After a ton of hype, consensus among various outlets and the show itself was that last night's Glee was the best episode yet this season – and "Asian F" was, in fact, the best season three has offered so far. But we're only three episodes in, so let's be cautiously optimistic, especially since last week was not exactly ideal. After the Broadway-heavy "I Am Unicorn," we welcomed the return of pop music to the Glee sphere as the New Directions individually wrestled with what it means to fail:
Mercedes' boyfriend, Shane, seems to finally instill in her the confidence she's managed to gain and lose a hundred times since the show started. As her West Side Story audition for Maria approaches, he can't understand why she doesn't see herself as the star: "You say you're Beyoncé, but on the inside you're Effie White." She takes this to heart, literally, and auditions with a song by Jennifer Hudson, who won an Oscar for playing Effie in the Dreamgirls movie. The up-tempo R&B tune is a refreshing change from emotional ballads and power notes for Mercedes, who nails it and impresses everyone with her newfound confidence. The song serves as therapy for Mercedes, who sings it around an oblivious Rachel Berry and Mr. Schuester, with the help of Brittany and Tina on backing vocals. "I wanted you guys to see me the way I see myself now, as a leading lady," she tells the directing trio of Emma Pillsbury, Coach Bieste and Artie. It's enough to make Rachel worried.
"Run the World (Girls)"
Kurt's only remaining competitor for student council president is Brittany. Back to form after last week's confidence crisis, he gets ahead of himself and celebrates what he perceives to be a guaranteed win in the hallway with his bestie Rachel. But Brittany and Santana (who has redeclared her allegiance to the New Directions) pop up to show it's not a lock in. "Boys have made a mess in this school and there's only one way to clean it up," Brittany says, launching into Beyoncé's girl power anthem as she parades through the school in a dominatrix-style leather skirt and Cheerios uniform top. Brittany's vocals are nowhere near the power of Beyoncé's, but they're just fine for this performance, the real focus of which is the dancing. The spirited number gets all the girls dancing in the gym – even Rachel, much to Kurt's dismay – and serves as the rousing reminder that Brittany is still in the competition. "Hi, I'm Brittany S. Pierce and I'm your next senior class president," she says triumphantly at the end.
The episode name comes from the forbidden A- Mike earned in chemistry, prompting his father to question Mike's extra-curriculars and, in turn, causing Mike to debate auditioning for West Side Story. Instead of going to a chem tutor like he told his parents, Mike stays late practicing his dance moves, envisioning his father criticizing him and Tina encouraging him – until his mother shows up to tell him she doesn't want to get in the way of his dreams. It's another great Glee parenting moment that ends sweetly as Mike teaches his mom to dance and prepares to audition for Riff. The first MIke Chang solo ever on Glee is, quite literally, cool. He's got the smooth dance moves down (aided by Puck, Shane and several other football players according to a Coach Bieste mandate) but, most impressively, his slick vocals are on point, hitting nice rises and falls at certain moments but mostly staying "real cool," as the song calls for and winning over the directors.
"It's All Over"
After struggling through another mandatory Booty Camp session, Mercedes decides she's had enough with the New Directions and calls Mr. Schuester out on his Rachel Berry bias: "You give that skinny Garanimals-wearing ass-kisser everything. For two years I took it. Not anymore." She fully embraces her inner Effie White for a reimagined Dreamgirls number that inserts the New Directions drama into the lyrics of the song. It's on par with the best of Glee's Broadway songs in terms of plot relevancy and vocal arrangements (Kurt hits some killer high notes, Mercedes and Santana wail). It's also the first group showtune the New Directions have done (minus the noted absence of Rachel) and all we can say is: we want more. The song's title rings true, and Mercedes leaves the New Directions. But given that everyone always gets welcomed back, we are hesitant to believe that Mercedes' exit is permanent, even after Schuester tells her it is — but then she goes to join Shelby's struggling rival McKinley choir, so it seems like the move will last (for now, at least).
"Out Here on My Own"
Since they can't decide between Rachel and Mercedes for the role of Maria, the directors call for a diva-off. Rachel puts on a diva front, but inside she's scared and nervous, while Mercedes is just a diva. "Screw West Side Story," Puck says. "This is Clash of the Titans." It's a face-off a la Kurt and Rachel's "Defying Gravity," where the two performances are merged into one. Even though the directors claimed they were giving the girls a challenge by picking the song for them, the Fame ballad isn't really anything different for the show's two power vocalists. And, might we add, Maria isn't really a power vocalist kind of role. But we digress. The directors still can't make up their minds, so they offer to double cast the role and give each leading lady one week as Maria. Rachel accepts in the only way she knows how ("I'll have evening performances") but Mercedes flat-out refuses ("Why is everyone so afraid of being mean to [Rachel]?") and Rachel gets the role by default. She's also managed to ruin another friendship: panicked that she wouldn't get Maria and would thus have no extra curriculars to round out her NYADA application, she told Coach Bieste she'd run against Kurt and Brittany for president. Finn's pissed at her, too, leaving Rachel to once again face the consequences of her over-achieving actions.
Mr. Schuester decides he can't take his relationship with Miss Pillsbury seriously until he's met her parents, so he invites them over for dinner despite her protests. We discover the reason she didn't want them over is not because she was ashamed of Schuester, but that she was afraid of her ginger supremacist parents who nag her for her OCD. It's a traumatic scenario, and one that brings Schuester and Pillsbury closer. She tries to calm herself by praying, and he joins, but his prayer turns into Coldplay's "Fix You." Naturally. Though thematically appropriate, it's not Schuester's finest singing moment. Instead of watching the New Directions perform it we see a montage of everyone's reactions to the West Side Story casting: Rachel is Maria, Blaine is Tony (with Kurt's blessing), Mike is Riff and Santana is Anita. What happened to the rest of the roles? We'll never know – they don't make the list.
Bottom Line: Glee's own identity crisis of not knowing whether or not it's a sitcom has made it hard to get deeply invested in its characters. Whlie we should have felt the triumph and tragedy of last night's successes and betrayals in a much more connected way, we only had a surface-level reaction – who knows whether or not we'll see the consequences of this episode's events as the season goes on? The plus side is that Glee has shown great focus and restraint in the first three episodes, offering us hope that when the show returns next month (yes, there's a hiatus already thanks to baseball) we'll stay on the same course.