Episode 3.07: “I Kissed a Girl”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the glee club gets an assignment intended to teach them some kind of lesson, and they spend the rest of the episode performing songs in between scenes that mainly seem to exist to set up the next song. Yeah, this sounds like classic first-season Glee. Thing is, it’s done well. This kind of thing was basically all I wanted out of Glee back in season one, and I wanted it because when done right (“Vitamin D,” “Funk,” “Dream On,” “Duets”) it makes for a very entertaining hour of television. “I Kissed a Girl” was heavier than most of the other similarly-structured episodes, as you might expect from the subject matter, but it works just as well if not better.

The beginning picks up right where “Mash Off” left off, with Santana facing the consequences for slapping Finn. What doesn’t make sense is that they decided to go to Figgins about it. Will of all people knew what an emotional wreck Santana was over the commercial, so I really can’t imagine he’d want to do anything else but handle the matter internally within the club. This is especially hard to swallow when Will, only minutes after doing his best to get Santana suspended, seems incredibly serious about helping her.

Beyond that, the setup worked quite well. Finn actually steps up as a leader pulls a Schuester, assigning both clubs to do great songs by female artists in support of Santana. The weird thing is, as Santana points out, she doesn’t want to have anything to do with it. She has to deal with the fallout of the campaign commercial that will out her, but she doesn’t want to face that. Not only that, but she can’t even make herself officially come out to her glee club friends despite the fact, as Finn point out, that “everybody in this room knows about you and Brittany.” So the kids are forced to try to help someone who really doesn’t want to be helped.

Doing something like this with Santana is risky because she’s such a stone-cold bitch. The writers really had to walk the line between making her too sympathetic (which would be out of character) and making her too cold (which would flatten the emotional resonance of the assignment to help her). They actually succeeded brilliantly on that front. Santana flips from one extreme to the other all over this episode, making us believe the emotional roller coaster she’s on. We get everything from Santana sarcastically filing away Kurt and Blaine’s song with all the “other” horrible things she’s gone through, to her quiet acceptance of Finn’s sincere desire to help her when he tells her why he feels so strongly about it.

I do wish we’d seen Santana’s conversation with her parents on camera, but their acceptance of her apparently mirrored the acceptance she has at the glee club, so thematically I guess it wasn’t necessary. What we got instead was Santana coming out to her “abuelita.” I at first pondered what we were supposed to get out of this scene, since we don’t even slightly know Santana’s grandma, but it was so completely about Santana, and not anyone else, that the person she was talking to might as well have been anybody. There’s always some light in the darkness in Glee, but by the same token there’s always some darkness in the light. Santana’s friends and parents are accepting of her, but her grandmother throws her out of the house and says that she never wants to see her again. If this seems a little too over-the-top harsh… well, it is. But it’s also meant to be, in capsule form, an illustration of the fact that it’s not going to be all sunshine and roses for Santana going forward just because she finally has the courage to admit who she is. There are always going to be those who simply can’t accept you for what you are, but you still have to be yourself. In retrospect, I realized what this scene was supposed to be when I noticed that Santana was uncharacteristically not in her cheerleading uniform. That was a clear visual signal that we were seeing something outside of the life of Santana that we normally see.

Surprisingly, the other character that stood out in this episode was Finn, who pretty much acted more like a leader than he ever has. Will and Shelby’s “mash off” idea to bring the feuding clubs closer together resulted in a lot of name-calling, a mean-spirited dodgeball game, and a very hard slap in the face for Finn. Finn’s idea to bring the clubs together by supporting Santana, someone they all see as a friend in at least some bizarre way, actually… succeeded. I wondered at first why he felt so strongly about helping Santana, but his explanation to her (“Look… you were my first. That means something to me. You mean something to me.”) both worked some continuity into the episode (a welcome trend that I like to see still happening) and completely sold the idea that Finn feels something like close friendship for Santana even though she’s always been a total bitch to him. That’s not easy to do, and I give a lot of credit to the writers and to Cory Monteith for making that work.

