There are two types of “Glee” episodes — plot and insanity. Sometimes they try to mix the two together to varied results, but “Glee”‘s at its best when it sticks to one of two forms. Disco Night was clearly insanity, but the kind where if “Glee” could always be this insane, who needs a plot? Which is not to say this story didn’t have some purpose, it was just specifically one of, “Oh, remember those other seniors whose ambitions haven’t had a A plot all year? Here’s what they plan to do come June!” Plus with a lot of disco on top.
The first thing we learn is Blaine Anderson really likes disco, which he demonstrates by leading Mike and Britt through a performance of The Bee Gees’ “You Should Be Dancing” as a possible tryout for Nationals, since this year’s theme is “Vintage.” Did everyone else completely forget that the competitions had themes, or is that just us? While Will is on board, and the show masterfully uses a clip from the original pilot showing his team’s win at nationals doing disco back in the 90s, the rest of the club reminds Will and Blaine that “disco sucks!” Will is forlorn, until Sue reminds him that he should go back on his instincts and make it an album theme week, a la last year’s Rumours, and combine that with prizing cause “the kids like swag.” Voila, the group will compete with their best disco numbers to win a custom-made replica of John Travolta’s white leisure suit. That’s all the motivation the kids need, and they join Will, Sue, disco-loving Blaine and contractually-obligated-to-a-certain-number-of-songs Joe on Sue’s light up disco floor for “Night Fever,” also by The Bee Gees. It’s loose and relaxed, with each student getting to pull out their best solo (Sam is still relying on his one stripper move) in a race for the coveted clothes.
However, this competition is rigged to focus on the three students Schue is most worried about — Santana, Finn and Mercedes. He fears none of them are living up to their potential, and wants to use the story of “Saturday Night Fever” to inspire them to find and follow a dream. Mercedes is up first, and she declares that she’s just as much star material as the Broadway-bound babes by breaking into The Trammps’ “Disco Inferno” in the hallway, with Santana and Britt on backup, before declaring to the group that her ambition is to be like Mariah, to sing pop songs in LA, but she has no idea how to put herself out there, how to move to a new city all alone with nothing but ambition and make it happen. Cream might rise to the top, she says, but outside of New Directions what if she’s just skim milk? Sam believes in her, though, and puts his secretely recorded video of her performance on YouTube. When he reveals it to her it’s only gotten a little over 400 views. She’s embarrassed, but he notes all but one are positive and they’re all dying to hear her album. The two share a sweet kiss. Can the tales of Mercedes’s LA career with her adorable stripper boyfriend be the first official “Glee” spin-off?
Next up is Santana, who sings “If I Can’t Have You” by The Bee Gees, which Mr. Schue misinterprets as her love song for Britt and her intention to become a lawyer to fight for marriage equality. Santana schools him (and delivers some witty barbs including one about piano guy Brad keeping a Eurasian boy locked in a truck — piano guy Brad is really breaking out these past two episodes). While Britt is her girlfriend, fame is her mistress and she’s intending to achieve notoriety any way possible. Well-intentioned Britt misinterprets this, and after in-depth research on celebrities, determines that Santana needs a sex tape and leaks one of them, interspersed with video of Lord Tubbington doing household chores, and Santana isn’t pleased. Although, since it’s Britt, instead of lashing out she’s quietly embarrassed and unhappy, which is an interesting change for her. She talks with Sue and Britt about how she was wrong and doesn’t want fame by any means, and instead wants to do something worthwhile, and then Sue reveals that Britt had the better idea of applying to college for Santana and submitting her for a full ride cheerleading scholarship to Louisville. How many locations do we think “Glee” can keep up plotlines next year, or is “not New York” the clue for “no season 4 contract?”
