We started preparing ourselves for the potential awfulness of a Glee episode built entirely around Christmas songs the minute last week’s “Special Education” was over, and, while this week offered plenty of squirm-worthy moments, it surprised us with far more genuinely touching moments than expected. Perhaps we wished for too much, hoping that Emma’s mention of Carl right at the beginning of the episode meant The Return of Stamos (that man had better be in the first episode post-hiatus, or the writers will have some explaining to do), but Brittany and Artie’s relationship continues to warm the cockles of our judgmental little heart, and that almost made up for it. Since this week’s songs were all pretty relevant to a Christmas-themed episode, and (with the exception of Rachel’s AV-Club-planned snowfall) believably low-fi and far less absurd than usual, we’ll proceed without our usual song breakdowns — but fear not, plenty of judgment will happen along the way.
Even though the New Directions crew is inexplicably building a Christmas tree out of entirely stolen parts (while singing “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year” in a weirdly glazed over way — though Dianna Agron does sound better than usual in her high range), we’re happy to see that a theme episode doesn’t mean plot abandonment: The kids get their now-traditional post-Sectionals slushies (as if to remind the audience — or maybe try really hard to convince us — these kids are still outcasts), Lauren’s still in the club (though unfortunately still making mostly food-centric remarks) and Brittany’s charming-slash-frightening Artie with her childish lack of guile. This time, magic combs won’t help him: She apparently still believes in Santa Claus (“The roads to the North Pole are getting treacherous And remember, even the smallest envelope is heavy for an elf”).
Cue Artie’s effort to get everyone to play along, which at first strikes us as a somewhat lame premise for an entire episode, but, like a few other things this week (Mr. Schue’s loneliness on Christmas, Sue’s Grinch-to-nice transformation, Beiste as Santa) slowly evolves into something more subtly touching and meaningful. In the meantime, there’s plenty of hilarity to be had: the visit to a mall Santa, when Santana requests “bling: I can’t be any more specific than that” and Mike Chang looks downright desperate as he says, “I want Channing Tatum to stop being in stuff” (a cute nod to Harry Shum Jr.’s involvement in Tatum’s Step Up movies); the failed attempt to carol from class to class, culminating in a teacher throwing a shoe at the kids at exactly the moment that everyone’s cringing from sugar overload; and Sue’s incredibly elaborate Grinch plot, including poor Becky in a “rein-dog” costume.
As usual, a good deal of irrelevant-to-plot singing keeps things moving along. The secret-Santa-ing, which Sue has ingeniously sabotaged to her own advantage (“Remember when I told you I was bringing all those science books to an exorcist? Well, that’s what we call a diversion”), gives Mr. Schue an excuse to utterly randomly show up at Kurt’s school for shopping advice, just after Kurt and Blaine have finished an equally random (though no less adorable for its randomness) duet of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” And don’t call us a Grinch for pointing it out, but the episode’s entire lack of diversity (hello, writers — remember the two Jews and two Asians who are ALWAYS drawing attention to their Jewishness and Asianness in every other episode?!) is mind-boggling: Was this not the perfect opportunity for a Rachel Berry “Why are there no Hanukkah songs” tantrum? Instead, we get two Lea Michele songs of varying excellence — a mournful, forced-feeling “Merry Christmas, Darling,” and a really well-integrated “Last Christmas” — and lines of complete discordance like, “Last Christmas, I asked Santa to give me you” and “Being a Jew, I don’t really give Christmas gifts.”
But all that’s besides the point — what really counts this week is Brittany, who’s become utterly lovable, wishing only for Artie to be able to walk, which seems both childish and perfectly adult at the same time (we half-expected the episode to end with Brittany surprising everyone, saying she didn’t believe in Santa but needed to keep hope alive for Artie but such cheese did not happen!). Beiste also became far more endearing, and with no condescending Schue kisses necessary; her one-on-one with Brittany about patience rang far more true than Mr. Schue’s depressing “Gift of the Magi” moral (and hey, gang — any thoughts on whether that may have been Beiste singing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch)”?). Continuing Glee’s tradition of characters seemingly breaking into each others’ houses, Sue invades Will’s space (with good intentions — another “awww, she’s not that evil after all” moment) at precisely the time that we finally catch a glimpse of how empty his house — and life — is outside of glee club. Thankfully, she’s bearing a hair trimmer — and a hair joke, which feels like a little gift itself.
And so the first half of this season ends, with Mr. Schue’s house filled with glee clubbers (his own little Island of Misfit Toys!), Artie walking thanks to a really cool Israeli device, and a bit of the old Glee spirit (we’re all lonely, but it’s less lonely together) somewhat restored. It’s enough to keep us satisfied going into the hiatus, but we’ve got a long list of what we want from Santas Murphy, Falchuk, and Brennan next year — and we’re sure all you Gleeks do, too.