It’s time, people. Filling us with equal parts excitement and trepidation, Glee premiered its fourth season last night, dividing focus, as promised, between Lima, Ohio and New York City. We’ve got a full recap for you below.
We drop straight in – no “here’s what you missed” – to Rachel’s first dance class at NYADA, where she’s being taught by the stern and ballsy Cassandra July (Kate Hudson.) Cassandra tells the class straight up that approximately two of them will actually make it in the entertainment business and that if they don’t all have body dysmorphia developing they’re not trying hard enough. Rachel – who’s about two feet shorter than ever other dancer in the class – rolls her eyes, unimpressed as Cassandra tells another girl that she needs to lose weight. When Rachel is singled out and criticised by the dance instructor, our little star tries to stay positive and takes what Cassandra dishes out to her, but is left with an overwhelming belief of Cassandra’s words to her – “You suck.”
Meanwhile, back in Lima, Jacob Ben-Israel films a video filling us in on the McKinley scoop – since winning Nationals, New Directions are a hot commodity. Artie’s been sitting with the Cheerios – “Well, I’m usually seen sitting,” (this joke the first of many that show quite a return to the absurdist, ‘should I laugh at this’ dark humour that made season one stand out to so many viewers) Sam’s signing autographs and doing impressions for a gaggle of fangirls, and Tina – after breaking up with Mike Chang because the distance was too hard – is confident, bitchy, and has a freshman as a personal assistant. “Wow! C U Next Tina!” Jacob exclaims, as Tina throws an unsatisfactory, non-organic banana at her terrified freshman’s feet. He approaches Blaine, Brittany, Artie and Tina admiring their Nationals trophy, and when he asks which one of them is going to be the new lead – the new Rachel, they all confidently reply “I am.”
Rachel finishes watching the McKinley vlog from her New York dorm as her room-mate has sex behind a curtain. Her inner monologue is upbeat and positive, but more introspective – the assumptive, arrogant girl has gone for now, and this Rachel is gentle, sweet, and a little lost, making the best of things as she misses Finn, Kurt and her dads. We learn that she hasn’t heard from Finn in two months, as she assumes he is giving her space. We see her going to take a 3am shower – she’d grown tired of people judging her extensive moisturizing routines – and in the co-ed bathrooms she meets Brody Weston (Dean Geyer), who seems to be a very nice, sensible naked young man with similar skincare habits. Brody, a junior in the musical theater course, discusses Cassandra’s teaching style and mentions without inflation, his time in a (failed) Broadway show. He gives Rachel a blunt and kind confidence boost and the way they talk to each other is brilliant – Rachel is truly without affectation and she’s so much more likable this way. Oh, and by the way – skincare and Broadway don’t maketh the sexuality. Brody’s straight.
Rachel recounts the interaction in a phone call to Kurt, and – despite the fact she’s been calling Kurt every three hours – makes out that she’s happy and doing brilliantly in all other aspects, including the dance class. Kurt himself is entering McKinley as he talks to Rachel, visiting Sue and her new baby daughter, Robin. He also meets Kitty (Becca Tobin), Sue’s new little Cheerio assistant, who is a nasty piece of work, but who somewhat truthfully points out the patheticness of Kurt’s situation – stuck in Ohio, about to start at Allen County Community College, lurking the halls of his old high school. Sue agrees with the sentiment, though with nowhere near the amount of venom she would have in the old days – I don’t think she has it in her to be mean to Kurt any more, however it seems that his life choices are kind of letting everyone who believes in him down.
At the first Glee rehearsal of the school year, Mr Schuester is sporting a very short and slick new haircut. This, combined with the fact he doesn’t say anything idiotic or offensive, make him instantly more tolerable. He assures his remaining members that, as Glee is the most popular club currently, they will soon build up the group again and that he believes in the talent of the current group and the new recruits to come. We see a quick flashback of Schuester posting an audition sheet and being caught in a mob of young students rushing to sign up. He then introduces the club to their newest member – Wade ‘Unique’ Adams, who – after the unsubtle hint at the end of last season – has transferred because he wanted to be somewhere where difference was celebrated. It’s actually quite sweet – Wade when he’s Wade has a really endearing insecurity – but New Directions, particularly Blaine and Tina, don’t look too impressed. They explain to Mr Schuester the dilemma over one of them becoming the New Rachel and he rightfully shuts the entire idea of competing amongst themselves down. You guys, it has been so long since I’ve been on Mr Schue’s side in an argument, but seriously. Blaine reluctantly allows Wade to sit next to him, and Wade goes into full Unique mode, saying confidently behind Schuester’s back that she would take the New Rachel role herself. The contenders – Blaine, Tina, Brittany and Unique – agree to duke it out, “Thunderdome style.” The group meets in the auditorium after school where they agree to a sing-off which Artie – despite him being one of the few stating he thought he was the new Rachel, in Jacob’s video – will judge. The number is to be “the song of the summer:” ‘Call Me Maybe.’
