Chris Colfer pens a special episode that finally features a storyline just for Kurt, and more dogs and June Squibb than you might have imagined.

By Jodi Walker
May 07, 2014 at 10:50 AM EDT
Tyler Golden/FOX
S5 E19
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I’m going to guess that a lot of you might not even be able to focus on last night’s episode of Glee, considering it ended with that Brittany/Blaine mayhem in the promo for next week‘s episode. But we all just have to agree to move past this for the next seven days, because there’s no way to know to what lengths Glee would go just to mess with our minds. I’m thinking…not THAT far. Surely, not that far. Fingers crossed that it will all be a sexually confusing dentist’s chair hallucination. It almost always is.

Let’s focus on the task at hand: the littlest Renaissance man that could, Chris Colfer, wrote this week’s episode, “Old Dog, New Tricks.” In addition to Golden Globe winner and New York Times bestselling author, Colfer can add “very competent Glee writer” to his freakish list of accomplishments by the age of 23. This wasn’t a plot heavy episode of Glee, but given that last week saw Rachel go from being the hottest new thing on Broadway to being totally **over it**, we were probably due for a little break. Rather, this episode gave us a kind of consistency and continuity that we’ve no longer come to expect from the writing on Glee. It may not have been the most important hour, but Colfer brought a truly unique storyline to the table for his own under-served character, Kurt. And what proved most interesting was seeing the surprising way he connected with the other characters for whom he was writing.

And then, of course, there were Tim Conway, June Squibb, and a lot of puppies.

Here’s What You Missed on Glee reminds us exactly how many storylines last week’s episode opened up — Rachel as a TV star! Mercedes and Santana on their way to becoming the next Brandy and Monica! Shirley MacLaine! — and then promptly ignores every single one of them in favor of what is basically a bottle episode, with just a dash of “petulant Rachel” carryover, and a heaping side of “don’t forget, Sam and Mercedes are already way, way in love.” It’s pretty funny to hear the voiceover lay out what everyone is doing with their lives (Broadway star, recording artist…also recording artist) and have Kurt sound like a loser for going to a prestigious fine arts school and holding down a fun job. But as Kurt will later tell us, compared to his friends, the kid just can’t catch a break. And it’s time for that to change.

But first, Rachel Berry continues her ever-so-slight transformation into Lea Michele: Rachel has found a blind item on broadwaybuzzer.com about a certain newly minted starlet who’s been skipping out on performances to meet with TV execs in L.A. Newly minted blonde Santana says that to pull off an Angelina-like metamorphosis, all she needs is a publicist and a cause. And she’s never even kind of made out with her brother in public, so this should be a cinch. Snixx offers herself up as a temporary expert on relating to the public, and now if she could just find a good cause — oh look, Rachel’s screaming at a woman about how she’s treating her dog. Rachel Berry: animal lover.

Kurt is manning the front bar at the diner when in walks the wonderful June Squibb, asking Kurt to hang flyers for the Lexington Home for Retired Performers’ production of Peter Pan. In another reality, Squibb and Santana are joining up as an unbeatable stage marketing and PR duo; in this reality, Kurt suddenly finds himself opening up about his feelings of inadequacy next to his scene-stealing friends. When did he become the mother in a Nancy Meyers movie? If anyone understands, it’s June Squibb, aka, Maggie Banks, whom Kurt immediately recognizes as the former star of “one of the biggest Broadway flops in history,” Helen Keller: The Musical. But before we can learn more about that (and I want to know everything), two beefy workers from the Lexington Home have found Maggie on her not-entirely-approved guerrilla marketing campaign, and are taking her back the 18 blocks she traversed. Her offer to “drive this time” is just perfect — those little under-the-breath asides are something Colfer has mastered as a performer and, it seems, as a writer.

NEXT: A dance among the dogs

Rachel Berry, animal lover, has taken her friends to a dog shelter, where she’s trying to convince the owner to let her host a “very public” dog adoption event with all of her new (and wavering) Broadway clout. He gives her a “sure,” and when all of the dogs start barking, he forlornly says that the speaker system they used to use to call the dogs down has broken. Luckily, Sam just read John Mayer’s biography, “and he says you always have to have your guitar 80% of the time.” Whatever you say, Sam, just start strumming those fingers to the tune of “I Melt With You.” It’s upbeat and happy, and that’s probably the type of thing dogs would enjoy. Although I doubt all the platform dancing and swinging from cage to cage did much to calm them down. Better let them out for a puppy party (the first of many)! B

With her cause the rescue dogs secured, Rachel is in full swing planning her event, Broadway Bitches. But Publicist Barbie Santana is about eight steps ahead of her, and has already given some anonymous tips to paparazzi to get them in the perfect place for Rachel to float by, walking a few rescue dogs in a borrowed dress so fancy the designer doesn’t even have any vowels in it. Once they’ve gotten a few pictures (Broadway stars, they’re just like us!), Rachel can drop a quote on them about Broadway Bitches and her she’ll be well on her way to improving her image.

