Look, no one could ever accuse Glee of not having lofty goals. In its most recent run of episodes, the show has mostly nailed the big moments: Schue and Emma's engagement, the Michael Jackson episode and an unintentional (but well-done) Whitney Houston tribute. For the winter finale, the show set its standards even higher: combining a teen suicide attempt with the latest installment of the show's ongoing singing competitions, a wedding and a cliffhanger that'll last the next seven weeks. The result was an emotional rollercoaster that at times may have been jarring or heavy-handed, but overall did what a winter finale should: gave us plenty of surprises, while setting things up for the future. The songs almost took a back seat, but they still shone:
Rachel and Kurt are looking at bridal magazines at the coffee shop when Sebastian approaches. "If it isn't a non-Barbra Streisand and old Betty White. Where is Gay Cyclops?" he says by way of hello. Sebastian comes bearing a threat: he'll post horrible Guys with iPhones photoshop images with Finn's face all over the internet unless Rachel drops out of regionals. "That's glee club terrorism!" she cries. The New Directions are angry, but Schue won't let them take action and, instead, tries to use it as a lesson to tell them this is the kind of thing they'll encounter more and more as they get famous. Rachel and Finn argue. Now that she (thinks she) has the guy, she's back to her career-driven self, and she is adamant about performing because it'll help her get into NYADA.
Sue summons Quinn to her office to tell Quinn that she, Sue Sylvester, is "with child," and she asks Quinn for tips on overcoming morning sickness. In return, Quinn asks to rejoin the Cheerios, because she's feeling all nostalgic and wants to finish her high school career the same way she started it. Look, it's easy to see what spurred Quinn into her "dark days," and that she's come out of them. But she's turned into the robot poster child for Moving On from Difficult Situations. Sue turns her down.
A furious Blaine invites Kurt to the auditorium, where he wants to try out a new song for regionals he thinks fits the "inspiration" theme. He certainly injects emotion into his performance of Young the Giant's tune about breaking free, flawlessly delivering the vocal. But Blaine's song serves more as a wistful soundtrack to Karovsky being bullied at his school: He enters the locker room to find someone has spray painted "Fag" on his locker. He turns, aghast, to find all of his teammates gathered behind him, mocking him as he leaves. Later, at home, he finds similar taunts on his Facebook page. As the rest of the song plays out, we watch a distraught Karovsky do what he sees as the only solution: prepare to commit suicide. Thankfully, his father finds him in time.
Figgins calls Sue, Schue, Miss Pillsbury and Coach Bieste to his office to have a conversation about how to address Karovsky's suicide attempt with the students, and what they could have done to prevent it while he was a McKinley student. Meanwhile, the God Squad begins their latest meeting by praying for Karovsky and his family. Newly Wise Quinn declares what he was doing was selfish, and she can't ever imagine sinking that low, even during very difficult times. Kurt comes in, calls her out on playing martyr and says that she has no idea what Karovsky was facing. He admits he feels responsible – Karovsky kept calling him, and he kept not answering.
Schue has a pow-wow with the glee kids on the auditorium stage, confessing he almost committed suicide himself his junior year: "Everyone has something that might take them up to that edge." They all go around sharing big things they're looking forward to, things they'd miss if they ever thought about committing suicide. As with all of Glee's Big Morals episodes, this one lays it on thick at certain points. But this is a genuine moment, as the New Directions share their dreams, which range from watching their kids take their first steps (Artie) to Sex and the City 3 (Sugar).
Karovsky's suicide attempt also causes deep changes in Sebastian: When Santana, Brittany, Kurt and Blaine confront him in the coffee shop, they find him deeply apologetic for all of his evil schemes. He tells them the Warblers will dedicate their performance to Karovsky and donate money to Lady Gaga's Born This Way foundation. In a flashback, we see that he insulted Karovsky while they were out one night, and he feels responsible. While Sebastian's change of heart is 100% for the right reasons, we were just getting used to the idea of a well-played villain on the show.
The Warblers' a cappella version of Lenny Kravitz's "Stand" is jubilant, lyrically hitting home. In the audience, Finn gets all of the rival groups to stand and cheer on the competition.
"Glad You Came":
Looks like the Warblers have kept up the tradition of using only one lead vocalist, as Sebastian leads the transition from Kravitz to U.K. boy band Wanted. This song is more typical Warblers fare, and it's almost comforting to see them singing something as slick-sounding as their performance.
"Fly/I Believe I Can Fly":
After Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow's Golden Goblets give what Puck deems a well-done performance, the New Directions are up. In the pre-show huddle, Finn and Rachel reveal they're getting married after regionals. They invite everyone and thank them, whether or not they've been supportive.
Once again, the New Directions hit all the right notes by seamlessly weaving what sounds like an absurd combo (Nicki Minaj and Rihanna's rap-laced duet and R. Kelly's Space Jamz ballad) into an uplifting and thematically appropriate mash-up. Santana and Blaine do an impressive job on Minaj's rap verses, while Rachel, Artie and Mercedes split tastefully understated solos. Bonus moment: Rachel's dads enjoying the show in the audience.
"Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)":
This wins for the most overt title tie-in to the theme of regionals (and tonight's episode). It's great to hear Brittany step in to follow Santana on lead vocals. Mercedes jumps in at the chorus, and she and Santana finish out the song on a powerful note. What we can't figure out is why there appear to be girls on stage who are not a part of the New Directions. Are we seeing things?
"Here's To Us":
Rachel steps out to start the Halestorm song solo, center stage. Her dads are kvelling in the audience and we find ourselves wishing again there was more on-screen time for Hiram and Leroy. The New Directions girls join Rachel on stage while the boys come out in the opera boxes. It's bouyant and celebratory, and Rachel kills it. Our one complaint? The regionals performance lineup was low on male solo time. It doesn't matter: after weeks of build-up, the New Directions beat the Warblers to claim the regionals.
After the show, Kurt goes to visit Karovsky in the hospital. "I'm really happy you're alive, David," he says. "Me too," Karovsky responds. Pulling a page from Mr. Schue, Kurt has Karovsky envision his life ten years in the future, as a big sports agent in a big city somewhere far away from Lima, leading a great life with his partner and their son. Karovsky admits he's happy at the thought, and he accepts Kurt's offer to be friends.
Setting Things Up for the Future:
Newly (genuinely?) mellow Sue tells Schue she wants to help the New Directions win Nationals, no strings attached. She also gives Quinn her Cheerios costume back, and Quinn tells Rachel she does want to attend the wedding after all. She goes home to get her bridesmaid's dress – but gets stuck in traffic. Meanwhile, the collective parents of Rachel and Finn are freaking out over their kids getting married, and they come up with plots to thwart the wedding that include Patti LuPone, Barbra Streisand and epileptic seizures. We never find out if these plans happen, or if the wedding goes off without a hitch: While Quinn is texting Rachel back to say she's on her way . . . she gets into a car crash. Fade to black – "to be continued."
Bottom Line: We can only hope Glee continues this streak of episodes when it returns in April (minus "The Spanish Teacher." Let's not draw from that one, OK?).
Last Episode: Head On Down to the Love Shack