Glee Recap: Original Flavor

Music soothes the savage beast, makes the people come together, and is most definitely the key to a first-rate episode of Glee. Indeed, Monday night’s “Original Song,” which followed New Directions (and the Warblers) to Regionals — and advanced the Rachel-Finn-Quinn triangle with tearful confrontations and the Kurt-Blaine romance with a (!) big, romantic kiss — featured 11 separate songs, and the increased emphasis on musical numbers resulted in a frothy, riveting hour of television.

Not surprisingly, the respective glee clubs’ preparations for (and performances at) Regionals provided the main structure for the episode: Things kicked off at Dalton Academy, with the Warblers road-testing Maroon 5’s “Misery” as a potential competition show-stopper. Can I just say I love-love-loved starting things off with a musical number? In fact, in much the same way Six Feet Under began every episode with a death, maybe going forward, Glee can commit to starting every show with a burst of song. Who wants to second the motion?

The only thing that perturbed me about “Misery” was that, as we’ve been trained to expect, it was really a solo performance for Darren Criss’s Blaine, with the massive Warblers crew happily fading into the background. I mean, it’s one thing to help a friend woo a Gap employee, but it’s quite another to think that there wouldn’t be even a slim sense of competitiveness or jealousy among a big group of teenage boys, right? Before I could say “Burberry birdcage cover,” however, Kurt was registering a pointed complaint that the Warblers had turned into “Blaine and the Pips.” (Ahh, Ryan Murphy, there you go again addressing fan gripes right in your characters’ dialogue!)

After the death of the Warblers’ mascot Pavarotti, Kurt could no longer keep his inner songbird muted. “I know we need to practice du-wopping behind Blaine while he sings every solo in the medley of Pink songs,” he declared, “but I’d like to sing something for Pavarotti today.” And with that, young Mr. Hummel bade a tearful (and haunting) goodbye with a rendition of “Blackbird” that seemed to draw from a deeper well of emotion than his relationship with his departed feathered friend. Blaine was moved not only to offer up half the solo on Hey Monday’s “Candles” to his friend, but to see him for the first time as boyfriend material. For some reason, I got choked up when the Warblers unanimously voted to hand Kurt his solo without an audition process, but even better was hearing Blaine admit he’d concocted the duet idea as “an excuse to get to spend more time with you.” And — bam! — then they kissed, straight up, without any sneaky cutaways from the cameras, just like you’d expect for any other couple on the show. “We should practice,” reasoned Blaine. “I thought we were,” smiled Kurt. Touché.

Over at New Directions, our lead vocalists were also spending quality time in the music room, but without any risk of smooching. Rachel was trying to improve on last episode’s wretched original composition “My Headband” with the marginally less excruciating “Only Child.” Finn, however, insisted it was time for his ex-girlfriend to “go inside yourself to where your singing comes from” and find songwriting inspiration. Quinn, who’s apparently forgotten everything she learned during her pregnancy, her subsequent fall from Cheerios grace, and warm acceptance from New Directions, spotted the musical collaboration and identified it as a risk to her quest to take home the Prom Queen crown. “How damaged does a guy have to be to be into a girl as annoying as Rachel?” she wondered, before deciding that befriending her rival (and supporting her quest to have New Directions tackle self-penned material) was the most assured path to romantic victory.

I’ve got to admit, the Quinn situation really bothered me, especially her internal monologue where she reasoned that she’s “smart and super-pretty and relatively sane for a girl.” Yes, I know, in Mr. Murphy’s world, having two X-chromosomes is completely incompatible with emotional stability, but Quinn’s hollowness doesn’t really fit with a girl who’s been through so many life-changing experiences in the last year — even if she truly believes prom queens live five years longer than common folk. That said, the scene of Quinn and Rachel in the auditorium had some resonance. “I get Finn. You get your heart broken,” Quinn said in her usual breathless coo, before looking into the future and seeing herself as a local real estate agent, Finn running Burt Hummel’s tire shop, and Rachel having moved on to bigger pastures and a brighter future. “You don’t belong here,” she said, almost pleading, and finally, some of her motivations made sense.

Rachel took the harsh truths presented by Quinn, took her longing for Finn, and put it all into an original ballad for Regionals. “The last time we were here, you told me you loved me,” she said to Finn, right before they took the stage. “I really like your song,” he ducked. “Listen carefully, because I mean every word of it,” she said. And with that came the soaring, emotional “Get It Right,” with a power-diva vocal from Lea Michele. I’m not sure yet if this one will translate to my iPod, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a triumphant moment in the context of “Original Song.”

