Glee Recap: Audition and Subtraction

Tuesday night’s episode of Glee — its final installment before next week’s season finale — tried to shovel a path to redemption for Sue Sylvester, who’s been snowed-in by some truly abhorrent character development for too much of Season 2, and began the potential dissolution of two of the show’s least-appealing romantic relationships.

If you somehow got rerouted to Tripoli and missed the action, please allow me to catch you up — in the classic “here’s what you missed on Glee” format: To give New Directions an edge at Nationals, Mr. Schue hired deeply annoying recent high-school grad Jesse St. James, and acquiesced when the self-proclaimed “show choir consultant” proposed building the club’s entire Nationals routine around its best performer — a title that would be determined by open audition. Jesse brutally dismissed Santana, Kurt, and Mercedes in quick succession — as Schue stood mutely by — and saved all of his praise for Rachel. Sue, meanwhile, sank to new depths of rage — even booting Becky from the Cheerios squad — as she dealt with the death of her sister Jean. Kurt and Finn decided to help Sue by planning a Willy Wonka-themed funeral, and enlisting the glee kids to sing “Pure Imagination,” while Schue took over reading the eulogy when Sue was overcome with emotion. The experience proved transformative for the psycho cheerleading coach, who wished “good luck” at Nationals to Schue (and New Directions), warned them that she’d rerouted their flight to NYC via Libya, and announced her intention to run for Congress. Terri, meanwhile, fixed the transport situation by sneakily scoring first-class tickets for New Directions, then announcing her intention to move to Miami (though a part of me worried Will’s ex was wishing him a more permanent adieu). In the parking lot after Jean’s funeral, Finn broke up with Quinn and picked at the scab till she cried, but later got his own heart broken when he walked in on a brief kiss between Rachel and Jesse in the school auditorium. And at the last possible second, Schue rejected Jesse’s plan for Nationals, disposed of the idea of forcing the kids to re-audition, and decided there was no ‘I’ in team. Of course, he didn’t tell them that after Nationals, he planned to stay in New York City for an undisclosed about of time — and maybe forever — to help April mount her Broadway show. And that’s what you missed on Glee.

Now, before we get on to letter grades for the week’s musical numbers, I’ve got to dish the three best and three worst non-musical moments from “Funeral.”

BEST
1) “I’d like to put the fun back in funeral as much as the next girl, but why would the glee club help plan a service for Coach Sylvester?” –Santana, simultaneously bringing the funny and questioning the general ridiculousness of this week’s plot

2) Sue’s eulogy. Maybe it’s blasphemy for me to say I was less than enthralled by New Directions’ central involvement in the funeral of someone they didn’t know, who was related to someone they didn’t like, but Sue’s final farewell to her late sister was beautifully written — even if I wish she’d read it start-to-finish, not Schue.

3) Brittany inviting Jesse to be a guest on the next episode of Fondue for Two. Can’t wait till they  pass judgment on her cat. Also, aren’t we due for another Brittany-centric episode, like, immédiatement?

WORST
1) Schue and Jesse channeling Paula and Simon. Wait! I’m supposed to believe even for 15 seconds that Will Schuester would subject his beloved New Directions kids to hyper-critical feedback from a former rival-turned-consultant just to give them an edge at Nationals? Doesn’t this fly in the face of everything this character has stood for over the course of two seasons?

2) The death of Jean, or rather, what it represented to the show from a creative standpoint. Look, Jane Lynch is a terrific actress, to the point that I even enjoy her cameos in Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ “Healthy Choice” ads. But I’ve always felt like Jean was less of a fully fleshed-out character and more of a shorthand way of saying “Sue’s nice to her sister with Down’s Syndrome! See, she’s not an entirely unredeemable monster!” So after spending the last dozen episodes or so thinking “How the heck is Ryan Murphy going to rescue this character/actress from the abyss?”, it felt like a cheat for him to slap a pat “Sue’s in mourning” denouement on her season’s worth of increasingly nasty, unforgivable behavior. The woman is not a blackboard: She can’t simply get wiped clean whenever it’s convenient for the writing team!

3) The chocolate fountain at the funeral. 1-800-I-DON’T-THINK-SO.

And now, onto this week’s musical performances…

“Back to Black,” Santana | Always nice to hear Naya Rivera’s big, silky (and underutilized) voice. Not exactly a revolutionary cover, but then again, it’s not like Amy Winehouse is out there giving the people what they want right this second. Musical grade: B+ Relevance to the plot: J’refuse on the grounds that I hated this entire “audition” process

“Some People,” Kurt | Wanna know how I came to the realization that this wasn’t Kurt’s all-time greatest performance? Well, about 15 seconds in, my brain began wandering into a long, weird tangent of “Where is Kurt getting his clothes anymore? Is there a ‘fop’ section at the Army Surplus Store?” Musical grade: B Relevance to the plot: (See “Back to Black”)

“Try a Little Tenderness,” Mercedes |
I’m going to pretend the show’s writers didn’t plunk in an exchange that made Mercedes look like a lazy kid who never practices her craft. (Can I get a “Hell to the No”?) Instead, can we talk about the warhead-level firepower she brought to a great soul classic? Musical grade: A- Relevance to the plot: (See “Back to Black”)

“My Man,” Rachel | I loved Lea Michele’s acting performance here — her heartbreak over Finn felt real and age-appropriate — but while the Funny Girl soundtrack cut showcased her power and killer control, I wish Michele had brought more of a conversational ease to the lyrics instead of just pure vocal bombast. Bonus points, though, for that little black dress with scoop neck and horizontal striped pattern. Musical grade: B+ Relevance to the plot: (See “Back to Black”)

“Pure Imagination,” Kurt, Finn, Tina, and New Directions | A pretty enough rendition, but I had a hard time getting past the context. Maybe by next week I’ll be able to hear it with fresh ears? Musical grade: B- Relevance to the plot: B

What did you think of this week’s Glee? Which story arcs were you loving? Which ones did you have problems with? Sound off in the comments, and for all my TV recaps (including one coming Wednesday morning on episode 3 of The Voice), follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV.