(Spoilers lurk below.)
There’s a fine line between genius and stupidity, and Glee‘s method of squeezing a second Christmas episode out of the same school year rides that line like nobody’s business. It’s explained “in-universe” by having Sue, as Jane Lynch, explain that this episode was fully shot back in 2012 but rejected by Fox, leading “Glee, Actually” to be rushed into production to take its place. More interesting than the episode itself are the meta questions that this brings up in relation to the series’s narrative. Is this episode out of continuity? Is it set in an alternate universe, where Burt doesn’t have cancer, Brittany hid out all month in a fortified Mayan-apocalypse-proof bunker, and Puck decided to hell with his little brother? Are we supposed to consider this episode for judging character development in the fourth season?
The concept of “Previously Unaired Christmas,” anyway, is pleasantly experimental. It’s too bad that the execution just sucks. It started nicely, but failed to maintain the breezy, playful atmosphere, instead descending into lazy writing/characterization in half the episode and abject creepiness in the other half.
At WMHS, the dueling plotlines are a Christmas tree decorating contest and a “living nativity scene” that stands in for this season’s school play, as Marley, Tina, and Wade audition to play Mary. The Christmas tree plotline turns into another chance to worship Becky, as her shitty tree loses, but Sam and Tina (whose green-themed tree included adopting the vole that lived in their tree prior to its being cut down, and naming it “Richie”) decide to give their trophy to Becky and tell her that she won. Artie correctly points out that this is condescending, but screw it: we need a feel-good ending. Then they also get her to play baby Jesus in the nativity scene because God forbid Becky not be included in something.
The contest was cute and fun, but it only took up about a quarter of the episode, if that. Sue picking the glee club as the winner, despite her own desire to fuck them over, serves as a kind of reminder that Sue actually used to have something resembling integrity on occasion, at least before she became principal in season five.
Meanwhile, Will and Shannon pick Marley to play Mary in the nativity scene. She did helpfully volunteer “I’m a virgin!” when the role was announced, after all. However, Kitty has been acting weird about the whole thing, and Marley senses something is wrong. Kitty says that she could have the role if she wanted it, but she totally doesn’t, and doesn’t even audition. Then, Marley finds out something actually really heavy from Kitty: Kitty doesn’t pursue the part because she doesn’t think she’s worthy of it. She thinks of herself as a bad Christian.
Kitty is the character who has undergone the most change since “Glee, Actually,” and here we see her in full sociopath mode, yet with this underlying layer of tragedy just beneath the surface. It’s interesting that they’d take time out for characterization in this out-of-continuity (?) episode, especially for a character who has already moved beyond what she was back then. However, I do like seeing the human side of Kitty, and I thought that this was an interesting facet of her personality. However, what they did with it afterwards was just dumb. Marley, for some unexplained reason, gives the part of Mary to Wade (in terms of scripting, why not just give Wade the part in the first place?), and then they proceed to rehearse a nativity scene involving the song “Love Child” in front of Will, Shannon, and Kitty. This is hilariously bad and offensive, and the point (which Will and Shannon were in on) was to disgust Kitty so much that she would insist on playing Mary so that she would feel better about herself.
This makes approximately zero sense. First, it was so obviously designed to offend that there’s no way that Kitty wouldn’t have seen through the ruse. She’s evil, not stupid. Second, Kitty’s issues with the performance have nothing to do with who is playing Mary. She should have been inspired to wrest control of the project of the apparently brain-dead Will and Shannon, not to take the role of Mary from Wade. Third, how was this supposed to make Kitty feel better about her relationship with God? Her concerns about her religion are deep and serious, and can’t possibly be solved just by having her point out obvious flaws in a nativity-themed musical number and playing Mary. In fact, one might have expected, had this actually aired in lieu of “Glee, Actually,” that this might be the beginning of a plot arc in which Kitty examines her religion and the way she acts and treats other people within that context. Her obviously shallow acts in this episode could have led into Kitty taking some action of substance later down the line.
Of course, since this is an out-of-continuity episode, it’s actually all just pointless.
