Rachel Berry is gone; long live Rachel Berry! Glee returns for a fourth season, and as the episode title makes clear, it's time for "The New Rachel." But does that mean that Rachel (Lea Michele) must find herself in the strange new world of New York City? Or does it refer to the New Directions' lack of a star, as several long-time members seek to fill the glaring whole in their lineup? Both, actually.
At McKinley, the social balance has shifted, with the glee club seniors now allowed to sit at the same table with popular cheerleader Kitty (Becca Tobin) and a couple of jocks. Last spring's National Championship buys them this right, but turning mean will earn them the ability to keep it, which they do by picking on the very large new cafeteria lady (Trisha Rae Stahl) and making recent transfer, Wade (Alex Newell), hide his "Unique" personality.
But, of course, this is not in character for the singers. Their group is all about acceptance and being true to oneself. It doesn't take long at all for them to realize the error of their ways, with Kitty and company not only abandoning the lunch table, but also baptizing the new members in slushie. Balance has been restored at McKinley.
I like that Glee comes back and tackles one of the main themes right off the back in such a blatant way. In an episode that feels, most times, like an entirely different show, it provides a narrative through line, like Jacob Ben Israel's (Josh Sussman) opening, that promises some aspects of the series will not be lost. It's this continuity that makes the school stuff work.
However, in reality, the popular kids would not care that a glee club won a national title. While it is a huge, significant accomplishment, it is not a "cool" activity, and the cheerleaders and athletes would give it far less attention than Glee sees them do. The inclusion of the gleeks into a different clique, while brief, doesn't feel right for even a second. And why are there only three popular kids? They travel in much larger packs!
The humbling continues outside of the cafeteria. Four singers vie to replace Rachel as lead soloist; Blaine (Darren Criss), Wade / Unique, Brittany (Heather Morris), and Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) each think they have what it takes to be the star of the group. They name Artie (Kevin McHale) judge because, apparently, now his whole identity is wrapped up in directing. But the message of Glee is teamwork, and despite a wonderful competition performance of "Call My Maybe," which immediately reaffirms the show's musical chops, it is quickly apparent that no one can really replace Rachel. They realize that they need to worry more about the group and less about themselves.