Tina and Artie go head-to-head for valedictorian, while Rachel and Santana test the strength of their friendship (heads up: not that strong)

By Jodi Walker
Updated February 26, 2014 at 08:45 AM EST
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Adam Rose/Fox
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Oh, welcome back, you dedicated Glee fans, you! If you were hoping for a return to form after the couple of kind of cracked-out pre-hiatus episodes – Puppets! Previously unaired sexy Santas! – then you got your classic Glee showing last night. Sue Sylvester-instigated rivalry? Check. Rachel Berry’s ambition driving her to extremes? Definite check. A Kelly Clarkson song as valedictorian speech? All the checks. (OK, that last one isn’t technically a well-traveled Glee trope, but you probably could have assumed it would happen at some point.)

With the new knowledge that Glee will soon be moving to New York full-time, this post-hiatus episode does a nice job of beginning to mentally prepare the audience for that transition. Graduation is drawing near, and the littlest McKinley students took a backseat in lieu of storylines focused on the remaining original cast members. The bulk of the plot is reserved for New York, where the fierce duo of Rachel and Santana are finding themselves in a very Smash-season-one rivalry – Rachel even made the comparison herself a few episodes back, didn’t she?

Santana is feeling down because she was hoping to spin her yeast infection commercial into more successful ventures, but instead she’s just become that girl who was in a yeast infection commercial and works at a diner (and, let’s not forget, still has a sex tape floating around out there – “Santana Lopez” must yield one hell of a Google search). And there at that diner with her is her former enemy, current friend and roommate, Rachel Berry, the most successful Broadway ingénue to ever slap on a pair of leg warmers. In addition to her lead in a Broadway musical revival, Rachel informs Santana that she’s going to be on the cover of New York Magazine, and she’s going to try to score her a gig as a background model for the photo shoot. An uncharacteristically supportive Santana coos, “I really hope I can be as cool as you when the roles are reversed.” That, my English major friends, is what we call FORESHADOWING.

Back in Ohio, Artie and Tina are going to be on the cover of Lima Magazine. Just kidding, everyone can’t be a famous teenager! No, they’re just having their weekly Tuesday lunch and singing Kenny Loggins’ “Whenever I Call You Friend” to each other. It’s super sweet. These two don’t always get that much interaction these days, what with the girlfriends and the costume making and the Blaine-vapor-rubbing, but don’t forget, they were one of Glee’s very first love stories. I really bought that sweet love was showin’ them a heavenly light. B

That is, until Sue revealed to the lunch buddy biffles that they were tied for valedictorian and would have to speechify to the death to win the spot as their own. Tina needs the title to officially be accepted at Brown and tries to convince Artie to hand it over by calling his girlfriend the “biggest bitch at McKinley.” Surprisingly, that does not work. Mr. Shue helpfully suggests a sing-off and – oh, hot damn, is that En Vogue?! Yes, they sure do sing “My Lovin’ (Never Gonna Get It)” and no, it is not even close to the Funky or Diva levels that an En Vogue cover should be. The vocals are good, the **breakdown** is appreciated, but the choreography is mostly just Tina being way too physically aggressive with Artie, ultimately resulting in her knocking him out of his wheelchair. Oh, Tina. C

Rachel and Santana have arrived at the photo shoot and Santana is still being very supportive, but the jealousy that’s bound to erupt when your friend is doing exactly what you wish you were doing is beginning to seep into her eyeballs. As everyone dons their evening gowns and parasols, they break into “Brave” by Sara Bareilles. “Honestly,” after listening to those incessant Nokia Lumia commercials for the last two months (it’s the bravest phone in the world!), I didn’t think I’d ever want to hear this song again, but it’s a winning number. The vocals are lovely, and the parasol dancing, Santana’s gorgeous dress, and Rachel’s ode to Barbra Streisand’s 1969 Oscar suit don’t hurt. B+

Rachel is certainly enjoying her time in the spotlight and isn’t looking to share it with anyone else, going so far as to say she doesn’t need no stinkin’ Funny Girl understudy. Nonetheless, she’s skipping Pamela Lansbury rehearsal in favor of sitting in on the understudy auditions. *dramatic donning of sunglasses* “It’s just really hard being a star.” *Santana thoughtfully looks into the distance, as though formulating a plan*

With the ladies busy on Broadway, Kurt decides it’s time for some man-to-man band bonding time with Elliot/Starchild and a tray of cucumber sandwiches. You see, these kids can’t breathe without getting a magazine article written about them, and in a recent interview with Village Voice, Elliot called Pamela Lansbury “his” band, which did not please the band’s leader, Kurt (I tried to think of any other way to refer to a band you’re in besides “my band” and I could not, but my hands-on rockstar experience is minimal). Blaine tells him **Episode Theme Alert** to keep his friends close and his enemies closer, so he decides it’s time to “break it down, Andy Cohen style.”

Keeping Elliot close somehow leads to Kurt saying he wants to learn guitar, Elliot saying that means he needs to buy one, and this bonding session quickly relocating to the Fender store. The sales guy seems a little judge-y about their rock credentials (or something?), so Elliot asks the nearest axe-wielding patron, “Hey man, do you know that song by The Darkness, ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love,’” and surely Adam Lambert’s pretty face is the only thing that keeps the guy from slapping him (that comes later, anyway). Oh boy, do I love this song and oh boy, do those two well-coiffed boys put their Glee spin on it. Literally, Kurt spins on a pole. Lambert’s got the glam-rock and you know Chris Colfer’s got the falsetto. A

NEXT: Santana rains all over Rachel’s parade…

At some point, Rachel has removed her diva sunglasses long enough to see that there’s no talent in all of New York City that could possibly function as her underst– Oh, what’s that? Santana is here to audition and she’s singing Rachel and Babs’ signature song? Cool.

