“Glee” missteps this week with an attempt to cram actual pertinent plot and unnecessary Very-Special-Episode preaching in a mishmash of themes and topics. It might be a coincidence that the show returns to more musical theater songs this week, a mainstay of the weaker early season episodes, but the Broadway curse is back, with the episode falling flat more than it soared. Perhaps they should have done two Whitney tribute episodes?
Let’s dispense with the worst of it first. Britt went to her first student council meeting (hasn’t she been president all year?) and learned the school is having prom and has to come up with a theme, and while this is dropped until next week’s prom episode, Santana and the girls shift focus to start joking about a bruise on Coach Beiste’s face. Roz Washington shows up to talk about Santana and the girls laughing about the idea of domestic violence, and the teachers powwow to discuss, immediately thinking this is a huge problem even though they’ve tended to ignore all the other problems of the student body (remember when Kurt Hummel was getting hit daily? Nope?). Sue wants the girls to sing songs about violence against women to reclaim it.
They decide to pull out an incredibly sexed up and inappropriate version of “Cell Block Tango” from Chicago. It starts out with the girls dancing with boys on stage, but we get some eventual flashes to Beiste and Cooter, illuminating that she’s a victim of domestic violence. Roz and Sue call them cray cray and that they missed the point of the whole thing. Can Roz take over Glee club from Schue? Beiste breaks down and admits to Roz and Sue that Cooter hit her, and as much as Beiste is one of the better characters “Glee” has, this storyline just feels pointless. Where’s the true connection to the kids? Why are we taking in this Very Special Message?
The girls apologize and show their pride for Beiste with Florence + the Machine’s “Shake It Out,” which is a great song shoehorned into the worst plotline of the episode. We also realize that Beiste is giving Cooter a second chance even though she’s told Sue she moved in with her sister. Who knows what we’re supposed to feel about this plot line that we’ll probably never see again. At least Dot Marie Jones acted the hell out of it.
In our continued run through of what’s up with the graduating New Directions, this week we check in on Puck, who we know has a post-grad plan of cleaning pools in SoCal, but to escape Lima he has to also escape high school. All he needs to do is pass the European geography test to graduate, and when his teacher doesn’t succumb to his advances in exchange for a D, Puck’s only recourse is to break into song with Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out.” It’s a sequence reminiscent of Season 1 Glee with big production fantasy blended with high school tropes (trashing the bathroom, rock and roll cheerleaders). Of course, when the fantasy drops it’s just Puck in front of his Glee pals, angry. Finn wants to help him, and recruits the “bros” of New Directions in the locker room (after a great and weird aside between Blaine and Mike about hair gel) to help him prep to pass Senior year.
Meanwhile, Puck is ready to skip town early for LA until his father reappears for the first time in five years asking him for money. Puck gives it to him so he’ll never have to see him again, an exchange that inspires him to avoid being a true Lima Loser, focus and graduate. For some reason during the cram session the show thinks a punk rock version of My Fair Lady’s “The Rain In Spain” is needed. It’s not, and the less said the better. He passes, he thinks, but we’ll come back to that later.
Finally, in what should be the A-plot of this episode but oddly gets a disproportionately low amount of screen time, we finally address Kurt and Rachel’s NYADA auditions. The show has treated Kurt and Rachel’s departure for New York City at the end of the season as a done deal, but in reality they still have those pesky auditions to attend to. Hyper ambitious Rachel Berry from Season 1 appears to prep for her big chance in front of the NYADA recruiter. She’ll stop at nothing from achieving her goals. Kurt, too, is hyper focused, but unfortunately his focus has lead to the absolute worst Phantom of the Opera audition practice piece to “Music of the Night.” He sounds lovely except he’s doing terrifying hand motions and might set the auditorium aflame with the sheer number of candelabras he’s trucked in. Of course Blaine thinks it’s FANTASTIC. Kurt’s worried it’s not ahead of the curve enough, and adding sequins or German lyrics or performing in the nude aren’t enough to up the pizzazz. Kurt instead decides on a lesser known and more controversial track, “Not The Boy Next Door,” but Rachel is worried that Kurt’s making a mistake trying something risky and new for his audition. She calls it self sabotage, and talks him back into the Phantom trainwreck.
They arrive to audition and NYADA’s most infamous alum, played by Whoppi Goldberg in a turban, is their judge. Kurt is about to go Phantom, but as he hits the stage he realizes it’s a safe and standard choice, and Kurt Hummel is not willing to live a safe and standard life, at least not anymore. Always prepared, he has a pull away suit on that reveals a spot-on Hugh Jackman “The Boy From Oz” costume, and calls out the girls to be his backup. He then kills it in a way that fans who’ve watched Kurt audition and struggle on the show have been waiting for for three years. Phantom, plus his two past passes at auditions with “The Greatest Star” and “Some People” were such flops as audition pieces (not vocally, of course) and completely irrelevant to the parts he wants to play and the audience he’s hoping to impress. When Kurt finally lets go and does what’s comfortable for him with “Not The Boy Next Door” it earns him glowing reviews from Whoopi Goldberg. It looks like Kurt Hummel is headed to NYC.
Rachel does want to change things up, and sticks with her standby “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” except she chokes. Even with one restart allowed, she can’t get through the song and Whoopi Goldberg declares her audition over. Rachel is, naturally, inconsolable. Kurt tries, but she just can’t sugar coat the harsh reality that she’s messed up beyond repair this time. All of Rachel’s other mistakes throughout “Glee” she’s been able to atone for, or at least attempt, but NYADA is now out of her hands. As she closes the episode with Kelly Clarkson’s “Cry” we see her continue her breakdown on stage juxtaposed with Puck getting a failing test grade, despite all his cramming. So what is Glee telling us this week? Three characters who have worked toward and wanted something particular in their life — to get into their dream school, to graduate and to find love — are all slapped in the face with the idea that maybe they can’t have what they want, or at least not in the way they expected. Put it like that and it’s a “Glee” we all love.
Unfortunately, aside from Rachel’s story, the handling is uneven. Does Puck really need that diploma if his true goal is really a pool cleaning business? Rachel isn’t trapped in Lima without NYADA, she just needs another plan. New York is a great big place with a million possible auditions for her to nail, if she can take the leap. That whole can of worms with Beiste is plotted poorly enough that it’s just adding insult to injury to point out that the Very Special Episode ignores that domestic violence has permutations other than “boy hits girl.” Even the songs can’t save us this week, as much as Kurt Hummel and his golden pants do try.
Four episodes left for “Glee” to shine this year and we’re not liking the odds right now, since according to previews next week Finn shouts at Quinn to stand up from her wheelchair. Yikes. Maybe he shouldn’t be passing high school at this rate either.