Glee aired a brand new episode on Thanksgiving entitled “Puppet Master.” It’s odd that a series would present fresh programming on a major national holiday, but since that is the case, I guess it’s appropriate that the episode was trippy and surreal. Those tuning in with a full belly of turkey will be forgiven for thinking that the weird story had something to do with their food-induced haze. It did not.
In “Puppet Master,” Kurt (Chris Colfer) is excited to book Pamela Lansbury’s first gig. It’s at a Broadway bar, though, and they are a Madonna cover band, so his band mates aren’t so excited, arguing that this is a bad place to launch themselves. Kurt has other ideas, imagining a packed crowd as he, Rachel (Lea Michele), Santana (Naya Rivera), Starchild (Adam Lambert), and Dani (Demi Lovato) perform a rousing “Into the Groove,” much to audience’s delight.
This is just a dream. In fact, only on person shows up to the actual show. But it’s someone who has a connection, and the performance (which, unlike the dream sequence, we don’t see) is enough to earn them a second booking at much more appropriate venue.
Interestingly, Dani is in the back when the band plays, and is barely in the episode, sitting out more scenes that the other four are in. I wonder if it has to do with Lovato’s availability. Otherwise, it’s annoying to sideline someone who should be a part of the plot, much as the Ohio-based stories so often do.
Kurt is the “Puppet Master” of the group since he’s the one in charge. The others do what he tells them to, and they let him have the final say. This does tie into the title and theme of the overall hour OK, just perhaps not quite as strongly as other subplots.
It’s odd when Glee chooses to show Kurt’s inner vision. It’s not that the show hasn’t done something like this before; in fact, many of the musical numbers seem enhanced by fantasy, not quite realistic. This one just feels different, more out of place.
In fact, this label applies to just about every song in “Puppet Master.” Three of the four McKinley numbers are gas-induced hallucinations. I guess that’s why “Into the Groove” is off. There is no gas leak in New York, so why is a character there experiencing something very similar to what his former classmates are seeing in Ohio?
Even stranger is Blaine’s (Darren Criss) story, in which he suddenly gets bossy, is rejected by his friends, and retreats into the world of puppets. He first sees his classmates in felt form singing “You’re My Best Friend.” Then Blaine builds a Kurt puppet to talk to, and later, constructs versions of the rest of the cast, all exactly matching the ones in his mind.
I really enjoyed the puppet versions of Sam (Chord Overstreet), Will (Matthew Morrison), and the others, and the closing number of the episode, “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)” is fun, split between Lima and NYC. However, forcing the connections between the two settings feels just that – forced – and it doesn’t exactly make for the best or most cohesive story.
Blaine has been part of the New Directions’ leadership, but he’s never been one to really try to take over. As such, this “Puppet Master” arc comes out of nowhere. I absolutely get that a kid could be having a rough time and speak up to try to assert some form of control, which is what Blaine seems to be going through. What’s weird is that everyone else acts like this is how Blaine normally is, which just isn’t true. And Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) quickly forgives him for his creepy interactions with Puppet Tina, who is, for some reason, wearing the exact same clothes as Tina when she finds her.
Perhaps my favorite part of Blaine’s bit is Blaine’s conversation with Brad (Brad Ellis), the piano player. Five seasons in, Brad has appeared in dozens of episodes, but has never had a line of dialogue that I can recall. In “Puppet Master,” he has several. They could be part of Blaine’s imagination, but whether they are or not, the meta feeling one gets seeing Blaine ignore Brad who deserves a little attention, which can be construed as a commentary on Brad’s overall role in Glee, is great.
Jake (Jacob Artist) also has visions. Continuing his recent thread, he wants to get back with Marley (Melissa Benoist), who resits. After a pregnancy scare with Bree (Erinn Westbrook), Jake imagines himself and the two ladies doing a mash up of “Nasty” and “Rhythm Nation,” complete with many female dancers. It’s a pretty enjoyable number, referencing Janet Jackson and her work, which seems a good fit for Jake’s character.
If Jake wants Marley back, he has to get over his pride. I feel like the player persona he gives off is purely a coping mechanism that he reverts to when rejected. But it’s exactly this side of himself that is so unattractive. Now that he’s lost his main plaything, Bree, despite that fact that he claims to be sleeping with the rest of the squad, too, maybe it will be a wake up call for him. He desperately needs one.
Sue (Jane Lynch) has her own rude awakening when Superintendent Harris (Christopher Cousins, Breaking Bad), whom she’s been flirting with, thinks she’s a dude. Sue doesn’t take it well, and tries to find her femininity (with a little help from Unique (Alex Newell)). Her own brush with the poison gas has her dancing with Will to “Cheek to Cheek,” but whether in a dream or reality, she doesn’t quite find herself comfortable or able to pull off a traditional lady look.
Let’s be honest, one would have to be blind to think Sue is a man. Even in her track suits, there is definitely something woman-ish about her. Whether she conforms to stereotypes or not, her gender is not something that anyone has ever questioned, nor could they. The whole thing with Harris is dumb, even if it’s great to get a little bit of vulnerable Sue and a fantastic flashback to her first donning of the current look.
It turns out, the gas leak is a ploy by Figgins (Iqbal Theba) to wrest his office back. This is completely unacceptable. No matter how much Sue deserves to be de-throned, any halfway decent principal would never do anything that poses a danger to the students, and that exactly what Figgins does in “Pupper Master.” He proves himself unfit as principal, and even as a janitor. Sue can’t prove anything, and I assume she doesn’t try because she realizes this. And, admittedly, the episode doesn’t explicitly name Figgins as the cause of the leak, however, it seems to be implied. Because of this, the story is infuriating.
To be honest, in the end, it seems like Glee had the opportunity to have puppets made of most of its key cast members (a trend other shows, such as Angel and Community, have already done better), and decided to come up with, at the last minute, a quick story that made use of them. Perhaps that’s why the installment is sloppy and a bit of a train wreck. Some large plots do get a little screen time, and the musical numbers aren’t all bad. Yet, this episode is not good by almost any general measure. Maybe they’ll do better with Christmas next week?
Glee airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.