Meta might as well be "Glee’s" middle name, as the series is no stranger to commenting on itself frequently and somewhat ferociously. Last week, the gang was even watching the credits for a "Glee" episode in the loft, joking about how Season 7 is when the series gets good, despite "Glee" only planning a six-season run. A show about show-business needs to eventually deal with the modern reality of show-business that affects even the show that is tackling that topic. Mouthful, huh? Here’s this week’s lesson about fame broken down for you -- Don’t read the comments and don’t trust a blogger. Is that subtle dig at all of us recappers and reviewers? "Glee," don’t worry, we love you again. The comments and the blogosphere are safe... for now. But that maxim is just the tip of the meta iceberg, as Rachel prepares for her opening night of "Funny Girl."
Rachel’s self doubt about her big night manifests itself as a panic dream where Shakespeare plays the drums during a performance of “Lovefool” by the Cardigans. Old high school tormentors Karofsky and Becky heckle, flashback versions of Kurt, Blaine, Santana and the gang alternately doo-wop and glare, and everything goes pear shaped. This is as close to "American Horror Story" as "Glee" is ever going to get, but it works.
Rachel wakes up and Kurt tries to impose a no-Internet ban on the loft, filling it with love and support, but of course Tina shows up and starts rambling about her college boyfriend who is obviously gay, and then starts mentioning all the verboden Internet bloggers and amateur critics that Rachel’s been trying to avoid, sending her straight back into a spiral of depression. Nothing will rouse Rachel from her bed, not Sam strumming a guitar or Blaine’s magic fingers or a fake note from Barbra Streisand.
Then, Sue enters, having conned Will into taking her along on his NYC visit because Emma is too pregnant to travel. For Will and Sue, New York is still a fantasy, so they must magically transport themselves to the city via a cardboard cutout production number on the McKinley stage of “NYC” from Annie. Sue ditches Will because their hotel room has only one bed, and decides to take over Kurt’s bed instead. The gang is basically slack jawed. Rachel is still in bed, and so they’re crippled and fall back into the same coping methods they employed at McKinley -- letting Sue steamroll them with the brute force of her personality. She does try, in her own way, to encourage Rachel out of bed by suggesting she eat mustard to make herself puke and “get it over with.” No dice. In the end, only Santana can work her magic, reading old unflattering reviews of Streisand as Fanny. This gives Rachel the nudge, and Santana reminds her in her ever-so-Santanta-way that Rachel is bad at so many things, but not this. They’re peas in a pod, even if they don’t want to admit it often, and people like Rachel and Santana have two speeds -- awesome or not at all. Their common ground is always hard won and fleeting, but to see them standing on it is rewarding. Rachel emerges, and opening night is on!
Sue tries to scalp her ticket to the show, but is smitten with another man doing the same thing to his extra seat, and follows him into the theater. Meanwhile, Will heads backstage to greet Rachel, and the pair talk sweetly about how Rachel has even set aside a seat in Finn’s honor, continuing the show’s bold streak of honoring the loss of Cory Monteith with respect to the characters and plots he left behind. It’s a tricky line to walk, and the show always deserves kudos when they pull it off. Will Freudian slips right into saying he always knew “they” would end up “here” and then remembering that, no, just Rachel is about to go on stage on Broadway. That ship has sailed for Will, further enforced by Emma calling and going into labor in Ohio right that minute. He can’t even stay to watch the show. The camera follows Rachel, alone, as she silently maneuvers through the noise of a backstage poised for curtain walks to her mark to begin the show. It’s both an over-glamorized version of backstage, and eerily accurate. We start with "Greatest Star," which she does well though not as memorably as Kurt’s turn at the number back in Season 3. It simply serves the purpose here of facilitating Sue’s walkout so she can run into and run off with her mystery man, a famous NYC chef who whisks her away for a romantic private dinner. For all the times Sue has played the idea of romance for laughs, for once it feels real. While the realities of Lima have already pulled Will away from the fantasy, NYC is working its magic on Sue, even if it can’t stick.
Backstage at intermission, Rachel frets that Sue’s walk out might hurt their chances with the New York Times critic. Her producer comes in and explains the key to show business -- “The important thing now now is what you do in Act 2. Critics remember beginnings and endings.” It’s a rallying cry for Rachel as much as it’s a rally cry for "Glee" itself, which is one season away from it’s grand finale. Rachel’s Act 2 is “Who Are You Now,” a showstopper where she channels her emotions over Finn, complete with a flashback to the young quarterback in the Lima halls, that leaves no dry eye in the house, tears streaming down Rachel’s face. The song functions as a fantasy duet with Sue, who doesn’t need to flashback to generate her emotions -- she’s living them on her date. In her dressing room Rachel pops champagne with her friends, and instead of attending the flashy cast afterparty, she heads down to Greenwich on Blaine’s suggestion to a gay bar.
Rachel Berry is already a star to the patrons there, and they demand a song. Remember how at the end of a typical Lima "Glee" episode the gang would gather on the stage and sing out their triumphs with an upbeat pop tune, usually with minimal choreography and lots of chutzpa? The New York version of this is invading a gay bar, and the world couldn’t be happier. Rachel struts, Blaine pulls off the bowtie, and there’s definitely some suggestive group gyrating as they sing NONONO’s “Pumpin Blood.” This is how you celebrate your successful opening night.
The group stumbles home at dawn to find that Sue and her man have had sex all over the apartment. She continues to pull her typical Sue act at Rachel over her performance, and before Santana can go all Lima Heights Adjacent, Rachel steps in and lays down the law. Sue isn’t part of their lives anymore, and Sue’s life is nothing compared to what Rachel and all her friends just experienced. She tells her in no uncertain terms to leave her house now because she is not wanted there. Sue, who has no power in New York City, leaves. It’s like watching an exorcism, the last vestiges of what tied them to Ohio losing its ability to tether them. They danced until dawn, banished the demon and are free to embrace the magic of New York as their new, true home.
Sue leaves New York, happier for having known it, and back to Lima to report that it’s actually a wonderful place after-all, even if it’s not her place. Sue took her happiness there, but she also knew it wasn’t her life. Will calls Rachel and tells her he’s had a boy, and for once he feels “completely happy.” He’s not longing for Broadway, or a bigger life that he’s gotten. Rachel, however, is on her way to a very big life, as the reviews come in with across-the-board praise for her. Rachel Berry is, by all accounts, a star. The big question is what happens from here.
Is "Glee’s" Act 2 enough to solidify its legacy? As a show its experiencing a creative and critical upswing, but the commercial one is a harder won battle. Will those heartbroken bloggers give it a real second chance? They should, as “Opening Night” is another in a string of strong episodes that leave us wanting more.