Glee went for the double dose last night, presenting two new episodes the week before its third season finale. Why make the penultimate week a two- hour special, and leave the finale a mere 60 minutes? Well, for one thing, the last episode will be paired with American Idol. And secondly, after an hour of high excitement Nationals competition, wouldn’t the softer toned goodbyes seem to drag on? Glee made the right decision.
To the episodes! The first, “Props,” opens with an understated Rachel (Lea Michele) performance of “I Won’t Give Up.” It’s a fantastic song, not in your face, that allows Michele to emit the pain and determination of this struggling diva-wannabe. Rachel becomes sympathetic in a way that she rarely is as she vows not to quit on her dreams. With this number, her NYADA future is sealed, even if there is no clear path for her to get into the school yet.
It really changes the tone of Glee to begin with a song like this. It adds some weight and heft to the episode, letting viewers know the show means serious business this week. It actually works really well.
A handful of supporting characters get their dues in “Props.” Most prominent is Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), who delivers a startling rant about being shoved into the background for three years, and threatens to quit the New Directions. She has a point, in that she is a founding member of the group who never gets her due. Then again, Tina is a boring character, and does not need any more plot. This episode will suffice nicely for covering the base. She cannot possibly be the lead next year. Please, no!
The best part of Tina’s story in “Props” is when she bumps her head. Suddenly, she is Rachel Berry. Better yet, Finn (Cory Monteith) has become Kurt and Puck (Mark Salling) is Blaine! In fact, all of the New Directions members, including its coaches, have switched bodies! This may be gimmicky, but it’s incredibly enjoyable. Some of the actors really capture the spirit of another character, while some fall a little flat. But any way you slice it, this is a brilliant move.
Of course, the whole ordeal has a purpose. After performing an acceptable, but not Rachel-level, quality “Because You Loved Me,” Tina comes to the conclusion that Rachel’s life is hard, too. To make up for her meanness earlier, Tina drives Rachel to confront Carmen Tibideaux (Whoopi Goldberg), who gives Rachel the appropriate smack down. But at least Tina believes in her! To celebrate, they duet “Flashdance… What a Feeling.”
But as central as Tina’s story is to “Props,” Bieste (Dot-Marie Jones) and Puck steal the show. Bieste struggles with her relationship, not finding the strength to leave Cooter (Eric Bruskotter), even though he continues to be abusive. Meanwhile, Puck is being bullied by hockey captain Rick ‘The Stick’ (Rock Anthony). Their plots come to a head as Bieste catches Puck pulling a (fake) knife on Rick.
This is a startling moment for Glee. Prop or not, there is no coming back from Puck with a knife. In this scene, it’s clear that Puck has no future. He will end up dead or worse. He has nothing left to lose, and has grown desperate. It mirrors the way Bieste feels, as she considers stabbing Cooter while doing the dishes. These two are on the brink of no return.
And then realization, in the form of Bieste, smacks them. Seeing her emotions reflected back at her startles Bieste enough to act. She gets Puck a make up test so that he might graduate, and she leaves her hubby in a moment of sheer strength and bravery. It’s a triumphant moment for her character and the series.
True, as a teacher, she should have reported Puck for the incident. And in reality, some student might have told, getting her in trouble, too. But for the purposes of this story, realism is unnecessary.
Jones and Salling deliver their best performances of the series in “Props.” This entire arc really hits every right note, telling a perfect story for two talented actors. Jones proves herself practically every time she gets on screen, but this is the first episode in a long time where Salling delivers. Their duet of “Mean,” as Glee must turn everything into song, is a wonderful capper. Give them a couple of awards, pronto!