The one thing missing from this plotline was a good scene between Santana and Brittany. Brittany was always there in the background, supporting Santana silently, but there wasn’t even one scene between the two of them alone. One of the best single scenes of season two was when Brittany confronted Santana about coming out of the closet (remember the “Lebanese” shirt?). I was hoping for something of similar quality here.

Actually, there was one other thing missing: a kiss between Santana and Brittany. I know that having one after “I Kissed a Girl” would have been the most obvious thing in the world, but sometimes things are obvious for a reason. It would have worked, damn it!

The other stuff going on this episode really just felt like… other stuff. Burt won the election, despite the fact that he was running as a write-in candidate and we never saw him make even the slightest public response to Sue’s mudslinging. Sue even came in third, meaning that Burt didn’t even necessarily have to run to ensure that Sue wouldn’t get into Congress. We also never saw Sue bring up special education funding again, which was something I thought they were going to use to make the election at least a little interesting. Nope.

Brittany won the election for class president, which is exactly what anyone would have expected from day one. Kurt is hardly political material around WMHS, and I doubt that Rachel’s endorsement was much help. At least he accepts it gracefully and even hugged it out with Brittany. Meanwhile, Rachel’s brain apparently goes AWOL as she decides to rig the election in Kurt’s favor by stuffing the ballot box. This leads to her being suspended for a week and banned from competing at sectionals. Some part of me thinks that this plotline was just the writers’ way of reminding us that Rachel is still supposed to be relevant, despite the fact that she’s just not that interesting of a character.

Meanwhile, Puck continues to pursue Shelby. When Beth falls down and splits her lip, the very emotional Shelby apparently can’t think of anyone else to call but Puck, who shows up at the hospital to support her. This apparently leads to their having sex, after which Shelby correctly points out that it was a mistake and kicks Puck out. In retrospect, maybe these two do belong together. They’re both fucking idiots. Shelby, while an emotional wreck, calls Puck to support her and is somehow shocked when it leads to sex. Puck, meanwhile, keeps trying to get into a relationship with Shelby despite the fact that it is slightly illegal for teachers to get into relationships with students even if they are of legal age. He should recognize that what he’s doing isn’t worth the risk, to Beth if no one else.

Speaking of which, Puck astutely points out in this episode that Quinn is completely off her nut, and then, three acts later, spontaneously decides to tell her about his relationship with Shelby. That actually sets a new standard for dumb. I call it the “Puck Standard.”

As for Quinn, I think this observation from my notes says all I need to say about her part in this episode: “every time I think quinn hit bottom, someone throws her a shovel.”

I’m just not even slightly interested in the Shannon/Cooter/Sue love triangle. I’m not even gonna lie. Shannon has been a good character in the past, but recently they’ve reduced her to a stereotype. Every scene she’s in is either a joke about how much she eats, a joke about how masculine she is, or a joke/observation about how she has no clue how to function in a relationship. It’s just not interesting or entertaining. Also, Cooter is as dull as dirt. He has absolutely no characterization.

All the songs were at least decent. “Jolene” felt out of place, if only because, like I said, I don’t really give a shit about Shannon’s issues. The titular “I Kissed a Girl,” while a hell of a lot of fun, wasn’t thematically the best song to use in that situation. The song is about experimentation (“just to try it”) and titillation (“I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it”). It hardly seems an appropriate anthem for someone coming out as a lesbian. That said, I won’t dock a lot of points for it because it really was enjoyable, if only to see all the girls standing together and supporting each other. The musical highlight, far and away, was “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” which shocks me at least as much as it shocks you. I don’t even like the song in its original form. Turning such an iconic, fluffy, light, upbeat pop song into a fucking dirge was not something I expected at all, but it paid off in spades. The fact that they led into it with Finn’s explanation to Santana of why he’s trying to help her also added to why it worked. It was simply an amazing song. Cory Monteith also managed to sell the emotionality of the song, and I didn’t detect a lot of autotune, which is rare where Monteith is involved. I won’t say that his voice is amazing, but he performed this song well.

