Watching Glee Until It Gets Bad S1E16: Home
NOT A DRILL: It’s the Kristin Chenoweth episode 2.0, baby!
One of the best episodes of the season so far was April Rhodes’ debut, The Rhodes Not Taken, and I have been looking forward to her return ever since. I don’t think there’s a character that better captures this first season of Glee than April; she’s absurd and witty and brilliantly talented, but peel it back, and underneath, there’s a layer of sadness that underpins the whole thing.
Which makes Home such a standout episode for the show, I think. When Glee reverts back to the melancholy side of things, it’s always better and more interesting than the hyper-glossy, polished version of the show (though I do love that one too, when it’s delivered in the right way – like last week’s The Power of Madonna). It also helps that Kristin Chenoweth works so well as a foil for Matthew Morrison, in a way Jayma Mays doesn’t anymore, with the Emma-Will-will-they-won’t-they (try saying that five times fast) semi-resolved for the time being.
I love this Will-April plot – it’s just the right amount of chemistry, tension, longing, maturity, and total teenage childishness all wrapped up in one. The evening they spend together is one of the most downright brilliant things in this season so far – the song choice, the performance, that wonderful, overarching sense of bittersweetness that flushes through the whole thing. Kristin Chenoweth is a star, darling, even if April Rhodes didn’t make it; even when she’s playing a washed-up wannabe, she has this near-astonishing presence that makes her impossible to fuck up. Glee has issues, sometimes, with letting emotion feel cynical and laboured, but something like this, it just oozes off the performances and the characters in a way you can’t help but buy into. Paris Barclay, who directs this episode, turns this into such a strikingly beautiful sequence visually, too – it’s well-crafted, the camera swooping around the apartment in an almost dreamy quasi-romantic fantasy. Of course, it’s not romance these characters are looking for, not really – it’s home, the home of the title of this episode, the comfort of coming back to something you know.
God, I love Kristin Chenoweth. Did I mention that yet? I would even support her all-white production of The Wiz (still probably one of the single funniest gags this season).
In fact, a good example of those plots not exactly hitting the way they should comes in the form of the B-story this episode, Mercedes being forced to lose weight to fit in to the Cheerios. Look, I’m someone who’s dealt with an eating disorder, and I’m never going to turn down more depictions of disordered eating and the damage it can do, but this plot is just so reflective of the way eating disorders were treated at the time – it’s a teenage girl, doing this just to lose some quick weight, who makes a pretty much miraculous recovery as soon as someone tells them they’re beautiful just the way they are. It’s obviously well-meaning, but it all feels more like an engine to deliver us to Amber Riley singing Beautiful than it does an earnest attempt to explore the body image pressures placed on young women, you know? I don’t hate it, but it is distinctly simplistic and surface-level, which is a real shame given Amber Riley and Dianna Agron deserve a whole lot more than this.
That said, the episode’s other main storyline is a banger for me, mainly because it’s focused around my beloved OTP Mike O’Malley and Romy Rosemont. I’ve made no secret of the fact that Burt Hummel is one of the best performances and characters of the whole show, and his romancin’ of Finn’s mother makes for a genuinely interesting plot. I really appreciate what Cory Monteith brings to this episode; he’s not entirely likeable, even if where he’s coming from makes sense, as he attempts to navigate his mother moving on after the death of his father. It’s episodes like this one that really get me when it comes to thinking about what he could have done post-Glee; I will always maintain that he had the makings of a really amazing leading man, and I think there are flashes of it in Finn.
We’re also shuffling a little away from the Saint Kurt stuff that plagues the show, as Kurt pulls the strings to bring his parents together so he can get closer to Finn. I appreciate Kurt when he’s actually acting like a teenager – which is to say, a moderately sociopathic maniac – and I think it gives the wonderful Chris Colfer more to work with, too. When this show gives it’s characters a little depth, a little conflict, even a little unlikeability, the whole show benefits as a result.
This is truly my favourite version of Glee, as I’ve said earlier in this season: the Glee that’s got a bloody, beating heart beneath all the cheerful music and polished performances. With Kristin Cheoweth at the centre of it, it’s not hard to make it work, but Home is still an outstanding episode for the first season.
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(header image via Tom + Lorenzo)