But then, something miraculous happened. To the RBI Report, shall we?
"Never Been Kissed," written by Brad Falchuk, directed by Bradley Buecker.
What's interesting about this episode is that it was directed by Bradley Buecker, Glee's editor! Okay, so it's interesting to me. Seriously, I've heard it said that editors make good directors. Editing is the last stop on telling a story before it's finalized, so editors need to know their stuff when it comes to communicating the story to the audience.
As such, I think Buecker did a stand-up job. With Brad Falchuk's solid writing behind him, he was able to steer the episode away from being saccharine and heavy-handed and instead portrayed the conflicts compellingly and the characters honestly. Because of it, I did not roll my eyes once! This is what happens when Ryan Murphy is not allowed near the execution of an episode.
There were a lot of sensitive issues touched on in "Never Been Kissed," mainly concerning Coach Beiste and Kurt. Both storylines were handled brilliantly. Seriously, major kudos to the show for the inclusion of Coach Beiste's character. Here is a 40-year-old woman who does not fit the "normal" standards of beauty, isn't gay, and is heartbroken over having never been kissed. It's easy to portray someone like this as pitiable, but instead she was truly empathetic. How could anyone not feel for the lady? (Though I must protest and say that, yes, women like to know they are respected. I get where Coach was coming from, but the line made me raise an eyebrow. Quibbling, party of one!)
And guess what? Responsible and Mature Adult, Will Schuester, was back in this episode! I rather loved his interactions with Coach Beiste. He treated her with respect and compassion, and it was lovely to see. Yes, he kissed her, which is definitely sparking debate amongst fans. But I appreciated it. They made it clear that it wasn't a pity kiss, but rather the seal on a bond that I find to be good for both characters. Coach Beiste didn't seem to mind, so I don't mind. I approve, and want to see them become good friends.
Kurt; oh, Kurt. He really did take a bruising in this episode, and it breaks my heart that his first gay kiss was with someone who not only torments him, but who also has issues to work out. Karofsky's abuse is inexcusable, but him kissing Kurt certainly adds an unexpected new dimension to his character. And I must applaud Brad Falchuk for not resolving it with a tearful coming out or Karofsky even acknowledging what happened. Karofsky is clearly not ready to confront the issues, and unfortunately, that's how life is sometimes. Things don't always get wrapped up nicely with a big bow on it. The Glee Club doesn't always sing to you about acceptance at the finish of every episode.
It may seem like no progress was made, with Kurt still being bullied at the end of NBK, but I think it was made clear that a glimmer of hope exists for Kurt Hummel, and that glimmer is Blaine. The reaction shots of Kurt watching Dalton Academy sing "Teenage Dream" made it abundantly clear that he wasn't just watching a performance, or even a cute guy. He was getting a glimpse into what his life could be like. Seeing him with tears in his eyes, smiling bigger than he ever had before was so much more rewarding than any big dramatic actions or a heavy-handed monologue. Bradley Buecker knows: it's all in the reaction shots, especially when it's the beautifully expressive face of Chris Colfer.
The third storyline in this episode belonged to none other than Noah Puckerman, fresh out of juvie. I think it was an interesting choice to include a Puck storyline in an episode about bullying, because it's confronting the harsh truth that Puck, much as we love him sometimes, is a bully. All of the characters have been bullies at one point or another, but Puck is the most consistent with his insistence on being a "badass."
Rightfully so, the writing didn't favor Puck in "Never Been Kissed," and I applaud that. The fact that Puck has been a bully shouldn't be dusted under the rug to make a statement. He was truly offensive for most of the episode, and no one can blame Quinn for sarcastically remarking that Puck was "a catch." What upsets me is that Santana clearly likes Puck because he's a bully, idolizing him for his boastful stories of kicking ass in juvie. I wish she would get straightened out on this falsehood (don't giggle over my word choice!), because Puck, in this incarnation, is a jackass. I like that at least Quinn doesn't put up with his crap, and apparently, neither does Artie.
The Artie/Puck team seems to be mutually beneficial. Lately, Artie has himself been flirting with some asshole behavior, and it at least makes sense that he could connect to Puck on some level. Maybe they'll be good for each other, and shape up before trying to get Tina and Quinn back, respectively. Because right now? Puck and Artie do not deserve those relationships. At the very least, Puck had his own run-in with bullies - they stole his waffles! - and has hopefully discovered once and for all that he wants to stop being such a jerk. I'm hoping against hope that this is the start of some great character development and not just another false start on the Glee character carousel.
This review is quickly getting to be mammoth-sized, but I do want to give a little round of applause for some excellent continuity! Glee successfully remembered that Will and Beiste have an established trust, that Quinn is a prude (but conveniently forgot that Rachel isn't), that Sue wanted confetti cannons with Beiste's budget, that Artie and Brittany had a brief relationship, that Puck went to juvie, and that Kurt wanted to perform with the girls mashup last year. I choose to ignore the ignoring of Santana and Brittany's obvious all-consuming love (shipper alert!) and instead focus on the other successes. Bravo!
Ultimately, I think this was a solidly executed episode. The important messages were communicated, from start to finish. Kurt had courage, stood up for himself, and cemented a bond that gives him hope, and reinforces to him that he is truly not alone. The grievances against Coach Beiste were addressed sensitively and apologized for. Puck wasn't rewarded for his delinquent behavior. Lessons were learned, but no one was preached to. All in all, I was very pleased. My crush on Brad Falchuk is back, with a vengeance!
I leave you with these choice words from the episode that stuck with me. No matter if you are Kurt Hummel, Shannon Beiste, or Noah Puckerman: Refuse to be the victim. Prejudice is just ignorance. And most importantly - free your mind, and the rest will stop. (Seriously, whoever thought to mash up those lyrics into that sentiment is just a genius.)
The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: A
Dance Numbers: A
Episode MVP: Shannon Beiste, with honorable mention to Kurt Hummel and Will Schuester