Glee Recap: S03E11: Michael

Glee has covered the songs of Michael Jackson before. There was the "Thriller" mash-up in "The Sue Sylvester Bowl Shuffle." And then there was the Michael medley for Sectionals in "Hold On to Sixteen." But the Trouble Tones missed the Michael magic, and they want the opportunity to cover him exclusively. As Mercedes puts it, "You don't get it. I don't want to see the spectacle that is Michael. I want to BE the spectacle." Mr. Schue mentions having toyed with the idea of rehashing Michael for Regionals. So of course Blaine decides to bust out with the perfect opening number: “Wanna Be Startin Something.” The problem is, something is about to start, as the New Directions and the Warblers collide in battle Michael.

Sebastian taunts the New Directions.
Sebastian taunts the New Directions.
Blaine takes the slushy intended for Kurt.
Blaine takes the slushy intended for Kurt.
Santana has a vocal duel with Sebastian.
Santana has a vocal duel with Sebastian.

“Blood on the Dance Floor”

Kurt, Blaine, Rachel, Artie, and Santana are at the Lima Bean, swapping Michael Jackson inspiration stories: Artie said his first words, “hot damn,” in response to the first moonwalk, Kurt owes him for introducing the “sequined military jacket long before one Kurt Hummel made it iconic,” and Santana wants to throw a scalding hot coffee in Rachel’s face when she admits she never connected with Michael the way she did with her other idols (“Barbara or either of the Stephens. Sondheim. Schwartz”). The peace of the moment (how I love when New Directions is actually getting along!) is broken by the appearance of Sebastian Smythe, slimy lead for the Warblers. Apparently he had been speaking with Blaine when Blaine let slip that Michael was their theme for Regionals. Since the Warblers drew first slot, Sebastian decided it would be the perfect opportunity to steal the idea for his on show choir.

The New Directions convene, angry over the Warblers tactics. Mr. Schue is inspired to create the lesson plan of the week: WWMJD or “What would Michael Jackson do?” The consensus is that he would fight back. Blaine clarifies; he would take it to the streets. So New Directions invites the Warblers to an abandoned parking garage for a reenactment of Michael’s “Bad.” The atmosphere is tense, but not overtly hostile, until Sebastian pulls out a slushy and throws it in Kurt’s general direction. Valiant Blaine steps in front of the icy weapon to save his boyfriend, and he ends up in pain on the ground. The word comes back that that slushy did damage to Blaine’s cornea. It is deeply scratched and requires surgery.

Mr. Schue urges the angry group to let the respective administrations take care of it. He does not want them to jeopardize their performance at Regionals. Artie lashes out in anger in response, claiming that nothing will happen unless they take it into their own hands because Dalton will stand by their own:

“I don’t give a damn about Regionals. What do you expect from us? We’re people! I know the rest of the world might not see us like that, but when they tease us, and throw stuff at us, and toss us in dumpsters, and tell us that we’re nothing but losers with stupid dreams; it freakin’ hurts. And we’re supposed to turn the other cheek and be the bigger man by telling ourselves that those dreams and how hard we work make us better than them? Well it gets pretty damn hard to feel that way when they always get to win… Don’t give me any of that ‘it gets better’ crap, because I’m not interested in it getting any better. I want it to BE better. Like right now. I want to hurt them, the way they hurt us. No worse. I want them to feel my pain, because, frankly, that’s all I have left to give.”

Mike seems to agree. In a daydream sequence, he and Artie reenact the Michael and Janet Jackson music video for “Scream” to exorcise their demons. When it ends, Artie is still in his chair, but in righteous anger, he “rolls away” from his conversation with Mr. Schue.

Artie is not the only one who wants to see Sebastian suffer for what he has done. Santana finds Kurt in an empty classroom, trying to figure out what to do to "the criminal chipmunk" to get even. Santana suggests a nice “tramp stamp” tattoo that reads either "Tips Appreciated" or "Congratulations, you're my thousandth customer." While a creative solution, Kurt does not support it, claiming that he wants to fight clean.

Santana agrees and visits the Warblers, where, “in Warbler tradition” engages in a vocal duel with Sebastian on Michael’s “Smooth Criminal.” Santana clearly wins. She gets Sebastian to admit that he laced the slushy with rock salt. And to add insult to injury, literally, Sebastian slushies Santana.

The trip to Dalton was not a complete waste. Santana returns to McKinley with evidence. She had taped a recorder to her “underboob” and caught Sebastian’s confession. She wants to take the recording the police. Again, it is Kurt who stops her. Getting rid of Sebastian will not solve their problems for the upcoming Regionals. Instead of prosecuting, they are going to teach the Warblers a lesson.

