Hold On To That Feeling: ‘Glee’ and Don’t Stop Believin’ (Part Two)

Rachel Berry (Lea Michele, front) sings Don’t Stop Believin’ for her Funny Girl audition. Glee, 4×19 (2013). Fox.

By Rachel Malstrom | 7th of Feburary 2022

Ryan Murphy, one of the show’s creators, writers, and often director, said in an interview with Variety that Glee was meant to be pure escapism, different from the crime shows and science fiction shows dominating the narrative television slots of the time. However, since Glee is a dramedy, meant to encourage repeat viewership through love triangle drama and feuding characters, sometimes the escapism takes a backseat to the plot. Furthermore, Glee, at the time of airing, was known for being cutting edge, willing to confront issues facing teenagers such as gun violence, teen pregnancy, and eating disorders. As the series went on, the show eventually would add more wild and unrealistic moments of escapism that rarely worked. Nevertheless, the show would often opt to return to its “Don’t Stop Believin’” roots. In what could have been seen as a cheap ploy to recreate the success of the pilot, the song became its own character, important to the members of the New Directions, and to the audience. In what we’ll see in Part Two of my analysis of the show, the song’s use encapsulates every person’s hopes, dreams, and, in a sense, their fears. ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ reminds us that we are all chasing happiness and belonging, and that acknowledgement allows the viewer to escape into a world where they feel like they are a part of something special, and thus are special themselves.

The Rhodes Not Taken (1×05): Don’t Stop Believin’ (Quinn’s Version)

Fast forward from the Pilot to episode five of the first season, and Rachel, the so-called star of the New Directions, has quit the glee club to join the school’s production of Cabaret, because she was feeling underappreciated in the club. Quinn (Dianna Agron), Finn’s cheerleader girlfriend and new glee club member, has discovered she is pregnant. But, more importantly, with Rachel gone, she is given Rachel’s solo parts in “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Unhappy in her lead role in Cabaret, hearing of someone else taking her part in the song that has come to represent happiness in the show, the very essence of glee, makes Rachel feel even more lost. The show could have chosen to have Finn dueting with Quinn using any song to signify what Rachel is missing out on, but it would not have captured her joylessness the same.

Joining the school play with a teacher who is not supportive and does not believe in her like Mr. Schue always has does not inspire the kind of greatness she thought she would achieve branching out on her own. She might have believed being the star would provide her with the something special she has been yearning for, but seeing as Glee does not introduce the rest of the cast of Cabaret it is clear that doing something solo is all too similar to performing alone in one’s bedroom mirror with a hairbrush microphone. As much as she tries to remedy her sadness by attempting to recruit Finn over to the musical, she is unable to find her sense of belonging within the confines of Sandy’s strict and lonely stage production. 

The New Directions also feel helpless in their venture to win sectionals without their star vocalist, but it is Rachel who must find her way back to them in the end, and hearing that they meant to perform “Don’t Stop Believin’,” the song that made them feel like a team, without her is the kick to the gut she needs to make her realize that success does not always lead to happiness. 

Journey to Regionals (1×22): Don’t Stop Believin’ (Regionals Version)

Season one ends with the all-important Regionals. All feels hopeless because Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), the school’s cheer coach that seems to want to erase all happiness from the school by eradicating the glee club, is one of the judges. It has already been established that the New Directions have to win Regionals or the club is done for, and Mr. Schue goes to Emma for some guidance as he feels particularly devastated by the group’s chances. Emma reminds him of the video from his Show Choir Nationals, and how he said it was the happiest moment of his life. She tells him, “that feeling is way more important than winning and losing.” Later, as Mr. Schue drives in his car, ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ starts playing on the radio. “Hold on to that feeling,” the song demands again, and Mr. Schue has to pull over so he can cry by the side of the road. In the next glee rehearsal, Mr. Schue reveals to the New Directions when he was ready to give up all joy to become an accountant, how it was their performance of ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ that brought him back. As a result, he announces an all-Journey setlist at Regionals, urging the club to embrace the fun of getting there, rather than worry about the results. 

At Regionals, by the time the New Directions get to the “Don’t Stop Believin’” part of their medley, the crowd is up and clapping along. Josh Groban, one of the celebrity judges, says that the New Directions have heart, and even Sue can’t help but recognize the team’s joyous performance. Despite all of the other judges placing New Directions in the losing spot, Sue places them at number one, because she too is won over by the power of Journey.

