A puppet episode is far from revolutionary in the TV landscape — “Community,” “30 Rock” and “Angel” all had a go long before Glee got felt — but that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable. “Puppet Master” is pretty straight-forward in that it’s about control — characters who want to control the world around them, characters who can’t control the image thrust on them by others, and characters who want to control themselves. It’s clean, and relatively linear for all its wackiness. And it actually works. If only all of “Glee” could be this good.
Blaine thinks he has the very best ideas for Nationals, but everything he suggests has him front and center, such as a piano solo, or drawing from his own strengths like acapella numbers. He’s shouted down, and he reacts by declaring he’s won more championships than anyone else, and stomps off to pout on a conveniently placed couch. He calls his fiance in hopes of sympathy, but Kurt is a little caught up in his own control quest. His are more minor in the grand scheme of the episode, he simply books their first gig without consulting the gang. He’s picked Callbacks, and Dani and Starchild who comes from the real world know that picking a show choir bar on what is their off night isn’t really New York band debut material, they bend to his will thanks to an elaborate fantasy Kurt paints. In fantasy world, the bar is packed and a colorfully coordinated Pamela Lansbury blows the crowd away with Madonna’s “Into The Groove” with Kurt and Starchild on lead. They sing, they dance, Kurt shakes his hips and the crowd goes wild. You almost forgive them for being a “band” with four lead singers and for trapping Dani behind the keys the entire time.
The moment kicks off an hour that musically exists mostly in the fantasy space, and maybe that’s what makes it great. No one is earnestly singing feelings to a choir room, or auditioning for a role in an almost empty auditorium. Those are all tropes that make “Glee” great, but a full hour of fantasy just works here. In McKinley the fantasies are spurred by a gas leak in the back corner of the choir room. Just as piano player Brad tries to finally explain somewhat to what’s going on with his massive online poker debt, Blaine starts ranting about how he’s just trying to help with his bossy attitude, and if no one wants his help he’ll just sit in the back corner in silence. Before he knows it, his subconscious has latched on to Kurt’s offhanded comment about him being a puppet master and replaced the denizens of the choir room with their puppet forms. The Glee club puppets all adore Blaine, and bend to his will, and declare the entire week about him. Which means we sing whatever Blaine wants, and that of course is some Queen. “You’re My Best Friend” is a fun romp, a Muppets meets McKinley moment that let’s Blaine be his bouncy self. Those New Directions should listen to Blaine, a puppet number would kill at Nationals.
When he snaps out of the fantasy he realizes that something weird is going on and tips off the only person who somewhat supported his Nationals ideas, Jake, to sit there and see what happens. Jake is still King Playboy of the McKinley Halls, and when Schue tries to corral him into putting his dance talents to use to help the group he gripes that he’s simply bored and not willing to dumb-down his skills to accommodate the group. As he settles into the afflicted corner he decides to show off with a mashup of Janet Jackson’s “Nasty” and “Rhythm Nation” accompanied by the Cheerios and Bree and Marley. It’s a perfect excuse for everyone involved to shine — Jake above and beyond, but also Marley who holds her own presence-wise channeling Ms. Jackson in the face of a gyrating Jake as the scene flips from choir room to a “Rhythm Nation” recreation. Something is clearly up with Bree, and it’s soon discovered that she’s having a pregnancy scare and demands Jake come to the doctor with her. Even after it’s revealed as a false alarm, she lashes out at Jake and his playboy ways. He’ll suffer less consequences than the women he strings along. She shakes him enough to run back to Marley and beg her for forgiveness, which she doesn’t grant. Jake’s control of his image only goes so far in getting him what he really wants.
Sue is dealing with her own control issues — controlling the views of others. She’s crushing on the new superintendent, who assumes because of her masculine appearance that she is, in fact, a man. We flashback to discover a younger, more feminine presenting Sue that couldn’t demand the respect of McKinley. Once she donned her tracksuit and chopped off her hair, everyone runs in fear and the rest is history. She tries to femme herself in high heels, but can barely walk. She accosts Schue in the choir room to ask for help, but he’ll only teach her how to emulate the strong female presence of Ginger Rogers if she agrees to pay $600 for costumes. She refuses, and as Schue leaves her she has her own gas leak fantasy of performing “Cheek to Cheek” in glossy black and white. Her take-away from the fantasy is to wrangle Unique into giving her a makeover for her next meeting with the superintendent and fixing the gas leak herself. She becomes permanent principal of the school thanks to her strong leadership, but the superintendent awkwardly refuses her romantic advances.
Blaine is our only McKinley control freak left. After his hallucination he’s inspired to use his craft class time to make a felt puppet of Kurt, so that he can have puppet Kurt apologize to him for their most recent fight. After Sue confiscates his puppet fiance, he tries to make a daring jailbreak only to be caught by Sue, reprimanded and sent to detention for a week. Fans might feel some PTSD from these split-camera phone scenes since they featured heavily in the Kurt and Blaine breakup episode, but no worries. This is only a bump in the road, and Kurt’s hurt over Blaine’s inability to fly to New York on a moment’s notice is overshadowed by the fact that their debut performance was only attended by one person who thought that Angela Lansbury was performing. Lucky for them, that one fan happened to be related to someone at the Williamsburg Music Hall (aka, Music Hall of Williamsburg), where they’ve booked their second and clearly more influential gig. Even before Kurt makes that big reveal, the rest of the band, but especially Starchild, admit that Kurt is their leader and they’re going to trust him even if he occasionally fails.
Blaine is in search of that same trust, and serves his detention with Becky and Jake, who he hallucinates into puppets and uses as a therapy session to unearth his intimacy issues. He’s made a Kurt puppet because he misses his fiance, feels guilty for not being there for Kurt in his time of need, and he tell the puppets that he might be fantasizing about these puppet friends because he can only feel close to friends he can control. It’s some heavy stuff, and definitely requires more soul searching than puppet Becky and puppet Jake can provide. It’s also a hallucination outside the choir room’s gas leak, so it’s worrying for Blaine’s health, as Jake points out.
But Blaine is the kind of kid who needs more than just one session to figure himself out, and since puppets worked so well the first time he starts making more. First, a Tina that he makes flirt with him as he sits alone in the auditorium. The real Tina catches him there when she comes to apologize for the group’s quick shutdown of his ideas. They want him back, and to sing a solo because he’s earned it. As an apology, he makes puppets for the whole choir room, and for Pamela Lansbury since he missed their failed show.
Then, for no reason, the whole cast of Glee sings Ylvis’ “The Fox” with their puppets. There’s not much more to say about this except that it’s absolutely batshit and nonsensical and yet somehow the perfect ending to an hour of gas-induced puppet, Janet Jackson and Fred Astaire related hallucinations. Glee should always be like this, and next week’s out-of-synch Christmas episode will hopefully continue the trend. Also Blaine definitely needs some therapy.