'Glee' Recap: 'The First Time' Tries Too Hard

Performances overshadowed by heavy-handed plot in sex-centric episode

glee rachel blaine
Adam Rose/FOX
Blaine (Darren Criss) and Rachel (Lea Michele) perform in 'West Side Story' on 'Glee.'
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Does anyone remember the season one Madonna episode of Glee, which featured a "will they or won't they?" sex montage set to "Like a Virgin"? We know Rachel Berry does, because she referred to it during last night's episode, but we're not sure the same goes for anyone else. Last night's "The First Time" had all the makings of a Very Important Glee Episode, but instead of a nuanced lesson about self-acceptance punctuated by well-placed music and smart dialogue (and yes, ultimately, sex), we got a heavy-handed schooling in waiting for the right moment set against the forced timeline of McKinley High's West Side Story production.

It should be mentioned that Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Chris Colfer and Darren Criss (in the respective roles of Rachel, Finn, Kurt and Blaine) were genuine and relatable in their parts. But as a whole, the episode felt like a rinse-wash-repeat of the Madonna tribute with different results and a different soundtrack. Speaking of soundtracks...

"Tonight"
Rachel and Blaine are in the middle of delivering a very sweet, yet very vanilla rendition of "Tonight" as Maria and Tony as they rehearse for West Side Story (also, it's just before opening and you're still using a script?). Director Artie stops them, and scolds them for not embracing the "sexual awakening" that West Side Story is truly about (erm, OK). He goes so far as to question their virginity, which sends Miss Pillsbury and Coach Bieste scurrying out of the room and leaves Rachel and Blaine with (obviously) no choice but to lose their virginity by the show's opening night later that week so as to be able to properly embrace the show's themes.

"Uptown Girl"
Blaine heads back to Dalton to present the Warblers with tickets to opening night and walks in on them singing a little Billy Joel in a set-up that involves a bizarrely placed sexy librarian. Their choreography is as charming as ever, but the two new lead singers (apparently it takes two male vocalists to replace one departed Blaine) are grating and over-the-top throughout most of the number. We learn lead singer number two is Sebastian, who started at Dalton after Blaine left and has wanted nothing more than to meet his idol. Instead of a geeky superfan, Sebastian is doing his best to channel Gossip Girl's Chuck Bass: "I don't know who this Blaine guy is but apparently he's sex on a stick and sings like a dream," he tells Blaine of his previous notions.

"A Boy Like That"
Shots of Rachel and Santana (as Anita) rehearsing this song are spliced into Blaine and Rachel's conflict of taking it to the next level with their respective boys. Santana sings Anita's cautionary tale against Maria's relationship with Tony as Sebastian is tempting Blaine. Blaine shows self-restraint, though he later wonders to Kurt if they're too sheltered as artists. Later, Kurt conveniently shows up when Blaine and Sebastian are grabbing coffee, and Sebastian invites Kurt and Blaine and their fake IDs to Scandals, the local gay bar. Blaine's earlier comments lead Kurt to accept Sebastian's offer. Though fitting as a warning against Sebastian, Santana's part of the song is not nearly angry or urgent enough and sounds like a watered-down version of what Santana is capable of.

Meanwhile, Rachel invites herself over to Finn's when he's home alone. The two of them seem poised to have sex until his insistent worries over her being OK with this decision ("Last time we talked about it, you said you wanted to wait until you had a Tony") lead her to reveal her true motive: accurately playing Maria. Despite being "a house divided," Rachel gathers Tina, Quinn, Brittany and Santana (Mercedes is noticably absent) to get their take on losing virginity. Everyone but Tina advises her to wait, citing their own experiences (Brittany: "I lost my virginity at cheerleading camp, he just climbed into my tent – alien invasion"). But Tina says doing it with her first love, Mike, at the right moment "was amazing." Rachel-as-Maria sings her half of the WSS song as Tina talks, and Rachel delivers the best vocals of the night with her powerful, yet incredibly high soprano that sounds effortless despite being out of her normal range.

"America"
It's opening night and time for the cast to thank Artie for his directing work, which leads to a thank you speech recounting how, as a kid in a wheelchair, he had confidence issues and trouble fitting in but they've helped him overcome it. Let's make this clear: it's a valid and heartwarming point, but is awkwardly slotted in since the rehearsal process has ignored any of Artie's issues up to this moment. Puck-as-Bernardo, Santana-as-Anita and Tina-as-Rosalita lead the ensemble in "America" with questionable accents but infectious spirit and dance moves. Everyone is proud of them, including Mr. Schuester who literally has one line in this entire episode (and apparently Sue was too busy campaigning to try for a last-minute shutdown).

"One Hand One Heart"
While Blaine got drunk at Scandals and danced with Sebastian, Kurt ran into Karovsky, who is in much better spirits at his new school and among men who flock to him for being a bear cub, and who inspires Kurt to take baby steps in improving his own life. Later, as Kurt escorts a drunk Blaine to his car, Blaine tries to initiate sex and Kurt – in a very faithful and honest scene – tells him the time isn't right and a fight ensues.

After opening night, Kurt goes to apologize to Blaine as Rachel goes to apologize to Finn ("I was lost and stupid and immature and probably not for the last time lost in my ambition," she says believably). As Blaine-as-Tony and Rachel-as-Maria sing a tender ode to love on stage, Blaine and Kurt, and Rachel and Finn actually have sex. We'll give credit where credit is due and say the final scenes actually wound up truthful to these characters, even if the circumstances were not.

Meanwhile... There were lots of Very Serious extraneous plotlines last night that seemed tossed in for the heck of it: Mike's dad shows up last-minute and threatens to disown Mike for performing in the school play against his wishes. Mike tells him to go for it. Ohio State University football coach Cooter Menkins is coming to recruit during the big game that week, but goes after Shane instead of Finn, leaving Finn destroyed over losing his last shot at a way out of Lima. Artie also awkwardly and inappropriately intervenes on Coach Bieste's sex life and gets Cooter to ask her out once more (Bieste had previously rejected him). And, if we're going for a rinse-wash-repeat moment, why did we not talk about whether Miss Pillsbury and Mr. Schuester have had sex yet?

Bottom Line: Any impact "The First Time" had was because it told us it had impact, not because it incited any emotional reaction from viewers. The epsiode was clinical and awkward, and the second flatline for Glee in as many weeks.

Last Episode: 'Glee Project' Winner Debuts in Flatline Episode

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