A moment really has to be taken here to address the insanity of this situation, and Blaine Anderson being involved in it. Yes, New Directions has been an incredibly competitive internal environment in the past. Rachel, Kurt, Mercedes and Santana particularly all had many moments of screwing each other over in order to get the spotlight. Artie and Brittany have both shown immense assumption and arrogance in the past as well. Tina has always silently seethed in her back row seat over Rachel taking the spotlight, and we had an entire episode, ‘Props,’ devoted to this. This is, on a whole, a group of people who, despite being underdogs, all think incredibly highly of themselves and have often viewed the Glee club as a place for themselves to get ahead individually. This acceptance of their newfound popularity isn’t shocking. This competitiveness isn’t shocking. These people have always loved themselves and now they’re just satisfied that others are loving them by shallow objective standards too. However – though he may be strong performer and a strong leader – it is a direct, written character trait of Blaine that he is NOT competitive, that he is very joyful about performing and very driven about doing a good job, but that he doesn’t have much ego as a diva. You saw it when he was accused of being ‘Blaine and the Pips.’ You saw it when Finn accused him of ‘ball-hogging.’ You saw it when he was planning on auditioning for West Side Story. And this is still a new school for him, he’s somewhat alone, and he’s so polite and so repressed, that what looks reasonable for all the others looks like complete backpedaling or disregard of canon character writing when it comes to him. Look, when the actual actor who plays the role mentions the inconsistency with not-very-well-hidden disdain in not one but two interviews – you know something’s a bit weird. Thankfully, this doesn’t appear to be something that will be ongoing, but if there was anything wrong with this episode – which was, on a whole, much better than Glee’s been in a while – it was this glaring Blaine issue.
The number was fun, but absolutely terrible for judging individual talent. Barely any lines were sung individually – there was mostly just harmonizing and the four of them physically pushing each other out of the way. Blaine asks Artie for his decision, which is not given. We then see Brittany and Blaine having coffee at the Lima Bean, where Kurt is their server. There appear to be no hard feelings between the McKinley pair as they discuss Santana – by the way, Heather Morris was intensely watchable in the number, in this scene, and later in the episode: we have high hopes for her as a main player this season – but they are less enthused when Kurt expresses his excitement for the Glee club auditions. He asks if it is pathetic that he’s more thrilled than them: Blaine kindly says ‘no,’ Brittany truthfully says ‘yes.’ Kurt is then called back to work by the demeaning Kitty, who wants a less-cold iced latte. It will be very interesting to see if that character ever gets any redemption – she’s no Quinn or Santana, that’s for sure. She’s worse.
Back in New York City, Cassandra is approached by her TA – her former TA, as the boy has just landed his first Broadway role in the flying monkey chorus of Wicked. Cassandra seems genuinely happy and proud of her ex-student, and recounts her first role – a dancing spoon, presumably Beauty and The Beast, at 17. As the boy leaves, though, Cassandra becomes thoughtful, dark and disheartened and adds some alcohol to the smoothie she’d been constructing while blasting some heavy music.
