Watching Glee Until It Gets Bad S1E12: Mattress

by thethreepennyguignol

Will Schuester haters, step on up – this is the episode for you.

Mattress is the episode where it all goes to shit for Will. And, though I’ve never been his biggest fan (his Thong Song performance has led me to wearing restraints at night to keep from wandering the streets gnashing my teeth and tearing up pavement slabs with my bare hands), it’s hard not to feel bad for him. Mattress is all about ripping down everything he has worked so hard to build, and God, it’s really good TV.

Things kick off with Glee club being denied a spot in the yearbook, and it doesn’t take long for tension to start building as a result – Will tries to confront Sue, but she’s not having any of it, and eventually he winds up in a fight with his wife about whether he can spend their money on purchasing a corner to commemorate them. I like what this represents for the show, a strong theme that’s been running through the whole season so far – what chance to these people have of making a long-term legacy for themselves, and is a legacy really what Will’s looking for above almost anything else?

Emma also puts an official end to their flirtation as her wedding to Ken draws closer, and I really love this scene – there’s something unspoken between them, and for Emma to put even a part of it into words to shut it down feels a little painful. It’s all been fantasy, but now, she doesn’t want a thing to do with it anymore, committing herself to Ken and his seventy-two flaws for good. She gives up on the fantasy of their would-be relationship and forces Will to do the same thing, and the underplaying from both Jayma Mays and Matthew Morrison really works.

But the big centrepiece to this episode is the reveal of Terri’s fake baby, and damn, it’s good stuff.

The baby-faking/swapping plot is one of the strangest things Glee’s ever done, but honestly, the climactic moment to this plot in Mattress is arguably some of the best dramatic acting of the show’s entire run. It’s the first time the show has really asked for this kind of anger from Matthew Morrison, as he discovers the truth of Terri’s baby-faking ways, and he’s downright excellent – grounding a plot like this in anything close to reality is a feat, but I believe it here. It really feels like Will’s life is crumbling right in front of him, and Jessalyn Gilsig, in full-blown panic mode, shows her acting chops too – she’s been manic but somewhat in control up until this point, but her life is shattered by her (initially, at least) well-meaning lie (by the way, if you want to see more of Jessalyn Gilsig being a genuinely Very Good Actress, check her out in the first few seasons of Vikings). The way this scene is directed (by Elodie Keene, also the woman behind the excellent Vitamin D), that shaky, handheld camera as things go spinning out of control, really brings out Gilsig and Morrison’s performances. I remembered this scene as being really good, but watching it with a critical eye, it’s actually close to brilliant: the direction, the acting, the writing, it all comes together so well.

In a side plot to this episode, Rachel (on full, manic, written-by-Ryan-Murphy mode – that fucking shot of her in the Black Students Union was exactly the kind of stupid I love) manages to land the group a local advertisement to make the Glee club a little cooler; the performance in this ad, a cover of Jump, is such a stand-out for this season to me. It’s so fun, so silly, and so utterly joyful from everyone involved, it’s impossible not to get caught up in it. I think it really jumps (heh) out at me because of how different it is from other performances in this season, the mattress-centric setting (try saying that three times fast) switching things up in a way that makes it instantly memorable.

But, booted out of his house, Will ends up sleeping on one of the mattresses the club receives as payment, before finding out that it will render them ineligible for competing as a result. The only way to ensure they can perform at sectionals is to withdraw from the club himself, which he does. It’s hard not to feel just so, so gutted for Will in this episode, seeing everything he’s put his hopes, dreams, and future into get pulled out from underneath him, and it’s an interesting place for the show to go at this point in the season. Taking one of our leads and doing everything they can to break him all the way the fuck down is not exactly what I would have guessed for the show, but it makes sense with the great Sad-Flavour Glee we’ve had in season one so far.

This is probably the best dramatic episode the show has done so far, leaning in to the full-blown emotional devastation that’s been aimed squarely at one Will Schuester, just for the hell of it. Breaking down a lead like this gives the show a place to work back up from, and, with Sectionals next weel, I’m looking forward to seeing what that’s going to look like.

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(header image via IMDB)