'Glee' Recap: Michael Jackson Tribute Was Bad (As in Good)
More songs, more fantasy, less talking and less adults. These principles applied to the basic structure of "Glee" result in the best episodes of the franchise, and Michael Jackson hit all the notes. The adults stay out of it except in direct support of the kids, the emotional speeches were bookends to musical numbers, the musical numbers themselves were strong, fantastical and poignant to the story. Even as the real world creeps closer and closer to the Michael Jackson fantasy land of McKinley, the New Directions are finding ways to overcome.
We begin with the former Troubletones lamenting to Kurt and Blaine that they missed their chance to perform Michael Jackson in competition, and in a brilliant bit of marketing synergy Blaine manages to promote the Michael Jackson Cirque tour, and kick off the episode with "Wanna Be Starting Something." Blaine crotch-grabs his way through the McKinley halls, rallies the troops in the library and then they all end up on stage in various versions of MJ costumes, looking fabulous. Meanwhile, Finn has been patiently waiting 3 days for Rachel to make a decision about his desperate proposal last episode. Rachel claims to want to marry Finn someday, but that she's still planning on New York, while Finn explains that this engagement would be a way to keep them together and make their relationship more solid. Rachel rightly calls him out on that being a little crazy, but it is crazy in a very specifically high school way where heightened emotion and the fear of change leads to these sorts of rash decisions. Finn stalls her and tells her to think some more.
Video: Blaine, "Wanna Be Starting Something"
Over at the Lima Bean, discussion turns back to Michael Jackson memories -- even though the whole discussion should be about Kurt's fabulous gloves. Evil Sebastian shows up and proclaims that the New Directions' plans are foiled because Warblers have first slot at Regionals and will be performing Michael Jackson as well, since Blaine accidentally tipped him off on their set list. Santana tries to take Sebastian down a peg but he quips back more racist, classist and meaner than Glee's villains normally act. Basically, we're quickly learning Sebastian is a new type of Glee villain. He's even changed the rules in the Warblers, serving as their captain, the days of the council and their fair and proper ways long gone.
Of course the club is in distress, despite Blaine reminding them all that they have pulled off last minute set lists before, and they still have plenty of time by Glee standards to throw something new together.
Mr. Schue turns their frustration into a lesson called WWMJD - What Would Michael Jackson Do? While that's ripe for off-color jokes, Artie points out that Michael would fight back, and Blaine claims that he would "take it to the streets." Glee's version of the streets is an abandoned parking garage, where they meet the Warblers for a Jackson Off. New Directions have put on hoodies to signify their toughness, and they break into a choreographed dance fight set to "Bad" with the Warblers that is up there with the Dreamgirls performance from earlier this season as one of the strangest and best things "Glee" has done. When they edge into true musical theater moments infused in the show is Glee's shining point, and this whole episode showcases mostly that. In the end, the fantasy slams into reality as the Warblers pass Sebastian a slushie he intends to throw at Kurt, except ever valiant Blaine leaps in the way and then crumbles to the ground in pain.
Video: New Directions & the Warblers, "Bad"
Slushies have been an annoying but ultimately harmless abuse device for three seasons on "Glee," a clothes-and-day ruiner and a symbol of high school status, but not actual violence, but our newest villain has, again, changed all the rules, putting something into the mix that we learn scratched Blaine's cornea and requires surgery. Kurt quietly delivers this information to the club, always the boy surrounded by hospitals and pain, and the group reacts in anger. They want revenge, but without proof that the slushie was tampered with there's nothing they can do. Artie breaks down, telling Mr. Schue he wants to do more than just sing to react, and stop turning the other cheek and waiting for things to get better. Schue tells him to take a break, and the Glee fantasy takes over as he steps out of his chair and walks, with Mike, into a recreation of the "Scream" video. It's a reminder of how unfortunately it is that Artie is wheelchair bound because more Kevin McHale dancing on Glee would be amazing. Again, Glee flourishes by letting the songs narrate the show, and taking something iconic visually to highlight the kids' emotions. We learn more about Artie's frustration in this fantasy scene than we have in 3 seasons. We fade back into reality as Artie rolls out of the choir room to calm down.
Rachel comes to Quinn for advice about Finn's proposal. Quinn, who thankfully isn't crazy anymore but somehow applied for and got into Yale in less than a month, tells Rachel she can't do it, and reminds her that college is next and high school romances aren't something to take on to the bright lights of her future. She highlights this with "Never Can Say Goodbye," dressed stunningly in the auditorium where she dances with each of her high school loves, before putting things into her locker that's decorated with all the memories of high school, then shutting that way and finally closing in the choir room as she gives a speech to her fellow glee clubbers about how they helped her become the person that she is today. With that, Quinn's entire storyline for three years is wrapped up with several episodes to go in the season. Maybe she'll just leave for college early.
Santana finds Kurt alone in a classroom, where he's frustrated and wishing for revenge on Sebastian. Santana suggested they forcibly get Sebastian an amazing tramp stamp, but Kurt has fought against violence at McKinley and can't condone it no matter what. Santana, amazingly, agrees, but ominously vows that they're going to beat Sebastian anyway. Meanwhile, we get another Immortal Tour namedrop when Mercedes meets Sam in the auditorium while he propositions her for a "Human Nature" duet by putting her name in lights across the stage. Even though she says no, he starts to play anyway, and the two sound great together, finishing the number with a sweet, simple kiss. Perhaps we're in for another clandestine love affair this season.
