An episode called “The Break Up” can only mean heartbreak, and even though you know from the title going on that things can’t go well for our favorite relationships, when “Glee” wants to gut you, it will you gut you. It’s a ruthless machine in that way, taking into account the power of music to add that extra dagger to our already fragile hearts. This week we see what havoc the reality of separation and divergent ambition wreaks on our favorites.
Things are tense between Finn and Rachel, after he showed up on her doorstep out of the blue at the end of the last episode. When they finally do start talking, Finn explains his absence — he started basic but ended up shooting himself in the thigh while cleaning his gun (that he named Rachel, ouch) then spent the last few months backpacking through Georgia, reinforcing what we have always known about Finn — he’s lost. He’s still trying to find his place, and while Rachel suggests he follow along after her to NYADA for the week to see what her life is like and make a plan for his, we already know this is doomed from the start. Meanwhile, Kurt is still making efforts to connect with Blaine, but his job and life in New York continue to get in the way. A phone call is interrupted and even when Blaine tries to explain how he’s feeling, it’s not registering for Kurt as a priority over the promise of his new career — he expects Blaine to be patient for him. As Finn watches Rachel practice and realizes he has no place here, at the same time Blaine is realizing that he’s losing Kurt in some ways: their closeness, their everyday. This leads to Finn and Blaine duetting on Duncan Sheik’s “Barely Breathing,” as Finn lurks around practice rooms and Blaine is haunted by a vision of Kurt in the auditorium. The biggest moment during the song is Blaine, flicking through his Facebook feed on his phone and poking a boy we’ve never heard of before. When the boy suggests that he come over as the “I’m thinking it over, anyway” line plays, we already know this means doom.
Back in reality, Kurt and Rachel excitedly ready themselves and Finn for a night out at Callbacks, the NYADA piano bar, when Blaine appears at their apartment with an excessively large bouquet. Kurt’s excited, they’re all together again like old times, and off they go to the bar, where Blaine is distant and shifty. Rachel tries to talk Finn into singing with her, but he demurs and passive-aggressively pushes her into a duet with Brody since they’re both NYADA students. Their cover of Demi Lovato’s “Give Your Heart A Break” is a refreshing turn at “Glee” doing straight up karaoke — no fantasy, just what it really feels like to be out for a night and watching your friend sing. While Rachel and Brody have chemistry, it’s not as explosive as their duet last episode. The song is setting the stage for what’s to come: the breakdown of these two relationships.
They finish and Blaine wants to sing next. He starts off okay enough with his acoustic piano reprise of “Teenage Dream,” dedicated to his one true love, Kurt. But by the second verse he’s losing it. Kurt, Finn, everyone figures out something is wrong, but consummate showman Blaine Anderson just keeps powering through, the song more and more manic with each verse. It’s one of the most affecting uses of songs Glee’s had in its four years, the exact opposite of the joyful moment of this song’s original appearance. Blaine was Kurt’s teenage dream, a bright light of hope, and now as Blaine sings it it’s despondent. When Blaine sings about hands on him in his skintight jeans it’s not about the hope of young love, but the regret of youthful mistakes. The sexualization of the song is haunting, the reversal of everything they’ve built, and it’s delivered live and not matching to the track for sale, a rarity for “Glee” (in addition to the other rarities of it being based off actor Darren Criss’ arrangement of the track and featuring not only his vocals but also his piano playing).
After the two pairs walk through Battery Park, their individual emotional breaking points begin to overlap. Finn calls Rachel out about her closeness with Brody and she tells him she kissed him, but only because Finn had abandoned her and told her to be free. Finn admits he doesn’t feel like he fits in New York at all. Kurt calls Blaine out on how weird and sad this whole visit is, and Blaine admits to him he was “with somebody.” Kurt’s immediate reaction is the who (Sebastian is, of course, his first guess) while Blaine harps on the why, on feeling alone and needy and how he’s so sorry. Kurt says he’s had temptation too but he’s never acted on anything because he knew it would mean something horrible, and as he runs off in tears, the foursome breaks out into
Before we draw to a resolution, there are other relationships playing out this episode. The most minimal of the couples we pay attention to are Will and Emma, who have only a single scene. Will gets the special appointment in D.C., meaning he’ll leave school for a while. When he suggests that Emma take a sabbatical and come with him, she reacts poorly, not willing to give up her life just to sit around while Will lives his dreams. She’ll support his, but he has to support hers too. There’s no resolution for them, but their relationship and its problems are decidedly adult, longterm and likely to be worked out in some way. The more major shakeup is between Santana and Brittany, who try to navigate their long distance relationship by Santana coming home every month to do laundry and spend time together. In the end, this not enough, and Santana brings Britt to the choir room, where she fell in love with her, to sing a moving rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Mine.” After she tries to do the sensible thing, to nip their growing divide in the bud before either does something she’ll regret (other girls are already noticing Santana at college, and she’s noticing them. Back in Lima, things between Britt and Sam are brewing). Although she says it’s not a breakup, Britt is right in noting, “this sounds a lot like a breakup.” Pulling the bandaid off fast doesn’t lessen the hurt, however, and the girls embrace in tears.
