Mr. Schuester's booty camp to get the New Directions prepped for Nationals goes south when two-left-feet Finn breaks Rachel's nose — but it, plus Emma Pillsbury's ongoing OCD issues, inspires this week's "acceptance" theme after Rachel considers a nose job, so all is OK. The New Directions are tasked with singing songs that reflect their struggle with self-acceptance. Though over-the-top obvious in some points and referential to season one in others, "Born This Way" gave us the charm, wit and just-zany-enough-to-be-plausible plot lines we were sorely missing after last week's predictable "Night of Neglect." Even better: the episode didn't feel as long as the 90 minutes it clocked in at. Here's how the music broke down:
"I Feel Pretty/Unpretty":
Rachel's doctor suggests a nose job as both a rite of passage for young Jewish girls and a possible tool to help her reach those Barbra Streisand-level notes. Despite the protests of the New Directions (Puck: "Your nose has been passed down from generation to generation. It's a sign of our people!"), she brings along homecoming queen lead contender Quinn as her nose-piration. In a Glee-friendly recreation of TLC's body image-based video, Rachel and Quinn meet in the middle to reflect on their own perceptions. It's a poignant moment, and the inclusion of West Side Story's "I Feel Pretty" makes for a great pop/theater mash-up that reminds us of what Glee is at its heart. Later finding out that Quinn's former self is 70-pounds-heavier, glasses-wearing brunette Lucy Q. Fabray only adds to the effect.
"I've Gotta Be Me":
And now for something different: In a song remniscent of Tina and Mike's "Sing!" from "Duets," Finn recruits Mike to emphasize his source of low self-esteem: no dancing skills. In theory it's charming — and there are definitely moments of the "I can dance/You can't dance" exchange that were enjoyable — but we couldn't ever imagine this song as something Finn would have voluntarily picked.
"Somewhere Only We Know":
Follow this: Santana wants Brittany back and she realizes that to do that, she needs to win homecoming queen. To win homecoming queen, the glee club needs to do well at nationals. To do well at nationals, they need Kurt back. And to get Kurt back to McKinley, Dave Karofsky needs to be removed as a threat. Santana's gaydar picks up on Karofsky's secret, so she blackmails him into creating a faux couple, forming the anti-bully squad Bully Whips and apologizing to the New Directions, and most important, to Kurt. In the name of brevity, the sexual politics going on here is, in a word, bonkers.
After a summit among Kurt, Karofsky, their dads, Schuester and Figgins in which Kurt tells Karofsky he is "both repulsed and impressed by his Lady MacBethian ways," Kurt is cleared to return. As a fond farewell, Blaine and the Warblers (plus some random instruments like a grand piano) sing to Kurt in the McKinley steps. While the rest of the Warblers maintain their stoic facade, Blaine shows enough emotion to make this bittersweet Keane tune a simple, yet powerful, performance. Kurt whispers, "I'll never say good-bye to you," as he and Blaine hug farewell, so it's not the end of our favorite union — yet.
"As If We Never Said Goodbye":
In a fitting return to McKinley, Kurt sings the Sunset Boulevard song of renewed hope as he gets reacquainted with his surroundings. Just as the New Directions missed Kurt, we missed his diva moments. It's a sweeter moment than last season's "Rose's Turn," but the high notes and big vocals are still there. Welcome back, Kurt.
Puck brings Rachel to the mall, where he passes her off to Kurt for an intervention of her nose job plans, complete with Barbra Streisand reference ("Is she here?!" "No, this is a mall in Ohio."). Cue "Barbra Streisand," the dance song/viral video hit by Duck Sauce (dj/production duo A-Trak and Armand Van Helden) as performed by a goofy, jubilant flash mob of New Directions and random mall-goers. There's no singing from the New Directions involved, but it's the episode's most fun moment and beats out last year's "Safety Dance" for Glee numbers done in a mall. Icing on the cake: Rachel doesn't get the nose job.
"Born This Way":
In a bare bones, yet still just-as-spirited version of the "Bad Romance" production from the Lady Gaga episode, the New Directions perform Gaga's first single from her upcoming album of the same name. The vocals are Gaga-tuned, so we can't really judge the singing abilities of Mercedes, Tina, Kurt and everyone else.
What we can applaud is the "flaw" each person was born with that they've come to accept and shared with a mix of humor and reulctance on their basic white t-shirts: "Butt Chin" (Mr. Schuester), "OCD" (Ms. Pillsbury), "Likes Boys" (Kurt), "No Weave" (Mercedes), "Nose" (Rachel), "Can't Sing" (Mike), "Four Eyes" (Artie), "Trouty Mouth" (Sam), "Brown Eyes" (Tina), "Lucy Caboose" (Quinn), "I'm With Stupid" (Brittany), "I'm With Stupid" (Puck), "Can't Dance" (Finn). Santana opts out of the performance, though she eventually does sport the shirt Brittany lovingly made for her: "Lebanese" (translation: "Lesbian").
Bottom Line: More of this, please.
Next Week: Gossip, scandal, cheating and the return of Kristin Chenoweth's April Rhodes. Plus: Sue Sylvester dresses like David Bowie. And somehow (we hope) it'll all make sense.