Here are a few things Glee would like for you to know: For the duration of the series, there will be no fourth wall. The writers have read all of your fan fiction, probably out loud to one another. And (perhaps most important) show circles are BACK.
This week, Sue’s deranged quest to get Kurt and Blaine back together escalates when she traps the two of them in what’s essentially a fake elevator. After they’ve been trapped for 12 hours, a scary Sue puppet rides in on a tiny tricycle and tells them she’ll let them out as soon as they’ve kissed. (I’m assuming this is a reference to Jigsaw from Saw, which is too scary for me to Google and verify.) They pass the time — which seems like at least a couple of full days — pretty adorably, sharing food, playing “Who Am I” with an old Breadstix menu, and watching one another sleep. At one point Sue dowses them with some sort of sex pollen, which they consider the last straw. As the New New Directions sing “It Must Have Been Love,” Kurt and Blaine kiss. They agree it doesn’t mean anything. The Sue Sylvester puppet, its arms raised in victory, begs to differ. It’s a meta-commentary that’s really very funny in places, as Sue’s behavior last week was, although it’s not particularly subtle — or flattering, if you’re an ardent shipper of Kurt and Blaine, or any of Glee’s couples, really. (More on that in a bit, after I’ve acclimated to having used the term “ardent shipper.”)
Meanwhile, Rachel and Sam go after Kitty and Spencer as potential glee-club recruits. It’s funny to watch Kitty — she is Quinn Fabray, really, minus the pregnancy and the love triangle, and it’s touching to see her parallel Quinn in Glee’s pilot, watching the action in the auditorium from the sidelines while deciding whether she wants to join in. I’m glad she eventually comes back to the New Directions, but it makes me even more confused about why her entire “class” of New Directions disappeared. I initially thought that Marley, Ryder, and company were shunted to the sideline because they were Finn’s New Directions and the show wanted to gently pivot away from Finn’s story to end on a more hopeful note. But it’s clear that this season of Glee doesn’t want us to forget Finn, and it shows in Sam’s efforts to get Spencer to join the glee club. Spencer’s held back by the same reason Finn was — fear of how his teammates will react — and Sam shows him Finn’s jersey and asks him to be who Finn was and carry his legacy forward. Spencer agrees and joins the club.
If the absence of Marley, Ryder, Unique, and Jake isn’t some sort of attempt to downplay Finn’s era of New Directions leadership, I’m not sure what it’s about. Maybe it came down to a budgetary issue; maybe part of the “punting” Glee had to do last season made it easier to scrap those characters’ stories and move forward. Maybe we’ll never know, but it seems this bunch of kids are our 2015 New Directions. Bonus: They’re not a bad little choir! It’s an odd first set list — all of the songs were chosen because they evoke strong emotion in Sue, and there’s a particularly great montage of Sue watching her presidential candidates lose as Roderick sings “Father Figure.” They wrap it up with Air Supply’s “All Out of Love,” which is sweet, although this clip from Parks and Recreation really ruined that song forever for me. It wasn’t until the New New Directions got to the end of their last song that I realized throughout the entire Invitiational competition, we only heard newbies (and Kitty) perform. I think that makes this the first Glee ever not to feature at least one performance from an original member of New Directions. That’s sort of an odd choice for a show in its farewell season, right?
It’s equally odd that the New Directions win the Invitational, considering their choreography consisted of walking back and forth and their song arrangements were pretty simple, but then again, that’s nothing new. What’s new is the fact that Mr. Schue finally has the students he (arguably) deserves, which is to say that all of his students hate him. Clint, who is Vocal Adrenaline’s male lead and who looks like he’s in his late 40s, swears he’s going to get Mr. Schue fired after their group takes third place. It is surreal and strangely gratifying to see Mr. Schue in a position where he can’t save himself pep talks and show circles.
To go back to the story of Jigsaw Sue and Klaine: I think criticism of an episode like this will come most vigorously from the vocal subset of rabid fans Glee is trying to poke fun at, and that criticism will likely run along the lines of “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” That’s fair. At the same time (and I can’t believe I’m about to defend a man who I once encouraged to stop writing Glee and instead buy the Boston Celtics while floating in a swimming pool full of rubies), I understand why Ryan Murphy might feel a little bit bite-y.
Look, anyone who’s read my writing about the show over the past three years knows I think Glee has been fully off the rails at some points and incredibly cavalier and irresponsible about important issues, to say nothing of the number of times white men have awkwardly rapped. But if I wrote a show as complex and award-winning as Glee and had to spend a lot of time fielding “WHEN WILL MY FAVORITE COUPLE KISS AGAIN?” requests, I’d probably want to have a little fun with that, and I wouldn’t worry all that much about who (or where) I was biting. Put another way: If Glee looks like #YOLO-style television written by a bunch of people with nothing to lose, that’s because, at this point, it absolutely is.