And finally, we had the subplot of New Directions’ struggle to succeed at Regionals despite the best-laid booby-traps of arch nemesis (and Aural Intensity coach) Sue Sylvester, who has seemed utterly toothless the last five or six episodes despite her increased penchant for violence, no? We’ll discuss below the merits of the kids’ individual attempts at new compositions, but with the help of Mr. Schue and some rhyming dictionaries, New Directions channeled its outsider status into the uplifting, upbeat “Loser Like Me.” I kind of wish that this one hadn’t been a Rachel and Finn solo — wouldn’t it have made sense for her to shine on “Get It Right,” and make “Loser Like Me” more of a collaborative effort? — but I did get choked up when Rachel graciously accepted her cohorts’ decision to award her the Regionals MVP trophy, so I’ll quit my kvetching.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of New Directions’ victory (which sets them up for a trip to Nationals), how did you feel about guest stars Kathy Griffin and Loretta Devine as “former Tea Party candidate, home-schooler, and Twitterer” Tami Jean Albertson and former exotic dancer/current Carmelite nun Sister Mary Constance? I won’t lie: I wish they’d given Griffin better material than merely dressing her up in a Palin-esque suit and glasses — maybe some perverse or unexpected twist on the character would’ve made it seem fresher — and I wish Devine (who starred in Broadway’s Dreamgirls) had gotten a chance to sing, but the latter did score a few good laughs in  limited screen time. “Is it a gay school or just a school that appears gay?” the salty nun asked about Dalton Academy’s blazer-clad kids. And later, when judging Aural Intensity’s Christian-themed set list, she huffed, “I didn’t even like being pandered to when I was on the pole!” Still, the funniest moment for me was Lt. Governor’s wife Carla Turlington Stevens staggering out on stage to present the big trophy: “My husband is verbally abusive and I have been drinking since noon,” she slurred. “I’m bored. Let’s just see who won, huh?” So wrong, yet so absurdly LOL-worthy.

And now, let’s briefly rate the episode’s musical numbers.

“Misery,” Blaine and the Warblers | Maybe it’s the blazers and the fact that Blaine gets all the solos, but there’s a certain samey-samey-ness to the Warblers’ songs. Still, I liked the way the boys pounded their fists to the beat, the general energy of the number, and Blaine’s prancing little moves. Jaunty!
Musical grade: B+ Relevance to the plot: B+

“Only Child,” Rachel | How do you grade something that’s supposed to be intentionally awful? You don’t!
Musical grade: N/A Relevance to the plot: B

“Blackbird,” Kurt | Kurt’s tender, restrained vocal is my second-favorite “Blackbird” on Fox this season (right behind Paul McDonald and Kendra Chantelle’s exquisite American Idol duet.)
Musical grade: A- Relevance to the plot: A

“Trouty Mouth,” Santana (featuring Tina) | I probably shouldn’t be so entertained by our (possibly) lesbian cheerleader’s open hostility toward her dim football-star boyfriend, but I chuckled pretty heartily at her ode to Sam’s giant kisser. “Guppy face, trouty mouth/ Is that how people’s lips look/ Where you come from/ In the south.” Nice, loung-y vibe, too!
Musical grade: B- Relevance to the plot: C+ (is dude really gonna put up with that?)

“Big-Ass Heart,” Puck | Brief but cute ode to Lauren’s bodacious inner qualities.
Musical grade: B+ Relevance to the plot: B

“Hell to the No,” Mercedes | How Mr. Schue didn’t think this hot-ass, retro-R&B barn-burner was Regionals material is beyond me. And while I could’ve lived without the diabetes shout-out (sorry, but seriously), I only hold back on the “relevance to the plot” because you can’t tell me the New Directions crew wouldn’t have committed mutiny to get this one on their set list. Can we get this one (and Ms. Amber Riley) on the radio? Hell to the Y to the E to the S.
Musical grade: A Relevance to the plot: B

“Jesus Is a Friend of Mine,” Aural Intensity | Hardy-har, Sue panders to the conservative judges with religious material and sock-hop choreography. I can’t believe Aural Intensity wasn’t more impressive than this. Am I the only one?
Musical grade: C+ Relevance to the plot: C+

“Candles,” Kurt, Blaine, and the Warblers | Not my favorite song in the world, but I loved that Blaine and Kurt sounded like two individual humans, not a pair of Auto-Tuned automatons. Next time kill the swaybots, though.
Musical grade: B+ Relevance to the plot: B+

“Raise Your Glass,” Blaine and the Warblers | A loyal reading of Pink’s rendition, but the lines of dancing Warblers were awfully fun to watch, and Darren Criss really can sing his ass off.
Musical grade: A- Relevance to the plot: B+

“Get It Right,” Rachel and the New Directions ladies | How many times did the camera circle Rachel during her tour de force ballad? I’m not sure…I got dizzy and lost count. But Rachel’s bittersweet yet hopeful lyrics, and that monster glory note (“someone will see how much I caaaaaaaaaaaare!”), hit all the right buttons for me.
Musical grade: A- Relevance to the plot: A

“Loser Like Me,” Rachel, Finn, and New Directions |
I felt on the inside like Rachel jumping up and down and rousing the crowd during this anthemic track. I worried for a second the kids would kill their Regionals chances by hurling real slushies into the audience, because I’m gullible like that, which is why the splash to the face of glitter made me smile and applaud from my couch. Well-played, Glee. Well-played.
Musical grade: A Relevance to the plot: A

What did you think of “Original Song”? Do you want to see more ditties written just for Glee, or do you think it should be a rare occurrence? How did you feel about the Blane-Kurt smooch? What about the Quinn-Finn-Rachel triangle? And is anyone else finding Sue less amusing than she used to be? Let’s get the tracksuit-wearin’ lady back on track, okay? Sound off below, and for all your latest Glee news, follow @TVLineNews on Twitter!