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Glee Recap: Glease Is The Word

GLEE: The boys perform in the  "Glease" episode of GLEE airing Thursday, Nov. 15 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. L-R: Harry Shum Jr., Samuel Larsen, Chord Overstreet, Blake Jenner, Jacob Artist, Kevin McHale and Cory Monteith.

“This is just another one of your ill-conceived, bizarrely sentimental schemes that displays absolutely no forethought and appears immediately ridiculous to everyone in America except you.” Oh, Glee. Sometimes I love you best for your singing teenagers; sometimes I love you best for the self-referential critiques you bury in your own scripts.

That said: let’s start with the point at which this week’s episode went terribly, terribly wrong. Kitty is still furious with Marley for “stealing” Jake from her or for getting the lead in Grease. Or something. To get revenge, she’s been sneaking into the auditorium and altering Marley’s costumes every night so they won’t fit. (Had the prank ended there, it would’ve been fine. Semi-funny, even.) Marley panics that she’s on the road to obesity, like her mom, and starts dieting; when that’s not enough, Kitty takes her into the bathroom at a sleepover and tells her that she needs to “love herself enough to binge and purge.” This begs two questions: Why is Kitty such an enormous sociopath that just making Marley feel awful isn’t enough and how in the world is this okay? Particularly when it’s juxtaposed with jaunty, good times Grease music?

Glee’s been down this road before; remember when Mercedes had an actual eating disorder? She ate nothing but Sue’s weight loss shakes and wound up seeing all the New Directions kids as snack foods; after she passed out at school, she learned a valuable lesson and sang Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” at an assembly. I point this out because I want to be clear: Kitty didn’t teach Marley about bulimia last night because Glee had never discussed eating disorders before and ignoring them would be a mistake, which is the only semi-valid reason I can think of.

I’m not laboring under the assumption that television in general or Glee in particular owes me anything; of course it doesn’t. And I’m not asking Glee to be 100 percent wholesome, either, 7th Heaven-style, unless it means that Andrew Keegan will start wandering around shirtless, in which case, yes. But Glee has proved that is is able to handle sensitive issues in a way that can actually be kind of great (losing your virginity, coming out, going through your first massive breakup) or, at the very least, in a way that’s not actively detrimental to viewers. But this was a colossal misstep. When you are dealing with millions of impressionable kids, either take the time to address issues like this sensitively and seriously, or don’t take the time to at all. There are countless ways for teenage girls to be mean to each other that don’t involve simultaneously providing a nationally televised how-to manual on binging and purging. I promise.

Fortunately, I guess, Marley stops throwing up, mainly because Ryder says he doesn’t want to kiss a girl who has puke on her breath. I suppose the silver lining is that it cements Marley’s burgeoning relationship with Ryder, who continues to be knock-your-socks-off charismatic, but still. What’s more, this exposes more flaws in the way Kitty’s character is being written. She can’t pull off a villain’s monologue half as well as Quinn or Santana could, and besides that, the reason why Quinn and Santana were tolerable was that there was some vulnerability underneath all of the sass. Her “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” isn’t anything to write home about, either. It’s not entirely her fault — in part, there’s something jarring about having a massively over produced vocal track for what’s supposedly a song sung while jumping on the bed at a sleepover. Also, I suppose that in the strictest sense, it is unfair of me to hold the fact that she is not Stockard Channing against her.

Sidebar: Kitty can say her horse broke her hymen, but the phrase “the chicks will cream” had to be taken out of “Greased Lightning”? Really?

Back in New York, Rachel has her first audition for an off-Broadway, avant-garde production of The Glass Menagerie set in an actual zoo. (I would pay to see this, actually.) Rachel tries to coax Cassandra July into auditioning, too, because she’s Rachel and knows what’s best for everyone. Cassandra responds by talking Rachel into flying back to McKinley for Grease so that Cassandra can hook up with Brody, and then throw it in Rachel’s face. I approve of this scheme. I approve of everything Kate Hudson’s done so far this season, although I wish her character could evolve beyond Sexy Sue Sylvester.

Of course, Rachel can’t go back to McKinley without Kurt, who’s easy to convince; he’s been “living on Ambien and The Notebook” ever since he and Blaine broke up. (Kurt seems blissfully unaware that once one is in their late twenties, that’s not exactly an emergency breakup protocol so much as it is a “weeknight.”) But of course, you can’t go home again, as a combination real/imagined “You’re the One That I Want” later finale drives home. Being back at McKinley is awful for both of them. Kurt and Blaine have one awkward exchange followed by one angry one — Kurt says he can’t trust Blaine anymore — and as ever, this means that their relationship is the most realistically depicted on the show.

Finn and Rachel start things off cordially enough — you can tell Finn really wants to seem like a grown-up, which is actually pretty endearing – but things deteriorate when Finn notices that Rachel is crying her “boy troubles” cry (one of her four subsets of crying), but not over him. This is decidedly less endearing, and it ends with Finn telling her, “When you come back to visit, I don’t want to know about it.” That’s a reasonable request, I guess, but given that McKinley seems to be one of about three buildings in the entire state of Ohio, it might be difficult to accommodate. It’s just a shame that it took such a protracted re-re-breakup scene to come to this conclusion, since I feel like throughout the 3.25 seasons of Glee I’ve watched, I have to have spent two full hours watching Rachel and Finn break up and get back together.

I’ve saved the best part of the episode for last; it would’ve been criminal to put on a production of Grease without Santana as Rizzo, and it was a great way to bring her back. Tina’s indignation is spot on; she comes flying into the choir room telling everyone she’s ready to fill in and simply can’t believe Santana’s back. Still, it’s only my second-favorite Tina line of the night; the first is when Finn tries to reassure her that it’ll be fine that he’s taking over for Mr. Schue, since he has some great ideas for sectionals, and she shrieks back, “We’ll all be dead by then!” Wow, an episode where Tina has multiple lines from which to choose a favorite. Unreal.

The role of Rizzo is vacant because Unique’s parents (who refer to Unique as “Wade” and “him”) worry about Unique’s safety after Sue sees her getting pushed into lockers. Finn points out the hypocrisy here — Sue herself was just pushing kids into lockers — but Sue rightly points out that using fake concern for students to get what she wants is what she does best. “Classic Sue Sylvester!” Unique’s parents say that they were proud when Unique performed as a girl at Nationals in Chicago, but because Lima is much more conservative, they want Unique to turn down the role of Rizzo and to stop dressing like a girl at school. It’s very believable and very sad, and Alex Newell hits it out of the park once again; it’s nice to see Unique join in “There Are Worse Things I Could Do,” anyway.

Next week, everyone runs around in superhero costumes. I am tentatively in favor of this.

Photo: Adam Rose/FOX