We weren't really looking forward to this episode, since it signaled the return to one of worst things about season 2 (other than the preachiness and all-around lack of humor): the "theme" episode. And just like last year, when suddenly a bunch of teenagers just could not stop talking about how inspirational and all-around awesome the older-than-their-parents Madonna is, this episode had every teenager in Lima, Ohio, suddenly obsessed with the dead (and also older-than-their-parents) Michael Jackson. It's lame and we couldn't roll our eyes hard enough. There was a time when Glee wouldn't have passed up an opportunity to make a tasteless joke about Michael Jackson, but with this episode it was all reverence, all the time.
"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" with Blaine opened the episode and our fears seemed realized, since not only wouldn't he shut up about Michael, but he sang pretty much a karaoke version of the song; a note-for-note recreation down to every hiccup and hee-hee. We realize this is kind of a silly complaint when it comes to Glee, which has a hstory of producing almost nothing but karaoke versions of popular hits. But sometimes it really jumps out at you and watching Darren Criss grab his crotch may have excited some fangurls still clinging to the dream, but it actually left us a little pre-bored with the episode to come.
Funny thing, though; we wound up enjoying the episode way more than we thought we would. It had its problems and we wouldn't really place it high in the Glee Pantheon of Good Episodes (which has plenty of room for new entries, believe us), but the scripting here was tighter than we would have thought and the songs all had fairly decent lead-ins from the story. That's a trick that all the great musicals have and all the bad musicals lack. Bad musicals -- and far too many episodes of Glee -- take what we call the "I'll sing now" approach. Y'know: two characters are talking, they unnaturally pause for a beat, and then one or both of them start singing something that only marginally relates to what they were just talking about. We didn't think all of the numbers really hit their mark, but several of them really stood out for us because they flowed naturally from the story. Let's run them down, shall we?
Quinn singing "Never Can Say Goodbye." Quinn hasn't gotten a big showy solo in quite some time and there's a good reason for that. Dianna Agron simply isn't all that great a singer. Passable, but nothing that warrants the spotlight. But we thought the scene with Rachel in the bathroom was full of heart and this sense of a real connection between these two characters, one that goes beyond friendship because Quinn won't stroke Rachel's ego, is well aware of all her flaws, and will tell her the truth. We don't particularly buy Quinn's new role as the wise, experienced one in the group (mainly because it happened so quickly), but we like it as a sort of final destination for the character. In other words, Quinn wound up where we would have wanted her to wind up, but we never really got to see the journey there except in fits and starts and then wildly accelerated. Even so, this song was a perfect match for her vocal capabilities and the staging acknowledged her history rather nicely.
Artie and Mike singing "Scream." It was jarring, to say the least, to see Harry Shrum doing his best Janet Jackson, but what made this number stand out was the outstanding lead-in to it. We've seen Artie stand and dance once before, in last season's fantastic "Safety Dance" number, but this time the emotional impact of seeing him stand up in rage was far more powerful and effective. We actually leaned forward in our seats when we realized we were about to get a Kevin McHale/Harry Shrum dance number. We were mildly disappointed because "Scream" actually isn't one of Michael's strongest videos, from a choreography perspective. That's the kind of statement that's going to be answered with a lot of howls of disapproval, but we call it how we see it. "Scream" was more of a special effects video than a choreography video. Anyway, it was still powerful and they looked great together.
Sam and Mercedes singing "Human Nature." We confess, this rendition won't make us forget the original (which happens to be one of our favorites out of the Michael catalogue), but it was sweet and these two have a growing chemistry together. And again, the lead-in gave the song emotional impact as it was both romantic and full of bright hope.
Sebastian and Santana (with 2Cellos) singing "Smooth Criminal." AMAZING. Talk about your lead-ins. From the second these two vicious babygays laid eyes on each other and smelled the threat in the room, the story has been begging for a showdown. We got the one these two characters deserved. And Santana so won that one.
"Ben" was sappy nonsense (and always has been); ditto on "I Just Can't Stop Loving You." "Bad" was exactly what the title says. One major disappointment with this episode was that Brittany didn't get a big dance number. "Black or White" was good, but not amazing-good, which is kind of what the story required of it. As soon as the number started, we wondered if they were going to do the morph thing. Of course they did.
And of course, the rather preachy aspect of it had us pretty bored. Frankly, we were totally behind rage-filled Artie and his need for vengeance, but that's just us.
As for the Rachel and Finn thing, it's actually playing out a little better than it has any right to. We'll give them credit for one thing: both characters are doing things that make sense for them as characters. Finn is desperately clinging to Rachel because he thinks he has no future and Rachel only accepted his proposal once she convinced herself the same thing. Of course they're both going to realize this at some point. Our bet is right around sectionals. Or maybe finals. Prom. Graduation. Whatever. They'll have a heartfelt talk, maybe sing a little, and both come to realize that Quinn was right all along and you shouldn't drag your high school years around as you go out in the world.
Are we bad adults? We were all for Artie's plans to seek revenge and totally behind Quinn's rather cynical take on the importance of high school in the long run; namely that it has very little, if you live your life right. Would you shield your children from us for setting a bad example or giving them bad advice? We're asking. We probably wouldn't like your children anyway.