Spoiler alert, you Gleeks who read the recap before you watch: In our extremely un-scientific analysis of the latest Glee soundtrack, we were right! Big reveal time: Jesse’s not evil; he’s been enlisted to bring Shelby and Rachel together (we so knew he planted the tape!). Because Shelby is Rachel’s mom! Luckily, this barrage of game-changing info came via the skilled direction of Mr. Joss Whedon, a genius at locating the meaningful story in possible cheese (a show about a vampire slayer, or, even, say, overplayed hits by Billy Joel and Aerosmith). The writers kept the episode just this side of sad show territory, instead delicately revealing the characters’ insecurities and small glories. And while we desperately hoped an avowed Sondheim fan as director would guarantee a Steve number or two, we’re still quite pleased with the Whedon Week results.
Billy Joel, “Piano Man”
Action from the get-go: Bryan Ryan (the reliably fabulous NPH), the object of Will’s envy and worship in high school, is now a bitter school-board member, intent on destroying the arts program (“You can't feed a child sheet music, Will. I mean, I suppose you could. But they might be dead in a year”). Being in glee club crushed his dreams (though his performance of “Daydream Believer,” complete with magic tricks, is transfixing), and he’s intent on doing the same for the New Directions crew (we love seeing Puck’s dream on paper: ‘3some’). Schue, determined to make things right as usual, woos Bryan — who, it turns out, is still a theater geek with Playbills under the bed — with beer and Billy Joel. The result is surprisingly appealing and realistic: Matthew Morrison and NPH, adorably trading verses like any guys near a jukebox, clearly impressed with themselves.
Aerosmith, “Dream On”
Jazzed by Schue’s gung ho speeches about the power of the arts, Bryan joins Will on an audition for the local production of Les Mis (they could afford the royalties in Lima? But we digress.). We’re a bit surprised he’s going for Jean Valjean — Bryan’s so a Javert, and we momentarily entertained fantasies that NPH and Matthew Morrison would sing “Confrontation” (as NPH has memorably done with Jason Segel before). Instead, we get this classic-rock wailer, which is excellent on several levels: Who has better manicured hair? Whose leather accessory is more aspiring to badassness? And which tenor wins: Will’s creamy smooth one, or Bryan’s raspy, slightly higher-pitched one? At this point, we’re not even distracted by the magically appearing rock band or by the over-the-top feeling of the number: Both guys would obviously take the audition way too seriously, so it works.
Men Without Hats, “Safety Dance”
Another great step in the character-development direction: the sweet, sad plotline of Artie and Tina. At base, this episode was about a very real high-school issue: distinguishing between dreams that are realistic and those that are doomed from the start, and realizing that a smaller dream isn’t necessarily a less deserving one. Tina’s attempts to give Artie hope in a cure for his spinal ailment are both well-meaning and dangerous, as Artie’s heartbreaking meeting with Emma shows. Happily, before that, we get a wonderful Artie fantasy number, a play on the flash mobs for which Glee fans have become known. Like many of the great scenes this episode, there’s enough of an element of reality to ground the number, but enough whimsy to make us smile (love the fact that Brittany and Other Asian are leading the dance crew, and totally loving the playful, youthful choreography).
Schönberg and Kretzmer, “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miz
Just when we were beginning to get a little creeped out by Jesse’s special ability to materialize out of nowhere and lurk, we finally learn his motivation: He’s helping Shelby find Rachel! Yay! This is clearly a setup for a fight with Rachel down the line, but no matter: It inspires some amazing scenes and lines for the Groff and Lea Michele. It’s hilarious to see Rachel try to prove Patti LuPone is her mother (Jesse: “Was Mandy Patinkin in on this?” Amazing!) and to learn that she performs the dream ballet from Oklahoma to soothe her nerves. But Lea Michele and Idina Menzel’s performance of this tearjerker is flat-out heart-stopping — we’re more struck than ever by their amazing resemblance, and the genuine regret and loneliness both ladies convey through the song is palpable.
Cass Elliot, “Dream a Little Dream of Me”
Like many of the better episodes, “Dream On” ends not with a life-affirming showstopper, but a quieter song embodying the true Glee spirit: determination in the face of hopelessness. So Artie can’t dance yet: He can still croon a tune with the best of ‘em. We’re psyched to see Tina get some spotlight (hint: We have a feeling Gaga will bring more next week), and we’re floored by her utterly lovely tap duet with Mike Chang (we’ll refrain from calling him Other Asian this week, in honor of Tina). Just like Mama Cass’s lullaby interpretation of this standard, “Dream a Little Dream” perfectly caps the night; we feel as if Glee just tucked us in for the night. Bring back Joss soon, please!
At the AV Club, Todd VanDerWerff places this episode as possibly the best
yet this season, saying it most resembles "the kind of show I'd like Glee to
be — a sadder show about the fact that dreams sometimes don't come true with
catchy musical numbers."
EW's Tim Stack reminds us of one of our many swirling thoughts during "Dream
On": that NPH and Matthew Morrison need to be in a Broadway show (or a boy
band) together immediately.