Doing five separate vignettes that come together at the end, reminiscent of Love, Actually, is a solid idea for an hour-long television Christmas episode. Sadly, Glee‘s attempt, “Glee, Actually,” falls short, not just because of the lack of a serious romance (other than for our favorite gays, on which we don’t get any real movement anyway), but because things don’t tie together in the end. Not that “Glee, Actually,” is a bad episode; it just doesn’t fulfill the mission statement given for the hour.
The first section goes to Artie (Kevin McHale). In what has pretty much become a Christmas tradition, Artie wishes he could walk. I don’t know why this comes up mainly around the holidays, but once more, it does. So what we get is a dream sequence in which Artie has always had the use of his legs.
I could spend much time picking apart the plot in this part of episode, especially concerning the status of certain other characters, but there’s no point, because the entire thing happens in Artie’s head. This isn’t what life would really been like had Artie not been in a wheelchair; it’s what Artie imagines it might be like. Of course, he is more important in his fictional version of the world than he is in reality, and his friends stay close by, instead of moving on with their lives.
Stylistically, it works pretty well. A segment called “Feliz Navidad” is a fun, if not overly exciting, piece, and the black and white It’s A Wonderful Life play looks good. Artie is still a somewhat annoying character, but the echoes of previous seasons, like Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) stuttering again and Terri (Jessalyn Gilsig) popping in, make it worth it. I love, love, love that Rory (Damian McGinty) is Artie’s guide, and wish that he would return to the series. Overall, I would rank the quality of this sequence right in the middle of the five presented.
Moving on, Burt (Mike O’Malley) pays a surprise visit to Kurt (Chris Colfer) in New York. At first, it just seems like a nice gift for his son, but Burt’s real motives are soon revealed; he has cancer. He thinks it’s been caught early, and he’ll be fine, but given the sappiness of the plot, and Burt’s past medical ailments, “Glee, Actually” kind of feels like a goodbye for the character. Not that he dies during the hour; that would ruin Christmas. But it would not be surprising if this plays out tragically in the near future.
Not only does Burt bring along his fun family traditions, but he also invites Blaine (Darren Criss) to join him. It seems that Burt, like most Glee fans, know that the two boys are meant to be together. He happily watches while they ice skate and sing “White Christmas,” providing a sweet winter portrait, and hope for the kids’ future after he’s gone. One gets the impression that Burt’s passing, and Blaine caring for him in the end, might actually be what pulls Kurt pack into Blaine’s arms. Though this remains to be seen.
Next come the two weakest parts of the episode. Don’t get me wrong; I am glad that Jake (Jacob Artist) and Noah (Mark Salling) have found real brothers in each other, even if the elder Puck looks every bit the actor’s 30 years, spoiling the close-in-age factor. The Breaksticks scene with their mothers (Hung‘s Gina Hecht and Aisha Tyler from Archer, Friends, 24, etc.) is satisfying, and the siblings perform “Oh Chanukah” from my favorite band, the Barenaked Ladies. Yet, the entire thing still leaves a little something to be desired, possibly because Salling’s acting is only so-so, more glaringly obvious now that he is placed side by side with Artist.
Then we get Sam (Chord Overstreet) and Brittany (Heather Morris) getting married because they think the world is going to end, per the Mayan calendar. Not only are we supposed to believe that these bimbos are already this much in love, but that they both fully think life is about to cease as we know it. And Sam chooses to celebrate that end with “Jingle Bell Rock.” Very cheesy.
Thankfully, Beiste (Dot-Marie Jones) intervenes and saves them from a legally binding union, thought not from days of teenage sex that they clearly have. This point actually isn’t too bad, since Sam is a former stripper, and Brittany is named the school slut early in the show’s run. But their arc stretches believability far too much, and should we suspend reality enough to buy them together, the two will still never be able to function in society, whether living in the TV universe or not. It just goes beyond the realm of what most people can accept. Things between the couple need to end right away, and Brittany can go back to being protected by a loving Santana (Naya Rivera). Until then, I’m glad that Beiste has her back.
Finally, there’s Sue (Jane Lynch) playing Santa Claus once more, this time to Marley (Melissa Benoist) and her mother, Millie (Trisha Rae Stahl). The Roses are quickly becoming favorite characters, and deserving of any help that they are given. Marley’s sweet rendition of “The First Noël” for her mother is emotionally moving, for viewers and for the cheerleading coach.
It may be expected for Sue’s heart to melt in late December, as this is far from a first-time occurrence, but it’s nice to see Marley and Millie be on the receiving end this year, benefiting from the thaw. Predictable story, yes, but done well enough to avoid feeling old and done to death.
The ending, with Marley getting some of her glee club friends to perform “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” for Sue, is mixed with characters at Breadsticks and in New York, which is supposed to be the unifying piece of “Glee, Actually.” Aside from the weirdness of Blaine singing at the dinner table while being ignored by Kurt and Burt, it comes across pretty well as a stand-alone number. It just doesn’t necessarily feel like a culmination of the different stories, but instead, a fairly standard number that could have been placed anywhere within the hour. Or in any other episode, for that matter.
The good news is, if “Glee, Actually” is as low as season four of Glee is destined to fall, this could still be the best season of the show since the first one. The bad news is, the weaknesses of this episode are also parts of larger arcs, which are taking this year’s stories in unwelcome directions.
Should you decide to buy the soundtrack for this episode, Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album Volume 3, you will get four additional tracks not included in the television program. I have no idea what they are for, if there is story behind them, or if they are just randomly recorded.
Glee will return in 2013, airing Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.