Episode 3.14: “On My Way”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Well, if it’s a competition episode, then I must be a sucker for it. This was a very strong episode that goes to a place that’s darker than Glee has ever gone before while at the same time managing to feel uplifting and hopeful. Aside from the unnecessary cliffhanger ending, I’d say this is a great example of a quintessential hour of Glee.

There are several individual plotlines going on here, but they are all connected by one event. Dave Karofsky was seen with Kurt on Valentine’s Day by one of Dave’s schoolmates, and it’s all over school that he’s gay. He comes into the locker room to find that “FAG” has been spray-painted on his locker. He goes online to find that his Facebook page is filled with hateful messages. Dave has been a tragic character from day one, someone tightly-wound and terrified on the inside. He can’t take it, so he proceeds to put on his best suit and hang himself, as Blaine’s performance of “Cough Syrup” plays over. That scene is right up there with the best scenes that this show has ever done, with a perfect song choice, perfect transitions, and the growing sense of dread as it becomes obvious what’s happening to Dave.

For any show but this one, I might have believed that Dave would succeed at killing himself, but going quite that far would be a little too much for Glee. Dave’s father finds him in time and cuts him down. He ends up in the hospital, alive but on suicide watch.

Before any of this happens, Sebastian attempts to blackmail Rachel into dropping out of the regionals competition by threatening to put photoshopped “naked” photos of Finn wearing high heels on the Internet. This threat of a false, silly humiliation (the photos are clearly not really Finn) is subtly contrasted with the real humiliation that Dave is put through. Dave is still struggling not to hate himself because he’s gay, so to suddenly be outed with no control and no support is absolutely devastating. Imagine what would have happened to Santana if she hadn’t had warning of the political ad that was going to out her. He reaction wouldn’t have been nearly as negative, but it would have been much worse than doing it on her own terms, with her friends behind her. Dave feels like he doesn’t have any friends. With no friends, so support, nothing but hatred visible forever on the horizon, it’s entirely believable that Dave would see suicide as a way out. It’s very important that it feel believable, because Dave has evolved into a real character over the course of his history on Glee, and I hated the idea that he would be used simply as a plot device, the way that the less-developed Jean was in “Funeral.” His suicide attempt, and his reasons for doing it, felt real and tragic, and I think that the writers imbued it with the dignity and respect that it deserved.

It turns out that Dave had also approached Sebastian, attempting to get advice on adjusting and accepting the fact that he’s gay. Sebastian brushed him off. Because of that, Sebastian feels partly responsible for Dave’s attempted suicide. This apparently causes a revelation of character for him, as he calls the Gay Couples of Glee over to tell them that he deleted the photoshopped images of Finn and that the Warblers are going to dedicate their regionals performance to Dave while taking donations for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. He invites the New Directions to join them. I was like Santana during this scene, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Apparently, however, we’re meant to believe that Sebastian really has seen the light, at least for now. I’m willing to believe it because Sebastian is gay, he does have some reason to feel close to Dave’s attempted suicide, and because even a near death has a way of clearing the air. I just hope he doesn’t go into a heel/face revolving door situation the way that Sue has done in the past.

Meanwhile, Will approaches the subject with the glee kids by telling them about a time in high school when he contemplated suicide. It’s a powerful moment, because Will has always been characterized by his optimism, and to think that he once saw the world as so bleak that it wasn’t worth living is difficult. It’s also important, because none of the glee kids think that they could ever even think about doing such a thing. But Will tells them that everyone has something that could lead them to that edge. He encourages them to think about things in the future that they are looking forward to, things that, no matter what happens today, could still be possible.

That scene actually comes across as a great lesson from Will, and it’s hard to believe that this person is the same schmuck in “The Spanish Teacher” who never should have been allowed in front of a chalkboard.

Sue recalls that she was principal when Dave was first accused of making a death threat against Kurt (continuity!), making her feel responsible because she didn’t do more. She conveniently forgets that she attempted and failed to have him expelled. While Sue’s storyline is a bit truncated, it seems like the shock of Dave’s attempted suicide and the fact that she’s pregnant are meant to make us believe that Sue is a good guy from now on. For God’s sake make it true, and stop making her into a villain! It’s not necessary!

