"Glee" returned Tuesday night after a three-week hiatus with more of a plot-heavy whimper than a bang, with some character movement but mostly lacking standout moments that make you remember why "Glee" is great. Still, this season continues to be an improvement on the last, even when it's not the best it can be.
We open on Britt's locker, where she was apparently on the cover of a cheerleading magazine (way too many characters on this show have narcissistic lockers) and we get our first look at Rory, played by "The Glee Project" co-winner Damian McGinty. Rory is an Irish exchange student swooning over Britt, who is convinced he is a leprechaun and requests her three wishes before he can get her "pot of gold." While Finn lurks awkwardly, Britt makes wish number one -- a box of all marshmallow Lucky Charms (Britt, you can order that online! Ask Lord Tubbington to help you!)
Sue's race for Congress continues with a call to shut down the school musical as it's a waste of funds. When Figgins agrees, Will offers to raise the money on his own by selling ads in the program. As is always with Glee, they're generally failures at raising capital without a last-minute savior and after Kurt tells his dad about the problem he rallies the Lima Rotary Club, mostly made up of morticians, to save the day and fund the musical. When they confront Sue about it in the hallway after she tries to take Burt Hummel down a peg, but his amused little smile the entire encounter reminds you why Burt Hummel is the biggest badass in Lima, Ohio.
Meanwhile, Mercedes attempts to bring Santana over to her all-girl Glee Club with Sugar Motta, but Santana won't go without Britt. Finn is creepily lurking again, and brings it up back in the choir room to Santana, where Tina is crying, as per usual, because they've lost one of their best singers and friends in Mercedes. The simmering rivalry between Blaine and Finn bubbles to the surface when Blaine tries to pep talk the club and Finn reminds him they are not the same as his precious Warblers. Then Finn is off to find Rory, who is painstakingly picking marshmallows out of cereal for Britt and fanboys Finn something epic when he talks to him. Rory also painfully overshares immediately, trying to cram a bunch of character info into a quick scene (he's a virgin who wants to snog Britt, he thought America was all about being a melting pot but everyone is so mean!) We like this Rory kid, but he needs to take it down a notch.
Meanwhile Quinn and Puck have plotted to get Shelby out of her house for some time alone, and as soon as she's out the door instead of bonding with her baby Quinn starts sabotaging the house with items that might, somehow, lead the social worker to declare Shelby an unfit mother and get Beth back to them. Puck reluctantly goes along with her for the love of his daughter, and this season continues to leave you worried for the state of Quinn's sanity. Later, when Quinn confronts Puck over his pool business not being enough of a real job to support Beth, she breaks down, talking about how everyone has a dream and a goal and the only good thing she's done is make Beth. Quinn wants Beth back so she'll be okay with her failed life in Lima. For all the noise about Rachel and Kurt being hurt characters, they actually have spirit. Quinn is the most broken person in the club by far, and no one really notices. Maybe sometime this year before everyone who remotely cares about her leaves her behind she'll get some sort of closure. Or maybe not everyone gets a happy ending in high school.
The first musical number rolls around when Rory delivers Britt her marshmallows but she blows off his offer of a dinner date. Everyone at McKinley either ignores or torments Rory, which he laments in The Muppets' "Bein' Green." It's a nice introduction for McGinty, whose smooth crooner voice earned him a lot of fans this summer on the reality spinoff, and he's definitely a voice the club was missing, even if when he speaks you can barely understand him. Britt had good reason to blow him off, though. She's on a date with Santana, which she asks Britt to clarify and Britt confirms. They're both single, so they're going to mingle, together. Santana smiles and say's she's really happy. You can tell Britt is too, but the depth from Santana doesn't seem matched. It's all much more simple for Britt, we guess. Santana complains about wanting to join the new club together but Britt doesn't want to be a quitter and asks for some time to think about it. After explaining her leprechaun wishes, Santana tells Britt her one wish is for them to hold hands. Easy for Britt, but not for Santana just yet. She hastily covers their hands with a napkin to keep herself on the DL.
