(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.