Even with weeks of buffer from the Cory Monteith memorial episode, the latest show has you dreading the elephant in the room right from the opening line, “and that’s what you missed on Glee.”
Healing takes time, but this episode is Glee’s signal that it’s time for the show to roll forward and return to the slapstick, nonsensical, over-the-top production we love, while still remaining reverent of the past. And what more fitting way than by focusing musically on two of the biggest pop divas the show has covered over the years — Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. In six weeks (six weeks!? when does this year end!?) the Nationals threat is Throat Explosion, a newcomer on the show choir circuit that applies Lady Gaga-like precision to their out-there performances. Worried that without Kurt they’re more Katy than Gaga as a club, Mr. Schue points out the group’s strength is their balance of both Katy and Gaga, and splits the group by their preference to perform a song by their non-spirit animal. Gagas are Katys, and Katys are Gagas.
Sam uses the assignment as an attempt to win over the school nurse; he’s found out that under her demure, Katy-like appearance is a Skrillex-loving alt girl. He orchestrates an over-the-top Gaga performance to “Applause” that features him in wings, Artie in white-face, Ryder in a cage and Blaine in spandex and streamers so horrifying we shouldn’t even consider it. Our lone standout is Marley, who forsakes her seashell bra ensemble to run around in a typical candy-covered Katy costume. She wants to only be herself, and letting her fears of Jake straying from her vanilla-ways earns her a week-long suspension from the glee club.
Being a Gaga doesn’t earn Sam his nurse; she’s been faking her dark side and admits to loving Katy too. They make out in a way that would definitely get her fired from her gig, and then head to the auditorium to watch Jake, Tine, Kitty and Unique take on “Wide Awake.” The self-described Gagas were over -thinking their Katy assignment, and so instead of going over the top candy clouds and tigers freed from the zoo, they strip down Katy and perform on stools. It’s a nice reminder that the four of them have pretty darn good voices when Glee just allows them to sing, and washes the palate clean from that strobe-rific Gaga performance. You can see poor Blaine and Artie wishing they could be their true Katy selves too.
Marley can’t watch any of this thanks to her suspension, and as a way to cheer her up Jake invites her over to watch Mary Poppins and cop a feel. Marley says “no,” and they verge on having a very real teenage discussion about boundaries, relationships and intimacy levels. But alas, instead Marley falls to the side weeping about how he should go find another girl to make out with, and cut to Jake doing just that immediately, beelining to school to find New Santana and propose a hookup. This does not bode well.
Glee’s former shining Gaga, Kurt, is focused on starting a new band in New York. He’s scrapped the Madonna cover band idea for something more indie and mainstream, and is holding open auditions. Of course, he loops in Santana and Dani immediately, although Rachel demurs that it’s too soon after Finn’s passing and that she only has enough artistic energy to focus on Funny Girl. Auditions, predictably, are a flop — although they seem to already have a ready-made backing band sitting there, so with the other three on vocals it’s not like they need anyone else to join. But it’s Glee, so they must find more, and in waltzes Adam Lambert, aka Starchild, in a cloud of glitter and top hats. He puts previous over the top audition numbers on the show to shame with air humping, table posturing, and literal swinging on chandeliers with no regard for structural integrity. Despite being a pretty straightforward interpretation, his “Marry The Night” trumps the other Gaga number of the episode, but this is also Adam Lambert and he could cover Gaga in his sleep. Kurt is aghast and immediately cuts him from auditions to Santana and Dani’s protests. Back at the loft, Rachel corners him into admitting why he’d turn down such a talent like Starchild.
It’s not for fear of competition with a fellow glittering diva, quite the opposite actually. Kurt’s watching his friends succeed in New York with mainstream marketability — a leading Broadway role, a national commercial — while his more unique talents aren’t garnering any easy wins for him. Starchild embodies the continual problem Kurt has run into during his entertainment career — too much, too gay, too flamboyant. It’s cost him his first shot at NYADA, the lead in the school play, and he fears if he keeps pushing boundaries he’ll never succeed.
Rachel reminds him that his ability to be fearlessly himself is what makes him special, and Kurt realizes he’s made a mistake in rejecting Starchild. The only problem is he has no way to contact him now. Luckily, Starchild has been stalking Kurt, and arrives at the diner in his street clothes, introduces himself as Elliot and begs to be part of the band. He even says he’ll drop Starchild, whatever it takes. Kurt says he wants him there in whatever form, and that the only way he’ll succeed is to surround himself with other talented people. The newly formed band retires to the loft to plot out names, and when Rachel enters and accidentally christens them (Pamela Lansbury, which let’s just hope they change) Kurt convinces her to let go of her reservations and join up too. Five lead singers, exactly what a nascent New York indie band needs.
As with last season, the knitting together of NY and Ohio takes the form of a final number, with both groups performing Katy Perry’s “Roar.” It’s the first number of the episode to have true Glee punch, since it actually thematically fits the tone of the episode instead of just being some flash or simply convenient to the structure. The kids of Ohio are rebelling against Sue’s last minute dress code violation suspension and assumption that they can’t and won’t triumph at Nationals, while the newly formed NY band is asserting their eventual triumph as artists. Ohio, of course, gets showy with skimpy jungle costumes, but everyone finds a handy rope or vine to swing on. It’s the kind of joy glee needs after the season it’s had so far, and settled the debate of which pop princess defines the gang. Glee’s mostly a Katy, not a Gaga. At least for now.