Glee Recap: S03E18: Choke

Finn helps Rachel practice her faces, including "Presidential."
Finn helps Rachel practice her faces, including "Presidential."

Rachel's Pre-audition Ritual

  1. No milk
  2. No doorknobs
  3. No kissing
  4. Do not step on cracks
  5. Walk backwards

What is most likely to stand in Rachel's way?

  • A murderous stalker
  • Adele's throat polyp
  • Menstrual bloating
  • Rachel
See results without voting
Kurt stages the ultimate audition.
Kurt stages the ultimate audition.
The legendary Carmen Tibideau casts judgment on our prospective Broadway stars.
The legendary Carmen Tibideau casts judgment on our prospective Broadway stars.
Rachel chokes and begs for another chance.
Rachel chokes and begs for another chance.

The Overachievers

It has been the talk of the season. Burgeoning stars Kurt and Rachel are setting up their future rule of Broadway, which has become dependent upon their admission into their performing art school of choice: NYADA. And auditions are finally here. Rachel is back to the Rachel we love, comparing herself to stars and single-mindedly pursuing her goal by enlisting Finn’s help and avoiding anything that could damage her chances.

Meanwhile, Kurt is frantically trying to figure out how to make his audition memorable. He has practiced “Music of the Night,” for months but the performance needs something more. His ideas? Sequin his cape. Sing in a German accent. Sing in the nude. More candles. I love seeing Blaine in the audience, being so supportive after their relationship troubles in the previous episode. I also love Blaine’s wide eyes at the suggestion of more candles.

When Kurt finally decides what will make his audition shine, Rachel finds out and instantly breaks her vow of silence to help him avert disaster. He has decided to switch out his extremely well-rehearsed audition piece for a bolder choice: “Not the Boy Next Door” as sung by Tony award winning actor Hugh Jackman. Take no risks! Rachel smells self-sabotage. Clearly if Kurt must not want himself to succeed if he is making this change so late in the game. After all, Rachel is auditioning with “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” a song she has had in her wheelhouse all of her life. Rachel offers to play Kurt’s Christine in support. So it is decided. Kurt, like Rachel will play it safe.

But on the day of auditions, when Kurt discovers that they will be judged by none other than Broadway legend Carmen Tibideaux, new Dean of Vocal Performance and Song Interpretation. This freaks Kurt out. Upon announcing that he will be performing “Music of the Night”, Kurt realizes she has heard it a million times. So he changes plans. Luckily, he had his gold lamé pants on underneath his cape and his best ladies waiting in the wings.

At the end of his rousing performance (who can shake his hips better than Kurt Hummel?) Carmen is impressed. She mentions that Hugh Jackman himself would have been impressed, so it seems that Kurt is a shoo-in. One crisis averted.

But when Carmen congratulated Kurt on his risk-taking, did it throw Rachel off her game? The self-proclaimed diva steps to the stage and begins Streisand’s number with her usual gusto. But after one verse, she repeats the lyrics. Mortified, she instantly requests another chance and the band strikes up again. And she rushes on her second attempt on a song she’s been singing her entire life. She only gets those two chances before Carmen ends the audition and walks out. Kurt, Blaine, Finn, and Mr. Schue watch in confusion and horror as Rachel continues to beg brokenly for another chance.

Much later, when Kurt meets Rachel at her locker, Rachel has already given up on her dream of New York. Kurt insists she will still be there with him; they can still have their dream life. But Rachel cannot face what her future will look like without her NYADA guarantee.

Puck's father comes to ask for money.
Puck's father comes to ask for money.

The Underachiever

“I may not be good at World Geography, but I’m real good at female geography.” So Puck lays out his plan for graduation. The only thing that stands in his way is a passing grade in his geography class. And instead of actually studying, he plans on seducing the teacher.

She almost gives in for a moment. The Puckzilla is a master at seduction after all. But she comes to her senses quickly enough and pushes him off. “I’m not buying you,” he protests, “Just give me a D minus and I’ll tickle your thighs.” But no; she will not budge. He will just have to study like everyone else. So Puck decides to give up on school, given that he sees no way he can pass.

Finn, being the good friend that he is, speaks to the other Glee guys about Puck’s sudden disappearance. They band together to help him pass. But first they will need to lure him into their trap. The plan is elaborate, and involves a bear-shaped bush (Finn has no drawing skills), but everything is rendered unnecessary when Puck shows up of his own accord.

