Watching Glee Until It Gets Bad S1E13: Sectionals

by thethreepennyguignol

There’s a moment in this episode – I’m sure you know the one – that still knocks me a little sideways, even to this day.

It’s that split-second of silence before Rachel steps out to perform at Sectionals, a solo of Don’t Rain on My Parade from Funny Girl. I can’t still remember seeing this for the first time, before I’d so much as heard of Barbara Streisand, that breath Lea Michele takes before she starts to sing; and that song, that song, the perfect encapsulation of everything the show has been so far, that perfectly headstrong and slightly fantasist ode to success, failure, getting up and trying again even when things feel impossible. But it’s that breath, that moment, that always sticks with me – before Rachel or the audience know how it’s going to go, the moment where it could dip into complete disaster, the one that she has to push through to get to the good stuff. I don’t there are many moments of pure, utter perfection in Glee, but if there are, this is one of them. It’s stayed with me.

And it’s a perfect capper to the first half of the season so far, in an episode that’s packed with good stuff. I mean, this is the week Amber Riley finally gets to do And I’m Telling You, for goodness sake – I already knew I was in for a treat (also a treat: Amber Riley performing that song live. This woman is the vocal star of the show, as far as I’m concerned, and I’m never going to hear otherwise). Sectionals is a packed mid-season finale, and an excellent catharsis for so much of what we’ve seen in the show so far.

A few major plots take steps forward here, with Emma finally calling off things with Ken, and sharing a kiss with Will at the end of the episode (to My Life Would Suck Without You, of all songs, which is such a strange choice of capper to this episode for me). Finn finds out he’s not really the father of Quinn’s baby and throws in the proverbial Glee towel right before Sectionals, and Sue leaks the setlist to the other groups to sabotage the Nude Erections in their first major performance.

So much of Glee so far, as I can’t seem to stop banging on about, has been about the bittersweetness of, well, Not Always Getting What You Want (but that you might find sometimes, you get what you need). And these last few episodes, especially, have been a string of badness for some of our lead characters, especially Will. Even this episode doesn’t hold back in twisting the knife, with Finn facing the devastation of Quinn’s cheating (in yet another scene I just find so well-performed from Dianna Agron, who perhaps I have been stanning all along). But, for once, Glee cuts everyone a little break in this final act, and it’s just the right tone to end this half-season long arc on.

I think this is the best balancing of story and performance in any competition performance in the show (aside from maybe Nationals in season three, which I also adore). The song choices and the way the show implements them fit perfectly with the themes we’ve seen in the show so far, a slightly scrappy but ultimately heartfelt and earnest celebration of music and the way it can bring people together. While the show does rely a lot on the performers we’ve seen plenty of already this season, I think it makes sense, given that this is sort of a chance for the show to celebrate everything that has drawn people in so far. And, honestly, I wouldn’t have had anyone but Lea Michele delivering Don’t Rain on My Parade – her character genuinely might have been made just to sing this song, and it’s still probably my favourite performance in the whole show’s run.

Because this is, finally, a win: both literally and more broadly for the cast as a whole. Glee as a show might have been about, so far, the sadness of letting go of dreams and moving on from the fantasies you’ve lived in for so long, but, sometimes, it’s worth reminding us exactly why those dreams are so tantalizing in the first place. These small snatches of victory feel like a way for the show to give us the flip-side to that melancholy, an upside, even in the face of everything that’s happened so far. Glee is, ultimately, about that moment Rachel has before she pulls open the curtain – not knowing if you’re going to soar or stutter. But, in Sectionals, we get to soar, and it feels right.

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(header image via YouTube)