For some reason, the girls tell Kurt they don’t want him to perform with them at Broadway Bitches, so he heads to Maggie’s retirement home for a little sage guidance via old person. He gets there just in time to witness a Peter Pan rehearsal, with Maggie as Wendy and Billy Dee Williams and Tim Conway playing John and Michael Darling. HOW DO I GET TICKETS TO THIS PLAY? “Rule number one: hearing aids on during rehearsal.” Unspoken rule number two? Don’t die. Peter misses her cue, only to swing out in her harness in what ends up being her Final Bow, For Real. Kurt declares that their hard work shouldn’t be in vain and offers himself up as a Peter replacement. They tell him it’s a vocally demanding role, even for a woman, and my heart actually swells a little with pride knowing that Kurt has finally found a place where he can be useful and valued.

Tim Conway ain’t no chump, though; Kurt has to audition just like anyone else. But would anyone else carry sheet music for “Memory” from Cats? Well, probably Rachel, but Rachel isn’t there — it’s Kurt’s chance to shine, and he kicks that countertenor into high gear. However, the performance really takes off when 84-year-old June Squibb gets up there to join him. It’s like standing next to your grandmother in church, if your grandmother was a former Broadway performer and had 10 of her closest friends backing her up as a chorus of halfway costumed pirates. In other words, wonderful. A-

Back in Mercedes’ Brownstone Large Enough to Get Lonely In, Sam has made good on his declaration to adopt a dog, even though Mercedes has already claimed there’s no way he could handle it. But there he is, handling McConaughey while playing video games with Artie…if “handling” means letting him chew everything up and, I can only imagine, defecate EVERYWHERE. It seems Chris Colfer is more for writing faux-huahua chewing jokes than poop jokes though, because that’s exactly what precious, poorly behaved McConaughey is doing when Mercedes comes home to find her Giant Home of Miscreant Males destroyed. And Sam hasn’t even paid the gas bill or taken out the recycling! Things have gotten very domestic over the last three months for these two. While Sam/Mercedes still feels a little rushed and weird, the way they’ve settled into their coupledom this episode is probably the first time that I’ve thought of any of these characters as the semi-adults that they’ve become.

Mercedes tries to draw on some adult diplomacy to tell Sam that she doesn’t mean to be patronizing. But with his model schedule (bustling, apparently) and her going on tour soon, he surely doesn’t think he can take care of this dog. She’s pretty sweet about it all — until McConaughey walks downstairs with her weave in his mouth. And then it’s “he doesn’t have to go home, but he’s got to get the hell outta here” time.

NEXT: The Doggy Gaunlet of Doom vs. Doggy Walk of Death…

Sam, being Sam, takes Mercedes’ instruction as an opportunity train McConaughey so that he can keep him. The training consists of Artie, the Doggy Gauntlet of Doom (working title), and an impromptu performance of “Werewolves Of London.” It’s as weird and awesome as that song always is, but somehow oddly fitting for a dog training sesh with your bro. I really do like Chord Overstreet’s voice — I thought he led off “I Melt With You” perfectly — but I think an Artie lead might have been a better fit here. Eh, semantics: the werewolf has gotten his big dish of beef chow mein, and McConaughey is trained after just a few runs through an obstacle course. The dog is a genius! Or is it Sam? B

Mercedes doesn’t think it’s Sam. At least, she doesn’t imply that she thinks Sam has the brains and maturity to pull off taking care of a dog when she arrives back home, furious to find McConaughey the tamed beast still around. Sam finally stands his ground and says Mercedes is treating him like a boy, not a man. He can take care of a dog — he took care of his whole family when his parents lost their jobs, after all. Mercedes probably really had let that slip her mind; I know I had. In the fourth and fifth seasons, Sam became a caricature of himself: just a silly guy who seemed like he could barely take care of himself. But he’s not that, and it’s interesting that Colfer took the time to remind us of this. As a result, he takes the Sam/Mercedes relationship to a much more mature level. There’s actually conflict here: Sam says he can handle everything, but Mercedes knows that, with their busy lives, it would be unfair to McConaughey. Under normal circumstances, I would side with Mercedes immediately, but…puppy! And responsible Sam!

Dogs on dogs on dogs: Blaine and Artie set up shop on the street, where they helpfully point out Rachel to the paparazzi as she makes her very casual, very not staged dog-walking appearance. Even though she’s hard to miss, because she’s walking SIX giant dogs. It’s a lot of energy to deal with. Just as the cameras get to her and she starts talking up Broadway Bitches (and herself), the pups spot an innocent man with an unassuming hot dog. The dogs start to pull her, a few get off their leashes, and the few that don’t drag Rachel all the way down the street on her stomach in her perfect Audrey Hepburn little black dress. Santana the New PR Star looks on in horror as her hard work tumbles down the street.