Video: Mercedes & Sam, "Human Nature"
Burt shows up at school to pull Kurt out of class, and Kurt reacts as one would who only gets pulled out of class when someone is in the hospital -- in a panic. Blaine is okay, but Kurt's NYADA letter has arrived and after a frantic search for the perfect classroom, Kurt turns away from his father to read it himself, spinning around overcome with emotion because he's a finalist. Burt scream his joy, his excitement about telling Blaine, and his pride in his son all in quick succession. Kurt slow-motion runs down the hall to find Rachel and show her his letter, but when he realizes she hasn't gotten hers yet he stands there trying to console her with words as she outlines how her future plans are falling apart, and all she has left is her boyfriend. When nothing works he just hugs her. Kurt and Rachel's journeys through ambition, acceptance and relationships are the heart of the show, and even though sometimes the intersection of those things push them apart, they're always best when they're supporting each other, because in the real world they're not going to be competition for each other like they are at McKinley, but instead each other's best supports.
Blaine Anderson has an eyepatch. Other things happen in these scene, but that's all you can really notice. Kurt reads Blaine gossip mags, Rachel brings chicken soup and Finn provides various eyepatch themed films for Blaine's enjoyment. Then Blaine makes everything awkward by pulling champagne glasses out of his drawer to toast Kurt's NYADA finalist letter. In turn, Finn and Rachel explain that even if Blaine loses an eye he can still be a fine performer. It's super strange, and they round it off by bringing the Michael Jackson to Blaine, singing "Ben." Despite being a song about a rat, it's actually a sweet moment, especially between Kurt and Blaine, since Blaine manages to give heart eyes even with only one eye.
Video: Kurt, Rachel & Finn, "Bad"
The immediate transition is to Santana, who's gone to Dalton on her own to confront Sebastian and the Warblers. They seem somewhat surprised that Blaine was really hurt, even though they walked out on him sprawled on the parking lot floor in obvious pain during the "Bad" scene. Sebastian is unapologetic, and admits he was aiming for Kurt, and when Santana questions his honor over what he put in the slushie, he challenges her to duel, clearing the room except for the two cellists.
"Smooth Criminal" is a song about assault, and Sebastian starts it off after Santana seats herself. Glee has a lot of villains, mostly comical. The last presumably truly dangerous one, Karofsky, was swiftly given motivation that made him more of a sympathetic character. Sebastian is the first who's remained dangerous, calculated and remorseless as long as he's been a featured character. He's the real world, finally looming beyond McKinley's halls. Sebastian snakes around the room and onto Santana in a sexual way that's about power and violence, and sex as a tool of that, something both these queer characters have used as weapons before. Together, however, we finally see where Sebastian, as a man, still holds the power over Santana, a woman. As much as she holds her own, there's fear in her eyes that never grace Sebastian's, in part because Santana has gone through a humanizing journey these three seasons and, as she admitted to Kurt earlier, does have limits because she values her future. When they finish singing Sebastian admits to putting rock salt in the slushie, and as Santana's bravado breaks down and she yells at him over putting Blaine in the hospital, he takes another, un-salted slushie from the returning Warblers and throws it in her face. He's even managed to corrupt Glee's queer fantasy land of Dalton.
Video: Santana & Sebastian, "Smooth Criminal"
Santana, of course, had ulterior motives for going to Dalton. She strapped a recorder her underboob and got his admission on tape. Despite it not being a violent revenge, Kurt still objects, wanting to teach the Warblers a lesson instead of getting revenge, and has reserved the auditorium. Before they all go there, Finn pulls Rachel aside and proposes to her again, this time through music. Finn sounds the best he's sounded on "I Just Can't Stop Loving You," and Rachel, because she's Rachel, has to join in. She fell in love with him the first time because they sang together, and so it's a smart move for Finn to upgrade his proposal in this way. She seemingly can't help but say yes to him.
In the auditorium the group explains that they are not doing Michael for Regionals, and are taking the high road. They perform "Black Or White" to prove to the Warblers that they really get MJ, showing off their resilience and giving Kurt the pointed "kicking dirt in my eye" line, played joyously. The Warblers can't help but join in, until the stage is filled by the time the song segues to the iconic Michael Jackson face morphing portion, leaving only villain Sebastian in the audience. Santana pulls out her tape of Sebastian's admission, and Kurt points out that Regionals will only be worthwhile if Sebastian is there to suffer the defeat. He's off the hook for now, and in theory the Warblers are his minions no more, but it's hard to believe Sebastian will be bested this easily.
Video: New Directions, "Black Or White"
We cap the show with Rachel's letter finally arriving -- she, too, is a finalist, and her joy is much more muted than Kurt's moment, and even more so when Kurt asks excitedly if Finn knows yet, and Rachel's face affirms that her acceptance of Finn's proposal was not about them being in love, but about her feeling like she was out of options. With this back on the table, Rachel might not need that ring to feel like she's got a future.
And the future, it looms. Quinn might be set, and Kurt and Rachel are on a path that will lead both of them to take losses for what they hope to gain. Ryan Murphy has said the end of this season will be heartbreaking, following these more lighthearted episodes. They're only finalists for their dreams so far, and they likely won't get an easy road. The others, too, don't have any clear paths. Santana, Britt and Mercedes haven't outlined anything yet, Mike might not be good enough to dance like he hopes. Parents, who continue to play a greater role in this season, will have to let go of their children as they become adults. "Glee" payed homage to Michael Jackson this episode, but now it's time to leave Neverland for the rest of the journey.