Meanwhile, in New York, Santana has conveniently dropped by so that she can be part of the plot despite the fact that she is living in Louisville at this point on the timeline. This leads into a good metajoke when Rachel tells Santana that she should move to New York and live with them, and Santana responding that she’d have to be stupid to give up her scholarship and leave in the middle of the school year. Beyond the metahumor, the plot of this segment is that Rachel gets jobs for her, Kurt, and Santana playing elves for a mall Santa, and for some reason she is real excited about this. She makes some claim about Broadway stars getting their starts playing elves at malls, but it sounds pretty silly. It just serves as a ridiculous excuse to get us into a ridiculous plotline. It turns out that the mall Santa is a drunk asshole (as are all mall Santas on TV, it seems), and the elves end up having to run a lot of the show, especially after Santa stops showing up and Santana has to play Mrs. Claus to cover for him. Santana’s turn in the chair is pretty hilarious, as she says a bunch of inappropriate things to the kids, including suggesting that a kid “looks Jewish” and discussing her breakup with Brittany (which she seems to have forgotten was initiated by Santana herself).
Instead of quitting this thankless minimum wage job, Rachel, Kurt, and Santana insist on trying to keep things together, which leads into a fellow mall Santa/stripper/shirt-allergy-sufferer named Cody approaching them and offering to give them some tips on dealing with the mall Santa gig. Since he’s so hot that even Santana wants him, they accept when he invites himself over to their place at eight, where they enjoy eggnog, inhaling helium, and general sexy shenanigans until Rachel and Santana finally pass out and Cody ties Kurt up so he can ransack the place.
This whole bit is just as creepy as hell. Why would the three of them invite this stranger into their home? Why would they keep him there when he just keeps acting creepy? There’s no good explanation offered for any of this. Kurt, Santana, and Rachel are not that stupid or naïve, especially Santana, who is naturally untrusting and supposedly not attracted to men. Cody is also not that charming: he comes across exactly as creepy as he is, which is a lot. Also, why would Cody choose these three as marks? They’re working as mall elves, what makes him think they have anything worth stealing?
This whole plotline is just… uncomfortable.
This was just a bizarre and bad episode. Taking the in-universe explanation for its existence at face value: I just wish Fox had insisted it stay banned.
Musically, this episode was decent, if not up to the level of “Glee, Actually.” “Here Comes Santa Claus” is the highlight of the episode, and not just because of Santana’s costume. It was a good rendition of a standard Christmas carol on a nice set with good choreography and simple backing music. The result of the attempt to placate the kids was, however, predictable. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” was good enough for what it was, I guess. I just hate that song. It feels like it’s trying too hard to be hip, when the fact is that it’s tragically lame. “Mary’s Little Boy Child” was quite good, but I have to question the costumes. Not just because of how questionable it is to have the Virgin Mary dressing like that, but because of the fact that Marley is supposedly still getting over her bout with bulimia at this point, so I don’t think it can possibly be healthy for her to be showing off her body like that. “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t be Late)” was good, but unbearably creepy because of the inclusion of Cody as David Seville. Also, I’m pretty sure that inhaling that much helium is dangerous. “Love Child” was actually a lot of fun despite being so horribly inappropriate. I’m not a Christian though, so I can’t really gauge how it might be viewed by someone who might actually be offended. Pretty sure it would still be funny. “Away in a Manger” was good but… weird. And not just because of Becky Baby Jesus. I’m kinda on Jake’s side here: since when do public schools allow overt displays of religion on campus organized by teachers?
Becky expresses interest in making out with both Sam and Tina, so apparently she is bi. Told you she was the new Brittany.
“We’re never gonna be hired as holiday retail temps again!”
Did they even give Cody their address before he wanders off?
What the fuck did who’s playing Mary have to do with that “Love Child” performance, seriously? I don’t understand why Marley handed the part off to Wade at all.
Thank God that this episode managed to make both Kitty and Becky happy by the end, because clearly they are the most important characters.
This is kinda awkward, but… Finn was still the glee club teacher at this point in the prior season. So his unexplained absence is kinda obvious.