By Jennifer Lund
Glee as a series started out channeling the sort of cockeyed optimism that kept Rachel Berry singing into her hairbrush at night and posting the videotaped results to her MySpace page – despite the hate they received. In fact, the series’ pilot featured club director Will Schuester quoting the very first director of McKinley High’s New Directions: “By its very definition, glee is about opening yourself up to joy.” Rachel echoes that sentiment as well, asking Mr. Schue, “Being part of something special makes you special, right?”
That original optimism suffered some pretty outrageous slings and arrows right from the start, in the form of slushie attacks from the popular kids at school, bullying from not only the Cheerios themselves but their coach as well, regular locker checks and dumpster attacks from the football jocks, and relationship drama that requires a scorecard to keep all the players straight.
Against this backdrop, the glee kids have spent the past three and a half seasons learning to first tolerate, then like (and even love) each other for better or worse. That’s what makes this Valentine’s Day episode feel like such a long time coming. The original gang is getting together to help Mr. Schue and Emma finally get hitched after an engagement that began just about this time last year. But even though it’s old home week in Lima and the glee club has been pressed into musical service for the wedding, there’s only one song that keeps bubbling underneath everything. It’s the song that Finn used to save the glee club for the very first time, way back at the end of the first season’s original network order: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
It’s true that fan-favorite couples Finn and Rachel, and Kurt and Blaine, hook up after the wedding, as well as Artie and Emma’s niece Betty, Jake and Marley—and Santana gets Quinn to do some college-girl experimentation. But that’s only after Emma completely freaks out and leaves Will at the altar. Though the runaway bride is such a well-worn trope that there’s actually a movie of the same name, this particular meltdown felt absolutely real and organic. And how better to have our favorite OCD-plagued guidance counselor totally lose it than with a Sondheim song? The sheer number of words in “Getting Married Today” as well as their speed made for an excellent window into Emma’s panicked mindset.
Will tells the kids that since the reception’s already paid for and they’ve all traveled to be together for the occasion, they should go enjoy the party anyway. They do, and it’s a nice touch that the scene opens with Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days” playing in the background. It’s slightly cheesy, and completely captures the lower-middle class Midwestern sensibilities of two teachers getting married in small-town Ohio.
The reception is where our couples start discovering (rediscovering, in some cases) what it is they love about each other. It’s also where Kurt finally has it out with Tina about the way she’s been throwing herself at a boy she’ll never get. And to top it all off, Rachel (who’s still “shacking up” with Brody) shows up when Sue calls the single ladies for the bouquet toss. Finn expresses surprise that she calls herself single, and then reminds her they need to go sing the duet they promised for the reception.
That song leads into a musical montage of all our couples hooking up during the party, or in Jake and Marley’s case, sitting on a hotel bed and talking. Rachel leaves a sleeping Finn to catch a flight back home to her New York apartment, where she has a not-entirely-honest conversation with Brody about what each of them did on Valentine’s Day. (Spoiler alert – Brody appears to be a rent boy of some sort!)
By the end of the episode, no one has really gotten what they wanted—Emma certainly didn’t want to ditch her wedding, Finn, Blaine and Santana didn’t want to see their exes with other people, and Will didn’t want to be publicly humiliated on what should have been the happiest day of his life. But the corollary is that you get what you need, and that seems to be the case here too. Tina needed to see that Blaine is a wonderful friend, but nothing else. Our (un)happy couples needed to see that there may be hope for them yet. And everyone was reminded that it takes hard work to match up what you want with what you need.