Confession: I watch Rachel’s season one performance of “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” like, once a month. It’s so good, it’s so convicted, it’s so Rachel. With the back-of-the-auditorium entrance and the staging, Santana’s performance is a pretty clear message that she feels she’s just as good. Of course, Naya Rivera knocks it out vocally because she can, but we’ve seen convicted Santana, and this ain’t her…purposefully so, I think. This is calculated Santana – and it works! Rupert loves her (and can’t you just feel his creepy turn coming in T-minus two episodes?). A-

Rachel returns home fuming to Kurt that when Barbra “goes” (how dare you, Rachel Berry, Streisand is immortal) that song is hers, just in time for Santana to overhear. The two go WAY at it. Santana tells Rachel that all of her ambition is a direct result of the hate she and her Cheerio friends threw at her in high school. It serves as an excellent reminder that these two have had a few warm and fuzzy moments, sure, but they’ve always had a rivalry and their talent has always aligned in a perfect storm of insecurities. “I was better than you then and I’m always going to be better than you. You are short. You are awful. And that is never going to change –” SLAPPPPP. I gasped. Lea Michele really went for that hit. Girl wound up her arm like a damn Yankees relief pitcher.

And then the phone rings. Santana gets the part. Give the pacing of this episode some credit: That was one tense and entertaining scene.

Wait, wait, wait, don’t forget about McKinley – those kids still have to graduate! Artie and Tina head onto the stage to give the speech of their lives. Sue introduces “absolutely no one’s favorite new direction, Tina Cohen-Chang,” and TCC promptly delivers a speech urging the judging panel to choose Artie as valedictorian. And Artie returns the favor. These two aren’t frenemies, they’re just friends who get feisty sometimes. Figgins is crying; Beiste is crying (Beiste is always crying), and Sue is not having any of it. She was not expecting to hear, “Is it a bridge too far to call Artie Abrams an American hero – I think not.” And so, she relegates them to co-salutatorians and bumps up the No. 3 to valedictorian status: Blaine Anderson. “I know this sounds like a humble brag, but honestly, I feel like sometimes things just get handed to me.” HA!

It must be something in that Lima water, because back in New York, Rachel and Santana, rising Broadway stars, are figuring out how to navigate being teenagers who hate each other while also rehearsing for the same role. Rupert loves the publicity they’re going to get for having been high school pals and needs them to cut the crap and do the like-white-on-rice thing with each other. As Santana shadows Rachel through rehearsals, they break into The Police’s “Every Breath You Take.” I am reveling in so many Rachel/Santana duets, and the camera work is extra rich with literal and metaphorical shadowing and their mirrored performances on the show’s two-story set. B+

We get a quick happy scene in the loft where Elliot/Starchild fesses up that he knows what Kurt is doing and he’s “not trying to take over your band, man!” Dude got an article in Village Voice; he’s doing OK. And he’s just happy to have a new friend, so why not commemorate their fun day with a cheek-kissing selfie? Oh, maybe because your child-bride fiancé might see it and act like he’s totally cool with it, but my money is more on “totally not cool with it.”

Savor in the friendly moment, because Santana and Rachel both return to the loft after a strained rehearsal and they know someone’s gotta go. But, uh, who in their right mind would leave that loft the size of an elementary school gymnasium? Rachel, apparently: “This is my big break and she is poisoning it!” The camera is doing something crazy on every single one of Rachel’s screaming close-ups, and it follows her right though packing up her old life and heading out to a new one. “You and I have never been friends; never have, and never will be!”

Blaine has decided that his valedictorian speech will be of the musical variety (because Blaine is the Blaine-iest Blaine to ever Blaine), and he’s requested backup from Artie and Tina. In what I think we’re supposed to assume will ultimately become his speech, the three sing “Breakaway” by American Idol-era Kelly Clarkson. If that song doesn’t take you somewhere emotionally (cruising the Texas streets with my brand new learner’s permit), then you had a very different 2004 than I. Those Lima kids are about to head out on their own (take a risk!), Rachel’s moving out (make a change!), and she dramatically rips up a picture of herself and Santana just to seal the deal, and remind you that, yes, you’re still watching Glee.

Best Lines:

– “If during the middle of your speeches you decide to abandon your prepared text in favor a musical number because the emotions you’re feeling are so complex they can only be expressed in song, I promise you I will dedicate my life to making sure that every beverage you drink until the day you die will have just a tiny little bit of my pee in it.” – Sue’s very specific and very necessary threat to Tina and Artie

– Rachel on a fellow up-and-comer at the photo shoot: “She just got the lead on AMC’s new show about Victorian prostitutes.” Ball’s in your court, AMC.

– “How does one go from Schroeder to Starchild? What is that journey like?” – Kurt asking Elliot what everyone is thinking

– Rupert after finding out Santana and Rachel know each other: “One high school produced both of you?” Oh buddy, you don’t know the half of it.

Episode Recaps

Glee

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