The episode closes as Rachel follows Finn back to Lima, where he’s hanging around the school, helping the club decide on “Grease” as their school musical and collecting his thoughts in the auditorium. Rachel is furious with him for running out, for not talking to her before and still not talking now, for not treating her like a grown woman and for not acting like a man. She expresses all her love for him, but says she can’t do it any more, at least not now. They’re done. She leaves and Finn begins singing Coldplay’s “The Scientist” as the other major players appear on stage to sing their own parts, sectioned off in their couple pairs. We flash back to integral moments in their individual relationships — Finn and Rachel on stage in the first season, Kurt and Blaine running hand in hand through Dalton, Will and Emma’s first kiss at the end of Season 1. We close on Finn, alone.
This episode is heartbreaking, but also one of “Glee’s” strongest in a long while, if ever. For Finn and Rachel, their growth apart has been building. No matter how many times Rachel tries to fit her ambition onto Finn and propel him in her direction, it just doesn’t stick. As much as Finn thought he was being the good man by giving Rachel her space and freedom, Rachel rightly calls him out on it not being something he needed to give her. She can take her own space, her own ambition and her own life. Finn needs to do that for himself before he’s able to be with her, and that’s his big moment this episode, the first step in the direction of a Finn who isn’t reliant on his girlfriend, who isn’t going to turn into what Will has ended up and fought against as an adult. We’re ready to cheer for Finn and Rachel again, just as individuals this time.
And then we have Klaine, a touchy subject. Last year, cheating and outside romantic attention were brought up twice — Sebastian’s interest in Blaine and then Kurt’s flirtation with Chandler in the Whitney Houston tribute episode. In “The Break Up,” we finally have one of the characters crossing the line between flirtation and actual action. Thus, the fandom blame-slinging begins — is Blaine out of character for cheating when he was so upset by the idea of Kurt cheating last year? Is it Kurt’s fault for not paying attention to Blaine? Can cheating ever be excused? In the first, at least, it’s not out of character for a character (or a person) to not live up to the morals they place upon others or imagine for themselves. Because Blaine would be hurt by cheating does not preclude him from, at some point, cheating. Blaine likes attention, romantic and otherwise, and in the moment of his weakness, Kurt isn’t giving him the attention he needs. There’s no fault here that’s worth assigning; they both have to now choose to be better and work past this, or let this break them. Kurt and Blaine have long been in a honeymoon phase, the most functioning and stable couple “Glee” had to offer, with bumps that were solved within single episodes or not even big enough to register as bumps. This episode ends with them sans resolution (there is probably one missing scene where Kurt and Blaine interact before Blaine leaves for Lima, and that is the only real plot hole in this episode) but we do see Blaine’s attempt at apology flowers (red and yellow roses in a nod to the season 3 bouquet) and Kurt, who still thinks Blaine is the cutest, dropping the card in the trash and vowing to be okay. This is their big moment, their growth, and “Glee” is already a better and most interesting show for letting this happen.
The only other relationship drama we witness this episode is between the new kids, Jake and Kitty and Marley. While the dynamics of their whole thing is the one strange tonality of the entire episode (Kitty being a cartoon villain with her Left Behind club, her racism against Jake), in the end you can see there is purpose to what otherwise would be the one non-uniform part of the otherwise stellar episode. The stark contrast of what’s going on with these high school kids, the smallness of their drama when compared to what’s going on for the adult couples is a reminder of Lima and McKinley as a fantasy place, and the goings-on outside its walls are reality, where things are much tougher. Last time Kurt and Blaine faced the cheating issue, in the Whitney episode last season, they resolved it by first tackling it in solos in the glee club, and then in the guidance office. This time, there’s no McKinley safety net to let the performance of a song even start the conversation for them, and there’s no Emma just waiting for the pair to knock on her door. Their relationship is their responsibility. Everyone now has to move on by themselves and make choices that either bring them back together, or diverge to form new adventures.