I figured pretty early on that this one was written by Brad Falchuck. We got more of the snarky humor back, Sue got to be mean, and the return of Coach Beiste. There were things that bothered me, but will get to those in due time.
The episode opened with Quinn and Sam making out. I gotta say, I like the new celibate Quinn. Compare her to the Quinn we met last year who was in the "celibacy" club almost as a joke; a way to tease boys. After her pregnancy, she sees things differently, and understands that maybe her daddy was right about abstinence. I think Quinn can help make this sort of thing "cool". Anyway, this leads Sam to want some way to cool off when things are getting hot. There's a great callback to Finn's memory of hitting the mailman from last season. That was classic. So Sam needs to find his "mailman" and finds it in the image of Coach Beiste picking a wedgie. What should have been a one-off joke ended up being a recurring theme to the episode. Sam ends up fantasizing about Beiste when he's with Quinn, and ends up calling out her name, which weirds Quinn out (and rightly so). But to make things that much weirder, Mike Chang and Tina have heard about this and use the same technique... and it's TINA who calls out "Beiste". Yeah, that's all kinds of weird. We get some odd funny fantasy moments with Beiste in lingerie or whatever (the best is probably her as a ballerina). But thankfully the episode goes in a more serious direction by showing how this effects Coach Beiste. When she hears from Mr. Shue that the boys are picturing a sexy Coach Beiste as a kind of sexual palette cleanser, she is offended and saddened. So much so that she decides to quit and leave the school. We get a very heartfelt moment as Mr. Shue tries to urge her to reconsider and she talks about how she wants to be able to feel pretty. That she has never been kissed and has always felt like an outsider. I love this character. And as somebody who's also never been really kissed, outside a stage kiss or this one other thing that totally doesn't count, I get it. Mr. Shue kisses her, and convinces her to stay. Granted, if I were her I'm not sure I'd want his pity kiss, but it's the thought that counts.
Meanwhile, Mr. Shue has decided to have another boys vs. girls mash-up competition like they did last year. I was very excited about this. Again, Kurt is forced to be with the boys. This bothers him, and finally Mr. Shue calls him on the fact that he's been acting weird recently. This was a development I was liking this season. Unfortunately, they undo most of that goodwill by having Kurt explain that he's being the only out gay kid at the school is getting to him. So he's acting out because he's gay? Sorry, shut up Kurt. Just shut up. I get that being alone is depressing. I get that it's weird being an outcast. Well you know what, I was alone in high school. It was depressing. I was called a queer. But so was Coach Beiste, and so are others. Others are bullied at this school and others are outcasts at this school; it's not just you Kurt. I get that he has certain feelings, but I just don't see why they had to make it all come down to his sexuality AGAIN. Kurt HAS to be more than sexual orientation or he is not a character, he's a type.
Puck has come back from juvenile detention, on the condition that he do community service. He decides to fill this by being Artie's friend, helping out a cripple. So he hangs out with Artie, giving him secrets to picking up girls, helping him get back with Brittany. He even calls him "Professor X" at one point, which I thought was fun.
There were fewer songs in tonight's episode. The first involved Artie and Puck busking in the courtyard to make some money. Now, we can argue the ethics of students busking at school (for those not into the lingo, that means street performing), and students paying them. But they do make money singing the reggae classic "One Love". But this weird moment comes in, when suddenly students come by with steel drums and play along. Why the heck are there steel drummers at this school? Why do they suddenly show up? That sort of thing makes sense in a fantasy, but this is supposed to be real world, and it's just bizarre.
The other main theme in this episode is bullying, as Kurt is constantly tormented by this one football player. I have to say, this whole section of the episode felt so artificial to me. Again, I understand bullying and harassment, but this felt too "ripped from the headlines" for me. I get that there's a rash of teen suicides due to bullying, and that many recently have been gay. But I'm getting offended at the idea that ONLY gay kids are bullied or that gay kids are uniquely bullied. Especially on this show, where kids are routinely slushied in the face or thrown in dumpsters. I think we do everyone a disservice when we focus on the bullied teens as gay rather than as bullied teens. It doesn't matter WHY they are picked on, just that they are. It continues to make them an "other" even after their deaths. Anyway, Kurt here is picked on and feels like nobody notices. This is a fair point. But maybe no one notices because most of the glee kids are picked on in some way. Was this guy on the football team last year when Kurt was? Why isn't Kurt still playing, by the way? Did he decide he didn't need to do it just to win his dad's approval?