Overall, what worked in this episode worked very, very well, but what didn’t work… meh. I am glad to have gotten the election plot arcs out of the way, even if it does mean that they’ve been replaced with plot arcs involving Rachel’s suspension and a brand new love triangle.

Episode 3.06: “Mash Off”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

This episode addressed several things that needed to be addressed, and did it in an adequately artful way. Shelby and Puck’s kiss was addressed, as Shelby attempts to write it off as a mistake and Puck (who thinks he’s in love) tries to convince her that he’s cut out to be a family man. They address the nuts and bolts of Sue’s campaign against Burt, as Sue slings mud while Burt and Will take action by… getting mad about it? They address the continued existence of two glee clubs at WMHS (who are apparently going to compete at sectionals), as Will and Shelby try to make their kids not hate each other. They even address Kurt and Rachel’s falling out, which has essentially not been alluded to at all since “I am Unicorn,” unless you count the fact that Rachel and Kurt haven’t really shared any scenes since then. Finally, the end of the episode hints at addressing Quinn’s continued spiral downward and Santana’s fear of coming out of the closet.

Before I go on, I want to say something about how season three as a whole has been progressing. From day one, they sold this season as one of continuing plot arcs rather than one of self-contained episodes, and I simply don’t think it’s been working that well. In some cases, plot arcs come and go with little rhyme or reason. For example, Santana was banned from the glee club in “The Purple Piano Project” for doing Sue’s bidding on glee club time, an extremely valid reason. That set up a great possible followup in which we explore Santana’s dual loyalties, and a good chance to see some character development as she struggles to figure out what she wants for herself. Instead, what we got was Santana rejoining the club in “Asian F” without telling Sue (why would Will even allow that?) with the banning never being mentioned again. And of course, she quit the club voluntarily the very next episode. We’ve also had several episodes establish that Finn feels insecure about Blaine’s place in the club because he sees Blaine as competition for the position of leader. This comes and goes, but has never been even slightly developed and just gets in the way when it does crop up. The “West Side Story” plot arc felt aborted, as the character fallout between Mercedes and Rachel (which was the most important thing to happen in that arc because of the way it fragmented the club) was not addressed before showtime. The play instead served as the backdrop for Rachel, Kurt, and Blaine losing their virginity, which, in retrospect, is just a bizarre thing to do with the resolution of a five-episode plot arc when those two subjects had nothing to do with each other beforehand.

Meanwhile, the plot arcs that are working and continuous feel fragmented and choppy because they keep being interrupted. We go entire episodes without addressing something like Sue’s campaign for Congress or Quinn’s growing insanity or the Troubletones and it feels jarring to come back to it all of the sudden. I’m not saying that every plot arc should have development in every episode, but I think there should be evidence that it exists. Right now, despite the fact that there are more ongoing plot arcs than in either other season of the show, it actually feels more discontinuous than ever because of the way the pieces just don’t quite fit together.

Anyway, about “Mash Off.” I actually like the way they set up the mash-up contest, with Shelby and Will coming together to try to figure out a way to clear the air. There’s absolutely no animosity between these two people, which is refreshing in a situation like this. A lot of TV shows would go the route of making them enemies, but with Sue around we really don’t need another enemy. And Will even admits that the defections were his own fault (“They left because of me”). That’s a level of self-awareness we haven’t seen in Will for a while. So we have this situation where the coaches like each other, but the kids don’t. The New Directions kids see the Troubletones as traitors, while Mercedes sees the New Directions kids as enablers to drama-queen Rachel. And Santana is actually just plain mean.

Thing is, the mash ups were very cool, the dodgeball game was surprisingly a lot of fun to watch, and seeing the individual battles going on between Santana and Finn/Mercedes was nice… but the writers apparently forgot to resolve anything. Everything is still the same between the two clubs after this episode. The bit with Santana’s sexuality coming out looked like a resolution, because it was tacked on to the end of the arc, but it was just the beginning of another arc to be continued later. So the A story of this episode did not have a real resolution. They actually masked that so well that I didn’t realize it until I sat down to write this review.

