Glee Recap: Dogs, Tricks, and Peter Pan

Photo: Mike Yarish/FOX
Episode Title
Old Dog, New Tricks
Editor’s Rating

One of the reasons I’ve always been particularly fond of Chris Colfer is he’s seemed to be profoundly aware that Glee is finite. Rather than, say, viewing the Golden Globe Awards as an everlasting trough from which to drink, he chose to leverage his first flash of fame and acclaim into two best-selling children’s books (with a third forthcoming) and a feature film he wrote and starred in. There’s something incredibly charming about a young person who thinks about what’s next, rather than just what’s now, and it’s one of the reasons I root for him (and for Kurt) the way that I do, and why I was so excited that he’d be writing last night’s Glee.

Real talk: The episode feels labored, in a way many first-time television writers’ first-ever efforts often do. But it’s an honest first crack at writing for television, and it’s admirable given the fact that Chris Colfer admits he wrote the episode in between shots while filming episodes earlier in the season. Still, it was … wobbly. But we’ll get to that.

There are a lot of puppies in this episode, and so here’s the thing I need to get out of the way first off: I don’t really like dogs. (I’m not a sociopath.) I think at least a tiny bit of the success of last night’s episode was riding on the fact that I’d be charmed enough by the sight of cute puppies to overlook some of the episode’s other failings. Look, I got a little independent verification, and I can confirm that, yes, in fact, the dogs featured on last night’s Glee were all kinds of adorable. They just weren’t quite “forget about the clunkiness of the dialogue in other parts of the episode” adorable. 

Rachel’s still trying to undo the damage that the rumors of her infidelity to Funny Girl have caused, because apparently someone’s career can be made or broken by the fact that they … tried to get a television series? Unclear. The premise is flimsy, but the fact that Santana fancies herself Rachel’s Olivia Pope provides some of the episode’s most pleasing beats. The stuff where a pack of angry dogs drags Rachel down the sidewalk seems a little too easy, but given how I’ve felt about Rachel in recent episodes, it’s oddly gratifying. The Broadway Bitches nonprofit seems like an excellent way for Rachel to reinvent herself while giving back, without having to give up her need to be shrill and demanding (yes, that’s a compliment, and yes, it’s very backhanded).

It’s fitting that an episode written by Chris Colfer would give its primary emotional focus to Kurt, who meets an older woman in the diner (played by Nebraska’s June Squibb) and is invited to watch their rehearsals for their rest home production of Peter Pan. The inclusion of the show is probably a nod to the rampant speculation that Colfer would play Peter Pan in NBC’s forthcoming revival of the show; I’m guessing that revival is the reason why it was hard (or impossible) for Glee to secure rights to any of the songs in the musical. This means we’re left with Kurt on a harness, June Squibb in a Wendy nightgown, and, improbably, Madonna’s “Lucky Star.” It’s a nice little scene, and it’s plenty fun, but it sure as hell isn’t Peter Pan. I do like that the Peter Pan revival does exist within the reality of Glee, however, and that Kurt seems every bit as worried as the rest of us that Clay Aiken will come along and bastardize the character. Kurt Hummel: saying what we’re all thinking since 2009.

Still, it’s weirdly touching to hear June Squibb’s character (Maggie) sing “Memory” from Cats alongside Kurt — that song is so steeped in beginnings and endings and what-could-have-been that seeing two performers at opposite ends of their careers singing it is always moving. Adding Billy Dee Williams to the mix just increases the pathos. It’s the one moment in the episode that feels properly moving, and in the context of Maggie sniping to Billy Dee Williams’s character, “Ever since you were a question on Jeopardy! you have been such a know-it-all!” it feels like a lovely little bonus.

Built into June Squibb’s appearance is a little side story about her daughter, Clara — Kurt assumes Clara’s really involved in her life, but then finds out that Maggie fakes floral deliveries and greeting cards from Clara each week, trying to keep up appearances. It’s an easy story to reach for, but it’s a nice way for Glee to hit on some of the themes it’s established this season: how to measure your life (in love) and how to construct a comeback (rally those you love before you do anything else).

Maggie’s second act won’t be a Broadway run, but it might be a newly rekindled relationship with her daughter — to hear Glee suggest that the two are equally valuable, especially at this point in its run, feels downright revolutionary. Watching Kurt talk to Clara about Maggie makes me miss Burt Hummel, and that’s one of the highest compliments I could possibly pay a story line. Still, I wonder about why Kurt tried to spur Clara on to action by saying, “My mother died when I was 8, and I spend my entire life pretending that I had one.” In all seriousness, really? You do?

Meanwhile, Sam’s adopted a dog, either for Mercedes or to prove something to Mercedes or maybe both. There’s a scene that’s debatably racist in which the dog (McConaughey) eats Mercedes’s weave, and then another, longer scene in which Artie and Sam take McConaughey through an obstacle course as they sing “Werewolves of London,” which is not even a song about dogs. It just has an “ah-ooh” sound. Not the same, Glee. Not the same. Still, I’ll allow this subplot clearly because it gave us the sheer delight that was Sam’s straight face as he said to Artie, “Velcro’s hard. It’s like black magic.” And I’ll also tip my hat to Chris Colfer: Sam’s feelings, his actions, and his desperation to prove himself are really, really steeped in and aware of the character’s backstory — more so than most of Glee’s staffed writers typically are. It’s nice. Still, the two of them end up giving the dog back, because Sam can’t be trusted to call a dog sitter. Or something.

Then everyone sings “Take Me Home Tonight” to convince people to take the stray animals home. Tonight. There’s not a lot of (any) subtext, but it’s a fun little number, and in the context of this particular episode, I’m prepared to call that a win.

Next week, according to the promo, Brittany and Blaine sleep together, so that’s … a thing that’s happening to us.