‘Glee’ recap: ‘The Break-Up’ doesn’t know when to quit

“Glee” has pushed all sorts of emotional buttons for me in the past, so why did “The Break-Up” leave me dry-eyed and irritated? Am I grumpy? Heartless? Horrible?


I’m also frustrated by the feeling that we’ve seen this all before, that it won’t mean much in the long run, that the powers that be are only messing with fans who have invested a lot of time in and developed affection for relationships that didn’t need to be simultaneously blown apart in an hour long episode of break-up porn.

Sometimes break-ups are necessary, and that hurts. But “The Break-Up” wasn’t necessary, it was nonsensical.

Let me make it clear that I don’t object to the idea of any of these couples breaking up, and “Glee” has done a decent job of letting us know this was coming. Blaine was lonely. Brittany was depressed. Rachel was curious. Schuester was excited about a new opportunity. There were reasons. Even though we didn’t get to spend as much time with Finn or Santana or Emma, we knew there were problems in their relationships that needed to be addressed.

Plus, the show understandably wants to play around with the post-high school period of life when things are in a constant flux, new relationships are being formed, and old relationships are starting to fade. But let’s break this down couple by couple to see what went right, and what went wrong:

Brittany and Santana

If you removed everything else from “The Break-Up” and only kept Brittana, it wouldn’t have been half bad. You’d still have that awful Left Behind sequence (the episode’s one significant stab at comedy and obvious lowlight), but the actual emotional arc of this break-up was pretty solid and effective. Brittany feels anchorless without Santana, but Santana realizes there’s a whole world out there to explore. I wish Santana’s life without Brittany was more fleshed out, but Naya Rivera was able to fill in enough of those blanks in the single scene of Santana sensing a heavy attraction from a co-ed at the school library.

For a relationship that started as a joke, Brittany and Santana developed one of the deepest and most touching bonds on the show. But it’s always felt a tad one-sided. There was no question that Santana completely loved Brittany, and Brittany loved being loved (in a very pure, good-hearted way). Of all the key relationships, theirs felt like the most like a high school romance that always remains incredibly special to both people but wasn’t quite built to last. As long as Santana finds a nice girl (or a mean girl, or whoever makes her happy), and Brittany finds someone who appreciates how unique she is (which at this point, I guess is Sam?), I think they’ll be OK. It was sad, but scene by scene it didn’t feel forced.

And of course Naya Rivera’s performance of Taylor Swift’s “Mine” was completely heartbreaking. Watching it was close as I came to tearing up.

Kurt and Blaine

The demise of Klaine had the best build-up and the best individual ideas. Since they’ve both been at the forefront of Season 4, we’ve seen Kurt and Blaine slowly drifting apart, and everything fell into place for a moving and honest break-up story. Blaine channeling all the conflicted emotions of cheating on someone you love into his “Teenage Dream” reprise was a poignant concept, moderately well executed. It was also smart to acknowledge that Blaine had been tempted before (by Sebastian) but it took crippling loneliness, not just lust, to make him unfaithful. And Chris Colfer’s portrayal of Kurt’s anger, betrayal, guilt and sadness stood out even in a generally well acted episode.

So why did this split feel so calculated? Aside from how ridiculous it was to see Kurt manning Isabelle’s phones (he couldn’t be busy in other ways?), I think this is the storyline that was hurt the most by being part of a larger “Break-Up” theme episode. Instead of Kurt and Blaine making their own painful choices, their decision was swept up in a cynical haze of “Everybody else is breaking up, so why shouldn’t we?” fever. For Kurt and Blaine’s sake, I wish “The Break Up” had been as tightly focused as Season 3’s “The First Time.” If this hour had stayed primarily in New York with Rachel, Kurt, Finn and a visiting Blaine, it might have played more genuine and less contrived.

Finn and Rachel

So how many break-ups is it for these two now? And what are the odds they’re never getting back together? And why is it supposed to be interesting that they’re constantly on again, off again? And if Rachel actually starts dating Brody won’t that pretty much be the worst?

There was some really good material in this latest obstacle on Finchel’s road to happiness. Cory Monteith did a nice job playing Finn’s emotional (and maybe literal) impotence in New York City. But we already knew Finn was lost, that he didn’t know which way he was heading. The crushing scene between Finn and Rachel in his car in last season’s finale set the bar so high, it was frustrating to watch Monteith and Lea Michele forced to try to bring credibility to a separation that wasn’t truly earned yet. I don’t believe, after everything they’ve been through, that Finn and Rachel would let it go this easy. It’s probably more dramatically convenient to split them up now and work on getting them back together later. But it’s not really fair to the characters, or the fans, to not give us a better reason why.

Finn’s painful realization that he’s no longer Rachel’s leading man as he watched her duet with Brody on “Give Your Heart a Break” was a strong moment. But there needed to be more. And while it’s understandable that Finn doesn’t want to hold Rachel back from achieving her dreams, it didn’t make sense for Rachel to be the one to actually initiate the break-up. Except that we’re supposed to believe Finn has regressed from the man he became in “Goodbye” to a passive aggressive idiot who can’t even be direct with Rachel about his insecurities.

If Schuester really leaves, maybe Finn takes over running glee club for a bit (this is “Glee,” so there’s no real reason that can’t happen, and it would still be more believable than Kurt’s current position). Finn can’t leave Ohio. Rachel needs to be in New York. How would they handle trying to make that work? That’s something I’d be interested in seeing.

Will and Emma

Although I expected Will and Emma to be on the rocks after last week, I didn’t expect the fallout from Will’s inevitable invitation to D.C. to be so abrupt and sloppy. It’s been obvious since Season 2 that “Glee” doesn’t really know what to do with, or care much about, its adult characters. They’re allowed decent moments here and there, but the Will Schuester who was such a driving force on the show in Season 1 (and earned Matthew Morrison a legitimately deserved Emmy nomination) is long gone. The Will of Season 3 was about as interesting as the chalk he uses to scribble the theme of the week. The one thing he had going was finally trying to make it work with Emma. And now? They can’t work out a conflict of a few months apart? Even when it involves supporting their partner’s dreams?

Everything between Will and Emma was so poorly handled, so rushed, I’m not even sure if they really did break-up, break off their engagement, put their relationship on hold, have a simple spat, or what. But I assume their presence in the doleful closing number “The Scientist” was intended to say what the episode didn’t bother to make time for. And the formal “demotion” of Jayma Mays from regular cast member to guest star this season can’t be an encouraging sign.

If “Glee” doesn’t actually care about the adults, why even bother with a dramatic twist this random and weak? Instead of strengthening the episode, it only made “The Break-Up” the feel even more like overkill.

Odds and ends:

– Hey, Lea Michele got to dance around while Monteith and Darren Criss sang “Barely Breathing” by “Spring Awakening” composer Duncan Sheik! That’s fun.

– “I haven’t even sang in the shower since Nationals.”

– I’m ignoring everything about the new McKinley kids on purpose. I hated everything they did tonight and if I start thinking about it, I’ll just get angry.

– “Sad songs make me really sad and I don’t want to be sad.”

– So, everyone has a big break-up party and Tina and Mike aren’t invited because they already broke up? Lame.

– This is the last episode we’ll see for a month, and when the show returns in November it’s bringing yet another new character: Ryder, played by “Glee Project” winner Blake Jenner. He was pretty middle-of-the-road in that competition, but we’ll see how he does on “Glee.”