This week’s Glee used the theme of high-school sex-ed to explore…Will Schuester’s latest love triangle? Don’t worry: It’s not quite as creepy as it sounds. You see, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Holly Holliday was back in the halls of McKinley High School, subbing for the health and wellness teacher, who’d come down with “a mad case of the herp.” As Holly realized that her students, and in particular the members of New Directions, were woefully under-informed about the birds and the bees, we saw Will’s other ladycrush, Emma Pillsbury, struggling in her role as adviser to the school’s Celibacy Club, for teenagers and “those who are older and terrified of the hose-monster.”
I’m going to admit right up front that I was a little dismayed to see Ryan Murphy & Co. stage a retreat with regard to Emma’s character development. Since her relationship with/marriage to Carl (John Stamos), we’ve seen the emergence of a stronger, less neurotic, and altogether more appealing Emma — one who’s not just defined by her OCD and her schoolgirl obsession with Will. I had no issues with the sexually conservative Emma spouting the advantages of teen abstinence, but the news that she hadn’t consummated her marriage after four months seemed out of character and a little bit absurd.
As Emma pushed the celibacy agenda through the distribution of “chastity charms” (which were being used by students as “clip-on nipple rings”), Holly decided it was time to do something about kids like Finn, who wondered aloud after a demonstration on condom technique, “Cucumbers can give you AIDS?” (Was it just me, or did both of these punch lines strain too hard to achieve Glee‘s typical aura of breezy outrageousness?) Holly’s approach to teen sexuality was quite the opposite of Emma’s. “Are you, like, some kind of crazy pope lady?” she asked her rival, before drawing parallels between teaching sex-ed and sneaking vegetables into kids’ recipes a la Jessica Seinfeld.
Naturally, both women took their causes to glee club because, well, why not? I’m not sure what exactly Holly was trying to teach with her raucous rendition of Gary Glitter’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me,” but it was a hoot to watch Will hold up a hastily scribbled note: “Too much?” Emma’s sexual frustration, meanwhile, percolated through her efforts to one-up Holly’s performance. “I look forward to the opportunity to nail her to the wall,” she growled while planning her number. Alas, our fashionista guidance counselor chose Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight” for herself, her hubby, and the McKinley celibacy club, thinking it was about a coconut, pineapple and marshmallow fluff dessert, not “sneakin’ a nooner,” as Holly informed her.
Somehow this led to one of those “this is Glee, so just go with the ridiculousness” plot developments: Emma and Carl sitting down for a therapy session with Holly. “We still haven’t done the deed,” complained the good dentist. To which Emma parried, “We watch the Housewives shows, which are so, so racy.” But it was Holly who cut to the heart of the problem: “Are you still in love with Will Schuester?” I’m not exactly sure why Emma hesitated with her answer — dude forgot her name while introducing her to Holly in the teacher’s lounge! — but hesitate she did, and now Carl’s staying in a hotel. Holly fled the scene, too, heading to another school after parents at McKinley decided she’d ruined the Veggie Tales series for good. “I’m damaged goods. That makes me terrific in bed, but it also means I tend to break nice guys like you into wasa crackers,” she told Will midway through the episode. But by the end of the hour, the sexy substitute had decided that maybe — mayyyybeeee — it was time to try a relationship for a change, and not just one that lasted 36 hours. That was enough to score her a dip and kiss from the self-described “excellent educator.”
In other plot-development news:
* Brittany survived a pregnancy scare of having a stork build a nest on top of her garage, only to find that perhaps her makeout sessions with BFF Santana were more than a physical thing. “I’m not interested in any labels — unless it’s on something I shoplift,” Santana huffed, but a sacred sexy sharing circle with Ms. Holliday changed all that. “I went to an all-girls college where the only industry in town was the manufacturing of softball equipment. I still feel a little tingle when I hear Ani DiFranco,” recounted Ms. Holliday, as Santana got the notion of singing Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” to explore her feelings.
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about a sudden and rather serious story arc for Santana and Brittany, a pair of lightly sketched characters who’ve almost always provided little more than comic relief/awesome dance moves, but Naya Rivera packed so much pain and longing into Santana’s eyes this week, that I didn’t dismiss her heartbreak when Brittany chose to stay with Artie rather than break his heart and “go to an Indigo Girls concert.” (Now, we’ll have to see what becomes of the men in their lives, considering how Sam accidentally propositioned his fellow football player following the “Landslide” performance: “It’s pretty cool that our girlfriends are such good friends, right? I wish you and I were that close.” Alrighty, then!)
* Puck and Lauren contemplated making a sex tape — “If I wanna see Kim Kardashian being classy, I’ll watch E!” said Puck, while doing research — until Ms. Holliday warned them it might lead to a child pornography charge. And just like that, our unlikely couple is playing footsie in celibacy club!
* And finally, we had Kurt lamenting that he had all the sex appeal and knowledge of a baby penguin after the Warblers tried/failed to unleash their inner heartthrobs in time for regionals. I’m sorry, but I wasn’t buying Blaine’s PSA/trip to visit Burt at the garage to convince the best parent in the Glee universe that his son was “not gonna know about protection or STDs.” Seriously? We’re supposed to believe that after Kurt had specifically asked Burt for a sex-ed lesson in “Blame It on the Alcohol” that it took a visit from Blaine — a kid Burt barely knows — to get him to do the right thing? Nonsense!
Still, Burt’s chat with his son was not only emotionally effective, but a pretty good outline for parents struggling to have “the talk” with their kids. “This is gonna suck for both of us,” Burt explained, while imploring his son not to throw himself around “like it doesn’t matter.” I’ve got to hand it to Mike O’Malley: No matter how loopy Glee gets, his completely grounded performance helps anchor the show in reality.
And now, without further do, let’s grade this week’s musical numbers:
“Do You Wanna Touch Me There,” Holly and New Directions | I can’t think of many songs a parent would rather less hear their kids’ teachers sing to ’em, but no matter. Gwyneth completely captured the track’s naughty spirit, and Brittany took it over the top with her bump and grind atop the music-room piano. Musical grade: A Relevance to the plot: B+
“Animal,” Blaine, Kurt, and the Warblers | Didn’t we already see the Warblers cover this territory with more panache and style when they did “Teenage Dream”? The warehouse rave setting — complete with bubble machine and beach balls — felt contrived as heck, as did the swooning response of those chicks from Crawford County Day School. No me gusta. Musical grade: D Relevance to the plot: C-
“Kiss,” Will and Holly | Matthew Morrison’s Auto-Tuned vocal on this track kind of felt like Prince’s might’ve — if it had been taken to the veterinary clinic for a quick neutering session, and the anesthesia hadn’t worn off. Gwyneth, surprisingly, maintained some of the sexual edge of the original. But if this was going to be all candelabras and velvet curtains and tango, why not slow the track down and put a fresh Glee twist on it? Musical grade: C Relevance to the plot: B
“Landslide,” Holly, Santana, and Brittany | The sapphic trio put a little Dixie Chicks slant on it, and I’m not mad at that. Can we please get a full-on Fleetwood Mac episode next season? Musical grade: B+ Relevance to the plot: B+
“Afternoon Delight,” Emma and the McKinley High Celibacy Club | Arrested Development did it better. That is all. Musical grade: B- Relevance to the plot: C+
What did you think of this week’s Glee? How would you rate the musical performances? Were you bothered that Sue was reduced to a single scene warning “Porcelain” that he’d made a powerful new enemy? Sound off below, and for all the Glee news you can use, follow TVLine.com on Twitter @TVLineNews.