Watching Glee Until It Gets Bad S1E11: Hairography

by thethreepennyguignol

Ian Brennan just likes the bittersweet version of Glee.

In the first season of the show, with screenwriting duties mostly split between Ian Brennan, Ryan Murphy, and Brad Falchuk, it’s hard not to notice a distinct stamp on their respective episodes: Ryan Murphy is high-concept and over-the-top, Brad Falchuk is absurdist and silly, and Ian Brennan? Well, Ian Brennan seems to love the version of the show that exists in this sad, melancholy space, underneath the gloss and shine of the songs.

And this episode, Hairography, is a really good example of exactly that. This is an episode about fantasy – the urge to escape into something you know deep down isn’t really possible or practical, but nonetheless sounds too good to just entirely shut down. Quinn decides she wants to keep her baby and raise it with Puck, Rachel transforms herself to be more attractive to Finn, and Will is gifted the same car he had as a teenager to distract him from Terri’s baby-non-making deception, and Ian Brennan really just doesn’t want to let anyone get what they want, does he?

In Hairography, losing out on what you wanted isn’t always a bad thing. Will gives up his muscle car in favour of a vehicle better suited to raising his would-be family, and it’s a sweet moment (even if it does come as part of the fake pregnancy plot which, and I cannot stress this enough, is still so, so fucking stupid), a reminder that, though Will gave up his performing dreams, he’s found new ones he wants to fulfill.

But elsewhere in the episode, giving up on your fantasy life hurts. Quinn entertains the idea of keeping the baby, trying out babysitting with Puck to test the waters of their potential parenthood. It’s so obvious from the start that it’s an impossible hope, but, as Quinn gropes around to try and take control of the situation she’s in, it makes sense she would reach for this. I have to say that watching this season again through a more critical lens has given me even more respect for how well Dianna Agron plays this, how genuinely lost she seems as she attempts to put one foot in front of the other in an impossible situation, and also her never-ending collection of smart cardigans, which I, as a prematurely middle-aged woman, ache for deep in my soul.

Quinn nudges Kurt into giving Rachel a makeover to distract Finn from her Puck-related shenanigans, and this is another plot soaked in fantasies never coming true; Rachel winds up dressed as Bad Sandy from the end of Grease, practically throwing herself at Finn in the conviction this is what he wants, only for him to turn her down – the plot ends on the sting of revealing Kurt himself has feelings for Finn, a nice little twist that gives his actions a bit more weight and emotion in retrospect. No matter what they do, neither Rachel nor Kurt will be able to win Finn’s heart (at least, as they see it at this point in the season). Even embodying the fantasy of Sandy getting the guy isn’t enough for Rachel to live out her romantic daydreams. There’s something so correct about Rachel trying to make the romantic move on Finn by dressing up as an iconic character from a musical to do it, like the only way she can handle real life is if she translates it through this kind of fiction.

As I’ve been saying all season, it’s this version of Glee that I think has the most strength and storytelling longevity; the entertaining goofery is still really fun, but when it’s shot through with this vein of sadness and the low hum of accepting not everyone is going to get what they want, it has a little more weight. The big central performance this episode is Imagine, a pitch-perfect thematic mirroring for the main thrust of Hairography, and, though I’m not convinced of the way the show depicts the deaf show choir here, the performance itself is just on the right side of cheesy sincerity for me. And, okay, yeah, it would be wrong of me not to bring up the Bootylicious performance too, because, well, calling this just hairography is frankly insulting.

This is an episode of the comedic one-liner – I really think I’ve been underplaying the comedic excellence of Jennifer Aspen as Kendra, Terri’s sister, deranged and self-obsessed motherhood consultant to the already bizarre pregnancy plot – that “stay out of hot tubs, take your vitamins, and avoid rum-based drinks” was how I got through college (and my sex life at that time is best described as Sue’s “demeaning, fruity hair-tossing”). And I’m not sure if it’s just because I find Naya Rivera so watchable as Santana, but her yelling at Quinn (or, as she calls her, Tubbers) about the definition of sexting is hysterical to me.

Hairography, like most of Brennan’s episodes so far, is a strong outing for the first season – it’s got that melancholy too it that’s reflected across several plots that mirror each other beautifully, as well as some great performances to boot. And watching Heather Morris getting to whip her proverbial (and literal) hair? Cherry on top.

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(header image via TV Tropes)