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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

GLEE "Transitioning" Towards Finale

Article first published as TV Review: 'Glee' - 'Transitioning' on Blogcritics.

TV Review: ‘Glee’ – ‘Transitioning’

FOX’s Glee begins “Transitioning” to the endgame  as it reaches the halfway point of its final season this week. Coach Bieste (Dot-Marie Jones) returns to McKinley as a man, where he is protected by Principal Sylvester (Jane Lynch) and his players. But Will’s (Matthew Morrison) new glee club doesn’t share the same spirit of tolerance and compassion, going after Bieste to psych out the New Directions. This, while Rachel (Lea Michelle) is mourning the loss of her childhood home and Blaine (Darren Criss) is wondering if his future should bring him back to Kurt (Chris Colfer).

G2I stated in a recent review that it makes no sense, given the past history of the character, that Bieste would have gender reassignment surgery. That still holds true. However, the emotional execution of the story in “Transitioning” and the powerful performance by Jones almost make one forget that, feeling the character’s pain, and seeing Glee highlight yet another group of people are misunderstood and deserve acceptance.

When Glee starts down this route with Bieste, my immediate thought is, “Why isn’t Unique (Alex Newell) the one going through this?” It’s never stated on the show, but my guess is that a high schooler getting the surgery likely crosses some ethical lines and Unique isn’t yet a candidate for such a transition. Thankfully, Unique does return this week to offer emotional support, her first appearance this season, and organizes a three-hundred member transgender choir to make Bieste feel like he belongs. It’s touching, and despite a weird locker room scene between Bieste and Unique, by and large works.

An ongoing story this season is Will’s uneasy adjustment to Vocal Adrenaline. The group is led by Clint (singer Max George), a jerk of a student who doesn’t like or respect his coach. Will gets fed up and decides to quit when trying to reach the kids doesn’t work. It’s a tough decision that he makes with his supportive wife, Emma (Jayma Mays, finally back!), realizing he will never fit in to the culture of the school that pays him so well. But it’s satisfying when Will agrees to return to McKinley as an unpaid mentor who will surely get back his old, beloved job when Rachel inevitably returns to New York at year’s end.

G4Glee‘s handling of Vocal Adrenaline has been uneven, much like the rest of the show. They are introduced as villains originally, but evolve into something much better over time. While they do eventually run Unique off, there is a period where Unique is their lead. It’s regrettable to see this backslide, and it sucks that a teacher as dedicated as Will would give up on the kids. But without administrative support or the control needed to make real changes, it’s understandable that Will leaves and this group is firmly a two-dimensional bad guy at the end.

Rachel’s “Transitioning” involves giving up her childhood home, which affects her because it’s where she retreats after her early career failures. It’s a safe refuge, so while it may be a bit immature of Rachel to cling to it, I can also see why she does. Letting go of the place is part of the show’s final theme, moving on to the next stage of life. Sam (Chord Overstreet), Mercedes (Amber Riley), Kurt, Blaine, and the kids help Rachel get through this in a journey the audience is invested in as well.

It is weird that the alumni party with the students, though since none are actual faculty, merely outsiders serving as mentors, and Glee has always promoted student-teacher friendships, it kind of works. I’m glad the bar is closed in Rachel’s basement, despite how the New Directions used to drink down, there because that would have been highly inappropriate for Rachel to give kids booze. It’s also weird that Rachel and Sam are becoming a couple and that Kitty (Becca Tobin) is grouped with the alumni in helping Rachel. However, these inconsistencies, the worst parts of this hour, are overshadowed by all of the moving stories unfolding, so it doesn’t ruin “Transitioning.”

The one thing that really bothers me is that Rachel almost does an Ohio singers-themed lesson, which is abandoned. Despite being set in the Buckeye state, Glee gets almost nothing about Ohio right, and it would have been gratifying if the writers finally did some research and paid tribute to the setting. Sadly, this will not happen, though I did somewhat enjoy Glee poking fun at some of its own weaknesses around this part of the episode, a tongue in cheek acknowledgment it hasn’t done Ohio justice.

G3In the final subplot, Blaine kisses Kurt. But after Blaine and Karofsky (Max Adler) break up in a terrifically done scene, Blaine finds out Kurt is still dating Walter (Harry Hamlin), and so unavailable.

This is only temporary, of course; Kurt and Blaine will end up together. Once Cory Monteith, and, by extension, his character, Finn, passes away, Kurt and Blaine replace Rachel and Finn as the show’s favorite twosome. Santana and Brittany are awesome and I’ll always love them, but Klaine is who most viewers are particularly invested in. Walter is merely the last obstacle to be overcome, and hopefully he will be at least half as understanding as Karofsky of the situation.

By and large, the music in “Transitioning” is good, too. Blaine and Kurt’s “Somebody Loves You” isn’t their best work, but it’s serviceable. Mercedes and Roderick (Noah Guthrie) are a perfect pairing in “All About That Bass.” Sam and Rachel make me forget how weird their coupling is when they sing “Time After Time.” Vocal Adrenaline, assholes that they are, rock “You Give Love a Bad Name.” And, of course, Will and Unique’s “Same Love” and the trangender choir’s “I Know Where I’ve Been” are incredibly sweet, powerful stuff.

There have been many times in the past few year’s where I have regretted taking on Glee as a weekly column (you can find a review of every single episode of Glee ever by clicking the “Gleekonomics” link at the top of this page). That regret is melting away as Glee begins to nail its final season. The story isn’t air-tight, nor has it ever been, but the ensemble usually excels at emotional stuff, and there is plenty of that in “Transitioning” and season six. A couple of missteps early in the year worry me, but if the last six installments are anything like this one, Glee will end strong.

Glee airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.

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