'Glee' Recap: Return of the Underdogs in Search for 'The New Rachel'
'Glee' Recap: Return of the Underdogs in Search for 'The New Rachel'

Season Four Opens With Carly Rae, Imagine Dragons Covers

Mean isn't restricted to New York in the new "Glee." First, when Wade shows up in full Unique drag to a normal school day, the echos of season 1's warning to Kurt to not dress so out there return, only ratcheted up because this is full on drag we're talking about. They try to compromise on supporting Wade as Unique for performances only, but thankfully Unique doesn't budge and comes in full on female attire the next day.

But that's not the extent of the cruelty in glee -- the kids in the club are ruling the school, seated at the popular table with a new trio of representative jocks lead by Kitty, Sue's new head bitch in charge (who's now on baby duty since Sue's kid was born over the summer -- remember that plotline?). Their current target: the lunch lady. The fat jokes abound, with the popular kids egging on the glee kids to join in on the teasing. They're all uncomfortable, but too nervous to shake the boat of their new-found status, and so Artie is the one to pull out a joke or two. But when Marley joins the group and sees this happen she can't keep up her self-defense pretense of pretending she doesn't know her mother (the aforementioned lunch lady) at school and lashes out at the group. Sam runs to comfort her in a way that screams, "fans, ship this because it's coming" since they have similar poor-kid backgrounds (let's hope Marley doesn't turn to stripping) and then the whole club shows up to apologize. However, the missteps of protecting a lunch lady and letting a boy dress in drag is enough to erase all popularity the Glee club earned with a Nationals win. The new jocks slushie Marley and Unique and order is restored at McKinley.

In between all of this New York vs Lima positioning is Kurt Hummel, who is stuck in a sort of post-high school purgatory. He starts the episode lurking the McKinley halls, where Sue calls him out for breaking the stereotype that only jocks linger pathetically around high school post graduation. Kurt has signed up for community college, and is working at the Lima Bean. It's pretty heartbreaking for any Kurt fan who's had to watch him keep getting beaten down for the last three years. Finally Blaine gives him the push he needs to stop hanging on to Ohio waiting for NYADA, and urges him to just go embrace New York regardless. This is, of course, done through song, with Blaine singing Imagine Dragons' "It's Time" in the McKinley courtyard complete with singing while jumping rope, stepping and a round of The Cup Game because you know Blaine Anderson went to musically-inclined summer camp a lot as a kid.

Kurt sells his car, buys a plane ticket, and after a touching scene where Burt pushes his baby bird out of the nest ("You can always come back.... but you won't," if you didn't tear up at that you might not have a heart), Kurt arrives in New York to surprise Rachel. We close as the club gathers for their first group number of the year, Adele's "Chasing Pavements," fronted by Marley. It's good, but not great like most of their other attempts at Adele. The scene does have great parallels to the pilot with Jake taking Puck's place spying in the auditorium, but doesn't push it too far with a Kitty-as-Quinn cameo as well.

There was a lot of talk and marketing of this season as "revolutionary," but after the first episode it's hard to see anything that warrants it as such. It's good. It might even be great, if it can keep the tone that it's fighting hard to win back since the doldrums of last season. It was enjoyable "Glee," it has a contained plotline that didn't feel overly rushed and tendrils of plot that could define a full season if allowed. There's promise in new conflicts like romance across distance, the definition of one's self around new relationships and the conflict of ambition and the constraints of a post-high school world. But it's less of a revolution and more of a return to what "Glee" was to begin with -- underdogs who find friendship through the power of song and dance.

Oh, and Blaine is crowned The New Rachel. Whether or not we return to this plot point next week will determine if this is really new "Glee" or business-as-usual. Here's hoping.