Things that I had not realized I missed about Old Glee: Mike Chang finding random objects in the choir room and doing arm-flailing dances with them; Puck making up truly ridiculous nicknames for himself; Kurt’s “okay, fine, but I’m too old for this shit” face; Lord and Lady Tubbington. Fortunately, last night’s episode had all that and much more.
It would seem that the end of last week’s episode wasn’t all bluster – and forgive me for assuming it might have been, but remember when the show spent two full episodes drawing out Rachel’s “pregnancy scare” and then called it a false alarm? – and the glee club is done for good. All of the original New Directions members are on hand to say good-bye, even though they’re all supposed to be in school, at work, or in the Air Force. It’s a sweet, nostalgic little episode, but the new New Directions kids have to be sitting there and thinking, “She doesn’t even go here!” Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely Team Original New Directions (although I think we should get a snappier team name), but lately, I’ve really empathized with the new New Directions. It’s one thing to listen to Rachel Berry give speeches about how great she is when you need her on your team; it’s another thing altogether when you’re being forced to listen to them recreationally. And while it’s sad for everyone that glee club has been defunded, especially in the “end of an era” sense, it’s arguably most difficult for the kids who will still be left at McKinley when it’s over, with no choir room as a safe haven.
(I realize that this is a television show and all these people are pretend, but still.)
From a storytelling standpoint, it doesn’t make much sense to bring back April Rhodes or Holly Holiday, even though they’re old pals thanks to the “Facebook group for everyone who’s been a guest of the glee club.” It does, however, make a lot of sense to bring both Kristin Chenoweth and Gwyneth Paltrow back into the fold – Matt Morrison has always been at his best, or at least his most tolerable, when he has another fun grown-up around to play off of. And April Rhodes has plenty of fun to offer, even though the semi-tedious “I’m here to save the glee club but I’m really just a pathological liar!” plot that she and Mr. Schue spend most of the episode embroiled in. Tina’s so excited to see her, she jumps up and down and squeals to Marley, “She once taught me how to shoplift meat in my vagina!” My sentiments exactly, Tina. April also gives Kurt and Blaine matching flasks, so they’ll be able to “dull the pain of your excruciating wedding-night sodomy.” And on top of all that, she performs a highly energized but bafflingly overproduced version of “Raise Your Glass.” Seriously? You want to auto-tune Glinda the Good Witch? Please. Have a little respect.
And, still, I guess “tolerable” might be a little bit of an overstatement. In actuality, Mr. Schue spends the entire episode acting as the comptroller of an actual popularity contest (complete with ballots) between Rachel and Mercedes, and also singing the words “panty-snatcher” in a room full of children. Later, he tells the original New Directions that they “all grew up together,” even though they’re 18 and 19 years old and he’s an actual grown-up man. Oh, William Schuester. I will miss hating you. I think.
A quick word about Rachel and Mercedes’ diva-off (which I found mostly uninteresting): Kurt Hummel was the winner of that performance of “Defying Gravity,” and not just because he got to finally prove that he’d intentionally tanked the high note all those years ago. Rachel and Mercedes needed to prove something in the choir room; Kurt didn’t. He stopped needing anything from McKinley a long time ago. Good for him.
It’s great to have Dianna Agron back; at the same time, it’s strange to see Quinn as one of the central points of an episode. There hasn’t been a Quinn-heavy episode since at least last season’s wedding tryst with Santana, and even that was more of a subplot. As erratic as the writing for the character has been, Quinn has always had a special place in my heart – she may have been written as an unmitigated sociopath, but she’s our unmitigated sociopath. Her dilemma in the episode is wholly relatable; it makes sense that a girl who gave up a baby as a 16-year-old and then careened around for a few years would want to present herself as a person with a much tidier past.
Puck wins her “back,” although it’s not clear when they were actually together last, mostly through an acoustic performance of “Keep Holding On.” It’s more scaled back, and not a re-creation of the original version, but there are strong similarities, from the repurposed choreography to the risers in the auditorium. What feels a little disingenuous is that after the song makes Quinn cry, she tells Puck she’s upset because she’d forgotten all about the song, and was crying over everything she knew she’d forget someday soon. Which, okay, fine, but also you’re crying about Finn. How could she not be?
But the episode’s true MVP is Heather Morris, back as Brittany less than four months after giving birth. The thing is, when Brittany’s not around, there’s no real way for the show to throw lines and scenes together just for the sheer what the fuckery of it all. When she is, we get scenes of her playing human-size chess against her phone, voiced by Siri’s British cousin. We get cat makeouts on Fondue for Two. We get a surprisingly nuanced theme about choosing between what you feel like you have to do and what you want. And we also get to see Brittany dance.
A lot of the time on Glee, intricate choreography either looks like work or looks like a bunch of kids running around with balloons. When Heather Morris is around (and especially when she and Harry Shum Jr. are together), dancing looks easy as pie and joyful as all get-out. “Valerie” was the first Glee number I’ve instantly rewound to watch again in a long, long time. And while I’ve always maintained a firm “take it or leave it” stance on Brittany and Santana’s relationship – I have to squint a little to see the crazy chemistry between the two of them the way I know other fans do – but after all this time, Demi Lovato notwithstanding, it’s so clear that they’re better together than they are apart.
Next week, Gwyneth Paltrow dresses up as Temple Grandin. What could possibly go wrong?