You could argue that the resolution there was in the way individual characters made up with each other, but the only characters that really did that were Rachel and Kurt. I liked seeing that happen, and it felt real and earned, but their falling out had nothing to do with the fragmentation of the club. What we needed here was Rachel and Mercedes making amends. I’m going to keep harping on this forever, because it is so completely necessary before any further progress can be made in this season. And putting that in this episode would have (if handled the right way) felt like a real resolution to the A story even if the clubs did not merge back together. The perfect place to put Rachel’s making amends with Mercedes would have been in “The First Time” but “Mash Off” is a close second. That’s strike two, Glee writers.

What actually worked better, surprisingly, were the interactions between Puck and Shelby. Puck comes across as incredibly sincere, almost duplicating his performance in season one when he pursued Quinn to try to be with their daughter. Ironically, Quinn has gotten worse since Beth and Shelby came back to town while Puck has matured. That said, Puck should realize how poor an idea it is to pursue a relationship with Shelby while he’s in school. She could end up in serious trouble, which would not be good for anyone involved, least of all Beth.

Quinn didn’t have a big part in this episode, but what she did have left an impact. Puck spills the beans to Shelby about Quinn’s plan to get Beth back, and Shelby really lets Quinn have it, refusing to let her join the Troubletones and essentially refusing to let Quinn have anything more to do with Beth. Shelby correctly points out that there’s more to turning your life around than dying your hair blond and wearing conventional clothes. Quinn is still a wreck and getting worse, as evidenced by her plan to get Shelby in hot water with child protective services. As Shelby kicks Quinn out of her house, she tells Quinn “I hope you see this as a wake-up call.” Quinn desperately needs one, but she’s shown little evidence that she’s going to be willing to accept it. There was a subtle hint that Quinn is wise to Shelby’s relationship with Puck, which opens the door for another cruel thing Quinn might try to separate Shelby from Beth. We’ll see if that happens.

The stuff with Sue’s campaign worked as comic relief, because Sue’s ads were genuinely funny. I wish we had actually gotten to see some of Burt’s real response to it though, aside from hand-wringing and bitching. I also note that they’ve apparently chosen to drop Sue’s platform of increasing funding for special education, I assume because it’s not funny. Sue even enumerates her position within this episode and doesn’t mention special education. That makes her much less interesting of a villain since she is once again reduced to moustache-twirling evil schemes. I will say that it worked in this particular episode because it was played mostly for comedy rather than for drama. When they tried for a dramatic scene at the end when Sue realizes the human cost of her mudslinging campaign, it worked as far as Santana went, but fell flat with Sue (mainly because we’ve seen her apologize so many times for so many things, there’s just no impact to it anymore, even aside from the fact that her ads were cartoonishly ludicrous).

Speaking of Santana, the most effective scenes in this episode didn’t even have anything to do with the main plots. Finn’s calling out of Santana for staying in the closet really hit Santana where she lives, and it’s probably the most vulnerable we’ve seen her outside of when she was rejected by Brittany last season. Likewise, her tearful reaction to the ad from another one of Sue’s competitors that will out her as a lesbian was effective, and her paranoid slapping of Finn when she thought he was gossiping about her was shocking enough to give us an idea of what an emotional wreck Santana is at the moment. All of that worked really well, but it mainly made me wish I was watching the followup episode that will deal with all this.

The songs were all good. While “Rumour Has It/Someone Like You” was objectively the best song of the episode, I have to admit that I got the most enjoyment out of “Hit Me with Your Best Shot/One Way or Another” and the dodgeball scene. That scene was set up in a lame, unbelievable way, the song choices were obvious and could easily have been boring, and yet… it was just a lot of fun to watch.

This was not a bad episode, but in retrospect it’s almost depressingly average.

Episode 3.05: “The First Time”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

This is the second episode written by someone other than the big three, but, unfortunately, it feels very much like an average season two episode. It revisits themes from both season one’s “The Power of Madonna” and season two’s “Blame it on the Alcohol,” though it at least has the courtesy to mention those episodes. This wasn’t what I’d call a bad episode, but it didn’t really bring much new to the table.