When Rachel is recovering from being walked by her props rescue dogs, Kurt arrives back home to the Brooklyn Loft: Land of Achievable Dreams to tell Santana and Rachel that he got a part he’s excited about. They act like the role isn’t serious, and even though he explicitly asks them to come, both say they can’t make it because of Rachel’s event. Kurt reminds Rachel that he bends over backward for her anytime she needs anything. It’s true — Kurt has been almost entirely saint-like for the last 20 or so episodes. If he wants to do a little retirement home theater with old people, well then, he can, because it makes him happy. And Rachel should be happy that he’s happy. But she still says no, because she’s “doing this for the aaaaaanimals.” On the same spectrum, but opposite ends from Sam, Colfer seemingly takes Rachel back to an earlier version of herself for this episode; a Rachel that is at her most selfish and vain. Kurt pointedly informs her that she isn’t doing anything for any animals, she’s doing it all for herself.

Back at Peter Pan rehearsal, everything is looking a little ridiculous. People are flying into each other and falling asleep and Billy Dee Williams is insisting they should have done The Importance of Being Earnest. He’s been a total know-it-all ever since he was a question on Jeopardy, you see. Maggie receives flowers from her daughter, telling her that she won’t be able to make it to the show, and I get all choked up thinking about how she’s probably holding back her disappointment with a smile — only for the nurse to tell Kurt that Maggie sends herself flowers every so often to keep up appearances, and her daughter, Clara, hasn’t come to see her in years. This will not stand!

NEXT: Saint Kurt branches outside of McKinley alumni…

But there’s more to the story than that. Saint Kurt goes to see Clara the high powered attorney to let her know that he mom would love nothing more than to see her at the Peter Pan performance. Clara informs him that the reason she doesn’t go see her mom is because Maggie chose everything else over her when she was growing up, especially her career. She missed her graduations and her games and her own plays, so why should she go see her 84-year-old mother in something now? I think it’s a pretty fair argument, but Kurt pulls out the trump card just as she’s about to have him escorted out her office: “My mom died when I was eight and I spent my entire life pretending that I had one…your mother couldn’t take care of you when you were little but you could take care of her now.”

Broadway Betches: Rachel’s dog adoption event is a huge success; Santana has the press all arranged to come out later, and has picked out the perfect three-legged dog for Rachel to pose with. But when someone tries to adopt that dog and Rachel won’t let her, the woman figures out what’s going on. Like every single person in New York, she reads the Broadway blogs and knows that Rachel is just trying to save her image: “You don’t care about these dogs. I doubt you care much about anyone but yourself.” Preach, lady in jeans and tennis shoes. Rachel’s face goes thoughtful, as if this isn’t a lesson she’s had to learn over and over again.

Blaine finally shows up in the near vicinity of Kurt to help prep him for his big Peter Pan debut. Squibb is dressed in a nightgown and hair ribbon as Wendy and looks just fabulous. Kurt calls Rachel backstage to tell her that even though things have been tense, he still hopes he event goes well and he’s glad he has a friend like her to inspire him. She’s all, “That’s sweet Kurt, but I’ve gotta go, I have my best friend’s play to watch.” He looks out at the audience and there she is with the whole New York crew. Ugh, I hate that it gets me every time.

Then, suddenly, Kurt is spinning from the ceiling in a harness singing Madonna’s “Lucky Star.” It. Is. Awesome. His feet hardly touch the ground the whole time. He just cruises around the stage in the air while Maggie sings below him with all her might and all of the older gentlemen do the cabbage patch in nightdresses in the background. It does not get weirder or better than a disco performance in a retirement home. It’s not Mary Martin, that’s for sure. A

The show ends, Maggie is reunited with Clara, who decided to take the first step with her mom after all, and just as Kurt is wishing more people could see the former legends do their thing, his friends announce they’ve brought a bus from Artie’s film school and they want the Lexington Home gang to help them perform at the Broadway Bitches event.

Rachel introduces her guests of honor and the opening number: “As New Yorkers, we get so wrapped up in our careers…we forget the importance of creating a legacy we can be proud of.” The whole crew breaks into “Take Me Home Tonight,” and it’s the first big group number in a while. The addition of the diner guests, the dogs being shopped around, and the old folks make for a pretty action-packed performance. It’s actually a little hard to focus, but I do know for sure that Sam and Mercedes ended up finding a good future home for McConaughey. Or, at least, the way that older couple was dancing with him looked like they could handle taking him on the Doggy Gauntlet of Doom should he ever want to return. The New York Theater News reporter Santana kept pushing is finally there, and she’s impressed with Rachel’s cause. Rachel gives all the credit to her publicist, Santana, and her inspiration, Kurt. But they give it right back to her — friends forever, and all that.

All in all, I thought the song choices were a little odd, but the performances were perfectly crazed. The jokes were more subtle than usual, but also had all the wit without the mean-spiritedness that can sometimes taint this show. Most importantly, Cofler showed a real respect for the characters we’ve come to know and love/hate. Not bad at all for a first-time TV writer, I’d say. I would definitely be up for more Colfer-penned episodes in Glee‘s final season (final season!). Would you?

Episode Recaps

Jane Lynch, Lea Michele, and high school anxiety star in Fox’s campy musical.
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