Spoilers for last night’s Glee follow:
“Born This Way” was something different for Glee: a 90-minute episode (even if a lot of that extra time was for commercials). And in another it was something absolutely ordinary for Glee: a return to its default theme of difference and acceptance. The former fact made the episode a little weird and overextended to fill out space, like an old house with a few too many additions built on. But the latter made it a pretty satisfying, if not first-class, return to roots for the show.
Yes, Glee has been about being an outsider and not accepted ever since it began. But focusing this episode on self-acceptance—Rachel’s Jewishness, Karofsky’s gayness, Emma’s OCD—was an interesting variation on the theme, and it kept what can be a flighty, easily-distracted show focused on core character issues: Glee may play its characters’ quirks and insecurities for laughs, but at heart they all mean something and have actual stakes. Maybe the best example of this in the episode was Santana’s storyline. Sure, maybe “self-acceptance” for her means accepting that she’s a “straight-up bitch,” but this season has done a good job (with a strong performance by Naya Rivera) of making her into a believably human bitch, who’s self-aware and has reasons for her behavior besides creating plot complications for other characters.
Santana’s story tied directly into the return of Kurt, which likewise played to the show’s emotional realism though it too felt distorted by the 90-minute run time. It more or less felt like the writers inserted a Kurt mini-episode halfway through “Born This Way” to fill out time, complete with one last out-of-nowhere Warblers performance. (Seriously, those guys pop up like Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition. Nobody expects the Dalton Warblers!) But his return also showed Glee following through with its bullying storyline and its continuing repercussions; whatever the failings of this season, the producers deserve credit for giving the storyline time and not resolving it in three or four episodes. Credit too for Emma’s confronting her OCD in therapy, demonstrating that simply learning to love and accept yourself is not a magic solution.
The hour-and-a-half was too uneven to be a top-tier Glee. Quinn’s secret-past subplot teetered weirdly between emotion and ridiculousness (granted, some of Glee’s best moments teeter there, but better), while the mall flash-mob scene recalled the superior “Safety Dance” the show already did last year, and felt both like a pat ending to Rachel’s nosejob conflict and further padding. (Then they dance! For three minutes! And Rachel feels good about herself again!)
Still, a pretty solid hour of Glee—you just had to look for it within 90 minutes of Glee.
Quick hail of bullets:
* “I’m not ready to start eating jicama or get a flattop yet.”
* “Isn’t that [LEBANESE t-shirt] supposed to be ‘LESBIAN’?” “Yeah. Isn’t that what it says?”
* “I think you are an expert at deflection.” “Is that a new shirt?”
* Congratulations again to Mike O’Malley for traveling from alternate-universe-realistic-drama Glee and selling Burt’s outrage at the meeting with Figgins and the Karofsky family.
* “A Latina Eve Harrington. [pause] OK, if you’re going to be gay, you simply must know who that is.”