Glee Recap: Kelly Clarkson Solves Everything

Photo: Adam Rose/FOX
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A (presumably unintentional) consequence of Glee’s move to 8 p.m. is that it caused me to beg off of post-work drinks early. “Seriously?” a friend asked. “How long will it even take you to watch the show and slam it? I mean, you hate Glee, right? Don’t you hate Glee?” The trouble is that no, actually, I don’t hate Glee. But we’ll get to that.

Real talk? For the first time ever, the “Here’s what you missed on Glee!” segment was absolutely essential, as I spent a few minutes before the episode began trying to remember what, exactly, had gone down before the winter finale. Finn died. Kurt and Blaine got engaged. Rachel got the lead in Funny Girl. Mr. Schue sang “Blurred Lines” and Nationals never happened. Beyond that, I completely drew a blank, which isn’t exactly a glowing endorsement for the quality of the season’s first eight episodes.

We open on Santana, frustrated enough by her job at the diner that she’s saving up to “buy a noose to hang herself with.” (Hey, Glee, are we never going to check up on the kid who actually tried to hang himself with a noose? No? Cool.) Rachel announces that she is going to be featured in New York Magazine, which I find both appropriate and disconcertingly meta, and invites Santana to participate in the photo shoot for the cover. Santana is iffy at first, given how mean she was to Rachel in high school, but agrees to put on a pretty dress, sing “Brave,” and smile for the cameras. I’m sure Sara Bareilles meant for her song to give conventionally attractive women the courage to stand near one another, so this is a clear win all around. 

With her newfound bravery, Santana decides to audition to be Rachel’s Funny Girl understudy. Even re-keyed and retrofitted with pop styling, “Don’t Rain on My Parade” is way, way beyond Santana’s ability, but she’s cast regardless, mostly because the director feels he can capitalize on the relationship between Rachel and Santana. But even by Glee standards, Santana’s casting requires a pretty massive suspension of disbelief. The show’s over-reliance on Auto-Tuning in its most recent seasons has made it easy to forget that Lea Michele is Glee’s best female musical theater vocalist (and probably best female vocalist, full stop). There’s no reason to settle for a lesser talent as an understudy, especially in New York.

Rachel and Santana express their antipathy through singing “Every Breath You Take.” People do watch their understudies closely. Good point. Seriously, though, it’s a treat to hear Naya Rivera and Lea Michele sing together — I don’t know that they’ve done many duets before this episode, and they do sound lovely as a pair. But while Rachel’s rage is understandable, if immature (and pretty poorly acted), her decision to slap Santana across the face and then threaten to do it again is another frustrating instance of Glee condoning violence whenever it’s convenient. I didn’t like it when Finn did it or Quinn did it or Santana herself did it. You don’t get to have an episode about domestic violence and title it “Choke” and still get to use violence whenever it’s the easiest way to write your way out of a scene. You just don’t. At any rate: Rachel moves out.

Meanwhile, Kurt has a frenemy of his own to cope with — Starchild has given an interview to the Village Voice in which he refers to Pamela Lansbury as “my band.” They work out their differences through song (obviously), spinning on stripper poles and testing out guitars to “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.” It continues to be refreshing to see Kurt have things to do that are actually fun and playful and not at all in the vein of “I will now stand still and solemnly sing a musical theater song.” But Adam Lambert shines here, too. Demi Lovato’s Dani is conspicuously absent — just as she has been ever since her cover of “Let It Go” got big. I can’t imagine the folks at Fox were too pleased about that. Please refute this conspiracy theory or leave your own in comments.

After Kurt and Starchild make peace, Becky shows Blaine a picture of Starchild pecking Kurt on the cheek and he tries to downplay his annoyance. This seems to foreshadow an upcoming “Blaine is jealous of Starchild!!” story line. I am, in all sincerity, no longer sure whether the Glee writers know that it is possible for relationships to have issues that have absolutely nothing to do with real or perceived infidelity. Here is a free list of obstacles Kurt and Blaine could face that have nothing to do with that: the stress of planning a wedding, the adjustment period after moving in together, the financial crunch of trying to get by in the city, a neighborhood garbage truck that’s too loud, a Fire Island summer share that’s only available mid-week, an apartment that does not allow spontaneous musical numbers after 10 p.m., a fire that destroys all of Blaine’s bow ties but none of Kurt’s scarves, a Sharknado. Help yourselves, writers.

Back at McKinley, Tina and Artie are at each other’s throats as they wait to hear who the class valedictorian will be. (Since I’ve never seen either of them doing anything remotely resembling schoolwork, I vote for Blaine, who I once saw reading a Goosebumps book in the library.) Principal Sylvester requires them to do a speech-off, which is, of course, preceded by a sing-off in the choir room.

It’s not a ground-breaking story line. But it worked. I felt for Artie and for Tina. I felt for Blaine, who really is sorry to always “get things handed” to him. And I loved that the three of them, heads put together, find Kelly Clarkson to be the best solution to any given problem, because Kelly Clarkson solves everything. All of this is to say: I don’t hate Glee. I miss Glee. And I saw a tiny bit of the Glee I miss in the moments that unfolded in the choir room this week. Artie and Tina’s legitimate belief that a sing-off could solve all of their problems. The small stakes but legitimate horror that unfolds when Tina pushes Artie out of his wheelchair. The belief that “Breakway” is, like, about us, guys. The easy camaraderie between the kids, found in Sam and Ryder’s hand-clapping game, the way Marley and Kitty laugh with each other, and the simple fact that Unique is present and allowed to be who she is.

And of course — of course — the New New Directions are finally hitting their stride now that Glee has announced it will be moving to New York permanently. There will be lots more to say about that transition as it continues to unfold and as spoilers and speculation become reality. But it’s a shame – an understandable shame, but a shame nonetheless — that the show will be abandoning this little unit of New New Directions. They’ve only just become a crew worth rooting for.

Next week, Sam and Blaine and Tina apparently sing “Jumpin’, Jumpin,’” and so I am, of course, all in.