Glee Recap: Fear and Bonding at McKinley High

Glee-Season-4-Sue-Sylvester-LeavingWarning: If you haven’t seen tonight’s episode of Glee, you might want to stop reading now. Everyone else, carry on.

Okay, deep breaths. Has everyone recovered enough from tonight’s gut-wrenching Glee that we can get around to the business of discussing it?

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For starters, I know a lot of folks will probably ask if it was “too soon” for Ryan Murphy & Co. to tackle a story arc about gunshots ringing out in the hallways of McKinley High a mere four months after the real and unspeakable shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary. I understand that question, but the sad fact is Sandy Hook wasn’t the first tragedy of its kind, nor will it be the last. So perhaps it’s folly to debate the timing of such an episode: You’re either going to go there, or you’re not. You’re either going to use the real-life dread we experienced as a nation for dramatic purposes — and, yeah, to possibly make a political statement — or you’re not.

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From a purely artistic standpoint, though, “Shooting Star” — especially in those scenes where the members of New Directions huddled in the choir room, trying to remain silent, fearing every creaking door and bit of atmospheric noise might signal the end of their lives — was horribly compelling. It wasn’t easy to watch by any means. And man, did that gunfire come suddenly and dreadfully. (I felt my entire body tense up as that “pop!” “pop!” shifted the tone of a scene where Mr. Schue was threatening to rap again.)

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What’s interesting is that the hour didn’t profess to hold any Big Answers about how to solve or prevent gun crimes in our schools. But it did give us an unflinching, teenager’s-eye-view of what it’s like to have your youthful innocence shattered by violence (or the very close threat of it, anyway). It also, from a purely artistic standpoint, showcased some amazing acting from the McKinley High cast — in particular Heather Morris, Becca Tobin, Melissa Benoist and Trisha Rae Stahl.

Anyhow, with that said, let’s recap the action.

CAT 22 | Things kick off with Brittany warning the kids of New Directions that the announcement of their Regionals competitors — the Hoosier Daddies and the Nun-Touchables — is moot, since a comet or asteroid or meteorite (aka Tubbington-Bop) is about to wipe them out. Goofy as her theory may be, Will decides to use it as a jumping off point for a “Last Chance” lesson about expressing your feelings to the people around you. As we’ll soon learn though, the kids won’t need such an artificial inspiration by episode’s end. Somehow, the asteroid chat leads to Sam and Brittany singing “More Than Words” to Lord Tubbington while their glee-club compadres light candles and march around like members of some cat-crazed cult. Eventually, though, Ms. Pierce realizes a meteorite isn’t zooming toward her telescope; it’s just a dead ladybug at the bottom of her Pringles can. Alrighty then!

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SECRET LOVERS | Ryder spots his online paramour “Katie” in the halls of McKinley — wait, how big is this school that he wasn’t aware of a stunner like this in his midst? — tracks her down, brings her to the choir room and performs an enthusiastic rendition of “Your Song” that, along with his “hunky” arms, has her swooning. There’s just one problem: Her name is Marissa, not Katie, and she’s not the person who’s been communicating with him online for the past few weeks. It’s been somebody else, using her photo. “Someone’s been catfishing you,” Marissa says, not that she’s ruling out a relationship with the chiseled athlete. Ryder blows up at Jake and Marley — assuming one of them is avenging his planting a kiss on Marls, and then wanders away in tears. The Manti Te’o situation has him messed up and angry — but not so much so that he won’t give “Katie” another chance when she agrees to meet him at 3:30 that afternoon. In the midst of the shooting incident, though, Ryder unexpectedly stumbles upon a clue: He dials Katie’s number to find out where she is and if she’s okay, and a phone begins to ring — right there in the choir room. His secret online love is in — or very close to — New Directions. When danger passes, Kitty assures him she’s not the culprit: “I’m not into guys that look like life-sized cartoon weiners,” she huffs. “The thought of dating you makes me dryer than the cast of Hot in Cleveland.” (Yikes!) Maybe it’s the bass player with the bowl cut or Brad the Piano Player, the kids wonder. But come on, it’s got to be Unique, right?

