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Glee Recap: Speared

Thanks to several teasers from Fox and some clues from Heather Morris, we knew last night's Glee would be epic, but we still found ourselves stunned by the episode's dip into serious issues for both the adults and kids of Glee. After a first half filled with stunning numbers, some of the most hilarious lines from Brittany ever, a wonderfully unforced cameo from Ms. Britney Spears, and the debut of a very funny John Stamos, we were left to consider some big questions: Will Artie’s acceptance on the football team really be a good thing? Is the preservation of Rachel and Finn’s relationship something we should be happy about? Is everyone’s Britney-inspired self-empowerment only temporary? Quick, someone get Dr. Carl — we’re about to dive into a Britney-induced judgment frenzy!

Britney Spears, “I’m a Slave 4 U”
Pizzazz: 10
Relevance: 6
Absurdity: 10
It takes Mr. Schue’s lyrical discussion of yacht rock — specifically of Christopher Cross’s “Sailing” — and his subsequent assertion that "really good music doesn’t have to attack an audience" to bring up the subject of Britney Spears, she who stands for everything related to teenage loss of control (though her vocals are actually some of the most controlled — digitally and otherwise — in pop music). We learn that Kurt has been keeping tabs on a Facebook group (membership: five) dedicated to the glee club performing a Britney song at the homecoming assembly. And then we hear dissent — from Brittany! "My name is also Britney Spears," she solemnly shares. "Brittany S. Pierce. I’ve lived my entire life in Britney Spears’s shadow.” We’re still processing the fact that she actually has a last name when this spectacular fantasy sequence happens. Where to start — the fabulous references to Britney’s most iconic outfits? Heather Morris’s jaw-droppingly stellar dancing?! Her singing voice, heretofore unheard, which was actually quite decent? One of the best Glee numbers ever, followed by two of the best Brittany lines: “I petted a snake. Are you a cat?”

Britney Spears ft. Madonna, “Me Against the Music”
Pizzazz: 10
Relevance: 5
Absurdity: 10
Let’s back up a minute: everyone, meet Dentist Carl, Emma’s ridiculously good-looking new boyfriend. He got her to mix red and green grapes! He drives a Corvette! And he makes jokes at Will’s expense (Will: “Kids can’t sing without teeth, right?” Carl: “Right! Cause then they wouldn’t be singing, would they? They’d be gumming! Ga ga ga!”)! He’s like a much kinder, much gentler, much better-dressed Sue. Ever ready to quicken his own demise, Will invites Carl to a glee-club rehearsal, where he charms the ladies (note Rachel absentmindedly brushing her hair in the background, and Santana’s amazing “You can drill me anytime”?) and stains everyone’s cavity-filled teeth. Breaking out her Latina flair again, Santana accompanies Brittany to the dentist, telling Carl to “get up in my grill. Cause Britts and I wants to get our anesthesia on.” Cue another stellar production number, only somewhat better than “Slave” since we also get to see and hear Naya Rivera vamping it up alongside Morris.

Britney Spears, “Baby … One More Time”
Pizzazz: 9
Relevance: 7
Absurdity: 9
Amid all the dancing Brittany, we almost forget there’s an actual moral of some sort to this episode. Something about the importance of control but also sometimes relaxing is okay? Ah yes, that’s it! Finn’s getting beat up by the football squad, saved by the savvy Artie and observed by Rachel, who’s beginning to fear she’s somehow holding Finn back. The only solution? Skanking it up big-time — or, as Santana smoothly puts it, dressing “like one of the bait girls on To Catch a Predator.” It’s time for Rachel’s very own fantasy sequence: an eye-poppingly dead-on, frame-for-frame remake of the original music video (can we pause to appreciate how Rachel even gives the camera the same downcast gaze Britney did in close-ups? Amazing!). Meanwhile, Brittany’s feeling empowered, spouting another Hall of Fame line: “I would just like to say that from now on I demand to have every solo in glee club. I sing and dance better than her … I'm more talented than all of you. It's Britney. Bitch.” And she’s kinda right!

Britney Spears,“Stronger”
Pizzazz: 6
Relevance: 5
Absurdity: 4
Kevin McHale’s time in the short-lived boy band NLT obviously served him well; the boy’s got pipes and, even in a wheelchair, dance moves to rival the full-body skills of all the football players around him. Though it’s not the glitziest number this week, “Stronger” is a fantastic song choice for Artie: a defiant middle finger to Tina (who figures perfectly into his fantasy). It’s also perhaps the most relevant-to-episode song choice this week. Will has to summon the strength both to admit surrender, temporarily at least, to Carl and Terri (whose re-entrance made us surprisingly happy) and to admit to himself that a yellow-Corvette-driving freewheeler isn’t who he truly is. It’s touching to see Will’s struggle this week, and, we hope, fodder for some meaty character development this season.

Britney Spears, “Toxic”
Pizzazz: 6
Relevance: 5
Absurdity: 4
The school assembly: How do we even begin to describe it? We’ll go with Sue, who’s usually dead-on in warlike situations and calls it “a sex riot.” We’re still trying to erase the vision of Jacob Ben Israel’s butt sweat from our minds (out, out, damned spot!), but general discomfort pervaded this entire scene. The Fosse-esque take on this robo-pop tune feels oddly off, and the constant sex-crazed interjections from the school losers feel facile and crass. We’re also less than impressed with how Sue enters into all of this — her need for control over the kids, which Britney Spears’s music apparently threatens, feels like a bit of a weak plot point. But hey, since we get to hear Sue say, “Not sure if you heard, William, but my spinal column was ruptured in a sex riot,” we’ll deal. Also — are Will’s vest jokes the new Will’s hair jokes? Discuss!

Paramore, “The Only Exception”
Pizzazz: 2
Relevance: 7
Absurdity: 6
And finally we’re back to Glee as usual: The fantastical performances are over, everyone’s supposedly learned a lesson, Brittany is saying crazy things (is she really going to take on Ke$ha? Because then we might have to kind of like Ke$ha), and Rachel is lurking in the hallway (a habit she picked up from Jesse St. James, perhaps?), then singing a ballad and overemoting to an extent that makes us want to grab Lea Michele, compliment her lovely voice, and then exhort her to never tear up or contort her face while singing ever again. But all is clearly not well in the world of New Directions — for one thing, we’re worried by Quinn’s withering obedience to Rachel. We’re reminded of Rachel’s line earlier in the episode: “Let’s face it, Finn: The only way this relationship is going to work is if we’re both losers.” With that, we’re back at one of the core elements of Glee: the idea that no matter how Rachel dresses, what jacket Finn wears, what flashy car Mr. Schue buys, they’re all outcasts at the core. We end up leaving a potentially vapid episode quite moved as we watch Mr. Schue, alone and downtrodden. Like the kids, he’s beginning to learn that a carefully controlled image won’t solve deeper problems — but that a mindless, out-of-control pop song can sometimes momentarily make things better.

Photo: Adam Rose/FOX