Glee Recap: Sweet, Comic Valentine

I’m the kind of Glee fan who typically grumbles when I don’t get a healthy serving of Sue Sylvester, but Tuesday night’s Valentine’s Day-themed telecast — presented totally sans Sue — was so jam-packed with good music and solid plot development, I barely registered the absence of the tracksuit-wearing she-beast till she popped up in the previews for next week’s episode.

Before we rate this week’s musical numbers, though, let’s do a quick rundown on the romantic machinations that occurred inside the walls of McKinley High (and, of course, a certain retail clothing shop) this week:

Puck and Lauren | “You can’t choose love. Love chooses you,” declared Noah Puckerman, before confessing how his “seven three minutes in heaven” with the zaftig Ms. Zizes led to a potent and unexpected crush. Turns out McKinley’s resident bad boy likes a gal who plays hard to get. And what’s less accessible than a woman who stops mid-makeout to declare, “You’re really not good at this — and kinda scrawny”?

I’ve got to admit I felt a little squeamish when Puck decided to dedicate Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” to Lauren, wondering if Ryan Murphy and his writing team were really going to spend an hour fetishizing New Directions’ newest and heaviest character for a few cheap laughs before inevitably having Puck return to his horn-dog ways. Interestingly, though, the show zigged where I expected it to zag. “That was the first time anyone sang me a love song, and it made me feel like crap,” sighed Lauren. I wish the writers had dug a little deeper here, maybe had Lauren explain to Puck that it’s creepy, not cute, to reduce any individual down to a single physical characteristic, but it looks as though this courtship could be more of a slow build rather than a brief stunt.

I liked the way the writers made Lauren skeptical enough of Puck to keep him at arm’s length, and confident enough to do it without any residual angst. Granted, I could’ve lived without that scene where Lauren asked why Puck hadn’t brought an envelope of cash or a muffin basket in order to woo her — seriously, with the exception of perhaps the Bachelor franchise, it’s time for network TV to call a moratorium on female characters operating as barely disguised call girls — but things ended sweetly, with Lauren demanding Puck work on their friendship before escalating any kind of romantic connection. And, hey, I won’t complain if more Puck-Lauren (Zizerman?) means we get also get more scenes of Lima Heights Adjacent’s No. 1 bad-girl Santana being violently hurled into lockers.

Kurt and Blaine and that Junior Manager at The Gap | You knew Blaine was in for some heartbreak the second he announced Valentine’s Day was his favorite holiday, and you knew he wouldn’t be the only heartbroken gay in the Dalton Academy village once Kurt got all moony-eyed over his dreamy pal memorizing his coffee order by heart. As with all things Dalton — a place where adults might as well get the Peanuts “mraw mraw mraw-mraw” treatment — the Warbler’s emergency meeting was an exercise in absurdity: “The Warblers haven’t performed in an informal setting since 1927, when the Spirit of St. Louis overshot the tarmac and plowed through seven Warblers during an impromptu rendition of ‘Welcome to Ohio, Lucky Lindy.” But the payoff was spectacular.

The production number of Blaine serenading his junior manager crush was the perfect three-way marriage of music, spectacle, and plot, and the details felt truly authentic, from Blaine daydreaming like a high-schooler ought to (“If he and I got married, the Gap would give me a 50 percent discount!”) to the way the object of his affection was more horrified than flattered by the outré display of affection. Even better, Blaine revealed himself to be just as much an insecure teenager as the rest of the Glee gang, freeing his character from having to be the poster child for well-adjusted, out-of-the-closet gay teenagers everywhere. “I’ve never really been anyone’s boyfriend,” he lamented, giving Kurt a chance to bring some wisdom to their friendship. Just how When Harry Met Sally will these two kids get? We’ll find out the next time they go to a deli for lunch, I suppose. (Bonus points to Chris Colfer’s delicious line reading in response to Gap boy’s “nobody knows I’m gay” comment: “Can I be honest? Just with the hair, I think they do.”)

Finn and Quinn (and Sam and Rachel) (and Santana) | Memo to Finn about firing finger guns at McKinley’s single ladies: This kind of behavior is only acceptable for the characters of Cougar Town. Then again, pretty much everything about Finn’s behavior called for a penalty flag this week, from his confidence that he could get every girl at the school to kiss him (and the fact that he went out and proved it…yuck!) to his sudden willingness to reverse course on his anti-cheating stance and pursue Quinn in earnest. Can I admit that I sort of tuned out every time Finn and Quinn started whispering about whether they would/should reignite their romantic connection? Yeah, okay, the literal fireworks display after their kissing-booth smooch was a nifty trick, but I find this pairing as appealing as a tongue full of mono.

