A lesson learned: "Glee" shouldn't put two distinct episodes on in a single night, because it runs the risk of one being strong while the other is weak, and if it plays out in that order -- as it did Tuesday night -- fans are left with a very uneven and bitter taste in their mouths going into a much-hyped finale.
"Props" is fun "Glee" with a dose of reality, one of the better mark-hitting examples of the season, while "Nationals" goes to the 'embrace our club and our outsiderness' sappy place. Smushed together, they both lose their individual potent high points and come out blander than they deserve. The "Glee" we love was alive and kicking somewhere in those two hours on Tuesday, it's just hard to find.
We start with "Props," which centers around the preparation for Nationals. It felt organically Glee, zany but with heart. Our main plot is Tina, who finally speaks out about being ignored and playing backup to Rachel's ambitions and stardom. Rachel assures her that she'll have her time next year, and that to get what Rachel has Tina is going to have to really push herself. While throwing herself into her role as costume mistress for National's with reckless abandon, Tina falls into a mall fountain while texting (texting is actually Glee's biggest villain this season) and comes out to a world where everyone's characters have switched. Finn and Puck are now Kurt and Blaine! Tina is Rachel!
Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me"
The viewers are treated to several scenes where the actors inhabit each other's traits and Tina-as-Rachel gets to sing Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me" and give solid support to Rachel-as-Tina. When she comes to, Tina is inspired by dream Rachel-as-Tina's advice to Tina-as-Rachel to hunt down her NYADA judge and not take no for an answer. So far Rachel has stuck to endless phone messages begging for another chance (after singing Jason Mraz's "I Won't Give Up," naturally), but Tina decides that they'll head to Oberlin to catch Whoopi after a master class and beg for her presence at the Nationals competition for a second chance (background music note -- as Rachel and Tina talk, Michael Sembello's "Maniac" plays). Whoopi, of course, isn't having it, until Tina steps in and endorses that despite Rachel's annoying demeanor, she's destined to be a star. We don't get resolution until the next episode, but we do get to see Rachel and Tina join forces on a duet of "Flashdance... What a Feeling" by Irene Cara, which narratively delivers them to their bus to the Nationals competition.
Meanwhile, the episode's namesake stems from Sue's insistence on props or a gimmick to win Nationals. When metalwork-themed Flashdance doesn't work out, she keeps insisting that Kurt wear a dress to compete with Unique's who's briskly risen to Show Choir fame. Kurt insists he would never -- minus one hilarious turn as Snooki to Blaine's The Situation for Halloween -- and in the end Puck tries to take one for the team in horrible drag. Sue's great hope is abandoned, but that also brings us back to the Beiste domestic abuse storyline and Puck's school situation. The hockey jocks get wind of Puck's cross-dressing and decide to taunt him, but when they call him a Lima Loser he breaks, and they meet in by the dumpsters for a fight.
It's the first full-on schoolyard fight in Glee's history, and Puck ups the ante when he pulls out a switchblade. Beiste intervenes before things can escalate (and Puck later admits it was only a prop knife), bringing him to the locker room where he breaks down, explaining that he's got nothing to lose, that he's worthless and nobody cares about him. They embrace, and while she doesn't tell Puck about her situation she empathizes about people thinking the tough guys like the two of them can't get hurt. Cooter keeps promising to get better, but he's still angry and she's sleeping with a knife under her pillow for protection. In a powerful scene that helps to alleviate some of the bad feelings about the plotline to begin with, although it might be too little, too late. After she finally leaves Cooter for good, she joins puck on a duet of Taylor Swift's "Mean" in the auditorium, then reveals that she'll help Puck retake his test to graduate.
It's a shame we haven't seen more of this pair together throughout the season, and it's delightful and deserves a road trip adventure spin-off. This tone, where the adult's life situation is a parallel to something a child is going through emotionally works much better than the after-school-special attempt they made with the domestic violence plot the first time around. It's also good that it's been wrapped up and sent packing. Now we just wait to find out if Puck can pass.