Well, thank you, Glee: This is the kind of episode we can happily deal with. After a whole lot of preparation we haven’t had the pleasure of seeing on TV, it’s sectionals week, and momentous events often mean an over-the-top, melodramatic series of plot twists and turns; instead, we got several more subtly sweet moments (Sam and Quinn backstage); slowly setting in realizations (Kurt’s not having the most perfect debut at Dalton, but he also didn’t conveniently leave and rejoin New Directions just in time for sectionals, so huzzah for that); and, well, simply more realistic plot evolution (like Finn’s oh-so-quick makeup and breakup with Rachel — ah, the fickleness of teenagers). On top of all that, a great diversity of songs were sung, and by a great diversity of actors, praise be to the genius of Emma Pillsbury.
“Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina”
Emma’s back — hooray! — and she’s just in time for a whole lot of New Directions angst. After telling Will she can’t go to sectionals and that he needs to liven up his song solo assignments, Will gets to deal with the fallout: confused and angry Mercedes, Rachel, and Finn and a newly egged-on Santana, who breaks the news to Rachel about her one-nighter with Finn. Meanwhile, over at Dalton Academy (where the boys are smartly attired but begin to look more and more like Hitler Youth in their sameness), Kurt’s finding the world of the Warblers is plenty intolerant, in its own impeccably manicured way. It’s hardly surprising that Kurt turns to another momentarily fallen diva for support (though it’s only Rachel who, marvelously, has her funeral ballad already picked out). Evita can only mean one thing: cue the Rachel Berry over-emoting! Still, the back-and-forth between Kurt and Rachel (who definitely wins the de facto vocals contest) mostly works. The lyrics are oddly evocative for the position both are in: lonely, and not so sure they’ll win, despite the balconies of sorts they’ve both been assured they occupy in their separate little worlds.
“The Living Years”
We’ll echo Rachel’s hilarious look — horrified, confused, a little impressed — when confronted with this thoroughly random performance. Why is a choir of senior citizens competing against two high schools? And what ever happened to the really great juvenile-delinquent girls’ school? We now have Glee to thank for informing us that this song, that dominated the soft-rock stations and mall sound systems of our youth, was apparently originally performed by a certain Mike and the Mechanics. The more you know!
“Hey, Soul Sister”
It’s a bit of a heavy-handed metaphor, but the Warblers’ beloved canary in a cage (they WOULD name it Pavarotti) serves the plotline well. Kurt’s the brightly colored bird who needs taming: His unique, strong voice sets him apart enough to merit a solo audition, but it’s too unusual — too solo-istic — to fit in with the group dynamic (every former choir girl knows a choir of soloists pretty much stinks for everyone involved). Later, Blaine will explain the biological — and symbolic! — process of molting to Kurt, wherein we will begin to uncontrollably think to ourselves, “Kurt knows why the caged bird sings!!!,” but for now he’s another stiffly dancing backup singer for the Warblers’ sectionals performance. It’s a completely believable song choice, the musical embodiment of the Warblers’ philosophy: a shiny, mainstream, omnipresent hit Darren Criss sings with easy-to-digest charm.
“I’ve Had the Time of My Life” and “Valerie”
We’re pleased that Matthew Morrison finally had the opportunity to act a bit this week. Well, he yelled a lot, which is always somehow both jolting and touching, and, this week, was extremely called for. It produced results! Sure, “Time of My Life” is a bit vanilla, but it’s suited well to Sam and Quinn’s buttery voices, and we’ve still not reached saccharine overload when it comes to Chord Overstreet and Dianna Agron. And where do we start with “Valerie”? Sorry, Zutons-lovers: We adore the snappy Mark Ronson arrangement, which makes for one of the first splashy yet somehow believable show-choir numbers we’ve seen New Directions take on. That Naya Rivera rocks it is no surprise; neither are Heather Morris and Harry Shum Jr.’s zippy updated swing moves. We’re still totally wowed, and might have yelped out loud after one of Harry’s flips.
“Dog Days Are Over”
The dog days may indeed, er, be over, at least until after Christmas (we’re steeling ourselves for the Glee: The Christmas Album episode next week). Puckleberry is back! Puck’s back in full-on endearing mode this week, giving the football team a Springsteen-centric thesis as to why they should join New Directions, emerging shell-shocked from a Port-o-Potty imprisonment, and taking Rachel on his arm (“I prayed to God and told him if I ever got out, I’d start being nicer … Then I changed it to just Jews”). Sectionals are over, and with them, we hope, the zany twists and turns from coherency to craziness at the expense of heart. The Tina/Mike and Brittany/Artie relationships withstood some typical teenage misunderstanding this week, just in time for both to somehow feel more natural than ever before. Kurt and his new school, and Rachel and Finn provide enough realistic questions going forward. Emma’s shotgun wedding to Stamos at least ensures we’ll see him again soon. And for now, we’ll have the happy memory of Tina and Mercedes singing Florence and the Machine. Color us impressed: Its improvisatory-feeling progression and quirky tempo changes aren’t easy to navigate, and the Glee crew likely had under 24 hours in which to learn it. All’s well that ends well — at least for one week!