He had been set to ditch school and head out to California early, when his dad showed up in town and hit him up for money. Puck gave his father $500 to get rid of him, but that leaves him fund-less for his trip. That, and he recognizes that he does not want to end up like his father, brought to begging a grown Beth for help.

The guys pull an all-nighter to help Puck study. With the help of music, he manages to learn a few things. Problem is, two questions into the test, Puck is left thinking, “Wait, that’s not in the song.” He tells the Glee guys waiting outside the classroom that he feels good about his chances, but when the test comes back, it is with a large red “F” displayed prominently on the front.

Coach Beiste comes to school with a very visible black eye.
Coach Beiste comes to school with a very visible black eye.

The Surprising Truth

While the Glee kids experience problems with respect to their futures, someone else is experiencing more serious problems: Coach Beiste. When Santana sees Beiste walk by with a black eye, she makes a joke about it, asking if Cooter gave it to her. Coach Roz overhears the comment and gets angry at Brittany, Tina, Mercedes, Sugar, and Santana for laughing at what could be a serious situation. Roz’s aunt had been stuck in an abusive relationship that landed her in the ICU, so it is a subject close to Roz’s heart. This leads her to team up with Sue, and together they create a learning opportunity for the girls; the girls must find a perform a song about female empowerment.

The first song the girls pick, while creating an awesome performance, misses the point entirely. And something about “The Cell Block Tango” number from the musical Chicago also manages to hit a nerve with Shannon, who races out of the auditorium mid performance. Roz and Sue naturally assume she could not stand the singing, but the song struck a more personal chord. The verse about the kitchen knife sparked the memory of how Shannon actually received her black eye. Cooter had raised a hand to her, and she covered up his transgression and stayed with him. Sue immediately urges Shannon to leave him, asking why she had not done so. “Because I don’t think anyone else is ever going to love me,” Shannon explains heartbreakingly. Sue offers her home as a refuge (complete with a tent sacrificed to make a nightgown). Shannon accepts.

But in the end, Shannon does not stay with Sue. She says she moved out and went to stay with her sister. She decides to come clean with the glee girls, letting them know that she too never expected this to happen to her. “But you girls, you not only opened my eyes to this, you maybe even saved my life,” she admits with tears in her eyes.

This leads the girls to redo their assignment. They call Beiste to the choir room to here a true song of empowerment: Florence and the Machine’s “Shake It Out.” As Shannon listens to the gorgeous rendition, the audience learns that she lied once more. After he apologized for his actions, she decided to stay with Cooter.

Grading the Songs

This episode heralded the return of rock with the return to a Puck-centric storyline, but it was the girls and their emotional ballads that brought everything home.

School's Out - B

Did I like this performance? I am not sure. This style is not my cup of tea, but I try to evaluate separately from that if I can. It fit the moment and Puck’s attitude, but it did not showcase Mark Salling’s lovely voice. Not a song (or performance) that I will put on repeat (as I would with some songs below). I appreciate the addition of the Cheerios, though.

Cell Block Tango - A-

As I mentioned above, this performance is awesome. The whole production is reminiscent of the musical, and the girls have the dancing down! Extra points for actually featuring Jenna Ushkowitz (and Harry Shum, Jr., I see you too!). Points taken off for the brevity of the verses. With a song so well known in the Broadway world, it seemed like it was lightly butchered in parts.

The Boy Next Door - A

Classic Kurt! I much prefer this to the aforementioned “Music of the Night.” Chris Colfer shakes his hips, struts his stuff, and shows off how flexible he truly is. The performance is pure Broadway, and pure enjoyment. I agree with Carmen when she says that Hugh Jackman would be proud.

The Rain in Spain - C+

Cute and appropriate, but not very listenable, imho. I prefer when Mark Salling actually sings a bit more in his songs (rather than just speaking melodically). The scene itself is nothing particularly special either, as it just features the guys jamming together.

Shake It Out - A+

The vocals on this song alone are enough to bring tears to my eyes. When you add the heartbreaking images of the truth behind Shannon’s lies, this performance reaches a poignancy that is difficult to reach on television these days. The storyline may have come out of nowhere, but Glee handles another difficult topic with beautiful delicacy and even more beautiful music.

Cry - A+

Lea Michele does it again. Upon first listen and viewing, I found the song to be a bit overwrought. But this master class performance cannot be denied. She slays this Kelly Clarkson number technically and emotionally. “Shake It Out” is my favorite song from this episode, but “Cry” comes in a close second.

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