Kurt feels responsible for Dave because he ignored all Dave’s calls after that Valentine’s Day when Dave approached him. Kurt fears that by pushing Dave away, he made him feel alone… and he’s right. That’s not to say that Kurt should feel like anything is his fault, but he had to know what a bad place Dave was in, and how much it means to someone in Dave’s position to have a friend. Kurt in season one of Glee was a huge douchebag, but he had Mercedes by his side when he came out of the closet, and he was lucky enough to have a parent who accepted him immediately, no matter what. To knowingly deprive Dave, someone who is trying his best to reform, of part of the support network that he’s seeking comes across as cruel. I may be being too hard on Kurt, seeing as how Dave is hardly blameless when it comes to how Kurt perceives him. However, anyone could see that Dave is trying as hard as he can, and that he needs help.

Kurt does come around afterwards, and his scene with Dave in the hospital is very moving.

Rachel and Finn, meanwhile, can’t really feel responsible in any way for what happened to Dave, but they are inspired by Will’s lesson to look forward to the future by deciding to get married right after regionals. The fact that this is insane is lost on few, but Quinn, who was previously a big advocate against the whole idea, decides to step up and be a friend to Rachel by supporting her. Honestly, this was the weakest plotline in the episode. Its connection to the main thread is weak, and I was really hoping they’d give this arc a rest after last week.

Quinn is in the background of a couple of plotlines, but the only one of her own that she really has going on is that she asks to rejoin the Cheerios and help them win another national championship. Sue refuses at first, but comes around after regionals. I didn’t really see the point of this, unless it was meant to be characterization for Quinn, in which cases it brings up too many bad memories of “Audition” for it to do anything for me.

There is, however, a nice jab at her character during Kurt’s plotline. She attempts to compare Dave’s pain to her own, saying that she never contemplated suicide even through all the bad things she went through. Kurt dismissively says “The world never stopped loving you, and you’re going to Yale.” To be fair, Quinn was thrown out of her parents’ house, which is a difficult thing to go through. But to seemingly be hated by the world, as Dave is… it’s true that Quinn can’t appreciate his pain.

Then we have the regionals competition itself, which lasted two acts and was mainly a showcase for music. However, the song choices were great and were meant to address the stated theme of “inspiration.” The fact that Sebastian decided to make peace beforehand helped the moment, as it was easier to appreciate the message when the animosity had been cleared away. I’m not sure I get what the deal was with the vampire judge, but I will say that I’m glad that the “judges’ deliberation” gag is still retired.

The “shocker” at the end of the episode is that Quinn’s car gets T-boned while she’s texting Rachel on the way to the wedding. “To be continued” indeed. I don’t like cliffhangers like this, I don’t like ending a tragic/uplifting episode based on Dave with this note based on Quinn, and I don’t see the narrative or thematic purpose of it. That said, I saw it coming and it was hard to watch. Quinn, against all odds, is one of my favorite characters, and I hate to see her hurt just as she’s turning her life around- especially if it’s for no good storytelling reason. But I’ll have to reserve judgment on that until the next episode.

The songs were all good, and about half were great. In terms of theme and narrative, I have to give the highlight to Blaine’s “Cough Syrup,” which did a difficult job in laying the groundwork for Dave’s attempted suicide. Also very good was “Fly/I Believe I Can Fly,” the song that probably best reached the theme of “inspiration.” It also proved that Santana and Blaine are both better rappers than either Will or Sam. The Troubletone’s “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)” was also great, if a bit obvious yet questionable of a message for an attempted suicide. The Warblers’ songs were both good, but not great. Unfortunately, the weakest entry tonight was probably the finale, “Here’s to Us.” I’ve said it before, but after “Get it Right” in “Original Song,” there’s no way to do justice to Rachel singing a personal song to Finn again. It’s been done perfectly.

And with that, Glee is on hiatus until April. I’ll try to come up with some Glee-related topics to post about between now and then but, in the meantime, this was overall a great episode to go out on.

