Remember the old days, when an over-the-top Glee episode meant a ridiculous “Run, Joey, Run” video? Those were the days! While we love ridiculousness as much as the next person (we found plenty to like about last week’s divisive, totally crazy Britney Spears episode), this week’s spirituality-focused episode made us realize that perhaps we draw the line somewhere. The show excels when it playfully pokes fun at stereotypes to make a larger point, and, on the one hand, we get Ryan Murphy’s point with this episode: All these kids, no matter their religious background, are looking for something to believe in — all the more reason many attach themselves to the most convenient religious line possible. But didn’t this week’s characterizations feel a little facile? Kurt hates God because he’s gay — end of story (how about some backstory, writers?). Rachel really, really wants newly Jesus-loving Finn to raise their theoretical children Jewish (we’ve yet to see how Judaism figures so strongly into her life — other than as a good excuse to make out with Puck). In the end, like Finn’s grilled imprint of Jesus, this episode felt a little confusing and a bit disappointing.
Billy Joel, “Only the Good Die Young”
Finn has the kind of religious vision we hear about every so often in the news: Jesus’ face has turned up in the oddest of places — his grilled-cheese sandwich. Cue a spiritual awakening in Finn, who decides to share at glee-club rehearsal, freaking Puck out in the process. In borderline offensive moment No. 1 of the episode, Puck explains his religious views (“I’m a total Jew for Jesus. He’s my No. 1 Heeb”). Then he thankfully makes a more meaningful statement: “To me, true spirituality is about enjoying the life you’ve been given.” Okay, we feel better — and then he pretty much nails this classic tune, inspiring the entire class to do the same little charming dance move. Billy Joel unites!
Whitney Houston, “I Look to You”
There must be some grander reason for all this God talk than Finn’s sandwich, and soon enough we learn what it is: Kurt’s dad suffers a heart attack, and for the rest of the episode he’s in a coma, out of which we’re not sure he’ll emerge. Of course, Kurt’s left feeling not only lost without a spiritual compass but overcome with guilt, since his last words with his father were a typically juvenile argument, this time about his preference for a Sound of Music sing-along over family dinner. Before stinging Kurt with the parental kiss of death (“I’m disappointed in you”), Mr. Hummel makes the key point that, for himself and his son, family is what’s sacred, and though Kurt doesn’t know it then, he’ll feel lost without it someday. In one of the more realistic character portrayals this week, Kurt goes with his usual, teenage-boy reaction — sulking — which isn’t improved even by Amber Riley’s lovely rendition of this “spiritual” song. Props where props are due: At least Mercedes, Quinn, and Tina, the resident Christians, aren’t portrayed as Jesus freaks.
Lennon and McCartney, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Papa, Can You Hear Me” from Yentl
The minute Kurt whispered, “Dad, can you hear me?” at the hospital bed, we practically screamed “OH GOD IT’S YENTL” on our couch. We restrained ourselves, thankfully, which made Lea Michele’s Sabbath-candles-by-the-lake date with Finn later on slightly less shocking (admit it: After “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” we knew she’d move on eventually to the next most signature Barbra number). While Sue occupies herself trying to use Kurt to argue her separation of church and state point of view (“I’m sorry for what you’re goin’ through, lady. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I guess I don’t have to, I think Mary Lou Retton’s like, an orphan or something”), Rachel trades religious demands for Finn’s right to get to second base (again: Why, why make her even more of an awful stereotype than she already is?). But plot aside, these two numbers work fairly well. Lea Michele is predictably much better suited for Yentl than for Britney Spears (maybe that’s why no awful face contortions were involved?), and Chris Colfer transforms this usually happy-go-lucky love song into a yearning, affecting ballad (we could’ve lived without the dad-and-son montage, but the music made up for it).
R.E.M., “Losing My Religion”
In another brief look at Sue’s usually hidden humanity, we find out about her own lack of belief in God through a well-done scene with Emma (ask Sue to go on a rant and she will happily do so!) in which she reveals how her sister’s Down Syndrome made her lose faith early in life. Finn’s love affair with God ends for slightly less deep reasons: He’s disappointed to find that his “prayer” to become quarterback again isn’t really much more than his own plan to steal the spotlight from Sam. The ensuing musical number choice is a bit much (Kurt is literally sitting in a corner — really?!) and well, one of the less fortunate singing moments for Cory Monteith, whose attempt at Michael Stipe Voice doesn’t quite work.
Simon and Garfunkel, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”
Finally, the episode comes back down to earth: Mercedes’s tentative approach (and mention of fabulous hats) gets Kurt to go to her church, which seems fairly cool in that it allows Mercedes to address the congregation by saying “Hi, church!” It’s still unclear what made Kurt suddenly accept his friends’ support, but the sight of him sitting among the church ladies is a great visual gag, and though gospel “Bridge Over Troubled Water” has been done ad infinitum, this version’s wonderfully led by Mercedes (with some excellent Chaka Khan inflection) and uplifting at just the right moment in the episode.
Joan Osborne, “One of Us”
We’re simultaneously thrilled and worried by this closing number. On the one hand, more than any song this episode, this one feels the most appropriate for a group of kids questioning who God is and how God fits into their lives. It’s perfectly suited to Tina’s voice (we only wish she’d sung for longer). But it also feels too familiar as the feel-good-episode closer. The writers threw plenty of big issues at the wall this week, so what will happen next? We have an odd feeling that, aside from some follow-through on the Mr. Hummel plot, we’ll hear little about the kids’ religious beliefs ever again — especially since next week’s “Duets” conceit feels like old-school Glee returning.