At first, we worried about this week’s episode. It’s called “Funk.” And it’s about everyone’s need to get out of a ... funk. And the only way to surmount Vocal Adrenaline is with funkification. But we got several pleasant surprises: a real Sue Sylvester dramatic arc that somehow balanced snark with heart; a few of the most flat-out entertaining numbers this season; the return of Terri (absence makes the heart grow fonder); and a key question addressed: When it comes to Vocal Adrenaline versus New Directions, the glee kids’ only advantage is their heart — but is that enough?
Queen, “Another One Bites the Dust”
Jonathan Groff is back, in all his hair-flipping glory! Jesse feels jilted by New Directions! The drama’s lost on us, as any dramatic resolution between Rachel and Jesse with regards to Operation Mom on Tape wasn’t aired for our viewer enjoyment (see, creators? This is what happens when you deprive us of the Groff for a week). But no matter, it’s time for some angry Queen! As usual, Vocal Adrenaline turns in a pitch-perfect, soulless performance (even Jesse’s anger feels like wonderfully applied artifice), which isn’t lost on Mr. Schue. Of course, we still enjoy it: This is miles away from “Hello,” and Groff pulls it off.
Rufus and Chaka Khan, “Tell Me Something Good”
Sue’s back, getting placenta facials, meeting with an illegal Hot Cheetos ring, and ready to turn the glee-club room into an extension of her trophy house (“For me trophies are like herpes — you try to get rid of them but they just keep coming. I have hourly flare-ups of burning, itching, raging talent”). Meanwhile, Will’s just signed divorce papers with Terri, and he’s bummed enough to consider Sandy’s Chronic Lady (ah, it always makes us smile). But then along comes Rachel: “Destroy the heart of the team’s heart, and you destroy the team.” Cue a stroke of Schue genius: seduce Sue, then break her heart. The hilarious results: lots of gratuitous shots of Matthew Morrison’s wiggling bum and some classic, mildly bothered facial expressions from Jane Lynch. The singing isn’t too shabby, either.
It’s difficult to buy one Vocal Adrenaline attack erasing all the kids’ good self-esteem from last week, but we’ll go with it: These are teenagers, after all. Hence, Kurt has repeated an outfit this week, Quinn is rethinking “trust me” as birth control (valid point), and Puck and Finn are slashing the tires of the Vocal Adrenaline kids’ Range Rovers. Their punishment: getting jobs at Sheets n’ Things, under boss Terri, and submitting to the pink paint demands of Sandy. Time for one of Glee’s more excellent dream sequences: Puck and Finn rapping in dead-on Beck deadpan, and we love the sight of Puck strolling the aisles with his guitar like some sort of suburban warrior. It’s clever without being over-the-top, which is a surefire path to performance greatness.
James Brown, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”
Quinn is angry! And though her choice of words might be somewhat unfortunate (she seems to have appropriated Black Power for pregnant blonde girls), her performance isn’t. Backed by the Unwed Mothership Connection — a.k.a. a bunch of dancing pregnant girls — Dianna Agron does her best with a song that’s truly challenging to convincingly inhabit, and we’re impressed. It’s definitely her strongest vocal showing thus far, and she’s still blowing us away conveying Quinn’s confusion and hurt. The crazy belly-dancing is a bit much — why not just own up to this as a serious number? — but Agron holds our attention anyway.
Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, “Good Vibrations”
We sometimes forget about the broken friendship between Puck and Finn; despite their tough façades, both dudes need some dude love occasionally. So we’ll beg to disagree with Mr. Schue: Sure, this isn’t textbook funk, but the obvious pride and rediscovered bro-dom between Puck and Finn comes complete with amazing Marky Mark dance moves! Strong plot relevance is debatable, but overall awesomeness counts for something.
Parliament, “Give Up the Funk”
Congratulations, Glee: For the first time, you’ve pulled off an amazing closing number that’s not just a happy episode cap. Many lessons are learned, but in far less after-school-special manner than usual. In fact, we’d go so far as to say that “Funk” embodied the essential heart of Glee: the struggle to stand tall when the world’s a sad place that constantly beats you down. Sue and Schue don’t quite have a truce, but that’s as it should be, and it’s satisfying to see them reach an adult understanding (“Though I completely loathe you, you'd make a great trophy husband. And as you can see by my décor, I love me some trophies”). New Directions’ kiss-off to Vocal Adrenaline is exhilarating — a fantastic show of how their passion is an advantage, with amazing dance solos from Brittany and Mike. But then there’s Rachel’s heartbreaking confrontation with Jesse in the parking lot. It’s perfectly shot: Like Rachel, we’re swept up in the expectation that the Jesse who loves her will be waiting, like someone out of a John Hughes movie. But the slow fade to black lacks feeling, and the sudden appearance of the egg in the frame casts a pretty quick shadow. We’re left with the searing image of an egg-covered Rachel in the parking lot, and somehow that’s what we’re thinking of at episode’s end. Will New Directions win Regionals? We’re beginning to feel like no — but this week reminded us that tragedy mitigated by smaller victories is often what Glee does best.
Todd VanDerWerff — not a fan of “Funk!” He points out that the emotional continuity was missing from a key plotline — Jesse and Rachel’s — and that the whole episode felt like lots of little random plots popping up to be addressed in season two. He also wants more fantasy sequences (we agree — the show would be better without an ultra-literal Schue assignment each week). And he wants Vocal Adrenaline to lose (we kinda do too—for the good of the show!).
EW’s Tim Stack is hot and cold on the episode (we’re glad to see he appreciates the amazingness of “Good Vibrations,” despite its tangential relevance to plot). He’s wary of a Finn/Terri plot, as are we, and he wants more Sandy! Remember “Who is Josh Groban? Kill yourself!!”?