Episode 3.13: “Heart”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

This was an episode that started and ended strong, but had kind of a mishmash of drivel in the middle. But before we talk about any of that, this:

Yes, Brittany and Santana finally share a kiss in this episode (two, actually, but this was the first). I mention this mainly because it is a major milestone in Glee relationships because this relationship has been developed slowly and carefully over the course of the entire series, only culminating in a kiss now. Santana and Brittany are well-developed characters (well, Santana more so than Brittany) that we care about individually as well as together. Their relationship is also amazing for being a lesbian relationship, involving two cheerleaders no less, that has almost completely avoided the cliché of male titillation. None of the male students on the show have commented on two girls together being “hot,” the characters have always been respected as people, and the writing and direction has always focussed on the romance in their relationship rather than the physical side.

You just get the feeling that this is a relationship that the people at Glee respect more than any other. At least, they cared enough to develop it. Tina and Mike are cute together, but their characters just aren’t all that well-defined. Finn and Rachel are supposed to be the power couple, yet they’ve been so all over the map from day one that it’s hard to take them seriously. Finn and Rachel kissed in the pilot, and it took Brittany and Santana until episode 57. Which kiss sounds like they took more care in leading up to?

But that’s enough of me gushing for now. Let’s move on to the episode.

The plot was kind of a Frankenstein affair, sewed up out of a bunch of parts that they apparently didn’t want to give their own episode. The fact that this is the Valentine’s Day episode made them think that they needed to cram all the relationships into it, which resulted in all the plotlines feeling curtailed. They really should have picked a couple of couples and concentrated their A and B plots on them (Finn/Rachel and Santana/Brittany would have been perfect).

So, plotlines schlepping through this episode include the following: Rory and Artie both want to be Sugar’s date to the Valentine’s Day dance, Finn and Rachel are dealing with their parents’ “acceptance” of their decision to get married, Santana fights against religious students who don’t think that same-sex couples should show affection in public, Sam and Mercedes try to figure out where their relationship stands, and Kurt has a secret admirer that turns out (not shockingly) to not be who he assumed. That’s no fewer than five different plotlines, and good luck trying to figure out which is A, which is B, and which are just background.

The plotline that was most interesting was Santana’s, as she shows that not only has she become comfortable with people knowing about who she is, but she has moved on to fighting for her rights and trying to open minds about homosexuals. The “God Squad,” a group of four religious students (Mercedes, Sam, Quinn, and new student Joe) decide to raise funds by delivering singing valentines for ten dollars each. Santana offers ten dollars for them to deliver one to Brittany for her. She does this partly to make the God Squad uncomfortable, partly to act out against Figgins for warning her and Brittany not to show affection in the school, and partly just because she loves Brittany and wants to do something nice for her. Joe is actually an interesting character, for as little screen time as he gets. He’s been home schooled his entire life up until now, and has kind of lived a sheltered life. He claims that he’s never even met a gay person (incidentally, while I was not home schooled, I would have made the same claim at his age). So when he’s confronted with something that he was always taught was wrong, but which appears to be nothing more than two people loving each other, he has to wrestle with his conscience and the beliefs he has been taught his entire life.

At least, that’s the assumption. All we actually see is Joe saying in act three that he needs to think about it, then coming back in act six to say “love is love, man” and that he’s perfectly okay with it. Nice character development, but maybe next time I could see the process?

Santana’s personal fight also feels cut off because, while she won with Joe, her issues with Figgins were never revisited, and the reaction of the rest of the student body was never even explored.

Finn and Rachel’s plotline was… weird. Jeff Goldblum and Brian Stokes Mitchell are fine as Rachel’s dads, though I never did get a good sense of their characters. Despite the fact that they talk all the time, it never seems to be for the purpose of character development. However, it is amusing. Meanwhile, their plot to get Finn and Rachel to reconsider marriage is straight out of early-nineties sitcoms, and just feels incredibly silly and forced. It is especially embarrassing when the episode stops long enough for Hiram and LeRoy to basically explain the plot to the audience, as if we’re all idiots. The Berrys and Hummels (though I don’t know to what extent the Hummels were involved as they barely had anything to do in this episode) decide to try to put Rachel and Finn off the marriage idea by being extremely supportive and forcing the issue, having them spend the night together in Rachel’s room. Their logic is that kids always want to do the opposite of what their parents say and that after a night sharing a room they will realize that marriage is tougher than they thought. This is a plan that would have made even Cliff Huxtable groan, and as long as it’s onscreen it just makes you feel awkward and silly for watching it. Finn and Rachel have a small fight about Finn taking a dump in her bathroom and Rachel not being supportive of Finn’s future, but that whole thing just seems so forced. They make up and announce that they’ve decided to get married in May, “right after nationals.” Wedding season finale, anyone?

