Two weeks after one of its best episodes, "The Rocky Horror Glee Show," Glee has returned with "Never Been Kissed," a disjointed hour of high highs and low lows — and the moment everyone will be talking about, the kiss between Kurt and football player Dave Karofsky. The boys cope with girlfriends who won't put out by picturing manly-looking football coach Bieste in compromising positions, Kurt copes with continued torture as McKinley's only openly gay student and Schuester tries to keep everyone happy. And how was it that the episode's best tune was sung by a rival glee club?
"One Love (People Get Ready)"
Puck is back from juvie and claims to have convinced his parole officer that his community service sentence will be fulfilled by helping Artie navigate McKinley's social waters. Artie tells Puck he wants to get Brittany back. This somehow translates to showing Artie it's okay to busk on school property while class is in session. The two sing a version of Bob Marleyís song that's so out of place it had us thinking a Jamaican tourism ad — but McKinleyís students drop their dough into Puck's guitar case. "Never underestimate the value of talent plus fear," Puck tells Artie. We beg to differ — and ask for Puck to go back to "Only the Good Die Young."
Mr. Schuester announces New Directions' competition for the upcoming Sectionals: a choir of elderly men and women getting their GEDs and the Warblers, from the all-boy Dalton Academy. Fed up with being ignored and tormented at McKinley, Kurt goes "undercover" at Dalton and befriends Blaine, the openly gay lead Warbler (Glee newcomer Darren Criss, who previously played Harry Potter in A Very Potter Musical). Blaine invites Kurt to an "impromptu" Warblers performance of "Teenage Dream," the best musical moment of the show, and for Kurt a vision of his own personal heaven, where glee club is the cool thing, homosexuality is tolerated and everyone is fashionable. The number, more understated than the over-the-top Vocal Adrenaline performances, recalls college a cappella arrangements. It even made Katy Perry's summertime hit new — and tolerable — again.
Blaine — rumored to be Kurt's first boyfriend — instead becomes Kurt's mentor, reminding him that prejudice is just ignorance, and encouraging him to have courage against his tormentors, even take the opportunity to educate them. Kurt takes this moment to heart, confronting the football player, Dave, who hounds him day in and out, in an emotionally-charged scene that should surely put Chris Colfer back on the Emmy ballot. It ends with Dave interrupting Kurt — and then kissing him. Once again, as in last month's "Duets" episode, Kurt provides a potent, poigant link to real-life headlines about gay students, pushing Glee past twisted camp and humor for lasting impact. Blaine helps Kurt, who has never been kissed, confront Dave again, but Dave brushes him off with typical football-player bravado.
"Start Me Up/Livin' on a Prayer"
Oh, ladies. Schuester brings back last year's boys vs. girls mash-up challenge and adds a twist: the girls must sing songs commonly sung by guys, and vice versa. Last year Schuester's ex-wife secretly fed the kids excess amounts of cold medicine, resulting in giddily amped up versions of "Halo/Walking on Sunshine" from the girls and "Confessions Part II/It's My Life" from the boys. This year, the New Directions were left to their own devices, which found Rachel taking lead on the Rolling Stones' hit and Mercedes owning the Bon Jovi classic, but the vocals were overwhelmed by hair, gyrations and studded leather. Though the song choices and costumes seemed a wink at the boys' sexual frustration, it felt a little too Miley and not enough Glee.
"Stop! In the Name of Love/Free Your Mind"
The boys of New Directions, who aren't getting satisfaction from their girlfriends, take to visualizing Coach Bieste to cool off. Sue tries to use this knowledge to get Bieste fired, while Schuester tries to hide the situation from the coach — but she finds out and almost quits. After venting about her love woes to Schuester ("I'm kind of a specific type — I've never been kissed"), he kisses her and has the glee club boys apologize. Their words are awkward ("Even though you're all hard and tough on the outside, doesn't mean you're not the opposite inside," says Finn. "Like a chocolate turtle," adds Puck) but the song, a hard-edged version of the Supremes' smooth hit and a rock-ish take on En Vogue, makes the point. The battle of the mash-ups is tough to call — sentimental (guys) and oversexed (girls), the songs could have done with more of last year's humor — but we give the win to the boys.
Glee's "Never Been Kissed" was much less high school rom-com than Drew Barrymore movie. Though Kurt's plotline continues to soar, and the one-liners are aces in the shadows (Mr. Schuester: "We're not tossing out the baby with the bathwater here. Brittany:"I"ve totally done that"), this episode tried to do too much — and we didn't even get to the weird abstinence-or-not debate below the current. Will Gwyneth Paltrow help when she takes on the role of substitute teacher, as illness takes over McKinley and the glee club covers "Umbrella"? We'll find out next week.