The names of their competition for Sectionals are announced. Kurt goes to one of them, an all boy prep school, to spy on their glee club. What he gets is a dream come true for him. They are very inviting, the glee club "are like rock stars" and their lead is gay. Kurt seems to be basking in the glow of it all as 20 or so clean cut boys sing an a capella version of Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream". Now, I'm no fan of Katy Perry. But the song is not terrible, and actually sounds better divorced from Katy's vocals (sorry, the girl can't sing). Some of the lyrics sound a little odd coming from male voices, but otherwise it was an interesting choice. This leaves Kurt to wonder if they are all gay. When this scene first started, there was no real context for Kurt being there. He just showed up and claimed to be a new student. There was something so perfect and unreal about the whole thing that I seriously wondered if this was some dream Kurt was having. The use of "Teenage Dream" seemed to reinforce that, but we later learn that this is real and that he really was spying on them. They figure it out because Kurt's a bad spy, and are very accepting of him. The lead (whose name I forget) is played by Darren Criss of A Very Potter Musical internet fame. He tells Kurt that he came to this school after being bullied for his sexuality as well. But he advises Kurt not to run away like he did, but to be brave and stand strong.
So Kurt then confronts his bully the next time he's picked on. The guy throws gaytred at Kurt (new word I'm trying out. Gaytred: hatred of gays. Trying to avoid "homophobia" which isn't necessarily accurate). Kurt stands his ground saying he could never "punch the gay out of me". And then it happens... the dude kisses Kurt. Good God, people, I am so TIRED of this. Every homophobe is a closet homsexual, right? Has this ever been true in real life? It's one of those things that is always done on TV and it felt so strange here. I was hoping and hoping they wouldn't go there, but they did. I find that very lame. And it bothers Kurt especially because he has never been kissed, and now his first kiss was an unwelcome one from some sweaty jock who hates him. Afterward, the guy still hates and picks on him and pretends like it didn't happen. I'm just tired of the assumption and presentation that this kind of vitriol is actually misdirected self-loathing.
Despite these events, Kurt has at least stood up for himself, and now keeps a picture of the prep school guy in his locker. He's totally crushing on him. This leads us to wonder what repercussions it will have for the Glee club. Will the two become an item? Will Kurt leave school for the other glee club? Will the other guy come to New Directions? I really hope not. While someone for Kurt is nice, I would really rather they not just retread the same stuff they did with Jesse St. James last year. In any case, the connection between the two should make Sectionals interesting.
Oh, before we go anywhere else, I should also say that I made a prediction the first episode that Sunshine, the Filipino girl, would return in five episodes. It's been five, and that didn't happen. Oh well. I amend that prediction to say she will rejoin New Directions within 5 episodes that she appears in. But I'm probably wrong.
Back to the boys vs. girls competition. To appease Kurt, Mr. Shue orders that each group perform something by someone of the opposite gender. That is, the girls should embrace more masculine classic rock stuff, and the boys do something more feminine. So the girls rock out with a mash-up of "Start Me Up" and "Livin' On a Prayer", with some very 1980s glam rock style. It's pretty good. The episode ends with the boys doing a performance specially for Coach Beiste: "Stop in the Name of Love" mixed with En Vogue's "Free Your Mind". I thought it was decent, and they do a good job with a girl group song. However, "Free Your Mind" is also very explicitly about race relations, and the lyric about being color-blind just didn't fit the scenario all that well. Last year I preferred the boys' team; this time it was easily the girls.
There were some nice moments in this episode, and some really funny bits with Sue. I loved her running disgust of the image of Coach Beiste running through her head. But there was also some of what I consider lazy television convention that took real issues and in some ways trivialized them or made too much of them. It wasn't a bad episode, but some bits of it didn't sit well with me.
Songs in tonights episode:
Livin' On a Prayer/Start Me Up
Stop in the Name of Love/Free Your Mind
Next week, er, tonight:
No no no, here we go again. It's Gwyneth Paltrow guest-starring on this show for no reason. I'm sure this has less to do with her appearance in that movie Duets and more with the fact that she has a new movie to promote. This is just shameless cross-promotion to remind us that she's in a film soon coming where she plays a country singer. Didn't she just perform at the CMAs too? I tell you, Glee has got to avoid these celebrity guest things or it will be its undoing.