(Spoilers lurk below.)
If this means an end to the constant parade of temporary redemptions for Sue, I’m all for it. I don’t think that Sue should suddenly become a nice guy, but if she could keep her promise to stop going all supervillain on the glee club this time, that would be good.
This was an episode that was meant to be very emotional and actually succeeded on that front, not just with the funeral. They got Sue’s ludicrous plot to reroute the glee club’s plane to Libya out of the way at the very beginning, and then allowed Sue to be a real person for the rest of the episode. Sue has never shown signs of being close to anyone in the show aside from her sister, and her death had an impact. Having Sue describe it rather than show it was an interesting choice, but I think it was one that worked because of how it showed what Sue is going through. That said, going into that right after witnessing her performing her Evil Plan of the Week made it hard to believe it was sincere. That came clear not long thereafter, but it hurt the moment. We’ve seen Sue vulnerable before, but not to this extent, which is why I’m not going to complain as much as I usually would about another episode featuring Sue’s redemption. To see her literally unable to speak from grief was a powerful moment.
It could have been difficult to buy the idea that the glee club would step in to help Sue after all she’s done to them, but it worked for two reasons. First, death has a way of clearing the air when it comes to grudges, even very deep grudges. Second, having Kurt and Finn lead the call to help her was very appropriate, considering that they both lost parents (though the writers could have been a bit subtler with that theme instead of having them both announce it). That combined with Finn standing up and demanding, as a leader, that they do it really helped to sell the concept.
It could easily have come across as weird to have a glee club at a funeral, but they set up “Pure Imagination” with the Willy Wonka tape so well, and the song came across as such a bittersweet tribute, that I think they pulled it off perfectly. They also didn’t try to do too much. They did one song, with the only “show” part of it being images of Sue’s memory of her sister. It was simple, it was appropriate, and it worked.
This is the most serious characterization we’ve gotten for Sue in a long time. Contrast her depression here with her “depression” in “Comeback.” While both had every right to exist, only this one feels earned. Sue in “Comeback” came across as a joke, an emotionless cartoon character, a master manipulator. Here, she was just sad, confused, and lost. Her interaction with Becky also felt real, and actually tied the whole thing together.
So much for the plotline that worked; now for the Jesse stuff. I wondered in my “Prom Queen” review why they brought Jesse back, and now I’m still wondering. His techniques clash with Will’s, and I don’t see any evidence that his advice helped Will or the club one bit. I don’t understand why Will would even hire him. They’ve gotten as far as they have on their own. Bringing in a consultant is actually just messing with a successful formula (as Will points out in the end). The infighting that Jesse encouraged is something we’ve seen before, and it’s been done better (see “Special Education,” “Rumours” and virtually any early season one episode). I don’t really see what Jesse’s presence accomplished, either in terms of narrative or theme.
I will admit that Will’s refusal at the end to pick a “winner” as the featured soloist for nationals (Jesse’s pick being Rachel) fell a bit flat considering that Rachel was their featured soloist at regionals.
The bit with Rachel and Jesse at the end was effectively foreshadowed (why else would Jesse have torn down Santana, Mercedes, and Kurt, but had nothing but good things to say to Rachel?), but it didn’t feel earned. Rachel shouldn’t fall right back into his arms like that after what he did to both her and the club. I need a little sense of motivation here. Rachel is coming across as more a prop than a character in this situation, which is weird because I don’t care at all about Jesse as a character. However, I do need a sense of motivation for Jesse too. Is he really in love with her, or does he actually have a hidden agenda… again?
It was good to see Finn break up with Quinn, because she’s been in desperate need of a reality check. That said, he could have been a little gentler about it considering that he probably knows she’s in a bad place. The breakup scene did feel very real, however. The bit with Finn walking in on Rachel and Jesse while holding a flower, though, made me realize that we might have to see a rerun of season one here. Rachel/Finn/Jesse again? Really? I don’t think the pentagon needed another side.
The one good thing about the Jesse plot was that it set up the auditions for Santana, Kurt, Mercedes, and Rachel, which were all awesome.
I didn’t detect a thematic link between our A and B plots this time. They were just kinda two stories moving in parallel. They could have been split up into other episodes and it really wouldn’t have made a difference.
Terri apparently has met the end of her plotline, although I don’t really see what either she or Howard accomplished for Sue in this episode. Sue could have hacked into Figgins’s e-mail account on her own. In fact, I would be shocked if she’s never done it previously. However, bringing Terri back actually did serve a thematic purpose. Will and Terri’s relationship did need some kind of resolution, considering how explosively their marriage ended and how awkwardly Will dealt with her in “The Substitute.” It’s good to see that Terri really is getting better, and it’s good for Will to finally see a clean ending to that part of his life. I wish her character all the best in Miami, and I hope to never see her again.
I’m not sure what to make of Will planning to go to work with April on Broadway. It seems like he really plans on coming back for the next school year, but it doesn’t explain why he’s not being honest with the kids. It doesn’t feel right for his character. His acceptance of April’s offer is also something that should have occurred on camera. Doing it this way makes it feel like they’re trying to avoid having to sell it to the audience.
Like I said, all the musical numbers were very good. “Pure Imagination” probably wins in the emotion department, but to me the musical highlight was Santana’s “Back to Black,” which she belted out beautifully. It was also a nice contrast to the sound of the other auditions which, while very good, were sounds we’ve heard plenty of times before (soul and showtunes). I’ll admit I’m probably starting to sound like a Santana fanboy. I do like her character a lot.
While Rachel’s “My Man” was a very solid performance, in terms of emotionality they might want to stop having Rachel sing songs to Finn. After “Get it Right” in “Original Song,” just about every one they do is going to be unfavorably compared to that.
I’d say this was about half of a good episode. Aside from the weak B plot, it also suffered from the same thing that plagued “Prom Queen”: a lot of it was setup for the finale. I hope the finale can live up to all that.