During lunch, Tina – her hair becoming more and more Rachel-like – demands Artie’s answer about the competition. He requests that she let him be, as his ‘genius needs its dream time.’ The group are then approached by a new face, Marley (Melissa Benoist), a young, awkward girl hoping to audition for the club. Marley is adorable and wears flat sneakers and flat caps with loose skirts and moves like a baby giraffe. I love her. Tina facetiously dismisses her, but Marley still seems hopeful. Wade joins the table, and Sam immediately warns him about wearing make-up at school, and he and Artie delve into a Game of Thrones metaphor in regards to the weak status of their popularity – they’re the Starks, the truly popular kids are Lannisters, and winter is coming. Wade – knocked instantly down from Unique levels of confidence to his sad, young state, goes to remove the makeup as the table is joined by Kitty and some jocks. The newcomers immediately start mocking the new lunch lady, who is overweight. They laugh at their own hilarity but all of Glee look very uncomfortable with the situation. Brittany says “maybe she has a medical condition… or swallowed someone with a medical condition.” She’s serious, but of course the jocks take this as her contributing to the joke, and she is at her sweetest and most likeable when she looks upset and confused by the jocks’ burst of laughter. One of the boys encourages Artie to join in, and unfortunately he does. Marley, at the next table, looks over sadly at this, and we immediately discover that the lunch lady is Marley’s mother as the pair meet after school in the kitchens. Marley’s mom is sewing a J. Crew label to a Goodwill cardigan in an attempt to give her daughter chances to fit in, and makes several other allowances such as suggesting that she meets Marley a couple of blocks away to drive home. This is somewhat heartbreaking as it all seems to be the mom’s idea – it isn’t Marley being like ‘don’t be seen with me,’ her mom is trying to protect her and offer her success and lack of stigma, and Marley doesn’t seem to be too comfortable with it.
NYADA dance class again, where Cassandra is casually insulting Rachel. Rachel does her best to genuinely answer Cassandra’s questions, but eventually demands to know why Cassandra is picking on her. When they’re in each other’s faces and Cassandra tiredly and loosely insists that she’s not – she’s just motivating Rachel – Rachel steps back. When Cassandra asks what is wrong, Rachel, somewhat shocked, says that Cassandra has alcohol on her breath. The whole class stops and hears this, and Cassandra gives Rachel a withering look, explaining that it’s Listerine. (pro tip, Rachel: it’s not Listerine.) Cassandra takes the opportunity to address the whole class, stating that though she’s no ingenue any more, that she can still dance better than anyone there, and proceeds to impress the class with a high energy song and dance number – a mash-up of Gaga’s ‘Americano’ and J.Lo’s ‘Dance Again.’ Rachel looks confronted, especially when, as the teacher finishes the number, she announces that Rachel is not only on Cassandra’s list – she IS her list – and walks out.
Auditions for New Directions begin in the auditorium, with the whole club in attendance and Kurt eagerly videotaping the proceedings. We begin with Brett – of ‘you smell homeless, Brett, homeless’ fame, though apparently due to the new 9pm timeslot we’re allowed to call him Stoner Brett now – does some terrible rapping, and a girl called D’wanda dances around to some dubstep. “Are there words to this song?” Blaine asks the group quietly. Everyone’s losing hope a bit when a young man who’s signed up only as Jake – no last name – takes the stage. Jake (Jacob Artist) looks like a cross between Taylor Lautner and Matt Who Never Spoke From Season 1, and he sings a beautiful piano ballad – ‘Never Say Never’ by The Fray. Sugar comments on how sexy he is, and Sam is annoyed at her claim – so it looks like Sam/Sugar may be in the works – but Unique backs up Sugar’s assessment. Schuester stops Jake about a verse and a chorus in – he’s obviously seen enough to make a positive decision – but Jake takes being cut off badly. He thinks he’s being insulted, and knocks over a music stand. Kurt calls him out, but Schuester more patiently asks him to simply pick up the equipment. Jake scoffs, does a little bow, and walks out.
In a beautiful set called the Round Room – a venue with perfect acoustics – Carmen Tibideaux (Whoopi Goldberg) is teaching her first vocal workshop of the year. She invites the freshmen to sing here – once today, and once if they’re invited to the winter showcase. The first student begins Ave Maria, but in the Round Room her vocal flaws are exposed and Carmen immediately cuts her from the course, asking her to reapply next semester. Rachel looks taken aback and Brody – the older students are there to see what they call the ‘freshman reaping,’ – advises her that it happens, sometimes. It’s then Rachel’s turn to sing in the Round Room.