Finally there’s Finn, who’s had the most developed post-high school plotline prior to this episode thanks to Rachel. He’s still treading water, unsure of what his ambitions are when they’re not tied up in Rachel. The two have not been speaking, but finally reunite on stage where Rachel offers to lay her New York dreams aside so they can focus on Finn and find a compromise for him too, singing the Bee Gees classic “How Deep Is Your Love” while we see Emma and Will showing Finn a variety of college pamphlets to consider. He grins and accepts, then once he’s out of their view dumps them in the trash. When Schue catches his deception Finn lashes out, telling his teacher that he just wants to stay young, that all he wants for the future is to stop time because he’s a loser. Schue says he knows what he wants, he’s just afraid to say it, and sets him down with a VHS of “Saturday Night Fever” to find his inspiration and decide what he wants to do with the rest of his life before he’s even left Lima — the cruelest joke adults play on kids, that they have to have it all figured out before they graduate high school. Finn, because he must, makes a decision and brings Rachel to the choir room to tell her through song. “More Than A Woman” becomes a 70s-costumed fantasy where the show’s four couples — Klaine, Finchel, Tike and Brittana — all disco and sing to each other, and is the highlight of the night if only for Kurt and Blaine’s stellar vests. After the song finishes and Rachel and Finn are back in their 2012 finest, Finn admits he wants to move to New York and go to school at “Inside The Actor’s Studio” and be a great man for Rachel.
The only functioning B-plot this week is the inclusion of the fourth and final “Glee” Project winner, Alex, as Wade, a performer from Vocal Adrenaline who’s Kurt and Mercedes biggest fan. He comes to them for advice about performing in his drag persona, a more confident version of himself named Unique, but also a female version of himself. Kurt and Mercedes are first unsure, and then swayed by Sue to sabotage Wade by sending him a pair of glitter heels to do the performance in, thus turning him and Vocal Adrenaline into the laughing stock of Ohio. They have a change of heart last minute, and try to talk Wade out of it, but he ignores them and kills as Unique on “Boogie Shoes” by KC and the Sunshine Band, much to new VA coach Jesse St. James’s dismay. This type of gender identity play is new ground for “Glee” — Kurt’s always been staunchly identified as male despite being called lady by detractors, and he tries to impose his understanding of queerness on Wade and is promptly called out (“I’ve worn some pretty out there outfits but I’ve never dressed as a woman,” Kurt warns. “That’s because you identify as a man. I thought you of all people would understand,” Wade calmly notes) but unfortunately we’ve barely had any time to digest Wade as a character before. He’ll be back, and the identity issues he brings most likely won’t go away, but it felt rushed even for “Glee”, and that’s saying something.
What was most interesting about this episode was the increased levels of meta commentary involved. Sure, as a show about star ambition, “Glee” will always have meta parallels to the actors playing their roles, but this week was almost glaring, especially in Mercedes solo album dreams in the anticipation of Amber Riley’s forthcoming release. Likewise, Cory Monteith was a wayward youth who turned to acting to get his life on track, although his story had a lot more illegal substances than Finn Hudson’s. Even his mention of “Inside The Actors Studio” reeks of meta when the cast was just featured on the program last week.
All in all, the episode was a lot of fan service in terms of focusing on characters and fleshing out fan-desired plot holes, utilizing period clothes, dance sequences and PDA with the couples, and upbeat music. None of this is a bad thing. In the end, everybody wins. Mercedes, Santana and Finn all get the leisure suits of their own and lead the group in “Stayin’ Alive,” during which they all get leisure suits and disco across the McKinley stage. Except for Rory, Sugar and Quinn, all mysteriously mostly missing from the episode. Maybe all the plot was happening off in some other part of Lima for this week with those three.
This week’s episode was the antidote to everyone who’s complained “Glee”‘s too serious and forgetting its roots. “Glee” dug up those roots on full display this week — teenage ambition, the pressure of feeling like you’re not enough of something undefinable, and singing your way through it. Next week they turn to Whitney Houston for their soundtrack. If promos are to go by, there will be Kurt and Blaine drama, Quinn is closer to walking, and someone stuck some sort of liquor in the boys locker room. We can’t wait.