I really thought that the school musical plot arc was going to last a lot longer, but this episode brought it to a close, while completely dropping the most important thread from said plot arc. Rachel and Mercedes had a huge falling out over the casting of Maria. So huge that Mercedes quit the club. I thought that the prefect way to resolve it was for Rachel to approach Mercedes and find some way of making amends. The fact that we didn’t get that was a big disappointment to me. Not only did we not see Rachel approach Mercedes, but we didn’t see any evidence that Rachel was in any way concerned with Mercedes. So that was disappointing enough, but they actually didn’t resolve that issue in any way, and now that the play is over it’s thematically too late. Any later resolution of this issue will be on different terms. Mercedes appeared in the episode for all of one second, smiling in the audience. I hope that wasn’t intended to be the resolution, because I need something more here. Rachel absolutely has to be the person to take the first step.

Anyway, on to the things that this episode did actually do. As in “The Power of Madonna,” here we see characters concerned about losing their virginity. I didn’t like “The Power of Madonna” all that much, but I will say that the angst about sex in that episode felt like it came from a real place (and “Like a Virgin” was a better musical number in the context of that episode than I gave it credit for at the time). In “The First Time,” the catalyst for all the drama was Artie, of all things. In his effort to appear that he knows what he’s doing as director of the play (and, from all appearances, Emma and Shannon weren’t much help) he tells Blaine and Rachel that “West Side Story” is a play about “sexual awakening,” and asks them if they’ve ever had sex. This leads to the incredibly awkward realization that of the five characters in that room, including Shannon and Emma, Artie is the only one with any experience in the sack. Emma and Shannon quickly reach maximum levels of awkwardness and beat a hasty retreat, leaving Artie to basically order Blaine and Rachel to have sex with their significant others so that they will be able to sell their roles in the play. That’s so inappropriate that I can’t even believe it, and I think that Emma, if not Shannon, should have stayed and told Artie as much. Look back to the casting discussion the three directors had in “I am Unicorn,” which sold the idea of their team and how well it was working. Now look at “The First Time,” in which it looks like Artie is running the show solo. If they had been a real team, and if Shannon and/or Emma had stepped in to stop Artie from making a jackass of himself, much of the drama of this episode could have been avoided.

As a sidenote (because a sidenote is all this deserves), Artie appeared totally confident in his abilities throughout the episode, then at the end had a sudden crisis of confidence because he realizes that he didn’t really know what he was doing, then 20 seconds later the kids resolve this by presenting him with a bouquet of flowers and thanking him for his hard work. It gave Artie a nice chance for a speech, I suppose, but it’s one of the laziest subplots I’ve ever seen in my life.

So right off the bat we have Rachel and Blaine’s impetus to lose their virginity is that they want to be better actors. This fails on one level because that’s a stupid reason to want to do that, even for Rachel who values her talent above all else. It fails on another level because we’ve seen very little of Rachel and Blaine interacting, and for this to even have a chance of working I think we need to feel that Rachel and Blaine have a close working relationship and are depending on each other to turn in stellar roles. We had a short moment like that at the end of the episode when they each tell the other “I failed you” because they didn’t have sex, but that wasn’t earned. We didn’t see nearly enough of their relationship before or during the events of this episode. In “Blame it on the Alcohol,” Darren Criss and Lea Michele actually showed quite a bit of chemistry together, and it would be nice to see some scenes with the two of them again. And we needed more of that here.

All of that aside, there were issues with Blaine/Kurt’s and Rachel/Finn’s individual subplots as well. After the scene in which Artie told Blaine and Rachel that they needed to live a little, we see Kurt arguing to Blaine that maybe their relationship should be a little more sexual and Blaine shooting him down. This seems like a scene that got put in out of order, because it makes sense coming before Artie’s confrontation, but not at all coming after. Not only that, but the next time we see Kurt and Blaine take up this subject, when they meet at the lockers, Blaine argues that they should be more adventurous and Kurt argues against it. And the next time they take up the subject, when they’re talking with Sebastian about going to the gay bar, Blaine is against being more adventurous and Kurt is in favor of it. And the next time they take up the subject, when Blaine wants to have sex in the back of Kurt’s car, Kurt is against it and Blaine is in favor of it. Good God, it’s dueling inconsistencies. I know that not all of those instances are completely analogous, but the fact is that there was no one character thread here for Blaine nor was there one for Kurt. They kept swapping themes. Does Kurt think their relationship is too boring or does Blaine? Does Kurt want to keep things simple, or does Blaine? If neither of them is sure, why do they keep taking very strong stances on either side and then swapping? I’d call this sloppy writing, but it was done so apparently deliberately that it’s hard to imagine that it’s not intentional. And if so, I have no idea what the writer was attempting to accomplish.