Speaking of which, I reveled in the way Santana systematically uncovered, then set out to destroy, the cheating alphas. “Quinn’s wearing her queen bitch look, and Finn only wears that gassy infant look when he feels guilty about something,” she pondered, right before donning a candy stripper’s (extra ‘p’ not a typo) uniform and slipping the tongue to the most contagious boy in the school nurse’s office. (Line of the night: “I’ve had mono so many times it turned into stereo” which beat “You’re addicted to vests” by a nose.) That end-of-episode glance from lonely Santana to betrayed Sam signaled serious trouble to come, although while we’re discussing Brittany’s BFF, can I just say I didn’t really buy her tearful collapse after getting called out for her bitchery during glee-club practice. That’s so not Santana!

The other upshot of Finn-Quinn is that it finally frees Rachel from the jaws of her bad romance with the McKinley quarterback — and not a moment too soon, I might add. I think it’s time for Glee‘s writing team to retire the absurd notion that Rachel is the gargoyle to Quinn’s Aphrodite sculpture. I understand Rachel’s an insecure geek at heart, but could a daughter of gay dads with that much talent, that much beauty, and that perfect hair really doubt her own self-worth that much? Putting this question aside for a moment, however, the nurse’s office confrontation between Rachel and Finn was a heatbreaker — especially the devastation on Rachel’s face at Finn’s mono-induced hesitation about whether her kisses resulted in the same kind of fireworks as Quinn’s.

But, look, as Mercedes pointed out, the three divas don’t need any stinkin’ men — especially when they should be channeling their pain and loneliness into their music. (How I wish Mercedes had referenced the decline in Mary J. Blige’s oeuvre since she’s found true love!) And holy crap, Rachel’s transcendent performance of “Firework” was one of her best this season. Lea Michele nailed the interplay of romantic devastation and newfound freedom her character was experiencing: I know Rachel-Finn is supposed to be the show’s central romantic arc, but maybe it’s time for the show to shed that skin. If he liked it then he shoulda put more than a star necklace on it, no?

Anyhow, onto this week’s musical performances:

“Fat Bottomed Girls,” Puck |
I dunno…this was one of those Glee performances that felt karaoke-light, from the arrangement right down to Mark Salling‘s vocal. C’mon, Ryan Murphy, let’s find a big production number for Puck that helps the guy get his swag back! Musical grade: C- Relevance to the plot: C+

“P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing),” Artie and Mike | A cute interlude that began in the hallways of McKinley and ended with our guys serenading Brittany and Tina in the rehearsal room. Kevin McHale’s vocals were solid as always, even if there was nothing particularly revolutionary about the arrangement, and you can’t argue with any number that gives Harry Shum Jr. an extended opportunity to get his dance on. Musical grade: B- Relevance to the plot: B

“When I Get You Alone,” Blaine and the Dalton Academy Warblers |
Holy blazers, this is the kind of high-octane production number I wish the New Directions kids got to experience a little more frequently: Something that occurs outside an auditorium or rehearsal room, that drives the plot forward, and that seamlessly blends the realism of a high school show-choir with the heightened experience of a musical number butting up against everyday life. Darren Criss’s vocals were sensational here, and the way the Warblers took control of the Gap was delightful, right down to the final slide to the register with a pair of argyle socks. But am I the only one who wished that Blaine had switched up the pronouns on this one to acknowledge he was singing to another guy? Yeah, maybe it would’ve cost Glee a few iTunes downloads, but it also would’ve made more sense from a plot standpoint. Docking everything a half-grade here as a result. Musical grade: A- Relevance to the plot: A-

“My Funny Valentine,” Tina | OK, did I miss something here? I realize Tina is reveling in the joys of uncomplicated young love, but watching her devolve from choked up straight into sobbing mess was not just awkward, but maybe a little preposterous to boot. Would it kill the show’s writers to let a supporting player like Jenna Ushkowitz have a musical moment of her own? Musical grade: D Relevance to the plot: D

“Firework,” Rachel | It’s one thing for Rachel to talk about channeling her pain into musical triumph, it’s quite another for said triumph to burst into life before our very eyes. I loved how “Firework” got the full boom-boom-pow treatment — as Rachel went from rehearsal room to McKinley hallway (where everyone apparently works a live, lit sparkler for V Day) to auditorium with literal fireworks backdrop — and there’s no denying the huge vocal upgrade going from Katy Perry to Lea Michele. An all-time Glee classic, in my book. Musical grade: A Relevance to the plot: A

“Silly Love Songs,” Blaine and the Dalton Academy Warblers | Is Chris Colfer suffering from some kind of throat ailment, or is there another reason that Kurt (and all his Warbler teammates, for that matter) has surrendered every single solo lately to Dalton’s dashingest gay? I really enjoyed how McKinley’s couples, singletons, and in-betweeners descended on Breadstix to support their pal Kurt, and I’m digging the camaraderie that’s building between Mercedes and Rachel, but for a Valentine’s capper, this one was more a case of like than true love. Musical grade: B- Relevance to the plot: B

What did you think of Glee this week? How would you grade the various musical numbers? And did you enjoy the break from Sue, Schue, and their cohorts as much as I did? Sound off in the comments, and to get alerts about all my TV recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV.