It's hard to remember, but way back before every episode had at least three full production numbers, before Very Special Episodes about bullying and school shootings, before Lindsay Lohan and Perez Hilton made a joint cameo, Glee was a dark comedy. I don't think that aspect of the show ever truly went away, but for a while it got drowned out by the sound of teenagers singing the entire Britney Spears catalogue. (That's an observation, not a complaint.) But thanks to Sue Sylvester, last night's episode was a return to those darkly hilarious/hilariously dark roots as Glee continues to barrel through what's shaping up to be a pretty epic victory lap.
One of the secrets to Glee's success has always been the fact that Jane Lynch can carry off whatever's thrown at her, which means there's boundless potential for Sue Sylvester's antics. Tearing offices to shreds? Fine. Single-take, no-breath eviscerating speeches? Sure. Throwing a wedding to herself? No problem. She's managed to tackle a story arc that's spanned 112 episodes and almost six years — destroy Will Schuester and the glee club — without ever making it feel stale.
When Rachel was at the peak of her Funny Girl brattiness, I wondered whether there were people who still unequivocally liked her, but there definitely aren't people left who love Mr. Schue, right? Sue makes a show of getting along with him for a few minutes at the top of the episode, but he leaves a plastic fork behind in the cafeteria, which reawakens her barely stifled hatred. She hops in her Le Car (!!!) to visit the storage locker where she's built a monument dedicated to the eventual destruction of the New Directions. Someone will likely write a PhD thesis (or at the very least a series of highly reblogged Tumblr posts) about the contents of the locker, but to give you an idea, it includes: marionettes of past glee-club members, papier-mâché effigies of — among others — Al Roker and Jimmy Carter, and an intricate police-station bullpen-style bulletin board tracing every connection between each member of the New Directions. It's got a solid "creepiest circus ever" vibe going on, and sharp-eyed and -eared viewers probably noticed some American Horror Story: Freak Show parallels.
But it also includes a shrine to Kurt and Blaine, and her desire to get them back together. She calls their relationship a "symphony of self-congratulatory sodomy," and I can basically guarantee that's the first time those words have been spoken in that order in television history. It's all a pretty transparent meta-commentary on the way Kurt/Blaine shippers approach the show, so it's likely over the heads of casual viewers, although frankly, Glee doesn't have many of those left. Still, if you tilt your head and squint, it kind of makes sense for Sue to want Kurt and Blaine to be happy. Sue did the most to try to protect Kurt when Karofsky was viciously bullying him, and all of her insults of Blaine — Young Burt Reynolds, gay Clark Kent from season one of Smallville — have basically been backhanded compliments.
And logic aside, it's hilarious, starting with her informing Kurt of her intentions to save the relationship because he and Blaine are "blouses." She explains, "A blouse is a breezy, femme-y top. It's a term I coined for my favorite type of gay! You always know where you stand with a blouse, and they can't sneak up on you because for miles, you can hear their gentle swish, swish, swish, on the summer wind." She goes on to put a live bear in Karofsky and Blaine's apartment (misunderstanding the meaning of the Karofsky being "into bears") and to try to convince Karofsky and Blaine they're cousins. Kurt asks Sue to back off and even tries to move on by going on a date, but the man he met online turns out to be a long-closeted man in his mid-50s. All this raises the question: Was it necessary to involve a live bear cub on the road to Kurt and Blaine's eventual reconciliation? Yes, actually. Yes, it was.
Meanwhile, Sue's determined to fully express her newly reignited Mr. Schue rage and tells him as much in a take-down that accuses him of being a "borderline pederast" with a bizarre psycho-sexual interest in teens, who preys on the most vulnerable glee kids and ignores the rest (she cites long-neglected glee-club members like Matt Rutherford, Rory, and Joe in her rant). But she's equally angry at Rachel for coming back to town with her "suitcase full of glitter and tears" in tow. Drone strikes on Vocal Adrenaline rehearsal aside, Sue's cruelest attacks are on Rachel. Sue hypnotizes Sam — complete with a spinning background and pocket watch — into making a move on Rachel, and when he finally kisses her, she kisses back. (The kiss is preceded by a duet of Vanessa Carlton's "1000 Miles," which is either sweetly sentimental or absolutely unbearable, depending on what you were up to in 2002.)
Because of the hypnosis, Sam immediately forgets what's happened, but Rachel remembers and asks him on a date. This is huge; she's barely mentioned boys since Finn died, let alone pursued one. Sam rejects her pretty cheerfully, saying he's still in love with Mercedes, and Rachel's very sad. It makes me wonder where Rachel will be romantically at the end of the series, especially since Glee was ultimately supposed to end with Rachel moving back to Lima to be with Finn. Rachel ending the show all alone or "married to her work" feels bleak for a show that's supposed to be all about opening yourself up to joy. Unrelated: This means Sam has now kissed all six of Glee's original ladies. Sam Evans: glassblower, impressionist, stud.
The episode culminates in a show-choir invitational that Sue put together to try to implode Vocal Adrenaline, the Warblers, and New Directions all at once. Sue's tricked Schue into thinking Rachel's scheming against him, and so even though he'd agreed to go easy on Rachel and the New Directions, he tells Vocal Adrenaline to perform the full-scale numbers they'd rehearsed. It's oddly gratifying to watch Schue's new students hate on him — they even deny him the pleasure of a pre-performance show circle. (That's less sexual than it sounds.) Their performance of "Rock Lobster" and "Whip It" is the first real show-choir performance we've seen this season, and while it's not up to par with some of Vocal Adrenaline's past performances, the other kids are completely daunted. The cameras cut away to the four New Directions members, mortified and afraid in the auditorium, and it's a total throwback to the pilot, when the six original New Directions watched Vocal Adrenaline perform "Rehab" and thought they'd never stand a chance. How far we've come since then.
Next week, Kurt and Blaine get stuck in an elevator together, so yes, it would appear that this season of Glee is hell-bent on making all of my dreams come true.