Sugar, Artie, and Rory’s plotline actually was kinda fun. I like using Sugar as the girl who makes all the guys crazy, because she is very attractive and because they’ve developed her as kind of a self-absorbed airhead from day one, so she fits the mold. And it finally gave Rory something to do aside from stand around and look Irish. He actually gets down in the mud and fights dirty, lying about losing his student visa at the end of the semester in order to get Sugar’s sympathy. At least, I assume he is lying. In a rare show of restraint, the writers were actually a little subtle about it.

Kurt’s secret admirer turns out to not be Blaine, of course. It’s actually Karofsky, who has decided that he loves Kurt and, even though he hasn’t publicly come out yet, he wants to be with Kurt badly enough to face him about it in a public place. Kurt parries this by saying that Karofsky can’t really “love” him, which acts as a kind of small beacon for an underlying theme of the whole episode. This is high school, for God’s sake. Who knows if love that begins in high school will last? Whether you’re a kid with a crush like Karofsky, or a couple who have been through tons of ups and downs like Finn and Rachel, how can you say if it’s forever? Anyway, Karofsky’s scene with Kurt actually felt real and heartbreaking, and I hope to see a followup soon.

As for Sam and Mercedes… I just don’t care. I mean, who are these characters? They were an official couple on screen for all of ten seconds at the end of “New York.” Their relationship has served as C plot material throughout season three. How are we supposed to believe how they feel about each other? It’s the worst kind of telling and not showing, as we’re just supposed to believe that they had this wonderful fling over the summer, then were apart for several months, then immediately picked right back up on the sexual tension as soon as Sam moved back to town. Give it up, writers. Either that, or give them some development so that I can actually feel what’s going on here.

And all I have to say about Mercedes’s rendition of “I Will Always Love You” is: blech. I don’t like that song anyway, and playing it over those cloyingly emotional scenes was just… ugh.

This episode left a lot of the conflict offscreen. Mercedes breaks up with Shane offscreen. Joe wrestles with his religious beliefs and conscience offscreen. Rachel and Finn’s folks hash out their plan for their children offscreen. Santana’s struggles, aside from the personal one with Joe and the aborted one with Figgins, were not even mentioned. I actually enjoyed the montage of Rory and Artie trying to win Sugar’s affection (as “L-O-V-E” played over), at least partially because it gave me some good onscreen conflict.

What this episode really needed was some plot pruning. There was a lot of great stuff going on here, and I have to admit that the beginning and end of the episode both put a big smile on my face. But some of the weaker material needed to be cut out and the stronger material expanded.

The songs were mostly good but not great. Tina and Mike’s “L-O-V-E” was very entertaining over the montage, and a nice apology for Tina’s “My Funny Valentine” breakdown last year. Sam proved that he can rap at least as well as Will (damning with faint praise indeed). If I had to give the highlight to one song (and I do, apparently), I’d give it to “Cherish/Cherish.” It served as a lovely high point for Santana and Brittany’s relationship, it allowed Joe to find his heart (even if we didn’t see the journey), and it was just a nice song to hear over illustrations of all the relationships going on in this show.

Episode 3.12: “The Spanish Teacher”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Will’s day job as McKinley’s Spanish teacher has always been more-or-less nothing more than a background detail. It is something that has always been there, but not something that’s ever been looked at very closely. So with this episode, they decided to explore that, to show us another side of Will Schuester. The real problem with showing another side to Will is that the side of him that we normally see is pretty boring anyway. It’s hard to play around with established characters when they aren’t really very well-established in the first place. The most defining elements of Will’s character, such as it is, are his optimism, his drive to win, and his love for his work. None of those are evident here, in what is a remarkably failed attempt at some kind of character study type of episode.

