For the first time, maybe since the stupendous pilot episode, last night’s episode of “Glee” hit every single high note. It was a welcome reminder of why so many of us began watching in the first place. You can chuck the very special episode crap, the body dysmorphic issues, and the Madonna themes: “Glee” is at its best when it’s about self-identity, and about empowering yourself to be yourself, and about surviving the minefield of high school and coming out on the other end as who you are and who you’re supposed to be.
It didn’t hurt, either, that most of the song choices last night were in my wheelhouse. And didn’t you just hear that click in your brain when Finn started to break into the Rick Springfield number: “Of course!” My brain grinned. Of course, Jonathan Graff’s character’s name is Jesse: Ryan Murphy did that on purpose! He’s had “Jesse’s Girl” in his back pocket for weeks, just waiting to crack that ditty out. And is it just me, or was that song — and most of last night’s episode — surprisingly auto-tune free?
Last night’s episode had me at “Jesse’s Girl,” but it got even better from there.
With Jesse out of the picture for an episode (he was in San Diego on Spring Break with his friends from Vocal Adrenaline), Rachel got a case of tonsillitis and lost her voice, fittingly in an episode about how the characters were trying to find their voice. After wallowing in self-pity for a while, Finn introduced Rachel to his paralyzed from the neck down former-football playing buddy, which was seriously heavy handed and almost offensive in the way tonsillitis was compared to quadriplegia, but it did culminate in U2’s “One,” which I think was the best all around number since “Don’t Stop Believin’” in the pilot (although, it stung a little to hear “One” being referred to as classic rock). If you weren’t at least a little roused by that finale, then you’re fucking dead inside. Or Sue Sylvester. It didn’t do justice to U2’s version (nobody has and nobody ever will) but it still managed to extract a lot of emotion of out the song and apply its message to last night’s self-empowerment theme.
Meanwhile, Puck — who lost his Mohawk and thus his mojo — tried to hook up with Mercedes in order to regain his popularity (“Get ready black girl from glee club whose name I can’t remember right now, the Puckster’s about to make you his.”). That subplot gave rise to a fun rendition of “Lady and the Tramp,” between Puck and Mercedes, followed by a brief relationship that culminated in Puck’s return to the top of the social order and Mercedes — in a nice touch — resigning from Cheerios after concluding that popularity wasn’t her bag. That’s exactly the kind of message-y bullshit I love about “Glee”: It’s not about resigning yourself to being who you are, but embracing it.
But the highlights of last night’s episode — aside from “One” — belonged to Kurt and his Dad. In an effort to find some commonalities and curry favor with his Dad, Kurt tried to heterosexualize himself, donning flannel and a hunting jacket and singing Mellencamp, which was horrendously inappropriate to his voice but pretty great all the same (Mellencamp brings out the jingoism in all of us). Eventually, Kurt did once again embrace his inner gay with a surprisingly effective rendition of “Rose’s Turn” (surprising only because I hated the song but dug the performance), which led to the big “I accept and love you” speech from Kurt’s Dad. And can I just say this: That was maybe the third or fourth time that Mike O’Malley has had to deliver a variation of that speech to Kurt (when’s the kid going to realize that his Dad has accepted him already?), but Mike O’Malley is great every single time. In a show full of voices, Mike O’Malley may be the strongest actor, which is bewildering considering that we’re talking about the dude from “Yes, Dear.” Nevertheless, he’s great, and he’s been great all season long (over on “Parenthood,” too).
Alas, fittingly in an episode about finding your voice, that was exactly what “Glee,” did last night: It found its voice again. Let’s hope it can carry it to the season finale.