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Glee Recap: Just Sing Gibberish

GLEE: New Directions perform in the "Thanksgiving" episode of GLEE airing Thursday, Nov. 29 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.

It’s sectionals time! Unlike in previous seasons, where multiple episodes’ worth of debate and theme-exploration were dedicated to preparing for the competition, this season, it seemed to sneak up on Glee a bit. I can’t sugarcoat it: The result was the most disappointing sectionals performance in New Directions history, and not just because Marley blacked out during the big finish.

But we’ll get to that.

On top of sectionals, it’s Thanksgiving, and Quinn, Puck, Santana, Mercedes, and Mike are back in town; they meet up in the auditorium for a sweet, disproportionately emotional, and strangely well-lit mash-up of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound” and Phillip Phillips’s “Home.” We haven’t seen a lot of mash-ups this season, and I’ve found myself missing them more than I ever would’ve expected. Know what else I miss? Katy Perry covers. Come on Glee. It’s been a year.

Finn enlists the returned graduates’ help as mentors to the new members of New Directions (Quinn helpfully offers advice about contraceptives), and it’s bizarre and strangely literal when the mentors stand next to their replacements. All you can do is compare the new kids to the old faces and think about how they’re measuring up, or failing to. This makes me wonder, incidentally, whether the poor kid playing Kitty is forced into some sort of Clockwork Orange­–style bunker over the weekends, where she’s shown footage of Quinn on a loop and told to be more like her.

While I’m certainly thrilled to see Quinn and Santana together again (look, I know I spent a lot of last season talking about how Quinn was a legitimate sociopath, but she’s our legitimate sociopath), they’re not exactly delighted to see one another. What starts as an argument over the laxatives Santana found in Marley’s bag ends with Quinn and Santana slapping each other. The argument itself is great — Naya Rivera and Dianna Agron have always popped in scenes like this, and have never gotten enough of them — as is the revelation that Quinn is sleeping with her Introduction to Psychology professor, because of course she is. But their exchange also somehow manages to be a two-minute-long meditation on how it feels to desperately want to have changed and grown up — both Quinn and Santana want so badly to believe they barely resemble the glee club kids they were six months ago — and to have someone who really knows you confront you with the fact that you are exactly the same. It’s weirdly powerful

Meanwhile, Rachel and Kurt are staying in New York for the holidays, a scenario that ends in an orphans’ Thanksgiving complete with Brody, Kurt’s boss Isabelle, and two dozen of Isabelle’s closest friends. If there’s one benefit to the show partially taking place in New York now, it’s that a Brooklyn loft full of wall-to-wall drag queens and fancy ladies singing the Scissor Sisters’ “Let’s Have a Kiki” mashed up with “Turkey Lurkey Time” from Promises, Promises is a quasi-plausible situation. In certain circles, party activities like this are essentially mandatory. I love over-the-top, bonkers Glee, and I loved the energy and life in this number. It was great to see Kurt have something big and fun to do — he hasn’t had a song like this all season. And my God, nothing is more Rachel Berry than busting into the middle of a song with an obscure musical theater solo of her very own.

I’ve said this before, but I’ve really liked having Sarah Jessica Parker around; even though everything about Isabelle’s professional relationship with Kurt is ridiculous, there’s a really sweet chemistry between the two, and she’s staggeringly good-natured about the Sex and the City references that have been shoehorned into all of her episodes. And did anyone else get a little choked up when Isabelle talked about how she used to have Thanksgiving dinner with Gore Vidal every year? No? Just me? Okay. It’s Isabelle who talks Kurt into finally responding to Blaine’s many voice mails, and their phone call (backstage at sectionals, no less!) wasn’t a reconciliation, but it was a start. Once again, I’m impressed by the tenderness with which the writers have chosen to treat these two characters, and the skill with which the two actors approach them. You can’t help but root for Kurt and Blaine.

Credit where credit is due: I’m pleasantly surprised that the show’s stuck with Marley’s eating disorder story line. At the same time, I’m still very much aware that the whole thing could’ve been headed off at the pass had Marley actually weighed herself back when her Grease costumes weren’t fitting. What’s more, Marley’s mom seems sane enough to say, when confronted with her daughter’s fears about weight gain, “You’re already very, very thin.” But I’m semi-intrigued by the shift from Marley not eating as a means of weight loss to not eating as a means of managing the anxiety and pressure of being the “new Rachel.” That aspect of eating disorders gets less play in mainstream media than stories about girls who just want to be thin, and it’s definitely a story line Melissa Benoist could handle. She’s done really well with what the writers have given her thus far; I just don’t want to see it all devolve into Jessie Spano–caffeine-pill-addiction territory.

Back to the competition itself: I know this might be a controversial statement, but I’m pretty damn sure the Warblers won sectionals, and I actually think their performance is maybe the best we’ve seen all year from anyone (aside from the acoustic “Teenage Dream”). I’m not talking about “Blow Your Whistle,” which was maybe meant as an edgy song choice, but it just felt like an 11-year-old boy’s idea of an edgy song choice. I wouldn’t complain about it if it were a good song, but it’s not, and it feels like one more choice Glee has made just because they’re on an hour later this season. Seriously, Glee? This is what you’re going to do with your wild and precious 9 p.m. time slot? But there was something so refreshing about “Live While We’re Young,” which is all about being young and arrogant and energetic, all the things the Warblers do best. Plus tumbling and ties. Realistically, what more could a girl — or a Glee viewer — ask for?

And then there was “Gangnam Style.” First question: This is what it finally takes for Tina to get a solo? And also, is this maybe racist? And if you have to ask if something’s maybe racist, wasn’t it probably a bad idea to begin with? All that aside, though, it’s mostly just a bummer to compare this song to the songs at past sectionals competitions, like “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” Santana’s “Valerie,” and the finally-everyone-gets-a-solo Michael Jackson medley. Those songs were in line with the themes of the season and, even more important, they were all incredibly emotive. That’s a far cry from Jake telling Ryder to “just sing gibberish.” Using a song to tell a story is so much more lasting and impactful than capitalizing on a trend; I wish the Glee writers would remember that.

Next week, Sam and Brittany hook up?! This is troubling, since I’ve always thought Sam bears a passing resemblance to Lord Tubbington, Brittany’s cat.

Photo: Adam Rose/FOX