Let’s cut to the chase. I hated this episode. I think it’s the worst episode of Glee since “Comeback.” I knew I was in trouble when it started with a voiceover by Will. Now, I hate voiceover, but it’s a staple of the show and it’s used much more moderately now than it used to be, so I’ve grown to accept it. An opening scene voiceover by Will, however, was an early sign that we were in for an episode about the adults… and I just don’t give a shit about them. Glee is an ensemble in which the kids are by far the most interesting element. Take the focus off them, and you’ve already lost a lot of points.

This episode establishes that not only is Will not a very good Spanish teacher, but he doesn’t even understand Spanish. I can’t tell you how much I hate that. It tanks the reality of his situation, because it’s frankly impossible that someone of the the level of ignorance of the language that Will displays in this episode could possibly get a full-time job as a Spanish teacher. It robs the character of his dignity, suggesting that he’s either had no problem living a lie for his entire professional life or that he’s somehow too stupid to realize how ignorant he is. It breaks continuity, as Will has never before been depicted as incompetent as a Spanish teacher (“The Rhodes Not Taken” features a scene in which he discusses the difference between por and para, a distinction that is untranslatable in English). And it invites comparisons between Will and Community‘s Señor Chang, another Spanish teacher ignorant of the language. It’s true that Chang falsified his credentials while (I assume!) Will did not, but the end result is the same. They’re both frauds who have allowed their own desire to make money at a job get in the way of their desire to actually teach kids.

Will was a teacher before he was ever teaching the glee club, and it was a defining part of his character in “Pilot” that he loved his job, that he loved teaching kids. Could that person remain so ignorant of his subject matter? I honestly don’t give a shit if Will took the Spanish teaching job because it was the only teaching job available, I can buy that. My problem here is with Will’s apparent complacency. He only starts taking a class in Spanish in this episode, when he thinks it might help him get tenure. The Will I know would have dedicated himself to boning up on Spanish the moment he got the job. He would take classes at night, study the textbook endlessly, watch Univision in the break room. He would have worked, because he loves teaching, he loves the kids, and he doesn’t want to rob them of their education. This episode’s Will apparently just sat on his ass and pretended he knew what he was talking about while perpetuating offensive stereotypes. This pre-glee-club Will is the character we were supposed to be rooting for at the beginning of “Pilot”? If I’d known that about him, the amazing “Don’t Stop Believin'” scene would not have worked, because I’d have been looking at a selfish man who only gave a shit about himself! Was he thinking about the beauty of music, or about how he could collect another paycheck as a glee club teacher, about how he could coast along in another teaching position without giving a shit?

The Will in this episode who wants to prove himself to his kids as a Spanish teacher reminds me, in a bad way, of Will from “The Rocky Horror Glee Show.” He’s jealous of David Martinez (Ricky Martin, who does fine in a pretty limited role), who is better than Will both at Spanish and at captivating the kids’ attention. So Will makes such an ass of himself that Santana calls him out on it, in one of the episode’s few good scenes. She tells Will the truth, that he’s robbing his students of the education they deserve. That’s probably the toughest thing in the world to hear from your student.

Will eventually transfers to a history-teaching position where, honestly, I can only assume he will continue to coast along without really caring. I envision him teaching the kids that Columbus proved the world was round because he saw it in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. At least he does the right thing by David, giving the actually competent and knowledgeable teacher his old Spanish job.

Sue and Will fight over a tenure position in this episode, and it eventually goes to Emma. What I have the most trouble believing is that Sue doesn’t already have tenure. Coaches who bring home multiple national championships get to make a lot of demands… and, in the past, she has.

Other things going on in this episode include Sue deciding to have a baby, Sam and Mercedes trying to figure out their relationship, and Finn and Rachel being confronted on the marriage thing by Kurt.

Sam and Mercedes go to Emma to try to get her help. Emma, who may I remind you they’re trying to set up as the star teacher, advises them to stop communicating with each other for a while, because that will apparently help them clear up their feelings. One problem with that plan: they’ve already spent at least a couple of months apart.

Sue’s plotline includes a confrontation with Roz, the swimming coach. Roz is like a younger Sue, and basically seeing two Sues on the screen at the same time was one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced in front of a television screen. I hope they either quickly ditch her, or develop her character beyond “black young Sue.” I will say that when Sue talked about why she wanted Will to be the sperm donor with Emma, that scene actually worked for me. The cheesy background music, however, almost ruined it by sending it over the top.

