We were apprehensive about Glee's return. Season three has been a general disappointment, lacking a certain something that Ryan Murphy seems to have taken with him over to American Horror Story. Only two songs from the fall peaked on iTunes, whereas normally every song from every episode would land in the Top 10 (or so it seems), and there was only one true standout performance: the mash-up of Adele's "Rumour Has It" and "Someone Like You." The first 45 minutes of "Yes/No" didn't offer much in the way of comfort. But then something happened when Rachel Berry started singing David Guetta (no, we can't believe we wrote that sentence, either). Before we get there, let's wade through the rest of the drama:
Despite five months having passed, the New Directions think it's high time to revisit last summer and what did or did not happen romantically between Mercedes and Sam with a reenactment of Grease. He leads the dudes on the bleachers; she captains the ladies in the cafeteria, just like in the movie! It's a faithful cover of the original production, down to the wistful sideways glances layered on screen at the end. But the whole thing boils down to just being fine, which is on par with everything else we've seen this season. And Rachel wears the full version of Kurt's half-poncho from the fall with some inexplicable Little House on the Prairie-meets-2011 ensemble.
Meanwhile, Becky adopts a British accent because she decides she can sound like whomever she wants when she's rattling off her list of accomplishments in her mind. In reality, the accent sounds like what you get when you use this site to send an animated greeting card using a personal photo... but it was actually Helen Mirren in a bizarre, voice-only cameo. Becky sets her sights on "sweet, sensitive and handicapable, like me" Artie and seeks advice from Sue on how to land her prize.
Emma, Coach Bieste and Sue sit down for lunch and Bieste breaks the news: She eloped with Coach Cooter, love of her life (and Sue's). Emma gets sad, thinking that the love of her life, Mr. Schue, doesn't really want to marry her. Sue encourages her to ask Schue the big question, but instead Emma breaks into song to lament the love she thinks will never turn into marriage. Emma's been luckier than her back-up singers, Sue and Bieste, in that the few songs she's been gifted ("I Could Have Danced All Night," "Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a Touch Me") have actually been well-suited for her voice and personality. Props to Glee for showcasing Bieste and Sue in hideous bridesmaid dresses and fascinators as Emma sweetly and whimsically dances around her leading man in her fantasy of wedded bliss. But fantasy abruptly crashes into reality when Emma finds herself in front of a mystified Schue after it appears she did, in fact, pop the question.
He takes the hint and decides to ask her himself, to make the first people he tells the New Directions. Firstly, because they're his family and secondly (of course), he needs their help in crafting a proposal performance. The conversation, in turn, inspires Sam to continue following Mercedes around like a lost pupppy, plotting ways to win her back. Artie finds inspiration of his own, and asks Sugar to work on the number together. She rejects him, but Becky pops up soon after to ask him out on a date and stroke his hair.
"Moves Like Jagger/Jumpin' Jack Flash":
Artie channels his inner director and his inner Adam Levine/Mick Jagger for a take on the Maroon 5 tune, his vote for how Schue should propose to Emma. He claims that Schue's role as a back-up dancer (along with Mike) will make him irresistible to Emma. This makes no sense, because wouldn't you want the person proposing to you to be singing to you and not sliding across the stage on his bum? And also, "Jumpin' Jack Flash" doesn't have anything to do with love. The whole thing is just uncomfortable in the context Glee so carefully pegged it into; it would have fared much better as a stand-alone performance or a number during classic rock/Top 40 mash-up week.
The performance also serves as part one of Becky's date with Artie. Part two is dinner at Breadstix, which goes so well that it requires the New Directions to stage a Beckyvention. He defends his decision to spend time with her until Becky sends him scandalous photos. After getting advice from Sue (who is flaunting her sensitive side this week), Artie tells Becky that he just wants to be friends. She seeks solace from Sue, who provides a pint of ice cream and the Lifetime channel to help them both get over their broken hearts.
"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face":
The ladies channel their own relationships and tackle – what else? – a Big Ballad as their pick for Schue's proposal soundtrack. Roberta Flack's song is undeniably gorgeous, and Rachel, Mercedes, Tina and Santana handle it with controlled power. But singing it dressed in black with tears rolling down their faces makes us think of a funeral, not a wedding. The drama is further complicated when Mercedes admits she was thinking of Sam, not Shane.
Meanwhile, Finn goes ring shopping with Schue and breaks his news: in his quest for direction and his desire to follow in his father's footsteps and do something meaningful with his life, he's going to enlist in the army. Finn's plan goes awry when Schue calls in Finn's mom and stepdad and Emma to talk about Finn's decision to join the army. It is unveiled that, while Finn's dad served in Iraq, he died in Cincinnati after a drug overdose – news that emotionally shatters Finn.
Kurt, Rachel and Finn are out to dinner lamenting their futures and how it looks like they all may not be leaving Lima, after all. As both a way of dealing with what's next and completing this week's glee club assignment, Rachel once again describes her love for Finn in song. It's like that time last season when Santana did nothing but sing slow jams about her tortured love for Brittany. Except Rachel turns David Guetta and Usher's dance hit into a power ballad and it – wait for it – totally works to the point where the Glee version manages the Season Three Rare Feat of crafting a cover to rival the original.
"We Found Love":
Sam begs Bieste to let him join basketball in an attempt to get back his letterman jacket and Mercedes, but it's too late to hit the court or partake in any other major sport... so he signs up for synchronized swimming. Cue gratuitous shot of Sam in a bathing suit and gratuitous cameo from Real Housewives of Atlanta cast member NeNe Leakes as swim coach Roz Washington, sassy-mouthed winner of the Individual Synchronized Swimming bronze medal at the Bejing Olympics.
Schue isn't doing so well, either. He invites Emma's ginger supremacist parents over to ask for their blessing to marry Emma and they refuse: "Son, marriage is messy. And if there's one thing Emma can't handle, it's a mess." He raises the concerns with Emma; she tells him she's all in, protective gear and all, and asks him to be honest with her if he's not.
In a moment that made the whole greater than the sum of its parts, Sam uses his newfound pool access to give Schue a prime proposal backdrop: a synchronized swimming showcase set to Rihanna's monster hit. Our unabashed love of this song aside, Glee managed another Season Three Rare Feat and actually found the trifecta of a current song that both fits the overall theme of the show and the characters singing it. (Schue and Emma really did find love in a hopeless place. Get it?) As an added bonus, it existed in a bizarre framework that could only work within the confines of Glee: As Rachel and Santana share lead vocals with back-up help from the boys, everyone dives into the pool in their retro swimsuits (Artie, wheelchair and all).
The whole spectacle is prefaced by Schue parading Emma through the halls to gather white roses from onlookers who include Bieste and Sue. Once the New Directions take over, he changes into an all-white tux to walk, then dive through the water before breathlessly proposing to Emma. She accepts – but that's not all from the wedding department. The episode ends with another heartfelt proposal, this time from Finn to Rachel, whose answer we'll find out in two weeks during Glee's Michael Jackson tribute episode.
Last episode: Have an 'Extraordinary Merry Christmas'