This is the first time the show uses the song to remind the audience of its call to happiness. Even when Glee gets too serious with its plots of teen pregnancy, homophobia, and crumbling marriage, which is often the challenge of the teen dramedy, ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ brings the audience back into its embrace. While some may connect to the show’s heavier themes on a personal and emotional level, the loneliness and the search for meaningful experiences present in the song is something everyone can relate to — even Sue Sylvester herself. It’s a song about longing. And it is this same longing that inspired McKinley High students to join the New Directions, the same longing that inspired the show’s cult following.

Sweet Dreams (4×19): Don’t Stop Believin’ (Rachel’s Version)

In the season four episode, “Sweet Dreams,” Rachel, now living in New York, has an audition for a revival of Funny Girl on Broadway, which has been her dream her whole life. After being advised not to sing a song from the show, she labors over what to sing for her audition. Rachel ultimately decides to audition with ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ after Finn advises Rachel to choose a song that takes her back to her passion for performing. During her performance, the original glee club members appear onstage, performing with her. Looking younger than they have in so long, they wear their iconic red shirt and blue jean combo, providing backing vocals (in spirit, they aren’t actually auditioning with her). As Rachel follows along to the original choreography, she recaptures the magic of the club’s first performance of the song as she stands on the precipice of what she has been dreaming of her entire life. She looks happy and confident in her performance, because succeeding here is not an accomplishment she was ever going to achieve on her own. It is a win she shares with the ones who have been dreaming with her. After the performance, one of Funny Girl’s producers says, “something happened to you in the middle of that song,” and asks what it was. Rachel reveals that it was the memory of her friends performing alongside her, and that she would not be the performer — or woman — she is today without them. The show understands that it is at its most magical and special during a performance of “Don’t Stop Believin,’’ and for the viewer, that song taps into the joy that had them hooked on the show to begin with. The moment not only reminds the audience of how far these characters have come, but also of how far we’ve come as the audience. If you watched the show live, four years have passed by this point, and maybe we had seen our own dreams come and go, or met the people who helped shape who we have become. The song is everyone’s favorite guest star: you half expect a live studio audience to cheer whenever the song begins.

New Directions (5×13): Don’t Stop Believin’ (Glee Cast Season 5 Version)

Glee’s two part special, “100” (5×12) and “New Directions” (5×13), feels more like a finale than any other season finale the show has to offer. Sue has finally demolished the glee club, and now all of the graduated members and current members of the club come to bid the New Directions farewell. Amongst all the reminiscing, the most important goodbye comes from a video the New Directions made where they all talk about the impact Mr. Schue has had on their lives for Schuster and Emma’s unborn son. And as they say goodbye to the club’s director, they sing the song that started it all. In what would become the final performance of “Don’t Stop Believin’” in the show, each glee club member, old and new, join each other on stage. Although they are not wearing their coordinating red shirts or Regionals costumes, they look more like a team singing “Don’t Stop Believin’” on that auditorium stage than they ever do singing any other number.

Since the song has become so synonymous with the New Directions as a whole, this performance is the perfect acknowledgement of the members who have come and gone. It is an acknowledgement of the way that club, and this song in particular, has touched so many people, not just the characters but also the people watching on a weekly basis. 100 episodes of any show comes out to be a pretty mixed bag, but “Don’t Stop Believin’” remains the thread that keeps the show consistently inconsistent. More shows need some kind of symbol that reminds the audience why they started watching to begin with. With every ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ the show offers a hand to hold and anchor for the show’s ambitions. It never promised to offer solutions to all of the world’s problems, despite its obsession with acknowledging them. 

Looking back on the now completed series, it doesn’t feel like “Don’t Stop Believin’” got the goodbye it deserved. It gets left behind in this last New Directions performance of the song in season 5. When the characters bid their final goodbye at the end of season 6, a season that decided to tear down all of the show’s characters and relationships just to have to sloppily build them back up in 13 episodes, they sing OneRepublic’s “I Lived” which, while a decent song with lyrics that are meant to emphasize how far everyone has come, it fails to capture the show’s spirit. “Don’t Stop Believin’” hooked fans because it is about longing for more, something that everyone relates to. “I Lived,” however, feels more like a brag, it’s about looking back and hoping that everyone lives life to the fullest, implying that the Glee characters have done that, and the audience members likely still feel the same longing on display in “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Therefore, the show’s final song, its final bow, is fully incapable of providing the same kind of escapism, and it completely misses the point. “Don’t Stop Believin’” just offers one piece of advice, “hold on to that feeling.” Find a little glee, and maybe watch the next episode anyway, and that journey (no pun intended) was really what made the show so attractive to begin with.

