The follow-up to last week's strong season three premiere is "I Am Unicorn," an episode light on pop and whimsy and heavy on drama and Broadway. Points to Team Glee for plot continuity, a problem point in season two. But the trade-off, at least last night, was a heavy-handed episode that found Kurt and Quinn going through epic inner crises only to magically resolve them by the end of the show. Such is the power of the unicorn, we guess.
Mr. Schuester announces sweeping changes in his inspired fight to win Nationals: he's implementing a mandatory after school Booty Camp for New Directions that need help with their dance moves, and he's stepping down as director of the school musical. His replacements are Miss Pillsbuy and Coach Bieste, with student help from Artie. Last night also saw the return of Idina Menzel's Shelby, recruited by Al Matta and a hefty donation to make Sugar the star of a second McKinley choir.
Shelby is the voice of the reason in the episode, and tries to make peace with Rachel, who is prepping her West Side Story audition. Their reunion is set like their parting last season: singing over a piano. But instead of Lady Gaga, the mother-daughter diva duo tackle Tony and Maria. "I almost had to go to therapy because of you," Rachel tells her mom. Shelby focuses on the audition at hand, pushing Rachel to cover the Tony/Maria duet that dreams of a better tomorrow for the pair. "You will never become a star or get the lead if you play it safe," she says. Rachel launches into the song, inviting Shelby to join for the ballad, which comes off like a Lite FM snooze that does nothing to showcase these Broadway belters in a new and exciting way. Yes they hit the power notes, and yes the song actually makes total sense in the context of this episode – but for once we want more whimsy in our Glee musical selections.
"I'm the Greatest Star":
Meanwhile, Brittany volunteers to manage Kurt's campaign for student council president because he is "the biggest unicorn of them all." After a very Brittany-esque explanation involving ponies pooping cotton candy, we find out that a unicorn is somebody who knows they're magical and isn't afraid to show it. Her approach is to steer the campaign like a mini gay pride parade, including pink sequinned goodie bags that come with a mini purple Teletubby, a rainbow flag and tiny ruby slippers. She tells him, "99% of the kids at this school are freaks or closet freaks," but he's not having it and wants something more toned down.
But Kurt can't escape who he is, and his natural instinct for his Tony audition is to sing the "seminal and semi-autobiographical" Funny Girl tune, "I'm the Greatest Star" (for those playing along at home, we're two for two with Streisand songs in episodes this season). He has written permission from Rachel and audition scaffolding from his dad, and turns out an impressive physical performance that involves sword tricks – but no one can figure out why that's his audition for Tony. And if we're going to go with Kurt doing a Broadway diva performance, we'd still go back to the show-stopping "Kurt's Turn." In some ways it feels like this performance took us back there, with Kurt vying for the lead – except now he's the only one standing in his way.
Blaine auditions for West Side Story with Tony's optimistic solo, even though he's auditioning for every male lead but Tony out of respect to Kurt. And he kills it with an effortless, powerful performance that reminds us of Blaine's true frontman charisma. It's the winning musical number of the episode. Kurt watches from the shadows, having finally come to peace with his true identity after a failed attempt at overt masculinity (cold-reading Romeo and Juliet lines with Rachel in full Shakspearean garb) and a Burt Hummel pep talk (another all-star Mike O'Malley cameo that includes this gem: "You’re gay. And not you’re not like Rock Hudson gay, you’re really gay. You sing like Diana Ross and you dress like you own a magic chocolate factory... What is wrong with any of that? It’s who you are."). But when Artie asks Blaine if he'll audition for Tony, we sense trouble in paradise. We get that this feels true to the dilemmas Blaine and Kurt would go through, but this also feels like an unwelcome visit back to the 2010 Newsweek fracas regarding whether or not gay actors can play straight.
Sue recruits Quinn to star in her campaign movie about a girl whose life was destroyed by the arts. During filming, Quinn confronts Mr. Schuester, who calls her out for sabotaging "the same glee club that's always been there for you... You stride into my office and tell me it's my fault? I have something to say to you. Grow up." The combination of Mr. Schuester's speech and Quinn's desire to regain custody of baby Beth (now in Shelby's care) motivate her to shed her Skank attire and rejoin the New Directions by episode's end. Added end-of-episode perk? Finn masters the dance combo Schue and Mike Chang have been teaching him in booty camp. Everyone wins!
Bottom Line: You are a unicorn, Glee. Remember that. Because look what happened to Kurt: By the time he finally re-embraced his inner unicorn, Brittany decided to run for student council against him.