I also didn’t really get the point of Sebastian. We didn’t really see enough of him and Blaine interacting to get much of an idea of what Blaine might see in him. Sebastian comes across as one-dimensional or worse, serving only as a “temptation” to Blaine and a way to get Blaine and Kurt into the gay bar (where Kurt runs into Karofsky in one of the best scenes in the episode). At least the end, when Blaine admits he was wrong about having sex in the car and apologizes, felt real. It just felt like the resolution of a single scene, not an entire subplot. The subplot was so convoluted that I don’t think there was a way of resolving it.

Finn and Rachel’s subplot worked better, but it was unfortunately hampered by the fact that we’ve seen so much of Rachel and Finn, and they’ve been on-again off-again so many times, that it just doesn’t have much meaning anymore. I’ll personally be glad to see them gone at the end of the season (if that’s really going to happen). Most of what happened here was completely predictable. Rachel decides to have sex with Finn to help her acting career, she lets it slip to Finn that that’s why she’s doing it (“It’s because I love you AND so I can act better!”), Finn walks out, Rachel apologizes at the end of the episode and they make up. Blah, blah, blah.

The real interesting thing that happened here came out of Finn’s conversation with the scout from Ohio State. He finds out that he just doesn’t have the talent to play ball at the college level. It hits him, all at once, that he’s a mediocre football player and a mediocre singer. He doesn’t have a future in either. And suddenly, the future looks pretty dark. That’s a tough thing for a kid to take, and Cory Monteith played Finn’s impotent rage and frustration well.

The other thing that really worked in this episode was the nod to Mike’s plotline. When his father confronted him in the hallway about being in the school play, I wondered where Mike’s support from his mother was. However, it’s actually easy to believe that she’s just as scared to approach Mike Sr. as Mike Jr. is. Mike Sr. is a powerful personality. The end, when Mike sees his mother in the audience sitting next to an empty chair, was actually a subtle hint at Mrs. Chang’s part in supporting her son. Mrs. Chang bought two tickets, otherwise there would have been no empty seat. So not only did Mike Sr. refuse to go to the play, but he refused to use a ticket that his wife had already bought for him. I think the eventual resolution of this may end up needing another whole episode. And I hope they don’t go the route of estranging Mike from his father, a la Quinn and her father. Quinn’s father always appeared irredeemable, but Mike Sr. actually has his heart in the right place, even if he’s misguided.

There were several instances in this episode of intercutting between scenes of character interaction and a musical number. They cut to Santana and Rachel performing a song from the play both during Blaine’s meeting with Sebastian and during Rachel’s bizarre girl talk session. It doesn’t work all that well either time. It comes across as a failed attempt to be artsy. However, the last bit, when they cut to Rachel and Blaine singing “One Hand, One Heart” amidst scenes of Rachel/Finn and Kurt/Blaine actually worked quite well. They set up earlier how Rachel and Blaine were going to use their love for their actual significant others in their method for acting in the play, so the thematic connection was strong. They also intercut without stopping and starting the music, which was jarring in the earlier scenes.

Unfortunately, every attempt at using intercuts like that is going to end up being unfavorably compared to “Bohemian Rhapsody” in season one’s “Journey to Regionals,” which was not only a great use of the device, but one of the single best scenes in Glee.

The play itself was enjoyable, but it didn’t feel like it earned a five-episode story arc. This seemed like the kind of thing that should have been wrapped up in two.

