Last week New York may have been stressful, but it was jubilant. Our gang was forging new beginnings and learning to be themselves in the city, and triumphing. This week, even in triumph the hardships are harder. That's New York for you. It doesn't give an inch when you push. It's nice to see Glee residing in that particularity of the city. To get you there, they employ the always effective straight-to-song open -- on the Whitney tribute episode the foursome of Rachel, Mercedes, Kurt and Santana paying homage as they walked through the halls was eerie and beautiful.
Now we have Sam, Rachel, Kurt and Blaine carrying flowers and candles through the darkened NYC streets as they sing "No One Is Alone" from Into The Woods to a memorial for a victim of a gay bashing. With a lot to do in a single episode, Glee telegraphs much of the thrust of the episode in this scene. The musical itself is about the act of growing up, and realizing your world and the characters in it aren't exactly what they seem. That leads to finding a family of choice, and protecting each other fiercely, which is a core tenant of Glee, and nicely reinforced here. Also, simply, it reminds us that Glee is a musical. Despite there being a balance between pop and Broadway, New York feels more Broadway, and that's for the better.
We leave that thread of bashing open for a while, to instead focus on the hectic rush of life. For Rachel, that's negotiating some time off from Funny Girl to complete her NYADA review, since she's still trying to pull double duty as a student and a budding Broadway star, implausibly. It's granted, and she and Blaine take the stage to duet to "Broadway Baby" from Follies. It's camp, and fun, and twirling, but it's also not at all what was assigned. Solos only, and for that reason alone Carmen fails them both on the spot. She, of course, reconsiders and allows them a chance to pass if they reschedule this week. For Rachel, this is impossible, and when she visits office hours to plead her case, Carmen is having none of it. Rachel has drive, but she lacks foundation. She doesn't listen to take direction, and she's not ready for Broadway, according to Carmen. She needs to decide if it's about stardom or the craft. For Gold-Star-After-My-Name-Rachel-Berry, it's always been about the spotlight. She quits NYADA.
Mercedes and Sam are running into the wall of the real world in New York too. Living together has rekindled the flame we barely got to see in Season 3, and now everyone's got an opinion. Their friends don't think they have much chemistry, although their cute scene together walking along the Hudson and throwing pennies and faux fur coats into the river demonstrate their electricity, so much so that Mercedes belts Carol King's "(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman" as dancers twirl on a carousel around her. More problematic than the idle worry of a lack of chemistry, Mercedes back-up singer friends aren't big fans of Sam. First, because he's a guy she knows from high school and isn't that going backwards? Then, after they meet him and he word-vomits all sorts of racist and awkward statements about names and hair and does some questionable impressions, it's because he's a supremely white dude and she's a black woman hoping to break into the R&B market. Dating Sam will alienate her fans. When she tries to break it off with him and they butt up against these issues, Sam clings to the lessons he's learned in Glee -- acceptance and diversity, it didn't matter who you were in the choir room! Mercedes reminds him they're not in the choir room anymore.
Finally, "bashing" circles back. Kurt meets Rachel for dinner, where she tells him he's scared and clinging to NYADA where it's one big safe group where no one takes any risks. She says he's avoiding being an adult. Then Kurt goes and proves he's not afraid, or scared of taking a risk, or being an adult. Kurt sees someone getting hit, and even before he hears the attacker calling the man a fag, he rushes into the fray, pushing one of them men off the victim and screaming at them. He's hit with a brick and then left unconscious in the alleyway. We see the phone chain as the other characters are alerted -- first Blaine and Sam, then Mercedes, Artie and finally Rachel. They converge on the hospital, where we learn Kurt will be fine, save for some bruising. They surround his hospital bed, watching. Sam wants to kill whoever did this to Kurt, and Blaine worries that Kurt doesn't even know they're all there.
As Kurt's heart monitor beeps quietly in the background, Blaine begins to sing "Not While I'm Around" from Sweeney Todd. The rest of the gang backs out silently, leaving him there to croon, transition to his rescheduled NYADA performance where he's solemnly singing the same song to an enraptured room, and then back to the hospital where he crawls in bed beside his still passed-out fiance and holds him. Glee has been focused on bullying, bashing and the fight of queer kids from day one, but it proves that storytelling around this doesn't get old, it just gets better.
Burt comes in like a lion to his son's hotel room, asking him why he thinks he's a superhero who can run into a fight instead of calling the police. Kurt shoots back that he's not afraid, and he knows who he is. He's the man that Burt Hummel raised. Burt makes him promise not to do it again unless he's by his side to take them down together. With Blaine, Kurt returns to the memorial for the first bashing of the episode to lay fresh roses and pay his respects.
In the wake of Kurt's injury, Mercedes and Sam get back on track. She realizes that she shouldn't not date someone because they're white, or because she's worried about what other people might think, but because she wants to date them. This segues into Mercedes singing "Colorblind," which is an original track by Amber Riley. New York can be a perfect vehicle for original songs by the cast, and this number is a great first step. Rachel doesn't back down, but she does apologize to Kurt for what she said to him, reaffirming their best friendship, and rallies the rest of the group to go support him at his NYADA midwinter performance. Kurt Hummel doesn't disappoint, a show-stopping performance of "I'm Still Here" from Follies.
Where others in this episode confront walls when they do things like they did in high school, Kurt shines by adapting. It takes the bashing to shake Mercedes out of the constructs she's allowed in her year and a half post-McKinley, while Sam is still optimistic and believes in the lessons of the choir room. We'll see if race rears it's head again in their relationship, but in this brave new Glee we bet it will. Rachel and Blaine, used to getting by on their charm and flash in the choir room, are taken down a notch when Carmen threatens to fail them. This episode is about learning to grow, but not growing out of yourself. Rachel Berry still cares about stardom, and knows that Broadway is her only choice, and finally she makes it. Blaine knows he wants to protect Kurt, but has to accept he won't always be there. Kurt has a leg up on everyone -- "I'm Still Here" is just an extension of what he already was at McKinley, the continuation of "Rose's Turn" or "Le Jazz Hot" among others. Or, as Rachel puts it, he's the most talented person that she's ever met. Still, even Kurt has to learn to be a new version of himself in New York, with enough courage to stand up not just for himself, but for others. Growth is the name of the game, and in the good and the bad times, Glee is still great in New York.