The latest installment of FOX’s Glee is titled “Michael.” To serve that title, the episode’s various plots are threaded with songs from the late King of Pop. And what plots they are!
Blaine (Darren Criss) is injured when Sebastian (Grant Gustin) tampers with a slushie thrown in his face. Everyone is upset, especially Santana (Naya Rivera), who wants revenge. Kurt (Chris Colfer) is accepted into NYADA, while Rachel (Lea Michele) assumes she’s been cut when she doesn’t get a letter. Which leads to her accepting Finn’s (Cory Monteith) marriage proposal, only to later regret it when she does get her notification.
Where to begin? Oh so much to discuss! How about letting the music be the guide? Unlike in other tribute-heavy episodes, “Michael” feels like the story drives the songs, rather than great music forcing plot to bend around it. It’s a marked improvement over earlier efforts, and will make the episode a fan favorite for a long time to come. “Michael” isn’t perfect, of course, but some fantastic numbers from the Michael Jackson song book, featuring both popular choices and some less so, really build a solid episode.
“Michael” opens with an awesome, Blaine-fronted “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” The choreography is fantastic, including some heavy leaning, and the entire cast gets involved. It’s good to see Blaine featured again. He hasn’t exactly disappeared into McKinley’s larger group, but many miss his frequent Warbler solos. Thus, any chance to let Blaine take center stage is more than welcome, especially when done as well as in this instance.
Soon after, “Bad” is just as good, highlighting a showdown between the New Directions and the Warblers. Much of it echoes the original music video, and it culminates in the fateful moment where the slushie is thrown. Finally, there’s a villain to really hate! Sure, the mean jocks have been tossing slushies at the glee clubbers forever, but only someone truly evil would add rock salt to the mix. Blaine’s injury is regrettable, but will provide a good excuse when Criss disappears for a couple of episodes to sing on Broadway.
The other full group number is “Black and White,” which is when Santana, Kurt, and the others expose Sebastian as a slimy devil to the rest of the Warblers. As the Dalton Academy students, one by one, begin taking to the stage to join the main cast in another great song, Sebastian sits there and stews, before storming out after being totally exposed. Will the Warblers kick him out? Will they forgive him? Or will they just decide they need him to compete? And why is Glee considering making Sebastian a main character next year? Sure, he’s intriguingly bad, but that doesn’t mean he needs to stick around for multiple seasons.
Blaine may have his eye (heheh) opened about Sebastian now, but there will be lasting effects to their battle. The rock salt is meant for Kurt, not Blaine, of course, as Sebastian expresses a desire to steal Blaine away from his boy. But Sebastian also shows no regret for his actions, considering Blaine acceptable collateral. So how deep do those feelings really run? And how Sebastian expects to still woo Blaine after this is a mystery.
An even bigger mystery is why Blaine’s closest friends, Rachel, Finn, and Kurt, choose to cheer him up with “Ben.” By far the worst song in the episode, the characters have much better taste in music than that. A huge disappointment.
In a charged moment, Artie (Kevin McHale) jumps out of his wheelchair for the fantasy sequence “Scream,” a duet with Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.). While Artie is not the best character, for sure, and has been getting more focus than he deserves, it’s also always nice to see the annual moment when he stands on his own two feet. “Scream” continues that proud tradition. Leave it to Glee to inspire with something so sympathetic and cool, despite the character not living up to those adjectives. Plus, Mike Chang always makes everything better.
That’s not all, though. Another musical highlight of “Michael” is “Smooth Criminal,” which is a confrontation between Santana and Sebastian, backed up by some wicked cello playing. Sebastian claims he is better, but fans will probably agree with Santana’s opposite assertion. In truth, the whole thing is fantastic. From Santana bragging about her cleverness in taping an audio recorder to her “underboob,” to her circling threateningly around the bad guy, it all works. “Michael” needs a Santana moment, and this is it.
“Human Nature” is almost as good, with Sam (Chord Overstreet) romancing Mercedes (Amber Riley) the way she should be romanced. Though, Mercedes being unable to walk away from the song does bring to mind Community‘s fantastic Glee parody from this past December. Run, Mercedes! But not really. She and Sam should totally be together. Even if Glee has been completely unfair to the actor cast as her boyfriend; one wonders how he might have developed in the second half of this season if Sam hadn’t returned…
Quinn’s (Dianna Agron) “Never Say Goodbye” is a small step down from those other numbers, but does deliver a powerful message. Alone of the glee club members, Quinn wants to leave this town, and everyone in it, in the dust. Others may seek bright futures outside of Ohio, but Quinn just wants escape. Which she will get to do because, somehow, she kept straight A’s during her pregnancy, which earns her a spot at Yale. Stretching reality pretty thin, to be sure, but also giving her a windup for her final arc. One cannot help but root for her to get away, no matter how much fans love McKinley. It’s the right thing for her.
Finally, there is the Rachel/Finn love story. Rachel is driven into Finn’s arms when he serenades her with “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” an acceptable, if far from awe-inspiring, number. But what really drives her is the fear that she will be left with nothing after high school. Assuming she isn’t going to get a NYADA acceptance letter because hers didn’t come as quick as Kurt’s, Rachel is striking out for something stable to hold on to. Not unlike Finn is as he is proposes. It’s an understandable emotion, but her reaction when Kurt points out to her that Rachel rushes to share her good news with her bestie instead of her fiance cements it. Rachel is too young and not ready to marry Finn.
How can she get out of the engagement without screwing up everything between the pair Glee is building? There is a very delicate balance that must be achieved in the final ten episodes. Rachel does not necessarily have to end up with Finn. But their feelings must be acknowledged as genuine, and she must truly regret breaking his heart, as she has to soon do. They cannot go through with a wedding anytime soon. What a twist! And so well handled thus far. There is optimism that the writers will pull this off.
One last, small complaint about “Michael.” Why does Burt (Mike O’Malley), when celebrating Kurt’s acceptance, blurt out a request to tell Blaine the good news? It’s great that Burt likes Blaine and is supportive of the relationship, but really? Dumb line, especially from such a terrific character, otherwise.
Watch Glee Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.