This week was relatively different from other Glee weeks for a few reasons, which may or may not be related to the Super Bowl lead-in. First off, it avoided any of the romantic relationship drama that was at the forefront of the first half of the season. Aside from a few nods to the past relationship issues and the actual last 10 seconds of the episode, the show this week was mostly about high school being high school.
The second difference is every song this episode was performance-based instead of emotion-based, which made enjoying the episode tricky. Coming off a big showpiece like the Super Bowl, having all performance songs makes sense, but Glee succeeds best when it's a mixture of over-the-top performances and songs being used to express characters' emotions and desires. (Although I shouldn't complain too much; the next episode is Valentine-themed, so we'll probably get an overload of those songs.)
The Cheerios pay homage to Katy Perry's summer of '10 look with bright blue wigs that ruin the best part of any Cheerios performance—watching Heather Morris dance. You can't figure out which one she is in this group, and the fire and pointless BMX biking result in her being even more lost. Thankfully Sue shuts them down too, and then proceeds to make a lot of jokes about boobs, perhaps in order to keep the football fans around. Santana slapping Britney with a "chicken cutlet" did get the first laugh of the show from me.
This week's plot revolves around the internal football team conflicts, the fact that half the starting lineup is now in Glee and other half bullying them about it. Glee is all about creative and meaningless solutions to these kinds of problems, so Will and Coach decide to make the warring football players learn to work together before the big championship game (Continuity Point 1: This team couldn't win a single game, but suddenly it can be in the championship?) by forcing them to join glee club. And, in an even dimmer move, they think that the best way to show the jocks the awesomeness of glee club is through an overplayed Lady Antebellum song.
There is nothing I can say about this milquetoast performance. Rachel and Puck are just fine, but this wouldn't convince me glee club is awesome, even though I already hold that opinion. The jocks agree with me and the room dissolves into a fistfight into the commercial break.
(Actually, the Chevrolet commercial performance was better than any of the performances that aired before it; everyone looked amazing. Also, I have a weakness for giant staircases. If the jocks had just seen this... well, they still would have thought Glee was ridiculous. But at least we wouldn't have been as bored at home.)
This week's unbelievable and extremely weak Sue Sylvester side-plot focuses on her desire for a giant cannon for the Cheerios championship, which has resulted in her pulling the cheerleaders out of the halftime show for the big game. This is not an actual, real-world issue because no on really cares about halftime shows at high school games. However, Glee figured out a solution to a non-problem and insisted on having the Glee club perform at halftime, with the football players forced to change into zombie makeup to perform, then forced to return to football mode for the game's second half. (How long is this game supposed to last?) Mr. Shue even pulls out a 2009-vintage Filipino-prison "Thriller" reference to explain how this big show will somehow bring unity to the school. It's just like how the performances reduced violence at the prison! Right.
The football players, naturally, are up in arms over "dancing" in front of everyone. (Continuity Point 2: This is the same football team who last season learned "Single Ladies" from Kurt and performed it in the middle of a game.) But eventually everyone awkwardly learns to be zombies and apply Zombie makeup and we begin the attempts at the grand redemption of Dave Karofksy.
Villains on Glee are, with the exception of Sue, specific guest stars who come in for an episode or two, terrorize their target and disappear into the ether. Karofsky exists in a special place, having both been a constant, especially vicious presence since the first season. As the show went into break it seemed like there were only two dramatic turns the character could take, and while I enjoy the serious side of Glee, a teen suicide might be a little too heavy for Fox primetime. So the show is seemingly going with the more hopeful option of Karofsky coming to terms with himself and what he's done to terrorize Kurt. This episode begins that process, with Karofsky getting positive reinforcement from Mr. Shue and reaching out to Finn to do an extra performance to unify the guys, leading into the boys' rendition of The Zombies classic "She's Not There."
This song was this episode's only hope of packing an emotional discovery into a performance, but instead we get football players in zombie makeup (did the producers get a bulk discount?) and Mr. Shue helpfully informing the kids watching that the song is by a band called The Zombies. See how it fits? See! But, as we learn, no matter how much Zombie makeup and "killer" dance moves the football-turned-Glee guys have, they're still going to get slushied by the now-popular hockey team, who, in a stroke of genius, all have mullets. (Continuity Point 3: During the first season, Karofsky was a hockey player.) The football bullies are all out of Glee and out of football to save their reps.
We come back from commercial to find out something extremely gay is happening somewhere else in Ohio: Blaine and the Dalton Warblers are performing "Bills, Bills, Bills." I must admit I've been overly excited about this since the song spoiler leaked; in fact, as much as Glee's tribute episodes can be hit or miss, a Beyonce/Destiny's Child one would probably be perfection, if only for the off-chance that the show will also pay tribute to Tina Knowles' matching-unmatching costuming. It was too much to hope for the Dalton boys to pull that off, but they did succeed in doing their best "gangsta/drag queen" impressions and making me wish for a "Bug A Boo" or "Lose My Breath" performance sometime down the road.
Blaine and Kurt meet Mercedes and Rachel for coffee, give them the bright idea of joining the football team themselves to save the big game, and succeed in crushing a million fangirl hearts with the revelation that Kurt isn't boarding at Dalton Academy and getting up to trysts in the Astronomy Tower. (At least they wear uniforms.)
It's finally game time,; the girls do their best to help, to no avail. But with some pluck and inspirational speeches, Finn and Puck rally the cheerleaders and football players back to join in for the "Thriller" performance and second half of the game, save for Karofsky who is still too uncomfortable to take part.
The "Thriller"/"Heads Will Roll" mashup had a lot of buzz before this episode aired, and I was fully prepared to hate it. But I was pleasantly surprised. It's a gay dance track more than anything else—maybe that's what sparks Karofsky to break down, shrug on his jersey and bust a move. I was actually dreading that they'd have Karofsky run into Kurt and apologize, come out to the entire school over the PA, and organize a GSA at McKinley, so strong was the redemption storyline being pushed up to this point.
Let me be clear: I am completely in favor of Karofsky's eventual redemption. He'd a kid and deserves to find himself and be forgiven for his mistakes. But Glee has tried to tie up storylines neatly within a single episode (Mercedes and her eating disorder, alas) and they've been doing so well with the bullying plotline over several episodes that I was terrified they'd let a few songs, a pat on the back from Mr. Shue, and the heady rush of post-football ratings turn Karofsky completely around. But when Finn tried to put a neat bow on everything and encourage Karofsky to join the glee club permanently, he replied with the episode's defining line: "What do you think, we all dance around together and win a football game and everything's going to change? This is high school; people's memories for good stuff last about as long as their Facebook status."
Glee's strength is its universality; aside from the musical numbers and elaborate costuming, at the core it depicts typical high school experiences. Kids switch boyfriends and girlfriends rapidly, your best friend this week might be your enemy the next, and the jock and the nerd working amicably on a science project one day won't lead to them sharing a lunch table the next. It's not that simple. That said, Glee is also great about showing how high school kids start to mature and figure out that what they define themselves in high school might need to move them forward to actual adulthood. And so like many of the jocks-cum-Gleeclubbers on the show, Karofsky is being set up along a redemption path with this episode akin to Puck in season one, but at least a semi-realistic one. Realistic in Glee terms, at the very least.