She begins to sing ‘New York State Of Mind,’ written by Billy Joel and popularized, as she mentions, by Barbra Streisand. Marley begins to sing the same song in parallel for her Glee audition, and it’s interesting because everything about the girls is so different, stylistically and vocally. It’s like Rachel is singing Barbra’s version and Marley is singing Billy’s. Both audiences are impressed with their respective girls – Brody stands up to applaud Rachel awkwardly, but sits as Carmen stares at him judgmentally. She deems the performance ‘nice,’ and has no complaints with Rachel’s quality. At McKinley, Schuester is absolutely thrilled with Marley and the rest of the club are so threatened by her talent that they’re silent and dismissive.
The weekend passes, and on Monday Schuester posts the audition results. Marley’s in, and her joy is just so pure. She and Jake clock each other hovering around the list, and seem to take interest in one another. Jake checks the list after Marley departs. He’s not in, and he crumples the list in his fist. Apparently no one else – out of the pages and pages of sign-ups – gets in. In the choir room, Kurt is obsessively organising sheet music because he has no purpose in life and Tina is trying to bribe Artie into naming her the new Rachel. Wade comes in in full drag as Unique and Joe lightly reminds him that they’d agreed he would only wear drag onstage. Kurt interrupts them all, reminding them that this club used to be about diversity – fair enough – and then laughably, asks “since when was it all about who’s the biggest star?” Thankfully, Tina retorts to this: “since day one – you and Rachel fought over solos for three years” before I can pick my jaw up off of the floor and start yelling at the television, because holy hypocrisy, Batman. The group once again demands that Artie announce his New Rachel choice, and it’s Blaine. (A very odd choice based off of the ‘Call Me Maybe’ performance, where Blaine mostly performed tenor harmonies to Unique’s full melody, but Artie mentioned an online poll, perhaps lampshading the enormous sector of fandom living a Darren Criss Appreciation Life. Darren Criss: “I don’t particularly remember doing a great job in that number.”) This choice-making is even more questionable considering that Artie’s second choice was Brittany – since when has the vocal hierarchy in that club gone 1) Rachel, 2) Blaine, 3) Brittany? Anyway, that’s Artie’s pick as Schuester comes in with Marley, and Blaine – the de facto leader – welcomes her kindly on behalf of everyone. The socially awkward Marley recounts the experience to her mom as she helps out in the kitchen, sharing her disbeliving happiness. However, Marley is troubled about the students making fun of her mother, and doesn’t want to lie about their relationship. Mrs Rose encourages her to continue not acknowledging it, reminding her daughter that at their last school, Marley had had no friends due to the situation.
Kurt sits with Blaine in the outdoor courtyard, discussing Blaine’s appointment as the new Rachel. He offers his boyfriend some advice about making everyone feel included, which Blaine takes in stride, and then comes the crux of the conversation – Blaine’s advice to Kurt, which is that Kurt can’t be here – at the school, in Lima – any more. Blaine can’t stand to see Kurt holding himself back, and performs Imagine Dragons’ ‘It’s Time’ complete with jump rope routines and a sort of cup-drumming percussion bit. It’s quite cute, but far and away the best bit is at the start, when Kurt realises that Blaine had set the whole thing up, and he kind of puts his face in his hands as Blaine screws up his face and points to the hidden band, silently saying “yeah, this is happening again, sorry.” It’s all very nice, and bizarrely light, rational and calm – Kurt and Blaine both have a lot of acceptance of this situation, as opposed to the last time they hugged goodbye in the same courtyard, during ‘Somewhere Only We Know.’
Another lunch – presumably the next day, I can never work out how many days a Glee episode goes for, but Blaine is wearing a new shirt and trying to convince Brittany that she needs to sing in the club even if she’s not the lead. “I had a song in my heart, Blaine Warbler, and you killed it.” This back-and-forth goes on awhile until new lunchmate Kitty gets bored and starts discussing homecoming floats. Aside from including the nastiest, most casual bit of intense racism from a character on this show, the jokes turn to the new lunch lady again, this time with Sugar joining in. Marley snaps and calls out their behaviour, and when Kitty asks why Marley cares, she admits that the lunch lady is her mother. The whole club looks taken aback and guilty – the ones who hadn’t been involved, including Sam, look outright angry at the others as Marley leaves the group.