So in true ND style, they invite the Warblers to their auditorium to see them demonstrate the true essence of Michael. They won't be doing Michael for Regionals. "It's what's called taking the high road," Puck explains, "Which I was shocked to find out had nothing to do with marijuana."

They launch into Michael’s song about acceptance, “Black of White.” Trent Warbler (the cute-as-a-button Dominic Barnes) is the first to give in to the spirit and jump on stage. Pretty soon, Sebastian is the only one left sitting in the audience. Santana plays a section of her tape and then throws it to Kurt. "You know what,” he offers, “it just wouldn't be as much fun winning Regionals if you weren't there to suffer through all the agony of defeat." Kurt throws the tape to Sebastian, and then ND tells him to get out of their school. Winner in the battle? ND. But the victor will ultimately be decided at Regionals.

Kurt comforts Rachel as she faces her future without a NYADA letter.
Kurt comforts Rachel as she faces her future without a NYADA letter.
Mercedes and Sam rekindle their flame.
Mercedes and Sam rekindle their flame.

“The Way You Make Me Feel”

While battle Michael rages, Finn has other things on his mind, like how he proposed to Rachel and still has not received an answer. Rachel professes her love and desire to marry Finn… some day. But why now? "I need you to help me understand," she pleads.

Although Finn clearly proposed because he thought he had no future without her, he seems to have thought about it some since then and comes up with a rather good reason: "Those rings will always be a reminder of exactly how we feel right now. They'll let us take a piece of our little world into the big city." Essentially he fears losing her to her dreams and the Big Apple. But it is kind of romantic, until you remember that they are only seniors in high school. Luckily, Finn decides to give Rachel some more time to think.

Rachel immediately goes looking for advice, and rather than confiding in her best gay, Kurt, or her best girl, Mercedes, so goes to Finn’s ex-girlfriend, Quinn. Rachel claims to want some straight-forward advice on what to do, but balks when Quinn suggests that no matter the strength of their relationship, it will not and should not extend to their college years. She is all about making the moment count while at the same time preparing to cut ties and start over. Confusingly, this leads to Quinn singing Michael’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” in front of the glee club while reminiscing about her past boyfriends: Finn, Puck, and Sam. After singing, Quinn reveals her fresh start; she got into Yale. And then she pointedly shares her new outlook on life: "You can't change your past. But you can let go and start your future."

While Rachel contemplates her future, Sam helps Mercedes see hers while at the same time trying to win her back. In the auditorium, he changes the light board (where is this nearly defunct glee club getting its money? Sugar Mata?) to read her name. They duet on “Human Nature” and end the song with a sweet kiss. Will their romance rekindle?

On the other end of the spectrum, while Kurt’s actual love is stuck in bed awaiting surgery, Kurt must face his future with his first love: the stage. Burt comes to school with Kurt’s NYADA letter, and it is not until Kurt has found the perfect place to open it that they discover he has been invited for an audition. Strong, stoic Burt gets emotional, and the marvelous Mike O’Malley shows why he is the most important guest star on this show with his monologue:

"You beat them all. They threw everything at you. They tried to beat you down. But you know what? You're unstoppable, Kurt.I am so proud to be your dad. They can never take this away from you. Right now, in this moment, on this day, you won."

Kurt runs to Rachel right away to share his good news and hopefully receive some from her as well, but she has not received her letter yet. Rachel despairs of getting in and reaches the same conclusion that Finn reached in the previous episode: the only thing she has in her life that is good is him.

When Finn holds Rachel back in the choir room to propose to her properly (in song, natch, and a duet at that), everything that Rachel has felt up to that point is confirmed. Despite the meaning behind “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” which seems to suggest that nothing in New York could separate them, Rachel agrees to the binding commitment that is marriage. Oh, the power of song! Hopefully Brad and the random orchestra members present will not reveal their secret engagement.

When the dust of the Michael duel has settled, Rachel finally hears back from NYADA, She tells Kurt that she has a callback. But she has not yet told Finn. Does this spell trouble for the newly engaged couple?

"Remember the Time"

Just last season on Glee, Blaine and Kurt were students at Dalton Academy. Kurt may have had some troubles fitting in, but Blaine was top dog. He could do no wrong. So why would Blaine’s leaving Dalton change all that? Has Sebastian changed the Warblers we love that much just by his presence?