Rachel Malstrom is a writer from Virginia. She graduated with a B.A. in Film and Television Studies from The University of Vermont and prides herself on having seen every Tom Cruise movie. You can follow her on Twitter @teamboby.

1972, Revisited: Dick’s Feminist Reinterpretation of the Watergate Scandal

Arlene (Michelle Williams) and Betsy (Kirsten Dunst) become new American heroes in feminist revisionist film Dick (1999). Sony.

By Charlotte Turner | January 26, 2022

Most everyone knows what happened at Watergate. After burglars attempted to wiretap the offices of the Democratic Party, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, along with help from the shadowy figure known as Deep Throat, uncovered that President Richard Nixon was involved, leading to his resignation. As one of the major political events of the 20th century, Watergate has permeated the public consciousness for decades. Furthermore, thanks to widespread news coverage, and multi-award nominated films such as All The President’s Men (1976), there now exists an American national memory of the scandal leading to a shared interpretation of the country’s past. This memory dictates that male good triumphed over male evil, and everything was made right again. 

But what if we don’t really know what happened? What if these myths of masculinity and power and men saving the day were wrong? 

Wildly different from the other, much more serious films made about Watergate, the historical revisionist comedy Dick (1999), serves up an alternate version of the events. The film follows 15-year-old girls Betsy (Kirsten Dunst) and Arlene (Michelle Williams), who through a series of events become Nixon’s (Dan Hedaya) secret youth advisors and eventually become Deep Throat. They’re the ones who reveal the truth, not in spite of the fact but because they’re dismissed as ‘dumb teenage girls.’

Dick reimagines the national memory of Watergate through a feminist lens by making teenage girls the heroes of the story, and by positioning the male characters as incompetent buffoons, whether or not they’re the good guys. It forces the audience to re-examine who is assumed to be capable, and who is remembered by history. 

The premise of Dick sounds laughable. Two teenage girls take down a president? But it’s these exact kinds of assumptions made by Nixon, Woodward (Will Ferrell) and Bernstein (Bruce McCulloch) alike that ensures their success. As Betsy declares near the end of the film, ‘we’re not dumb teenage girls, we’re human beings’. 

Dick creates a new story out of Betsy and Arlene becoming the main characters of Watergate. Thanks to fantastic performances from Dunst and Williams, full of youthful sincerity and optimism, we’re laughing with them, not at them. On the surface, they’re stereotypical ditzes, but the film demonstrates a disconnect between how male characters perceive Betsy and Arlene, and how they actually act. Yes, they may be a little dim, and more interested in teen idols and Nixon’s dog than politics. However, early in the film Arlene declares she loves the singer Bobby Sherman as he cares about ecology, and Betsy implores Nixon to end the Vietnam War over concerns for her recently drafted brother’s safety. 

Betsy and Arlene, aka “Deep Throat”, sick of Woodward and Bernstein’s buffoonery. Dick (1999). Sony.

On the other hand, when it comes to the traditional heroes, Woodward and Bernstein, the film reinvents what we think we already know. These versions of Woodward and Bernstein exemplify the traits Betsy and Arlene are expected to have. They’re childishly competitive, and self-obsessed. They argue with each other about revealing Deep Throat’s identity, Bernstein is always grooming his hair, and they bask in the glory they receive for their reporting. They’re also too embarrassed to admit they were helped by teenage girls, and that’s why they decide to keep Betsy and Arlene’s identity a secret, not out of concerns for their safety. 

In All The President’s Men, a film that has played a major role in developing collective memory of Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein are portrayed as underdogs going up against the White House and Nixon. But in Dick, they’re dumb, mean, and petty. It challenges the male narrative so frequently presented to viewers, and gives space for two teenage girls to be the new heroes. 

Dick does not make fun of, but rather celebrates Betsy and Arlene. Just as the film alters the collective perception of the Watergate scandal, much of the film’s comedy comes from warping expectations of how young women in cinema are supposed to act. Indeed, Betsy and Arlene bringing down Nixon is the most subversive moment of all. When Woodward and Bernstein prove incapable, it is Betsy and Arlene who break into the home of H.R. Haldeman, the White House Chief of Staff, and steal the all-important incriminating tapes. For once, women are the heroes of American politics. 

In a misguided attempt to throw them off he scent of Watergate, Nixon (Dan Hedaya) appoint Betsy and Arlene as his “Secret Youth Advisors.” Dick (1999). Sony.

