Watching Glee Until It Gets Bad S1E10: Ballad

by thethreepennyguignol

Well, we’ve officially made it to double digits: we’re on the tenth episode of Glee. I honestly wasn’t sure we would make it this far, but I’m really glad we have, because I’m thoroughly enjoying this series and engaging with other fans (and hostages) of the show about this first season. What I have discovered, more than anything, is that anyone who was a fan of Glee as a teenager when it first came out is pretty much the same kind of deranged I am, and God, it’s good to find the rest of you.

But anyway: let’s talk about this episode, shall we? I actually think Ballad is a great example of what Glee can pull off when it balances it’s various facets: there’s great songs, great comedy, and great drama, and all of them feed into each other in a way that feels natural and supportive, as opposed to feeling like three separate aspects fighting for screentime.

The set-up for the tenth episode is basically an open invitation for big emotions: everyone is tasked to perform a ballad with a partner, basically opening the door to let every character work out their Big Feelings through song. And, if Glee is about anything, it’s about that, right?

Balladry is a song form that props up drama beautifully, and this episode is no exception. The main thrust of the drama this week is Quinn and Finn handling the truth of their pregnancy, and I really appreciate the way the show handles it: Finn’s version of I’ll Stand By You as a way of processing his upcoming fatherhood is genuinely lovely, and even more so as it leads in to his confession to his mother (my beloved Romy Rosemont) about the pregnancy. And the contrast of her acceptance (“are you singing to that sonogram?” still hits me right in the funny bone, too) against Quinn’s family’s foulness feels really strong – we’re introduced to Quinn’s parents as they prepare her for the chastity ball, the picture of straight suburbanite success, whereas Finn’s mother is raising her son alone after losing her husband. She’s the one who actually responds with compassion and decency, whereas Quinn’s family…

I think now more than ever I find it hard to watch the scene where Quinn is kicked out of her family home for being pregnant; at the time I first saw it, I didn’t have the same anger I do now as an adult, seeing these adults turn their back on a kid in desperate need of support. It hits me hard, and it makes me want to go fight some incompetent parents in the street with a nail gun, so there’s that.

I really rate Dianna Agron as an actress (once again, watch Shiva Baby), and her devastation as the last vestiges of her normal life are ripped away are heart-breaking. The final scene this episode, a performance of Lean On Me aimed at Quinn and Finn, packs a real punch, even more so knowing this was the first time Cory Monteith and Dianna Agron had seen this performance to help capture their honest emotional response.

Elsewhere, Rachel falls in love with Mr Schue after they perform Endless Love together (God, Matthew Morrison worriedly ballading at Lea Michele had me howling, it’s so stupid in the best way possible), and the show dives in to an insane nightmare of obsession, romance, and Sting in the wake of it. This feels like a plot that almost needed to be done at some point (the student-teacher crush is such a standard plot for high school shows) and I love that Lea Michele gets to release her full unhinged energy without having to worry about carrying any of the seriousness this episode. She’s a character built for the extreme emotions of a ballad, and I love getting to see her rip into stuff like Endless Love with the manic earnestness of a teenage girl who thinks they’ve found The One. That Susie Pepper flashback is nightmarish, completely over-the-top, and also one of my favourite moments of this whole season – when I think of the madcap daftness of these early episodes, it’s stuff like this, with a girl spending three days in a coma after eating the world’s hottest pepper, that I come to.

There’s no Sue Sylvester this episode – I had to look at myself in the mirror and say several obscure slurs to fill the hole she left behind – but in some ways, I think it actually serves the episode. The comedy doesn’t come so much in the form of those insane, high-concept cutaways we often get with Sue (as much as I love them, including the little Susie Pepper one I just mentioned), but rather in these brief moments wrapped into the rest of the plot (Britney’s “a male duck” response to being asked what a ballad is, for example, which made me yelp). It is a really funny episode, but not in a way that feels as contrived as usual, which I appreciate when it comes to a heavily drama-driven episode like this one.

Ballad is another really great episode; it’s ones like this that remind me why Glee was such a big deal when it first came out. It’s idiosyncratic and mad and occasionally really sincere, and it uses often-great music performed by (mostly) talented artists to drive that sincerity home. Ballads as a song form feel like a good fit for Glee at this point; maybe not always the most subtle, but often effective when delivered in the right way.

Or by Matthew Morrison looking like he’s going to shit himself.

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(header image via Reddit)