Glee Recap: The Whitney Tribute

GLEE: Santana (Naya Rivera, L) and Rachel (Lea Michele, R) perform in the
Photo: Adam Rose/FOX

Last week on Glee, we all caught Saturday Night Glee-ver, and then three days later, Robin Gibb woke up from his coma. I’m pretty surprised Ryan Murphy hasn’t tried to take credit for that, and I’m very glad Gibb’s on the mend.

Whitney Houston died on February 11; the Glee cast had begun shooting this episode by March 9. When I said last week that this episode was coming too soon, I meant both that it seemed insensitively close to her death, and that it seemed like the writers wouldn’t have enough time to put together a solid episode. But the opening number got my hopes up. Mercedes, Santana, Rachel, and Kurt’s performance of “How Will I Know” was beautifully arranged and tastefully performed (okay, the locker shrine was a bit much, and the candles seemed dangerous).

I spent the hour bracing for things to go downhill, but the episode didn’t try to do too much at once, and there was a good balance between songs that were related to the story and songs that were included just because they’re great songs. By Brittany and Santana’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” (Heather Morris needs every dance solo under the sun), I was sold.

To help Will understand why the kids are so shaken up about Whitney’s death, Emma opens the pamphlet drawer, which immediately makes me the target audience of a pamphlet titled “So You’re Jealous of a Fictional Character’s Collection of Pamphlets.” The pamphlet Emma shows him, “Princess Di: Why Can’t I Stop Crying?” explains that people latch on to external representations of their grief in times of change and transition. She suggests that they’re not sad about Whitney. They’re sad to be moving forward. For the record, “We’re doing Whitney because we love Whitney and are sad about graduating” reads a billion times better than “We’re doing Britney because we’re tripping on nitrous oxide while having unnecessary dental work done” did.

Three minutes into the episode, Sam asks, “Are we sure [this is] appropriate? Didn’t Whitney kind of have a lot of … problems?” I’ll be interested to see if there’s any criticism of the way the episode glosses over Whitney’s addiction issues, but I think every teen in America is aware that drugs can kill people. The much more difficult point to get across is that drugs could kill them, specifically, and good for Glee for not trying to eradicate teenagers’ inherent sense of invincibility in an hour of television.

Kurt and Blaine spend the episode at odds. At Lima’s brilliantly named sheet music store Between the Sheets, Kurt meets Chandler, who is the rough equivalent of a Sugar Free Red Bull in a stocking cap. They exchange numbers and flirty texts. When Blaine finds out, the argument and near breakup are perfectly executed. Kurt never texts Blaine. Blaine doesn’t make Kurt feel loved. Blaine transferred schools just to be with Kurt every day. Kurt used to get solos every week, and now he’s stuck on a stool in the background. It’s easy to imagine Chris Colfer offering up that last complaint, frankly.

Blaine sings “It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay,” backed by all of New Directions and some stripper-cop-style dancers, and it’s one of the best songs of the episode. Kurt maintains that texting isn’t cheating (this is something we, as a society, are going to have to sit down and settle one of these days), but after a conversation with his father, he realizes how much he misses Blaine. Burt’s presence feels tacked on, but Mike O’Malley could make me cry just by reading the iTunes terms and conditions aloud, so I loved hearing him tell Kurt that they made each other men. Since Mike O’Malley has lobbied the Glee showrunners for a song in the past, I’m deeply disappointed that he didn’t join in on Kurt’s “I Have Nothing,” though I’m sure he will later in my dreams.

The Kurt and Blaine (together and alone) stuff just works so much more frequently than some of the other material in this episode and on the show. I’d love for Glee to have more of these strong moments — the way Kurt and Blaine’s couples counseling scene has an accusation about bronzer-spiked moisturizer just seconds before a tearful, honest reconciliation, for example — and it makes me wonder what Glee would be like if it weren’t an ensemble show. It would be interesting to see what would happen if the writing staff could focus on these two characters (or, fine, any two characters, but it’s clear at this point that the writers really understand how to write for Kurt and Blaine and feel comfortable doing so). Everyone else could still sing and have solos sometimes, but Kurt and Blaine (or Rachel and Finn, which I wouldn’t watch, or Brittany and Santana, which I’d watch on a daily basis) would be the consistent center of the story. So many members of the cast have been relegated to bit part status by default — why not make that official?

This week Quinn teaches us that the arduous process of recovering from a spinal cord injury is basically painless, happens in a room with exceptionally flattering light, and is so easy that your quasi-boyfriend can do it all by himself while the two of you sing “Saving All My Love for You”! Plus, according to Brittany, Quinn can still fly and breathe fire in her dreams, so things aren’t all bad.

Joe’s been spending a lot of time (non-kissing time, to Quinn’s chagrin) with Quinn. He wants to help her because, he says, being a Christian isn’t about talk. Except, presumably, for when he talked about being a Christian just then. Joe’s dreadlocks are so distracting, particularly when he puts them in a messy bun, that it is hard to process the fact that he is not just saying the word dreadlocks over and over again. He’s attracted to Quinn, and they are sweet together, but he doesn’t make a move or say anything until he’s stretching her legs and accidentally gets a boner against her thigh. He’s mortified (for the record, SO AM I), and tells Quinn that she’s pretty but that he’s worried about what he sincerely refers to as “sins of the flesh.” This is the first time I’ve ever seen an on-leg boner referenced as a “sin of the flesh” on network TV, so don’t let anyone ever tell you that Glee isn’t groundbreaking television.

Finally, we come to Will and Emma. Will wants to move the wedding up from next Christmas to next month. This ruins, among other things, Emma’s dreams of setting up a Champagne fountain right next to Baby Jesus’ manger. Will tries to trick Emma into believing that he’s doing this because he just can’t wait to be married to her. He yells when he doesn’t get his way, and then finally cries about how much he’s going to miss the kids, and how sad he’ll be if they can’t be at the wedding. I don’t understand what it would cost the show to have Will apologize after he acts like this, or to have Emma say, “I know you’re sad, but you can’t speak to me like this. Ever.”

The episode ends with Blaine asking Kurt to make out and Kurt asking to go to New Directions rehearsal instead. Even though it’s not mandatory, Kurt reminds him that there are only so many moments like this left. They head to the auditorium, where everyone else has showed up (Puck even skipped his chlorine shopping trip!), and join in a loose rendition of “Your Love Is My Love.” When it’s like this — when the music is good, when the characters seem like high-school kids, when it’s goofy and fun — the Glee kids aren’t the only ones who’ll miss it when it’s gone.

Glee Recap: The Whitney Tribute