I loved this episode. But that said, I really wish they had taken the time to explore Blaine’s story more. Why was he talking to Sebastian? How did he let it slip that ND was doing Michael for Regionals? Was there really no fallout from ND for his accidental betrayal? And how did Blaine feel when he realized that Sebastian was out to hurt Kurt badly and their former friends had supported that mission? These questions did not NEED to be answered, but the episode would have been all the richer if they had. Nonetheless, I applaud the way in which the tribute songs dovetailed with the actual plot.

Grading the Songs

Whatever the plot discrepancies in this episode, “Michael” is the best tribute that Glee has ever done. Almost all of the songs covered were beyond brilliant, and as I said before, the writers did an excellent job of integrating song and plot. Here are the details:

Wanna Be Startin' Something - A

A great way to start a great episode. Darren Criss sounds perfect on this song, and costuming was spot on. I love how each actor got to have their own take on a Michael Jackson outfit to go along with their Jackson-inspired moves. And as always, I love how Criss puts everything he is into his performances. Adorable.

Bad - B+

The group sounds great on “Bad,” but overall, this is one of the weaker numbers. I appreciate the dance moves, and the Warblers’ awesome harmonizing, but the fake posturing is a bit overboard, even for Glee. Oddly enough, I do appreciate the choreographed dance fighting. And vocally, despite the magnificence of Criss and Kevin McHale on other MJ songs, their voices are a bit too much for this performance.

Scream - A

I can say nothing bad when it is Kevin McHale covering the King of Pop. And when you let him, the second best male dancer on the show, get up and dance with the best male dancer on the show, who you let sing, it cannot get much better. Unless you decide to do a faithful reenactment of Michael Jackson’s most expensive video, “Scream.” The song was perfect for the moment, and the performance was… out of this world.

Never Can Say Goodbye - B-

Dianna Agron’s voice is quite unique. It really only sounds best on a few songs (“Papa Don’t Preach,” for one). She sounds pretty on this Michael Jackson classic, but the song also highlights how weak her voice can be. In an episode with much stronger stuff, this song just does not cut it. That dress she is wearing, however? Kills. Dianna has never looked more gorgeous on the show than in this scene.

Human Nature - A

Samcedes sounds like heaven together! Although I love Amber Riley’s voice, she usually employs it on glory notes. I prefer it in her lower, smoother register, which is on full display here. And Chord Overstreet shows exactly why he was missed with this vocal. I love the cute touch where Mercedes’ name is in lights, and I love even more the sweet kiss that follows the performance. I could listen to this song all day!

Ben - C+

Of all the Michael Jackson songs they featured on this tribute episode, Glee writers decided to incorporate a song from a movie about a rat… The song is sung well by Cory Monteith and my two favorites, Lea and Chris, but it plods along, dragging down the energy of the show. While it is sweet to sing such a song to the injured Blaine, seeing Darren Criss, complete with eye patch, awkwardly sit in bed while the others serenade him was not the best use of time. Bring in some Warblers for an apology, or cut between Kurt visiting Blaine’s bedside to offer comfort and visiting Dalton to offer a severe tongue-lashing.

Smooth Criminal - A+

I gave this grade before I saw the episode. In fact, I decided on this grade before I even heard the full song. Thirty seconds was all I needed to fall in love with this duet between Naya Rivera (Santana) and Grant Gustin (Sebastian Smythe). The way these two actors’ voices blend is beyond gorgeous. Having seen the visual that goes along with the vocals just confirms my initial evaluation. The tension between the two is, as Sue would say, delicious. And when Naya lets her voice loose at the end of the song, a part of me melts into a Glee-loving puddle.

I Just Can't Stop Loving You - B+

A classic Finchel duet. To some extent, I missed these. But there is no new ground broken when the pair stand by the piano and sing their hearts out to each other, only to be broken up with closing their eyes to sing with more emotion. Kudos to the writers, however, for letting Rachel come to a decision about her future mid song. Very Berry appropriate.

Black or White - A

My only complaint with this song is that it does not showcase Chris Colfer more. While the rest of the group sounds commendable on this wonderful MJ song, it is Chris who really brings it. And the actual performance in the episode cut one of his solo lines! But no one can deny the infectious energy that comes off of an ND group performance, Warblers included. Perfect song choice. Perfect execution. Glee done right.

EXTRA: I Want You Back - A

Warbler wonderfulness! I can only hope that this cut scene makes it into the DVD release. Grant Gustin sounds great as lead on this track, and I truly cannot get enough of seeing the other Warbler boys (I’m looking at you, Ryker Lynch and Curt Mega!).

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