“New New York“ is hands-down the best episode of “Glee” to date. There’s barely any contest.
Season 1 purists will hold up the Pilot as an ideal episode, and you admittedly couldn’t get to here without those inventive and inspiring beginnings, but that’s just building blocks and not substance. After 4 and a half years “Glee” has evolved from a plucky magical reality about high school underdogs to a group of friends living out their ambitions in New York City, and it finally feels right. Kurt and Rachel’s New York of the last year-and-a-half felt like a fable, but bring some more of McKinley there and it settles into the reality that “Glee’s” always promised.
But not perfect reality. We still have to have some song-and-dance fantasy, of course. We start off in shiny and wonderful New York, the New York of the “Glee” club’s dreams. We even begin in Washington Square, where the whole gang sang-and-danced during their first New York experience in Season 2. The new New York gang converges there while singing Petula Clarks’ “Downtown” as Rachel arrives in her Funny Girl towncar. “Forget all your troubles,” they croon, but almost immediately the problems of New York start to seep in.
Artie is experiencing the brunt of it this episode. He may start off looking on the bright side. In a city that walks, Artie notes, he wheels faster. Then almost immediately he gets mugged on the subway and experiences dwindling to non-existent compassion and interest from his too-busy friends (Kurt is the lone standout who seems to care). New York is not kind, and New York doesn’t always care about you. His story intersects most, for once, with Rachel. She’s spiraling straight into diva territory as Funny Girl draws near, and losing touch with the realities of the city. With her budding star status she’s found the ultimate NYC cheat -- with enough money, it’s hard for New York to hurt you. Rachel’s character development will always be cyclical -- she’ll never not let stardom go to her head, but that’s why she’s got her friends to bring her down to earth. Artie serves the purpose this time, and she ditches her towncar in Chinatown and accompanies Artie on the subway as they sing another upbeat Petula Clark tune, “Don’t Sleep In The Subway.” Rachel and Artie even manage to recover all of Artie’s belongings when they find the same mugger on the train and Artie pepper sprays him. Sometimes New York is just too good to be true.
Sam is also struggling with the city, barely leaving the loft couch and not booking any modeling gigs. A musical fix is offered by Blaine, who gets him out of the house to experience New York by taking him to the one place almost all true New Yorkers avoid -- Times Square. Their triumphant duet of American Author’s “Best Day Of My Life” while they dance with a drum circle and a battle crew is such lurid fantasy New York that it’s no real surprise despite Sam’s life-change moment of a haircut that gets him his first model gig and a bed in an overcrowded models apartment falls apart in less than a day. New York is not fixed at the wave of a magical Times Square number, and faced with the reality of his roommate offering him a plethora of drugs to manage his new hectic and high pressured model life, Sam flees back to the loft.
Kurt and Blaine start off so optimistic. The episode time jumps us enough to get past the newness of cohabitation and right into the frustrations. Blaine still can’t believe the dream of their life together, waking up in the same bed every day and building a future. They emphasize the point with a duet on “You Make Me Feel So Young,” twirling through the apartment, having pillow fights and picking out each other’s clothes. It’s the grown up realization of that teenage dream from Blaine’s first appearance, the adulthood for which they’ve both yearned. It’s almost too good to be true. Actually, it is.
Klaine is so together it’s too much togetherness. Blaine has found a way to share almost all of Kurt’s classes, including his special upperclassmen mime seminar where they end up trapped in a glass box together as Blaine plans more and more of their together time and Kurt’s face grows more and more ashen. He lets out his fears at the music store with Elliot, worried that the bed bug infested couch Blaine brought to the loft is a metaphor for their doomed relationship. Elliot reminds him that boundaries are okay, and that they’re meant to be together even if it’s rough right now. The only gratuitous moment of the episode is the following “Rockstar” performance, but the A Great Big World number gets a pass since Elliot is charming and any excuse to watch Kurt crowd-surf and air-guitar is allowed. Kurt and Elliot’s friendship is, of course, part of the final straw that sends Kurt and Blaine into meltdown. Kurt arrives home to Blaine planning out a new office space in the loft and snaps, then Blaine snaps, and they spiral into a knock-out fight. Blaine storms out and straight over to Elliot’s house, accusing him of driving the wedge between Klaine.
A sloppier “Glee” would have given Elliot a crush on Kurt and let that scapegoat this drama into a love triangle situation for the umpteenth time, but we’re in a brave new world now. Elliot is just a friend, and Klaine’s problems are about their own boundaries and how to make that work for their relationship. Blaine heads home and the pair have a reasonable, emotional adult conversation about what will keep their relationship strong. In this case, it’s some physical space in the form of Blaine moving out. Instead of heartbreaking, this feels right. For a pair that’s been on soap opera levels of drama for over a year, watching them actually seem human is one of the greatest triumphs of this episode. Klaine’s teenage dream is realized as actual growth, and it’s glorious. Plus, they have hot make up sex.
All that’s left is for Mercedes to show up and solve the housing problem by inviting Sam and Blaine to take up residence in her extra bedroom in her record-label-provided Brooklyn apartment. The stage set for a bright future, Rachel rushes off from move-in day to rehearsal where she sings Funny Girl’s “People” over a montage of the various characters existing in the city, only to come back together in the loft over a potluck dinner and laughter. As it ends we’re tight on a shot of a crowded New York street as we eventually see Rachel, one among them, singing and melting into the masses.
What makes this episode so stand-out? The episode centers on making the right decisions for your own happiness, and the happiness of those around you, and “Glee” itself makes the right decisions too. The writing it tight, the cinematography is compelling and feels appropriately grand, and the songs mean something. It’s everything “Glee’s” always promised us wrapped up in a beautiful bow. Nothing about this feels like a random mid-season episode. It’s a season premiere at least, and a spin-off series premiere in reality. Most importantly, it feels real. That’s a grand feat for a musical that’s known for it’s flights of fancy, and it’s promising for the year-and-a-half left of the story.