Richard Nixon is the only president to resign in American history, and only escaped criminal prosecution after being pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford. He has always been the bad guy in national memory, and Dick is no different. In this film he is corrupt, ill-tempered, rude, and antisemetic. He insults Betsy and Arlene’s intelligence, takes advantage of their youthful naivety for his own purposes, and while dismissing the ‘girly’ interests of his daughters, he can’t even remember one of their names. 

The end of the film finds Nixon resigning, and leaving the White House in a helicopter. Flying over Washington, D.C., he sees Betsy and Arlene on the roof of Betsy’s house waving a sign that reads ‘You suck, Dick! Love, Deep Throat’, all while You’reSoVain by Carly Simon plays. Nixon realises that the young girls he constantly dismissed were the ones who destroyed him, and it’s thrilling as any moment in All The President’s Men

By telling a true story that never happened, Dick is able to investigate the inherent masculinity of remembered history much more effectively than if it told the real story of Watergate. The film makes fun of the male characters, no matter what side they’re on, to examine who is allowed to have political and historical power, and celebrates Betsy and Arlene as the true heroes of Watergate. Dick revises history to make space for new voices, places women at the centre of the story, and holds a mirror up to the ideals of masculinity that make us assume we know the truth. 

Charlotte Turner is a writer, artist, and filmmaker from Ontario, Canada. You can find her on instagram @c_turner_art

The Art of “The Look”

Pacey (left) and Joey (right) share “The Look” while she dances with the titular Dawson, cementing an inevitable fate: that they should be together. Dawson’s Creek, 3×22 (2000). The WB.

By Niamh Cullen | September 10, 2021

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a TV show reaches its peak when two characters share a stolen longing glance with one another after at least half a season’s worth of angsty build-up. As Alanna Bennett notes in her thread on the topic, chemistry is determined by the sacred art of looking. The power of a look can not be underestimated, but what is it that categorises “a look” as THE look? It is this look (“THE look”) that signals to the audience that they are witnessing a shift. That their assumptions in reading between the lines, picking up on indications in the writing and obsessively dissecting it through tweeting into the void will be validated. “The look” is the first look between two characters which will underpin their dynamic and will become the catalyst for around three seasons worth of relationship based drama. It presents itself laden with cliché signifiers and gets utilised by essentially every popular TV series at one point or another. This trope of “the look” is one I resent almost as much as I love. 

We can categorise a look as being “the look” when it combines both a betrayal (of a third party who is in with one of the “lookers”), tense build up incorporating repressed feelings, and it marks a pivotal shift in relationship dynamics. This look marks the start of a new relationship coming to the forefront of the plot. It’s the moment you pause, take a breath and sit with what you’ve just heard (or seen) as Laurie Metcalf advised in Lady Bird (2017). However, for me this moment is bittersweet. The plot after this look becomes a distant memory to me as I sacrifice it’s ‘rewatchability’ at the altar of a two minute supercut edit on YouTube documenting in precise detail the couples barely there interactions in the build up to this “look”. The look is the confirmation we seek, but once the moment has passed you can never get the rush of vindication again. Following this heated longing stare the show falters and fails to ever reach the dizzying heights of that loaded moment. The conclusion I have come to is that tragically, a TV show dies the moment of this perfect immaculate scene — “the look”.

The acceptance of this trope as being the thing that my attention is dependent on came about in a That’s So Raven-esque vision. I was minding my own business watching a new show half heartedly, allowing my focus to drift. It was a “two windows open at the same time, I think I’ll check my email and Twitter and maybe paint my nails” kind of focus that I was giving to this show. Then, something happened. It was like kismet, or divine intervention. I glanced over to the show and gave it my full undivided attention in time to witness a scene that triggered this realisation. The show was Panic (2021) and the scene was the one where Jack Nicholson’s definitely not a teenager and certainly on the horizon of his thirties son snogs a girl whilst looking at another girl who had up until this point maintained a rivalry with him.

Panic (2021-) Amazon.
Bearing witness to an immaculate use of the ‘with someone else but staring at another’ look is a gift from the screenwriting Gods.”

Bearing witness to an immaculate use of the ‘with someone else but staring at another’ look is a gift from the screenwriting Gods. It is predictable and perfect. We know what it means. I eat it up every time. It was in this moment when watching Panic that I saw all of the other moments this trope had been executed perfectly. And I also realised that generally when rewatching, I will watch up to these scenes. The problem with any blissful high is there will always be an inevitable come down. Once this scene has transpired the show begins to falter for me. The couple together? Ok great. The couple suppressing feelings for one another and making their tension the pillar of the story? Unmatched. 

