice contrast to see Will and Emma’s adult relationship suffering from the opposite problem – Emma refuses to leave her job for a few months to join Will in Washington in his new position on the Blue Ribbon panel, offended that it was his belief she would follow him wherever.
Finn and Rachel’s break up felt very natural and real to me. Finn is still struggling with his lack of identity whereas Rachel is completely comfortable with herself and looking to the future. They have a great final scene together in the auditorium, possibly Lea Michele’s finest moment on Glee that didn’t involve singing, where Rachel stands up for herself and tells Finn that they are over. She can make her own decisions and doesn’t need Finn to give the “freedom” he keeps ranting about. It’s a brilliant moment for the character of Rachel Berry. Brittany and Santana caught me by surprise – it was the first time I really believed in their relationship as mutual love and I really did think they’d survive until the moment they broke up. It was a mature breakup discussing how the two were finding the distance difficult and ultimately deciding to separate before things got worse, and it hit home. Kurt and Blaine’s break up is a little more confusing – Blaine cheats on Kurt near the start of the episode and after he confesses Kurt refuses to talk to him. Blaine cheating is abrupt, to say the least. I can’t say it’s out of character because Blaine seems to change to support one plot and then another, maintaining no solid personality traits. It does however feel like far too soon (and possibly that Blaine has some attention related issues Glee will probably never delve into). That said, Kurt’s reaction was heartbreaking and powerfully portrayed by Chris Colfer.
There’s actually little to complain about in terms of song choices and performances in “The Break Up.” All songs are well chosen and well-placed within the episode –but then again there’s no shortage of appropriate material. I enjoyed “Barely Breathing” and “Give Your Heart a Break,” though both are standard Glee performances. The acoustic version of “Teenage Dream” is a wonderful reminder of what Darren Criss is capable of when the show doesn’t make him cover every bland pop whim. However, it could have done with being a cut shorter in the episode; seemingly continuing for far longer than necessary. I was underwhelmed by “Don’t Speak” musically but enjoyed the heartbreak of the accompanying sequence, apart from the frankly weird part where each character sang directly at the camera whilst in bed. Naya Rivera did a fantastic job of covering “Mine” as Santana, in a very sad final serenade for Brittany. The final number “The Scientist” is perfectly selected – it’s haunting and powerful musically, which has the impact of making the closing moments devastating.
Overall, “The Break Up” was a good episode of Glee-the-drama and if you’re particularly interested in the relationships of the characters you’ll probably be invested in it throughout (though you might not necessarily enjoy it). The writing felt particularly bleak and thus real to me and does do a good job of taking you back to your first break-up, though I’m not sure that’s an emotional journey I want to take through Glee. The McKinley scenes do a little to lighten the mood, but not enough. It’s a strong episode that hits you in a small place you didn’t know still hurt, but I do miss the less and less frequent fun episodes and you know, laughing at Glee.
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