The New Directions’ rehearsal room may be “America’s No. 1 desination for cheap, sappy moralizing” (Sue Sylvester’s words, not mine), but even at its After School Special-iest moments, Glee can still manage to tug at the heartstrings. And in this week’s episode — titled “Choke” — most of the emotional punch was delivered by Lea Michele and Dot Marie Jones, who breathed fresh life into their respective story arcs about potential college rejection and unexpected domestic violence.
If you were too busy studying Finn’s “Save Puck in the backyard” diagram to pay attention to the entire hour, here’s how the action played out:
* After Coach Beiste showed up at school with a black eye, Santana made an insensitive joke that had Roz and Sue (who if memory serves was physically assaulting students in the hallway around this time last year) up in arms, ready to teach the New Directions girls about the perils of domestic violence. (Best moment: Roz dubbing Brittany, Tina, Mercedes, Sugar, and Santana as Hat Rack, Asian Horror Movie, Little Oprah, Rojo Caliente, and Salsa Caliente.) As Sue, Roz, and Beiste embarked on their teaching moment — once again relegating Schue to the role of background ooh-er and aah-er — the tough football coach broke. Turns out her new hubby Cooter had given her that shiner in a drunken fit of rage, and she was afraid to leave “because I don’t think anyone else is ever gonna love me.” (Oh how Dot Marie Jones turned what could’ve been nothing more than a PSA masquerading as a script into something very real.) In what seemed like a pat conclusion, Beiste decided to move in with her sister and thank the New Directions chicas for possibly saving her life, but in an end-of-episode reveal, we discovered the polyester-loving lady had given Cooter a second chance. I liked that the story didn’t wrap up neatly in the course of the hour, but I wasn’t crazy about Brittany’s clueless response to Beiste’s confession (“Did he break his hand?”) or Sue’s wisecracking (“If you don’t have a change of clothes, I have a tent you can wear.”) in the face of Beiste’s plight. You can’t demand we take seriously the issue of domestic violence then crack dubious jokes about its burly victim in the same breath. Especially just because she’s burly.
* Kurt aced his NYADA audition — in front of Broadway legend Carmen Thibodeaux (Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg) — with a last-second switch of song choice from “Music of the Night” to “Not the Boy Next Door.” But Rachel, who’d hilariously pumped herself up in front of the mirror with zingers like “You are gonna shine so bright on that stage that the sun is gonna cry with envy,” choked and forgot her lyrics — twice! The stern rebuke of the NYADA dean — “You get 8 bars; I gave you 16.” — was way harsh, Tai, although probably pretty realistic. Surely this isn’t where Rachel’s NYADA dream ends: Girlfriend is too spunky — and insane — to take a single “no” before giving up, right?
* Puck failed to seduce his way to a passing grade in Ms. Doozenbury’s European Geography class, but before he became a full-fledged dropout, a visit from his estranged father (seeking $500 in rent money) made him decide to redouble his studying efforts — with an assist from his New Directions bros. Yet despite the guys admirably stepping in in the role of Dad — even Blaine! — the episode ended with Puck getting a giant red ‘F’ on his exam.
Anyhow, now that we’ve covered all the pertinent plot details, let’s review the best quotes from the episode:
“If we do Alien Abductions, we could set up corn fields and probing booths.” –Senior Class President Brittany, brainstorming prom themes
“I spent the weekend sending your photo to ivory poachers who could make an absolute fortune selling your enormous white teeth on the black market.” –Sue, spewing venom at Roz
“You finally shed the last five pounds! Congrats!” –Sam, reacting to Finn wanting to make an announcement
“I vowed not to speak with you unless William and Kate got pregnant, Liza passed, or unless one of us was in grave danger.” –Rachel, approaching Kurt’s locker before their NYADA auditions
“Once, La Thibodeaux stopped a performance of Medea at The Met because someone glanced at their watch while she was doing one of her ‘I’m killing my babies’ arias.” –Kurt, basking in the ferociousness of Whoopi Goldberg’s character
“Her dads are doing something called sitting shiva.” –Finn, telling the guys how Rachel was handling her NYADA audition disaster
“Moving on, what rhymes with Pre-industrial European deforestation?” –Artie, hoping the “Rain in Spain” teaching lesson had other applications
And now, let’s get on to the grades for this week’s musical numbers:
“School’s Out,” Puck Even with the hellions-in-the-bathroom, Cheerios-writhing-on-the-playing-field, everyone-in-Alice-Cooper-mascara motif, this felt like something of an afterthought. Grade: C-
“Cell Block Tango,” Tina, Santana, Mercedes, Brittany, and Sugar A faithful rendering of the Chicago classic (no, that’s not a Pizzeria Uno reference), although how come there were only five merry murderesses? Grade: B
“Not the Boy Next Door,” Kurt I loved Kurt’s whole “I had my swans on standby” shtick as he changed directions from “Music of the Night,” but the choreography here felt a little…stilted? I thought last week’s “I Have Nothing” was a more impressive musical moment. Was it just me? Grade: B+
“The Rain in Spain,” The Guy of New Direction (except Kurt) Props to the show for trying a drastically different rock arrangement of the My Fair Lady ditty, but I have to be honest: It mostly made me wince. Grade: C (hey, it’s better than getting an F like Puck, yes?)
“Shake It Out,” Mercedes, Santana, and Tina I got chills — and they were multiplyin’ — as the trio of New Directions divas harmonized against images of Beiste returning home to her abusive hubby. Grade: A
“Cry,” Rachel Rachel may be a maddening ball of crazy, but my heart broke for her as she mourned the loss of her NYADA dreams — with jaw-dropping vocal athleticism — on this Kelly Clarkson ballad. Grade: A
And now it’s your turn, hit the comments with your thoughts on “Choke.” And for all my TV recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!