Before focusing more on why this scene is a show’s final breath for me, I would like to pay homage to some of the finest TV moments demonstrating “the look”. These are specific moments, looks that once pass can never be replicated. The couple can share many a lingering stare at one another throughout the rest of the show’s run, but it is THE look which pushes things off the precipice and confirm the character’s are indeed going down the path we viewers had predicted (or perhaps just longed for). The couple in question may have gotten together by this point, but it is this look which solidifies it as being the show’s new focus. Cut to Katie Holmes swaying on the dance floor; we are around the start of the new millennium and are about to witness the modern day romantic pining standard of which all other shows strive to achieve. She glances up over the titular Dawson’s shoulder to see Pacey, sitting… staring. She watches him, he watches them. She looks away, guilty over a look. And just like that the ending is written. Anyone could see these two should be ending up together just from this one look. Before this transpired the writers could’ve back-pedalled and reestablished Joey and Dawson, but after this look the stage has been set for Pacey to take his place as the main romantic lead. We see this echoed in season three, episode seven of Gilmore Girls ‘They Shoot Gilmores Don’t They’ with Jess and Rory. It could be argued this “look” comes in the big break up scene where Rory is in the arms of her eight foot first boyfriend, however, I would argue the real “look” happens earlier at the twenty three minute mark. Here, Jess obnoxiously snogs his girlfriend on the bleachers after a sustained and tense staring standoff with Rory on the dance floor with her mother. The two look at one another with disdain bordering on hatred. I swoon every time! 

‘They Shoot Gilmore’s Don’t They,’ Gilmore Girls, 3×07 (2002). The WB.

Or we could look to the moment of guilt ridden longing a la Damon and Elena in season two of The Vampire Diaries. In the eighth episode, ‘Rose’, Elena looks over Stefan’s shoulder into the disturbingly blue eyes of his brother. The look suggests both a weariness of their own predictability in utilising such a trope whilst also having a touch of ‘obviously we will get together within a season’. I would go as far as to say Veronica Mars and Logan in episode fifteen of season one exhibit “the look” with a subversion of expectations. Technically, she shares the classic longing look with ex boyfriend Duncan as she slow dances with a pre New Girl Max Greenfield. The look lacks chemistry and any real commitment. However, Logan’s drunken interruption of this scene lays the foreshadowing for what less eagle eyed viewers would see as this unexpected coupling. This poor execution of “the look” feels purposefully done as it sets up the Logan and Veronica storyline which kicks off mere episodes later. The look scenes don’t lie, they heavily imply!

Perhaps there is a latent masochist in me who enjoys watching pining and suffering over the actual relationship. Or maybe it’s just that I know not long after “the look” the pair will get together and writers will give them ten episodes max of happiness before things get messy in a bid for new drama. It’s not to say I hate the show after “the look”, it’s just that before this moment they are protected from harm. From “the look” onwards they are ripe for destruction. 

I suppose I could pin it all down to the writing, that it becomes poorer because shows do not allow relationships to survive under the melodrama. But if I’m being honest with myself, after “the look” I can stop playing detective. I crave “the look” because I want the show to pat me on the head and congratulate me for knowing instinctively and intuitively where the chemistry lies and what the writing is leading to. Perhaps, regardless of how writers treat the couple once they get together, I will always come crawling back to the crumbs we were fed at the start as opposed to the overindulgence of a feast. Without the analysis of convincing myself and others that I know where the plot is leading and what subtle moments are suggesting, my motivation to watch is gone. I would rather rewatch a scene from season one where the couple have their feet angled towards one another across a room and scream into the abyss I KNOW CHEMISTRY WHEN I SEE IT like I’m Charlie from that ‘Its Always Sunny’ scene with the board of feverishly drawn string between evidence behind me. 

“The look” captures everything that I want. Betrayal, tension and pain met with acceptance of the longing. This look says to audiences ‘do you see where this is all leading? Have you backed the right horse?’. It isn’t the Big Kiss or romantic declaration. It is as much a look between the characters as it is a look between the writers and us: And it’s the only reason I want to watch.

Niamh Cullen (she/her) is an English Literature undergrad based in Edinburgh who is currently trying to work out what she will do with said degree. You can find her discussing her fleeting obsessions on Twitter @niamhcullenn.