We sometimes wish every episode could be like “Laryngitis” or “Dream On” — the over-the-top balanced well with wonderfully delicate character development. But Glee’s inner (er, outer?) show queen will not be denied, which isn’t always a great thing. This week’s Ryan Murphy–helmed episode featuring Lady Gaga and Kiss at first appeared primed to delve into uncomfortable, after-school-special-meets-superficial-pizzazz territory. In some ways, it did: Even Mr. Schue acknowledged the purpose of this week’s assignment was unclear, and a good deal of the lines felt like Murphy batting us over the head with his
“This Show Is About Being Different and How That Is Totally Okay” message. On the other hand, we must give Murphy props for handling tricky dramatic plot points — Rachel’s reunion with Shelby; Kurt and Finn’s confrontation — with great honesty. That, and Other Asian and Silent Matt Rutherford finally speaking, make us come out on the plus side this week.
Styne and Merrill, “Funny Girl” (from Funny Girl)
Rachel’s sleuthing skills continue to improve: Seeing yards of Christmas lights and red Chantilly lace, she figures out that Vocal Adrenaline’s at work on a Gaga number (well done, Rachel), and infiltrates a run-through with Quinn and Mercedes, though we know she’s really there to see her mom in person. Enter Idina Menzel, who turns in a transfixing, subdued performance of another Funny Girl diva classic (clever how the musical choice echoes Rachel’s earlier “Don’t Rain on My Parade”), eliciting both hilarity (“Barbra. I can do it in my sleep”) and believable fear and longing in Rachel — who finally introduces herself (and thankfully doesn’t butt in, vocally).
Lady Gaga, “Bad Romance”
In one of the more contrived Figgins office meetings yet, the anxious little principal is on Will’s case again; he’s afraid Tina’s Goth look is promoting vampire mania at school. After briefly reminiscing about his days dressing like Kurt Cobain (really, we’d love to have seen that. Matthew Morrison with stringy, long hair — is it even physically possible?!), Will decides this week must be about self-expression through wacky clothes: It’s Gaga week, says Schue (with little reason as to why, exactly)! Cue a series of the most impressive Gaga knockoffs the Midwest has likely seen — we’re especially taken with Quinn’s constellation outfit, Kurt’s McQueen-inspired shoes, and Brittany’s lobster glasses — and a rather winning number, which successfully replicates much of Gaga’s choreography while maintaining a slightly rough edge that allows us to remember these are, actually, just super-talented kids. Extra points to Jenna Ushkowitz, for finally rocking a solo, and Naya Rivera, for totally blowing us away with hers!
Kiss, “Shout It Out Loud”
For the first time in a long time, we saw the consequences both Finn and Kurt have to face at school for their choices to live in a, well, “out loud” way. Finn’s punched in the bathroom by his former buddies (“Being a jock and being in glee club does not make you versatile. It makes you bisexual”), as is Kurt, who magnificently stands up for Tina. Meanwhile, Finn’s pushed over the edge by his mom’s decision to move in with the Hummels, screaming at Kurt about why he can’t just fit in, calling his various Dietrich Cooper–inspired furnishings “faggy” and inspiring a magnificent dramatic dialogue from Mike O’Malley (weren’t there several more lengthy monologues this week than usual? A play on the theatricality theme, we hope?). In other news, the boys have somehow procured excellent Kiss getups, pyrotechnic engineering, and a keen sense of harmony. It’s all-around swoon inducing, especially Puck’s Gene Simmons tongue act and “whore lips.”
Names played a small but intriguing role this week: We found out that Rachel was given her name by her dads for no reason more significant than that they were Friends fans; we also witnessed Quinn and Puck’s struggle to come to an understanding around the issue of their future daughter’s name. In the latter case, Puck came around from his “Jackie Daniels” phase, willing to take ownership of being a dad and singing a great, minimal rendition of this ballad (we really enjoyed the camera’s focus on Quinn’s face, simultaneously breaking our hearts and testing us to take her seriously, what with the pink feather eyelashes). Shelby, on the other hand, admits to Rachel that she’s “your mother, not your mom,” a distinction that’s sad but true.
Lady Gaga, “Poker Face”
We’re glad that several key points weren’t quite smoothed over at episode’s end. As it often happens in non-Glee life, Rachel didn’t get a wish come true with her mom. We enjoyed a few cute moments — the gold star glass, Rachel noticing “even the way we’re sitting right now is so dramatic” — but as Rachel observed, all the cliché moments she expected just didn’t feel right. Kurt and Finn seem to make up, thanks to Finn swooping in to save Kurt in a way Kurt likely never imagined (that would be while wearing a Gaga red plastic bondage gown), but we have a feeling these two still have a long way to go to a real understanding. So nice try, Glee: You can give us Tina in vampire teeth and Schue happy-go-luckily yelping “Next stop, Regionals!” but we know this isn’t a happy ending, thanks to Idina Menzel and Lea Michele’s sly reading of “Poker Face,” here in the stripped-down arrangement Gaga herself occasionally performs (played by Brad — who now has a name! “He’s always just … around.” Awesome!). It’s clearly a battle of who can put up the best front, and we’re impressed to see Lea Michele’s ability to show us the chinks in Rachel’s armor, even as Shelby maintains the poker face supreme.