With its tribute to the late King of Pop, 'Glee' hits a season high point

By Joseph Brannigan Lynch
February 01, 2012 at 07:06 AM EST
Justin Lubin/FOX
S3 E11
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Last night was Glee’s tribute episode to Michael Jackson, which you probably already knew unless you’ve been traveling around outer space with Captain EO. But who could have known its homage to the late King of Pop would be one of the best episodes of season three? After all, Glee’s Gaga tribute was bloated and the Madonna episode was mostly just a fun diversion, but “Michael” contained some of this season’s best dramatic and musical performances.

Regarding last episode’s cliffhanger marriage-proposal, Rachel eventually said “yes” to Finn. Whether you’re happy about that answer or not, you gotta hand it to the show for acknowledging the naivety of two super-sentimental high schoolers agreeing to spend the rest of their lives together before they’ve even entered the real world. Kudos to Quinn for her tough-but-fair assessment of Rachel’s future with Finn (real talk!) and kudos to the writers for making it clear that Rachel’s uncertainty about her college prospects influenced her decision.

Even with that storyline in play, the main drama of the episode had less to do with cold reality and more to do with a cold slushy. After New Directions faced off against the suddenly hardcore Warblers in a “Bad”-styled dancing gang fight, Sebastian threw a slushy in Blaine’s face, which caused the crooner to collapse and start groaning like the infamous Grape Lady.

At first I thought Blaine was overreacting, but it turns out the dastardly Sebastian put some rock salt in that slushy which scratched Blaine’s cornea badly enough to justify surgery. Not cool, Sebastian! (Why Blaine’s temporary eyepatch precluded him from singing in MJ Week evaded me, though.)

It was clear from the venerable commenters on EW’s live blog that a lot of people hate Sebastian, which is certainly understandable. But I’d argue that Glee absolutely needs him now that Sue has gone soft. At this point, her meanness is more like “brutal honesty” and her craziness contains nuggets of truth. Glee needs a villain and Sebastian’s weasly face fits the bill, plus his interest in Blaine makes him a threat to the idealistic equilibrium of the show. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to shake things up. (As for the ridiculousness of a deadly slushy, let’s just allow that to slide….)

After news of Blaine’s upcoming eye surgery reached New Directions, the kids sort of blew up and told Schuester they were tired of tired of turning the other cheek to the cold slap of a slushy.

Artie was especially on fire, dressing down the mild-mannered Mr. Schue and indulging in a high-production-value daydream where he and Mike Chang reenacted Michael and Janet’s “Scream” music video. Yep, that meant we got to see Kevin McHale bust out some of his sick former boy band dance moves because it was a fantasy sequence. Not to mention that we were treated to a thrilling vision of what Mike Chang would look like if he were a Gothy anime character from the future.

NEXT: Santana takes on Sebastian and two Croatian cellists steal the show

Kurt’s anger toward Sebastian and life was more on the mopey side, but thankfully Santana had plenty of rage to spare on his behalf. Assuring Kurt that “Auntie Snicks just arrived on the Bitch Town Express,” Santana challenged Sebastian to a “Smooth Criminal” face-off on the Warblers’ home turf. (More on that later). When it wrapped up, Santana declared herself the winner, but the actual victors were 2Cellos, the real-life Croatian cellists whose manic intensity stole the scene.

Back in college admissions land, Quinn’s sob story about teen pregnancy got her into Yale and Burt Hummel yanked Kurt out of class with a letter informing “Prancy Smurf” that he was a finalist for NYADA. As an ebullient Kurt took to the halls of McKinley to bask in the glory of his moment, Rachel somehow managed to turn his victory into her own melodramatic breakdown.

Not having received her letter from NYADA yet, she assumed the worst. It didn’t occur to her that maybe her letter was taking a few days longer or, you know, maybe her dads were waiting with the letter at home. It was a sort of irritating moment, especially since Rachel did, in fact, receive the same letter just days later. C’mon, Glee, let Kurt have a moment in the sun without Rachel eclipsing it.