With "West Side Story" back on, thanks to Kurt and the Hummel-Hudson family, Blaine jumps up and declares that he has a number prepared to remind everyone what glee club is all about. He's back to his roots with a Katy Perry number, and one of the first truly current pop hits on Glee this season, "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" The performance is pure "Glee," as if Tumblr had a wet dream about what a number should look like, with everyone (minus Santana) dancing disorganized and joyful, coming together and doing some choreography before descending into giggles and twirls. That's why "Glee" sells, takes International tours and connects with the youth of America in a nutshell. Rachel, ever the shrewd business woman, proclaims they should do that number for Sectionals, only to be refuted by Santana who wants other voices to be heard, not just the Rachel and Blaine show, echoing a bit of what Glee purists and fans have been complaining about this season.
Santana continues her mean streak, threatening Rory and using him as her pawn in manipulating Britt to her wishes, which he does by sneaking into her room and fake-granting her second, grosser wish about Lord Tubbington and candy bar excrement. As they share a candy that touched kitty litter, he tells her Santana's only wish was for Britt to join the all-girls club, and since it's a leprechaun wish it has to come true, forcing her to oblige.
Puck shows up at Shelby's to thank her for helping him get a year-round pool cleaning job and for believing in him. While she fusses over a crying Beth, Puck sneaks around the house undoing all the bad Quinn has done, then pulls out a guitar and sooths the baby with "Waiting For A Girl Like You" by Foreigner, which is not really a sleepytime number, but sweet nonetheless. Puck hasn't had a chance to play to his guitar-solo strengths in a while and it's a welcome throwback to classic "Glee" Season One. Beth quiets, and then Shelby breaks down complaining about how hard it is to be a single mother and experience all the ups and downs alone. Puck clasps her hand and tells her he'll be there for her. Uh oh, we all know where this is going.
Rory does his spy duty for Finn, reporting that Britt is quitting the club. When Finn confronts her with Santana about not being part of the team, Santana points out that Finn himself is being divisive with Blaine and not standing up for everyone's chances. When Britt tries to explain that it was a leprechaun wish, Finn tells her to stop being an idiot and believing in things like leprechauns or Santa Claus. She stares him down and points out that all the boys think she's stupid and he's bullying her which is disrespectful. This argument would go a lot further if she wasn't dating the school's biggest bully, but we're still hoping for a true Santana redemption this season.
Burt, who is now running against Sue as a write-in candidate after getting Will and Kurt as his campaign managers, shows up at the TV station to get his airtime, telling the community that arts and creativity are more important than ever -- that everyone needs to be creative now to get the county out of its mess. Capless and with his casual shirt just a tad unbuttoned, Burt Hummel has swagger, some sort of perfect mashup of Tea Party aesthetics and Occupy Wall Street ideals. Last season we all wanted him to be our dad, now maybe Burt Hummel should be our president. Later he brings up the future with his kids and wife, while Sue makes threats (and revitalizes her fight to also campaign for Special Education classes, which apparently McKinley doesn't have…), Burt just smirks and accepts the challenge. Does Obama need a new running mate for 2012?
Over in the all-girls group, now known as the Trouble Tones, Santana and Mercedes put Sugar in her place, telling her to sing softly and dance if she wants to be part of the winners. Along with Britt the duo take center stage for a rendition of Christina Augilera's "Candyman," complete with USO-style getups. They've flushed out with some extra dancers, but they're still shy of twelve members required to compete in sectionals, so while sonically and aesthetically they're a threat to New Directions, neither group is actually competition-ready. Still, Finn mends fences with Britt and the girls, trying to salvage their friendships if they can't save the glee club. With Rory's usefulness over, Santana tells him to scram. He's back to being invisible and the jocks in the hall locker slam him and try to make him admit that U2 is overrated. Finn saves the day, sending them scattering and offering him an olive branch in the form of glee club membership.
McGinty's section solo of the episode is Teddy Thompson's "Take Care Of Yourself" which is a little superfluous and overkill on his character introduction, but the club slowly falls in love with him as he sings, the moments of each of the McKinley bunch seeing a potential new star in their midst spliced with scenes like Kurt, Artie and Tina going to see fellow original club member Mercedes at practice, only to be shooed away by Santana, and the final shot of the oh-so-shocking (except not) liplock between Shelby and Puck.
"Glee" is not the first teen show to go there, and it won't be the last. There's a least some Puck MILF-loving precedence and the interesting addition of him fathering her adopted child, but regardless we doubt Glee will go full-out Dawson's Creek with the plotline. Plus next week they have the much more important dual plotlines of Kurt and Blaine and Finn and Rachel's respective first times to address.
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