The Finn/Rachel stuff was easily the best part of this episode, even if it did only appear in about two scenes. I liked seeing Kurt confront Finn, and I wish they’d do more stuff with them being “brothers,” because, against all odds, it works. Kurt is right that Finn is kinda giving up on himself, and there are parallels with “Michael” when Rachel was close to giving up on herself. Interesting that both of them drift towards each other when those thoughts enter their heads. Kurt is wrong, however, that professional singing is in Finn’s future. You just can’t ask the audience to buy that. Ask us to buy that of any other character, but Cory Monteith is easily the weakest singer in the show, including actors that rarely sing like Jayma Mays and Jane Lynch. I can suspend my disbelief, but not that far on a show with so many star singers.

Funniest line of the episode, from Brittany: “Ooh, I’m bilingual!”

The music this week was good, but not great. The highlight was David and Santana’s “La Isla Bonita,” which had great vocals, nice choreography, and looked very cool on the dark stage. I do hope they do more Latin music in the future. Doing it in one show and then writing it off as “done” would be just about as disrespectful to the culture and genre of music as Will was accused of being in the episode.

God damn, I hated this episode. I’m just glad we’re not going into the hiatus on this one. It can’t get worse… right?

Episode 3.11: “Michael”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Glee has a spotty history with tribute episodes. They include some of the absolute worst (“Theatricality”), some that are just pretty bad (“The Power of Madonna,” “Britney/Brittany”), and some of the best (“Rumours”). And now, with “Michael,” we have one that is just okay.

As a subject for tribute, Michael Jackson is at least on the level of Madonna, their first subject. His songs also have a style all their own. Even when they’re wildly different in style, they still sound like “Michael Jackson.” This gives the episode a cohesive feel. Jackson is also someone whose music is easily separated from his personal life, which is important because we really don’t want to get into that in an episode of Glee. Despite how weird and somewhat disturbing Jackson’s public image became, especially in the later years of his life, his musical legacy was always big enough to overcome it. No matter what kind of man Jackson was, he made amazing music.

It’s always awkward setting up the tribute episodes, because by their very nature they feel artificial, even more so than Glee usually feels. “Michael” takes the tactic of just zooming right into it, almost glossing over the plot reasons for the tribute within the first couple of minutes and then going right into “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” It gets the job done, and the awkwardness is pretty much gone for the rest of the episode (save when Will decides to ask the question “What would Michael Jackson do?”, which is just begging for a smartass inappropriate answer), but the artificiality of it still makes me cringe.

Sebastian finally drops any pretense of being a good guy in this episode and goes right into villain mode. He might as well be twirling a moustache. He mocks the New Directions, steals their thunder by abusing Blaine’s trust, orders his Warblers around as if they were a street gang rather than a private school glee club, damages Blaine’s eye with a doctored slushie to the point of requiring surgery and gloats about it, and basically acts like an entitled asshole throughout the episode.

Do you hate him yet? Do you? Because the writers really want you to hate him, and they’re not going to be shy about it! Don’t force them to make Sebastian stomp on some puppies or something!

Moustache-twirling villains with no motivation are a pet peeve of mine, and Sebastian is probably the worst yet on this show. I mean, Sue has a motivation, crazy as it is. Terri was always just misguided. Even Jesse at least had conflicted feelings! Sebastian is nothing more than Snidely Whiplash as a glee club leader.

Incidentally, what ever happened to the “council” that ruled the Warblers in season two? I can’t see them letting Sebastian run wild like that. As far as I can tell, Sebastian is the council-appointed lead singer, the same thing that Blaine used to be, but Blaine never was shown as having all that much power in the club. The council was in charge.

Anyway, once you accept Sebastian, the A plot works pretty well. The glee kids prove that they’ve accepted Blaine as one of their own by standing up for him, most prominently Santana, whose plot to secretly record Sebastian’s confession has the honor of introducing me to the word “underboob.” Still, it’s hard to believe that they would shy away from getting the police involved once they have evidence that Sebastian doctored the slushie. I mean, Blaine has to have surgery for God’s sake. If it had just been a scratch that required a week with an eye patch, maybe I could believe it, but we’re talking about aggravated assaulted that results in requiring a major medical procedure and possible blindness in one eye. That’s not the kind of thing you punish through song.