MORE FUN WITH ONLINE LOVE | In a turn of events I’m not really buying, Beiste sets up a Lady and the Tramp style pasta dinner — in the boys’ locker room (gag) — to confess to Will that she’d like him to be the man in her life. But wait, isn’t Shannon a true friend of Will and Emma? Would she ever really swoop in so quickly after their failed wedding ceremony? No way! Whatevs. Will breaks it to Shannon gently that he and Emma are back together — then sets up an online dating profile that quickly yields a response — from Beiste’s predecessor Ken Tanaka!

GUNSHOTS RING OUT | At the start of glee-club practice, the sound of a gun being fired not once, but twice, sends everyone reeling. Brittany and Tina’s absence is noted by the rest of the kids in the room, as Schue and Beiste shut out the lights, find hiding places for everyone and manage to silence their terrified students. The panic and terror is palpable. Kitty confesses to Marley that she’s the one who took in her Grease costumes to make her think she was gaining weight. Sam freaks out and tries to go track down Brittany in the ladies room, only to be held back by Will and Beiste. Artie begins recording messages from his friends to their loved ones, just in case the worst happens and they don’t have a chance to say goodbye. (Those grainy cameraphone shots got me choked up most of all.) And then there’s Marley, horrified knowing her mother is somewhere in the school cafeteria, probably all by herself. (Mrs. Rose is seen wordlessly crouched in the kitchen, tears streaming down her face, as pots boil and the sound of footsteps fills her with fear. Wrenching stuff.) “Everybody really likes her,” Kitty tells Marley, in one of the strangely sweetest lines of the episode.

We learn lovely little details about the kids during the crisis. Marely’s got a false-bottom drawer that hides the songs she’s been writing, little gems that make her proud — even if they’ve never seen the light of day. Brittany, meanwhile, is stuck standing on a toilet in a ladies’ room stall, her tears plinking into the water and her occasional sniffles the only sounds in the room. (Later, when Schue comes to her rescue, we discover that each and every stall is occupied by a terrified teen.) Tina and Blaine share a tender BFF moment in the aftermath. (She didn’t want her last words to her friends to be another snarky comment about not getting solos.) And Sam presents Brittany with a gift he’d only planned to keep in his locker for a short time: A cat named Lady Tubbington, the better to complete their “fake family.” Um, not so sure about that last detail, but the rest of the interactions were handled with care and good taste. Later, the kids join up to sing John Mayer’s “Say” in the round. The little New Directions family all have one another — even if no one knows who the shooter was. Yep, thankfully, no one was killed or hurt in the melee — and the police can’t even figure out which room in the school was Ground Zero.

THE SHOOTER REVEALED | Early in the episode, we see seet Becky pleading with Brittany not to graduate. “Let’s stay in high school forever!” says the girl with Down Syndrome, who’s not sure if she’s ready for life outside the hallways of her school. “If you really prepare yourself, the world is not so scary,” Brittany replies.

And thus, when Sue shows up at school the next week with an air of nonchalance — “I haven’t seen this level of overreaction since Janet Jackson showed her saggy funbag at the Super Bowl” — it’s abundantly clear that she’s setting herself up to take the fall for Becky. Sure enough, Sue confesses to Principal Figgins that she’d been keeping a handgun in her office — “the safety net of the public mental health system is gone” and keeps her feeling safe, she says — and it accidentally went off while she was cleaning it. She’s coached Cheerios to become CEOs, Ivy League grads, Olympic gold medalists, Grammy winners and even a lesbian secretary of state, but she knows this incident will be the first line of her obit, she says sadly as she leaves the school in shame. A flashback, however, reveals it was Becky who misguidedly brought the firearm to McKinley — she wanted to be prepared! — and Sue just can’t let her unintended crime be exposed, can’t let the kid face expulsion. “Keep an eye on Becky, will you?” she asks Schue. Honestly, that can’t be the end of the story. That said, I give credit to the Glee writers for offering a plausible escape clause to this story arc that didn’t involve a death or an injury to a student. It’s a high-school musical dramedy that appeals to a lot of actual high schoolers, not Law & Order: Lima, after all. The Becky subplot allows them to navigate through the arc without bloodshed, but while maintaining some actual teeth.

And with that, I turn it over to you. What did you think of “Shooting Star”? Was it an effective hour of drama? Did you shed tears during the kids’ confessionals? Did you have any problems with the tone or timing? And how about Becky’s role in the gunfire? Were you impressed by the peformances? Is this the end of Sue’s coaching career? Sound off in the comments!