The bit with Shannon getting a date felt too sit-commy for me, and I didn’t really get Artie’s desire to play Cupid. There were parts of it that worked, but for the most part it fell flat. It also revisited themes from “Never Been Kissed,” this time without acknowledging it.

Funniest line of the episode (Puck, about Finn taking Rachel’s virginity): “I always thought it would be me, but secretly I hoped it would be you.”

Best line overall: “Right now, I’m just trying to get through high school.” This line could easily slip by unnoticed, but it gets at the heart of how Karofsky is coping with what he’s going through, it acts as a counterpoint to Kurt’s (and Rachel’s) urgency to be superstars now and forever, and it points at an underlying theme for pretty much any coming-of-age story.

Random observation from my notes: “puck’s hair looks weird.”

“Do I look like a freshman?” Uh…. yes?

And that bar really wasn’t even slightly scandalous.

The music in this episode was pretty uninspired, which seems odd for an episode allegedly featuring a school musical. The highlight was probably “One Hand, One Heart.” “America” is a close second, even if it reminded me of completely the wrong thing (“There are no cats in America, and the streets are paved with cheese…“).

Easily the worst episode of the season so far, but it did have its moments.

Episode 3.04: “Pot o’ Gold”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Here we have, after two seasons and some change, the first episode of Glee not written by Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan, or Brad Falchuk. “Pot o’ Gold” was written by new staff member Ali Adler, and she succeeded in staying true to the nature of the show while taking something of a fresh approach to the material (for example: continuity (!)).

At the center of this episode was the introduction of Rory Flannigan, an Irish foreign exchange student who is having a lot of trouble fitting in at WMHS. His host family is Brittany’s, and, due to no fault of his own, he has Brittany convinced that he’s a leprechaun. The fact the he tries to use this to his advantage speaks not to how bad a person he is (because he’s not a bad person at all), but rather to how lonely and lost he is in Lima. He spends hours picking marshmallows out of Lucky Charms just to try to get Brittany to like him. That would be tragic if it weren’t so pathetic. Meanwhile, the other students at the school either subject him to bullying, ignore him, or use him. Finn tries to use him to get inside information about whether or not Santana and Brittany are thinking of defecting. Santana uses him to get Brittany to defect with her. Even Brittany, apparently his best “friend” at WMHS, attempts to use him to grant herself wishes. The end of his arc, when Santana tells him to disappear, was one of the most tragic moments that Glee has ever had.

I like Rory as a character, and he even feels fleshed-out already to an amazing degree for a new addition. Adler wrote him into the plot beautifully, using him as a catalyst for the episode’s events while forcing him to remain on the sideline. He also managed to reveal a lot about himself through character interactions and songs, and no voiceover! Compare this to how virtually every other character has been introduced. They’ve come in flat and boring, telling us about themselves directly through voiceover, and only developing slowly if at all. Characters introduced in that way include Finn and Rachel, who by now are among the least interesting characters on the show. Introducing characters like they did with Rory is much more dynamic, it feels earned, and it gets the audience to care about that character much more easily. Rachel told us that she is a loser. Rory showed us.

It almost feels too easy to help him by bringing him into the glee club, but at that point it’s more about the club itself and Finn’s status as a leader than about Rory. The club spent a good part of the episode falling apart, as Mercedes headhunts for Shelby’s group and manages to convince Santana to defect. In retrospect, I’m not sure that Mercedes’s character deserves this kind of treatment, because it makes her look petty. At the same time, she really does feel neglected. It’s easy to believe that Santana would defect, and the way that she got Brittany to go with her even made it believable for her. That said, at the end of the episode Brittany claimed to have realized that there’s no such thing as leprechauns, which means that she no longer should feel compelled to defect. I can’t seriously claim to be sure that Brittany would think that far, however.

One thing that didn’t work for me in the defection plotline was Finn’s apparent jealousy of Blaine’s popularity in the club. Blaine has never once stepped on Finn’s toes, offering him nothing but support and the willingness to follow. Despite that, Finn seems to see Blaine as competition for leader of the glee club, and isn’t afraid to be a jerk about it. That came and went in this episode without accomplishing anything, and it seems out of character. I don’t get it.

