With one week to go until Nationals, Mr. Schuester has done the logical thing and brought on Jesse St. James as the New Directions' show choir consultant. Jesse determines the glee kids need to audition for the chance to solo in New York, leading to a slew of cookie-cutter performances that have all (mostly) been seen before. The heart of the episode comes in when we find out that Sue Sylvester's sister, Jean, has died. Moved by their own experiences with loss, Finn and Kurt offer to have the glee club plan Jean's funeral. This leads to the episode's best scene, an honor only received by judging the episode in the context of its absurdity and too-little-too late attempt at redemption for Sue's poor characterization this season. Here's how it went:
"Back to Black":
Santana auditions with a spot-on rendition of Amy Winehouse's track, perhaps a tip of the hat to Vocal Adrenaline's "Rehab" performance way back in the first season. We're all for Santana showing the bluesy side of her voice and, for that matter, getting glee club solos — but we're done with mopey Santana mourning the loss of her relationship with Brittany.
Kurt steps up to sing and the season one flashbacks continue: this time we're transported to the very first New Directions auditions. But instead of "Mr. Cellophane" we're treated to a number from Gypsy that brings in performance aspects of last season's "Kurt's Turn." We're again treated to Kurt's delightful upper register and penchant for Broadway divas, but this also feels like rinse, wash, repeat — possibly part of Ryan Murphy's meta plan but perhaps an episode titled "Funeral" is not the best vehicle for that?
"Try a Little Tenderness":
Mercedes delivers on her promise to "wrap this up like a Christmas present" by singing and riffing Otis Redding's classic like only she could. But, then again, this is Mercedes' wheelhouse we're talking about.
In which Glee continues its love letter to Barbra Streisand and Lea Michele continues her campaign to score the lead in the Funny Girl revival, as Rachel mentally dedicates "the most difficult song I've ever sung" to Finn. She nails the Funny Girl closer, making it one of Rachel's top performances on the show and bringing Kurt to tears.
After learning that Jean's favorite movie was Willie Wonka, the glee club turns her funeral into a mini Wonka world. Sue shows emotion for the first time in too long, breaking down as she reads Jean's eulogy and has to have Schue take over. The New Directions break into a restrained, tender take on "Pure Imagination" with lush harmonies on the chorus that's exactly right for the moment. It's the only number the entire episode that has contextual meaning.
Big Plot Points After the Music Stopped: Sue says she'll (finally?) stop tormenting the glee club after what they did for her sister and will instead join the House of Representatives and fight in Jean's name. Jesse's plan is a bust, and Schue decides the New Directions will sing original tunes as a group for Nationals. Sue's words about love at Jean's funeral make Finn realize he's actually in love with Rachel, so he breaks it off with Quinn — but Rachel reunites with Jesse. And, finally, Terri/Honey Badger is moving to Miami.
Bottom Line: Despite some killer vocals, this episode — save for the funeral plotline — felt like a recycled version of things we've seen previously. Glee works when it fits songs into the context of the episode; it's not as entertaining when it's simply a showcase. And, while we applaud Glee for finally giving Sue something to do again that (sorta, kinda) fits into the plot, it's a move that should have come earlier than the second-to-last episode of the season and with less of an the out-of-the-blue plotline.
Next Week: In the season finale, the New Directions head to New York for Nationals, we find out what Quinn's big post-Finn plan is and Mr. Schuester entertains the idea of Broadway, again.