While Rachel was panicking and throwing her future away with a hasty teenage engagement, Sam was trying to woo Mercedes away from Shane with a secret weapon: the power of MJ’s “Human Nature.” Seconds after refusing to duet with him, a helpless Mercedes took the lead on the song and before it was over, she was puckering up to those trouty lips under that Bieber swoop. So long, whatsyourface! Hello, Samcedes!

The overall satisfying MJ tribute episode wrapped with a rather irritating change-of-heart from Kurt. Apparently during her dance-off, Santana had attached a recorder to her “underboob” and caught Sebastian on tape admitting to throwing a rock salt-laced slushy in Blaine’s cornea. But instead of taking that pertinent info to the cops, Kurt said it was more important to “teach him a lesson.”

That lesson was given via a jubilant version of Michael Jackson’s “Black or White,” which was musically awesome but dramatically confusing: Why does a song about overcoming racial barriers teach Sebastian a lesson about intentionally blinding people just to win a singing competition? Wouldn’t a talk with the police actually teach him that violent actions have legal consequences?

No matter. The fantastic facial-morphing montage (just like in the original video) with all our favorite characters was worth that questionable denouement. To re-watch it, including the weird Quinn-Artie hybrid, check out this handy gif.

NEXT: Rating Glee‘s King of Pop covers and rounding-up the best lines

The Songs:

“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”: What better to kick things off than Thriller‘s first track? Darren Criss captured the excitement and the spunky bravado of the original. Luckily, Broadway didn’t keep him away from this episode. A-

“Bad”: As silly as a choreographed gang fight between teenagers in a parking lot sounds (and was), the choreography was crisp and the attitude was a lot of fun. B

“Scream”: Artie already excels at angry singing, so it was no surprise that his angry MJ was divine. It was a surprise, though, that sans wheelchair he can match Mike Chang/Janet Jackson move-for-move. Like the original “Scream” video, that sequence must have cost an ungodly amount of money. But was it awesome? Yeah. Oh, yeah. A+

“Never Can Say Goodbye”: Quinn slowed things down here, singing a Jackson 5 number with a slightly misleading title, considering this basically serves as her swansong before leaving. It was a nice summation of her character’s journey, but not vocally impressive enough to justify listening to outside of the episode. B

“Human Nature”: Just when I think the Sam-Mercedes romance is forced, they open their mouths and I start wondering why they don’t duet every episode. Sam brings out a rare tenderness in her voice, and she makes his character way more interesting. A

“Ben”: Aside from the fact that this song is about a rat (a young Michael sang it for the sequel to Willard), this whole sequence seemed a bit half-baked. A nice sentiment for cheering up Blaine, but it was so wholesome and treacly that it brought to mind The Partridge Family. B-

“Smooth Criminal”: Santana schooling Sebastian in the fine art of Queen Bitchery (via dance!) was fabulous. Even more intense than their vocal back-and-forth was the breakneck-speed accompaniment from 2Cellos. A+

“I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”: Ehh, I guess Finn and Rachel needed a lovey duet since they officially got engaged in this episode, but it seemed to slow down the otherwise wonderfully paced episode. They should have cut this number and kept the Warblers’ version of “I Want You Back” instead (which was axed at the last minute). C+

“Black or White”: Face-morphing montage! General goodwill toward humanity! It could have used a little Macaulay Culkin on guitar though…. A-

Choice lines:

Burt on Kurt’s good news from NYADA: “You are unstoppable, Kurt. They can never take this away from you. On this day, you won.”

Santana’s idea for a retaliatory forcible tramp-stamp on Sebastian: “Congratulations, you’re my thousandth customer.”

Santana to Kurt: “Don’t worry. Auntie Snicks just arrived on the Bitch Town Express.”

Quinn’s advice to Rachel: “If you want everything you’ve ever dreamed of, you have to break up with [Finn].”

Jane Lynch, Lea Michele, and high school anxiety star in Fox’s campy musical.
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  • 05/19/09
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