Also, it was kinda creepy the way Finn kept lurking around in the background the first part of the show.

The other major plotline trudging through this episode was Puck and Quinn’s baby drama. Quinn plans to get her baby back by planting objects at Shelby’s apartment to make her appear to be an unfit mother, and then call Child Protective Services on her. Not only is that plan asinine, but even Puck thinks that she’s going too far. In the end, Puck gets to be the good guy, preventing mayhem rather than causing it. He’s actually developing as a character, in contrast to Quinn. I think that it’s made clear here that Quinn has not found the root of her problems. She thinks that if she gets her baby back, everything is going to be okay somehow. She blames the fact that she gave up her baby for everything that has gone wrong in her life, or at least everything that has made her feel terrible. The fact is that this is just another scapegoat. Quinn simply can’t face that there is no magic fix when you’re unsatisfied with your life. Quitting clubs, changing friends, being responsible for a baby: these are things that affect your life, but no one of them is going to make a bad life good. This especially holds when, like Quinn, you can’t take responsibility for being the architect of your own fate. Think of all the people that Quinn has blamed for her problems in the past: Finn, Puck, Rachel, her father, Sam, Will, Sue, Shelby, Beth. Everyone but herself. Until she can blame herself for her own problems, nothing she can do will make her feel better about her life, and, tragically, she will have no idea why.

The last minor plot point in this episode had to do with Sue’s campaign. I honestly thought they were going to go with Will as her opposing candidate, bringing us more stale Will/Sue tension and fighting. Instead, they threw us a curve by giving us Burt as Sue’s opponent. And this is a curveball that actually makes sense. Burt has always come across as a personable guy. It’s believable that he has a lot of friends in the community (as they set up early on with the fundraising bit). It’s believable that he has some spare time to devote to the campaign, because he owns his own business and can presumably delegate some of his duties to people he trusts. It’s believable that he wants to stop Sue from cutting the arts because of how much his son cares about it. And it’s nice to get some different character interaction in Burt/Sue. Everything about this works for me. It might even make the campaign plot arc bearable. Also, it was nice to see that they at least addressed the issue of campaign laws by giving Burt equal screen time with Sue. They also decided to give Sue something of a legitimate point, as she decides to focus on increasing funding for special education programs.

Plot points aside, what struck me most about this episode was all the little bits of continuity that were brought up, mostly from season one. It’s weird that the first episode not written by one of the big three comes across as the most coherent with the series as a whole. Puck’s pool cleaning service is brought back, Quinn and Puck’s babysitting experience was mentioned, Mercedes made reference to her duet with Santana, Brittany/Santana was briefly revisited, and they even made reference to Will’s dragging muffler of all things. I honestly don’t think we’ve seen that since before episode five. Give this woman more script assignments! She clearly actually gives a shit about things that happened in prior episodes, which is something that comes and goes in Glee far too often.

Santana and Brittany’s conversation about whether or not they were dating was one of the sweetest things they’ve put on this show, even if it did come across as Brittany-goofy (“Wasn’t last week where we were taking a bath together, wasn’t that a date?”).

I liked that they lampshaded the stupidity of Will’s plans for nationals last year (“I think that might be a better use of school funds than flying the glee club to New York without a setlist, only to lose at nationals with a song they made up the night before”).

All I will say about Puck and Shelby kissing is that the age of consent in Ohio is sixteen, but I imagine there are bigger legal issues with teachers getting involved with students at their school.

The songs were all good this week, though nothing was really amazing. I liked “Bein’ Green,” though we have to face the fact that between Rory and Kermit the Frog, the glorified sock puppet still lent more emotion to the song (also, if you really want to shed a tear, watch this clip of Big Bird performing it at Jim Henson’s memorial service). The highlight was probably Shelby’s crew’s rendition of “Candyman,” which looked gorgeous and sounded great, while setting up a rivalry between the clubs that is going to have to be addressed sooner rather than later, especially since neither club has the minimum twelve members needed to compete.