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Glee Recap: Better Understanding Through Zombie Dancing

"How do I make things interesting again?” Sue Sylvester asks. She’s feeling unfulfilled, uninspired — she wants what she loves to make her feel alive again. Hey — kinda how we felt going into this episode of Glee! Much like the Adidas-Striped One, no longer juiced by her usual mash-up of hit pop tunes and flashy pyrotechnics, we want our beloved show to thrill us again and back away from its proclivity toward celeb cameos, hit-of-the-moment song choices, and frequently too-preachy messages. But while Katie Couric’s cameo erred on the lame side (except for that bit about Dina Lohan’s dog), the rest of this post–Super Bowl episode felt like a step in the right direction: character advancement (a big decision for the Cheerios — plus, Quinn and Finn together again?), important plot points actually addressed (in a twist of reality, Karofsky’s homophobia and insecurity don’t magically vanish thanks to the magic of music), and several fairly touching moments (Mike Chang and injured Tina — we die of the cuteness).

“Need You Now”
Pizzazz: 4
Relevance: 6
Absurdity: 3

Though the episode begins with fireworks, blue Katy Perry wigs, and the spectacle of Sue forcing the Cheerios to hit each other with chicken cutlets, it’s far from fun and games at McKinley. Everyone’s heading into competition season, and the football team’s especially troubled, apparently for the first time suffering the consequences of infighting (happily, we get to see the football players and Cheerios doing normal things — also apparently for the first time — namely practicing football and cheering on the sidelines). Beiste and Will unite to hatch a spectacular plan: force the football players into a week of glee club, and nothing sells glee club like a sweet duet from Puckleberry! This ballad is an excellent choice for Mark Salling’s voice, and Lea Michele’s brief journey through alto land is a pleasant one involving no inappropriate belting. We figured, correctly, that this would be the perfect Rachel choice to make Finn jealous — but, sadly for group dynamics, Lady Antebellum ballads apparently incite riots among high school football players.

“She’s Not There”
Pizzazz: 8
Relevance: 6
Absurdity: 7

A Chevy commercial involving a mini-Glee episode of sorts happens, confusing us greatly while we marvel at how clean and shiny the whole cast looks. Back to the real episode! As the week’s odd parallel narrative of social commentary continues (lots of talk about how teamwork lowers crime rates, eh? Beiste and Will seem to be special experts on these things …), McKinley’s power males jostle for position: Puck and Finn are friends again (kinda), Finn and Sam have an amusing shoulder-shoving contest in the hall, and the hockey team (a uniformly mulleted group apparently beamed in from Canada for the episode) give Karofsky and crew a taste of loserdom. Sue’s evil plans evolve: It’s human cannonball time, and poor Brittany will finally be suffering for her above-par dance moves (“But I don’t want to die yet — at least not until One Tree Hill gets canceled”), until Principal Figgins (hands no longer tied!) finally puts his foot down. Meanwhile, the latest Schue and Beiste scheme develops: join the football team and glee club for the halftime show (appropriately, at least one teenager in the middle of Ohio has no idea who the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are). Karofsky, buoyed along by the happy-making power of the arts, suggests an all-dude opening number: zombies singing … the Zombies! Well, it works: The boys handle what was clearly complicated choreography, and Cory Monteith’s vocal range (as he proved once with Jim Morrison) fits well with sixties pop.

“Bills, Bills, Bills”
Pizzazz: 7
Relevance: 5
Absurdity: 7

When we first heard that this Destiny’s Child classic would figure into the episode, we hoped it would appear as part of some excellent Blaine fantasy reverie, wherein he laments a Good For Nothing Type O’ Brother who done him wrong, while Kurt waits adorably/creepily in the wings. While our dream did not come true, and the number seemed like nothing more than an excuse to remind us the Warblers are still alive and well, our notes on this performance attest to its fabulosity: “Does Blaine always get to make grand entrances through double doors? Awwwww dance break! Time to throw the music in the air and do backflips!” Blaine, you may pay our auto-mo-bills anytime.

“Thriller”/”Heads Will Roll”
Pizzazz: 9
Relevance: 7
Absurdity: 7

This week saw the beginning of an interesting exploration of how it feels when the usual McKinley winner/loser balance is upended. Sue, for once, can’t quite come up with a clever quip when Santana, Brittany, and Quinn leave the Cheerios. Karofsky struggles to wipe off his “Thriller” makeup like it’s some sort of loser brand, and, though he’s momentarily caught up in the excitement of the ultimately successful halftime number, he’s back to jerk square one by episode’s end. Poor slushied Artie lectures all in the plight of the high school loser (“He’s in the first stage of loserdom — denial”), before showing up all the non-wheelchair-bound guys in the vocal and theatrical departments as the lead “Thriller” singer. We see how Finn has replaced his former golden boy quarterback status with a self-crowning as leader of New Directions, and it’s revealing to see how thrown he is when Sam — rightly — brings up the possibility that the group could benefit from new leadership. Quinn — too recently a proponent of “it’s okay to be yourself” mantras — sees how quickly she’s still swept away with the crowd. All this feels oddly encouraging, proof that these characters can maintain some sincerity and believability even when spouting the most PSA-ish of lines (sorry, writers, this far along in the show, “If we’re not Cheerios, we’re nothing!” doesn’t fly). We’re hopeful for the episode two days from now, not least of all because it involves Santana’s commentary on Finn’s kissing abilities.

Photo: Adam Rose/FOX