The magic of musical theater is the beating heart of “Glee,” be it when they transform pop music into plot, or take and transform classic numbers to suit their purposes. We’ve had a decent amount of the pop lately, and a whole lot of musical fluff, but this episode finally brought back the classic to the forefront in two standout moments.
With two more seasons of “Glee” officially on the horizon now, it’s good to remember what is great about the show in the first place, even if there’s a few missteps and a mixture of messages.
In New York we get a pretty straightforward story about finding and following a lost dream. Kurt and Rachel try to intervene with Santana about her ambitions in the city in a scene where we learn that Santana is both working a as caged go-go dancer and a bouncer at a lesbian beer garden. Fox’s real failure this year is not showing us that show, which would be a wonderful tale of self discovery and gyration. We know “Glee” likes both of those things, and Santana is your perfect vessel. Unfortunately this is all happening off screen, and Santana doesn’t want to just throw herself into something like NYADA, she’s taking her time to figure herself out.
Of course, she gets a small kickstart by the return of Sarah Jessica Parker, who is still Kurt’s Vogue “fairy godmother” and intern boss Isabelle. She recruits him to celebrity wrangle at the fancy ballet gala (where “Darren” is seated next to “Christopher,” giving all the Klainers a good chuckle.) Kurt and Rachel reminisce about their childhoods as tiny, ambitious ballerinas, but it takes Isabelle at the actual event to pull Santana out of her shell and admit to a few treasured ballet lessons in her own youth that were instituted to combat her tomboyishness. The quartet transition to a fantasy sequence of “At The Ballet” from A Chorus Line, with Santana and Isabella taking the bulk of the number on a backlit stage and we flask between childhood and the fantasy performance of the dancers behind them. We Glee does musical theater right, it’s breathtaking, and this was a sturdy reminder of that skill. A touched Santana is reminded that she can still embrace her dreams, even if it takes baby steps to get there. Her steps are a NYADA extension course with a varity of adult students and a stern but engaged professor to instructs her to plie at the bar while fantasy baby!Santana watches on and reminds her to not forget her this time.
Things are a little more muddy in Lima. For the sake of it, the lights are out at the school but things continue on for days seemingly as normal, just with flashlights and candles. Never one to pass up an opportunity to institute a theme, Schue decides this means instead of anthemic performances the group will focus on unplugged music. Up first is Sam, who strums out “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” by The Righteous Brothers. Artie is supposed to follow, but he breaks down and can’t produce his Miguel number without his electric synths. Sam drops some real talk about disconnecting from technology and learning to unplug.
Plagued by a technical connection is Ryder, who is still trying to figure out his Catfish situation. He wants to “unplug his feelings” by singing R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” while we see flashes of several other club members getting Slushied, something we haven’t seen much this year. When he finishes he declares that he wants to tell the group something, the thing he told Catfish Katie, that he was molested by his babysitter at 11. Ryder’s reveals have been the most interesting of the season, and this one is no disappointment. While the girls are in general appropriate shocked, when several of the men in the classroom realize that Ryder’s babysitter was female they joke that he shouldn’t be ashamed since hooking up with an older woman is a dream, and despite Schue’s lackluster attempt at controlling the room, Ryder shrugs it off and pretends he is fine. It’s only Kitty who seems to reach out afterwards, taking him to dinner to reveal that she and Puck broke up, and drops that she was also molested when she was in middle school. For a show that routinely drops heavy-hitter emotional bombs on the audience, this one still packs a punch and re-contextualizes the Kitty we’ve known for 20 episodes in a way that’s pretty clear without negating her flaws and her triumphs.
Of course in true Glee fashion we go from a very emotional scene to Artie’s somewhat random decision to do a Stomp-style version of “We Will Rock You” by Queen. We could have stood a commercial break at least. Jake gets to actually dance, which is a bonus. When we cycle back to Ryder and Kitty’s story we learn that part of his plan in revealing his abuse was to hopefully catch the Catfisher by his or her facial reaction in the choir room. They’re not revealed, and when Kitty comes by asking Ryder out again he blows her off to continue his online-only affair, much to her chagrin.
Meanwhile, we learn that Sue is now a personal trainer at 24 hour fitness, teaching a class that pays homage to the Eric Prydz “Call On Me” video — soundtrack included. Blaine has infiltrated the class to be cruised by random dudes and confront Sue about her departure from McKinely. He knows something is fishy, and he’s worried for the sake of the Cheerios now that Roz has taken over and is suggesting rib removal for added flexibility. Sue lurks back to the school and watches practice from afar until she’s confronted by an out-of-uniform Becky (she’s in fact dressed identical to Sue) who begs her to return and stop protecting her. Sue claims to have moved on, and breaks into Miss Hanigan’s “Little Girls” from Annie, stalking through the Cheerios practice unseen terrorizing them, then the hallways of a still-dark McKinley. She’s given her life for her girls, and for now she’s a free woman — but perhaps not for long as Becky confesses to Figgins and the lights magically return.
“There’s one more thing this power outage can drive home for us — the power of singing a capella,” Schue decrees and the episode closes with the entire gang singing Billy Joel’s “Longest Time.” Sweet, but another in the long line of lackluster final numbers this season.
There was a lot to swallow this week, and a lot of it was delicious, but still too much and too haphazardly placed. The episode stumbled most of all from sloppy editing and a propensity to cram too much into what was left; both group song numbers were fluff, and based on stills released at least one plotline was drastically reduced after filming — a further impetus that leads Becky to confess to Figgins after Blaine interrogates her. Where Glee soared this week — New York City — we flew with it, but hopefully the problems won’t persist for the final two episode of the season and drag us down.