Rachel sits the beautiful, instantly recognizable Washington Square Park as she looks at photos of Finn on her phone. Brody finds her there and asks some questions about Finn and her old life, before congratulating her on her success in the Round Room performance. Rachel begins to open up about how she hadn’t felt anything was going right except at the moment she was singing that song, and Brody advises her about what it’s like to feel uncomfortable while going through change – that it’s why she came to NYC, to become this new Rachel – look at that, duality in the episode title! He tells her not to fight it, and to make new memories to go with the old. The new friends take a picture together in the park and Brody walks Rachel to Cassandra’s class. Despite Cassandra’s disdain that the class is not yet at Black Swan levels of psychosis – they’ve had a whole week, after all – Rachel seems to do better in the class today. Cassandra has her repeat some movements and comments on the improvement, and Rachel summons some courage and tells her teacher that she will keep improving until she’s the best Cassandra has ever seen. Cassandra seems to like Rachel’s attitude, but twists the compliment around to say that Rachel’s spirit will make it all the more fun when Cassandra makes Rachel’s life hell.
Kurt, meanwhile, is being dropped at the airport by his father. He’s sold his car, so he has enough money to set up in a motel in New York until he finds a job and living situation. Look, it’s a Kurt and Burt scene – you probably know roughly what to expect. But Burt makes a particularly brilliant point – that Kurt will do better in NYC than in Lima because all the crap that happened to Kurt in Lima is likely to be much worse than anything that could happen to him in New York. In New York, differences are embraced and people like Kurt feel at home. So Kurt, apparently only taking one hand-satchel in luggage, enters the airport to board his flight while his father starts to cry.
Back at school, Sam approaches Marley to apologise on behalf of the New Directions, commiserating with her about having things at home being rough, and as they start to connect, the whole club comes up and joins in the apology for their behaviour. They convince her to stay in the club and sing lead vocals on a number they’re working on, and Marley expresses that she’s still uncomfortable about sitting with Kitty and her jock friends. Kitty conveniently overhears this and says that won’t be a problem – they’d lowered themselves enough to sit with the Glee club – doling out some of the worst and most offensive insults this show has ever seen, about individual members – but that the invitation was not extended to “pre-op Precious, based on the novel Barf by Sapphire” (Unique) and to Marley herself. Blaine states on behalf of everyone that they are not in Kitty’s crew, and the jocks welcome Marley and Unique to the Glee club ranks with a slushie to the face each.
Schuester calls Just Jake into his office to discuss his audition. Jake breaks into a rant about how he’d spent three nights perfecting his work on the song and how Schuester didn’t even let him finish. Schue explains that when performing infront of people, the audience may react certain ways – was Jake going to throw things at those people? Jake says he has a right to be angry – that Schuester doesn’t know his life – and Schue reveals that he knew Jake’s brother – his surname, Schue reads from Jake’s file, is Puckerman. Jake reveals that they’re half brothers (doesn’t take a genius – Jake is mixed race and Noah is not) and that Puck doesn’t know of Jake’s existance. Jake now assumes that since Schue knows the connection, he’s deemed Jake good enough for the club, which angers him further. Schuester explains that no, he’d wanted Jake in ND as soon as he got out a couple of lines of the song – that’s why he stopped him. Schuester does go on to say how much Glee helped Noah and how it could help Jake if he made an effort to lose the attitude. Jake genuinely touched and vulnerable when Will tells him how good his performance was, but shows stubbornness and says he won’t lose the chip on his shoulder to sing for Will. He leaves the office.
In the auditorium the nine members of New Directions 2012-2013 rehearse (actually rehearse, like with Will showing them movements and formations etc – oh my god, REVOLUNTIONARY) Adele’s Chasing Pavements, with Marley singing lead vocals. Jake watches from the back of the auditorium with some longing, but steels his resolve and leaves again. As the song continues, we cut to Rachel, back in Washington Square Park as she calls Kurt, crying. She reveals to him that her positivity had been a lie and that she isn’t coping. He tells her to turn around, and she sees him across the other side of the fountain from her, looking insecure himself. They run to each other and re-unite in tearful joy, the actual best OTP on this show. Welcome back, new and improved Glee!
New Directions Headcount: Tina, Artie, Brittany, Sam, Sugar, Blaine, Joe, Unique, Marley.
Absent Regulars: Finn, Santana, Puck, Quinn, Mercedes, Mike, Emma, Beiste
What did you think of last night’s Glee?