Schlepping along in the background are subplots involving Rachel and Kurt’s NYADA applications, Rachel dealing with Finn’s proposal, and some quick lip service (literally) to Sam/Mercedes.

Kurt happens to receive his notice that he’s a NYADA finalist (and I love the scene in which Burt comes into school to hand the unopened letter to his son) while Rachel hasn’t heard anything yet. This gets her to thinking about what she’s going to do if she doesn’t get in. She has foolishly pinned all her hopes on getting into that school, and as hopes of that fade, she realizes the weight of not having a backup plan.

Meanwhile, Quinn has already advised her to break up with Finn because Rachel has big dreams and high school relationships don’t last forever. Quinn actually has a nice little scene here, in which Rachel comes to her for advice and Quinn tells Rachel that she’s gotten accepted to Yale. Quinn has been thinking about and seriously planning for her future, and she tells Rachel that she should let go of the past. Quinn says that she dated several men at WMHS (including Finn), and even thought she loved some of them, “but by the time the snow falls in New Haven next winter, I won’t know why.” She tries to make Rachel face the fact that it’s possible for love to apparently burn bright in high school, but fizzle away when real-world issues take over.

As more and more time passes without any word from NYADA, Rachel basically starts revising her dreams. She has a little breakdown when she realizes that she doesn’t have any other plan for if the NYADA thing doesn’t come through, and she latches onto Finn as some kind of backup plan himself. She agrees to marry him (though I’d like to see what their folks have to say about that). Then, in the end, she gets her notice that she’s a NYADA finalist, and suddenly she doesn’t know what to do again.

I like this because it really gets into Rachel’s character. She’s a woman who needs goals, and she’s never willing to settle for second place, often to her detriment. This subplot sells the idea that if Rachel decides to choose both Finn and her career for her future, one of them is going to end up taking a backseat to the other and it’s not immediately clear, even to Rachel, which it will be. Then again, her singing ambitions are something she’s had all her life. When you get right down to cold hard facts, she’s only even known, let alone dated, Finn for two years and some change.

For as much as I’ve ragged on Rachel for being an uninteresting character in season three, her subplot was actually the best part about “Michael.”

Well, with one small exception. I really liked seeing Quinn stand up and finally take the blame for her own failures, as she says “I was the only one standing in the way of myself.” She also sounded amazingly sage while talking to Rachel, but in a way that I can believe. Quinn has been to hell and back more than once over the course of this series, but this last time actually felt real, and I can believe that Quinn came out of it a better person. For the most part, I really think that the writers did right by Quinn in this season, which is a refreshing change from the mess that was her arc in season two and all the undeserved, unearned “character development” she got in season one.

If there was one single thing crippling the episode, it was music overload. “Michael” had no fewer than nine musical numbers. Glee is a six-act show, and once we’ve moved past an average of one song per act, I think it’s safe to say that we’re in overload territory. The songs were especially strong this week, and that may be why they found it hard to make cuts, but for the good of the narrative they really needed to man-up and cut some out. “Scream” could easily have gone, along with “Ben” and “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” That would have brought it down to six, a reasonable number. Anyway, Quinn’s rendition of “Never Can Say Goodbye” was very good, and the best Quinn solo number since season one’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” though she as also very good in season two’s “I Feel Pretty/Unpretty” in a duet with Rachel. It also was very true to the character and spoke to the feelings that she’s going through. In terms of theme and story, I really should call Quinn’s number the highlight… but I can’t. The highlight for me was Sebastian and Santana’s “Smooth Criminal,” a cover that certainly puts Alien Ant Farm to shame. The vocals were amazing, the simple setting was surprisingly cool, and what I really liked is how they worked the cellists into the performance. Watching those guys was at least as fun as watching the singers. Incidentally I really liked Santana’s outfit, even though in retrospect it’s obvious that they put her in something other than her cheerleader outfit so it would be more believable that she had a tape recorder taped to her “underboob.”