"Heart," written by Ali Adler, directed by Brad Falchuk.
The biggest thing that "Heart" had going for it was the strongest and most genuine sense of ensemble this show has been able to display with its ever-growing, ne'er-shrinking cast of characters. There were six - count 'em, six - story threads that wove together without being too plotted or theme-y, that progressed naturally and entertainingly, with interesting conflict and relatable emotions. At this point, what more could we want?
The episode's frame came quickly and easily. It's all about love, baby! And this year, love at McKinley gets the Sugar Motta treatment - aka, it's rolled in money and glitter and waiting for you under your chair. (Unless you're Artie, in which case it's hidden in some other location nearby.) Putting Sugar as the episode's instigator was a great decision, because it allowed for her to be involved and true to her character, but it didn't force her on a super-serious character arc, which we can save for characters that we're already emotionally invested with. Sugar got to be the comic relief, where she shines, and plus - she solved a huge problem lurking behind all of Glee's glitzy performances: how are they paying for all this? Well, Sugar's got a rich dad and throws money around like nobody's business. Problem solved! No more bake sales for Regionals - plus, we get a Breadstix turned into the Sugar Shack, providing a Valentine's Day party that awaits us at episode's end!
But, Sugar wasn't just a plot device - she did get a fun and silly storyline where she had to decide who's going to take her to her own soirée. Artie and Rory both stepped up to woo her, and this mini-thread was given the right amount of screentime. Better yet, Ali and Brad employed the most magical filmmaking tool, and to great effect: a montage! Mike and Tina serenaded us with a damn adorable version of "L-O-V-E" while we witnessed Rory and Artie's efforts to win over Sugar with confetti and puppies. Doubled-up, it was cute, charming, and a nice bit of Valentine's Day fluff. (Plus, how great did Jenna Ushkowitz and Harry Shum Jr. sound on that song?)
Of course, there also was some good serenading - Artie turned out a silky smooth performance of "Let Me Love You," and Rory crooned a melancholy version of "Home" to thank the glee club for being so hospitable during his year abroad. Turns out his visa expires at the end of this school year, and so he's going to return to Ireland. This tips the scales in his favor with Sugar, because she feels worse for him than she does for Artie, and thus Rory got the V-Day dance at the Sugar Shack. Something tells me he might have been lying about his departure, but honestly I'm not terribly fussed with the particulars of this storyline. Sugar is great because she's hardly connected to reality in any way, so truly: anything goes. Bring on the absurdity!
We got an extra dose of absurd this week with, finally, the introduction of Rachel's dads into the fold. Welcome, Fathers Berry! We've been waiting for you. Leroy and Hiram showed up to offer their full and unconditional support of Finn and Rachel's engagement, and encouraged them to shout their love to the rooftops. These characters were so delightful to see, especially when they share the same manic showmanship as their daughter. Of course the Berries would invite the Hudson-Hummels over to sing for them at the piano. Of course. Expectations were met and exceeded with the cadence of these characters.
I confess though, during the first few scenes with Rachel's dads, I wasn't sure where we were headed. They ran long, and didn't really contain much other than Leroy and Hiram being adorably blathering over their kid's happiness. There seemed to be little point to their inclusion. But the conflict was dropped in a reveal! In an effort to deter Finn and Rachel's pending marriage with the realism of relationships, they schemed with Burt and Carole to force Finn and Rachel into each other's evening routines. For Finn, this means waiting around while Rachel conducts an evening regimen that lasts longer than the entirety of Gone With the Wind. For Rachel, this means having to know that your fiancé is taking a dump in your bathroom.
Somehow, a huge fight escalates out of this tiny and ridiculous (and kind of hilarious) conflict, and suddenly it's clear: with one champagne clink, we see that the Elder Berries are behind this ruse. Giggle! Turns out Hiram and Leroy are at-home members of the Support Group to Prevent Finchel Marriage, and the most conniving ones at that. (Somehow I think Quinn and Kurt would be impressed, and proud.) But they echoed what everyone else is voicing: that Finn and Rachel are too young and immature to get married right now, no matter how much they think they love one another. Rachel and Finn are committed to this runaway train engagement, though, and survived their first fight, more devoted than ever. The dads' sneaky plan did nothing, and Finn and Rachel are now planning to get married in May. And not only that, but Rachel's officially down two potential bridesmaids in Kurt and Quinn! Dammit! Can nothing go right?! (I kid.)
The most interesting storyline of the night, though, goes to the intersection between the "God Squad," the New Kid, and Santana's fight for her rights. Automatically, doesn't that sound like the greatest thing ever? And truthfully, it kind of was. Sure, introducing an out-of-nowhere Christian club could feel a little like a plot device. But the discussion it sparked was well worth any clunky establishing. Not only that, but it fueled three different displays of excellent character development, so there is absolutely no complaining from this party.
The God Squad consists of Mercedes, Sam, and Quinn, all characters that we've previously known to be church-going, and a new kid, Joe - played by the Glee Project winner Samuel Larsen. Introducing a Christian character on Glee is dangerous territory. It's easy to write a character that's so conservative they become an exaggeration, someone akin to Quinn's original rendering, way back when. But Joe is already played against type: he has dreads, a nose ring, and could have easily been cast as "the bad boy." So kudos for originality!
The four kids decide to sell singing Valentines at school, and successfully deliver Finn's to Rachel with a solid rendition of "Stereo Hearts." Santana, witnessing this, puts a plan into effect. See, what with Valentine's Day and all, she and Brittany tried to smooch in the hallways, only to get reprimanded by Principal Figgins for inappropriate PDA. Obviously, the real issue is not the affection, but the affection between two female students, and Santana calls Figgins out on the bullshit double standard. So when the Christian group offers to sing Valentine's messages, Santana puts tolerance to the test: will the God Squad sing a romantic song for a same-sex relationship?
Essentially, this is a huge, real-life, hits-close-to-home topic for many people, shrunk down to fit a high school environment. It delineates the conflict of Christianity vs. Homosexuality, using characters whose points of view we understand, without any heavy-handed messages where the kids learn a Very Important Lesson. Yet, the point is clear. Quinn, Mercedes, and Sam all have no issues with it, having been in the glee club's culture of tolerance for so long. Joe is the wild card, and we're not sure what he'll say - after all, he thinks he's never met a gay person. Truthfully, the message of the storyline lies with Quinn, someone who's had to look at her religion and scrutinize her relationship with it during difficult times in her life. She knows her stuff, and not only points out that the Bible says nothing about gay people (or about slavery being an abomination) but that to her, being a true Christian means looking at hard questions and really thinking about the truths.
Quinn, thus, is the first person to receive benevolent character treatment by this storyline. She not only speaks her mind, but supports Santana, who (lest we forget) is her oldest friend at McKinley. It was a rewarding and touching choice to give the bulk of the Santana-Brittany valentine song to Quinn, who at some point had to negotiate her religion and her best friends' feelings - and has always proven to be at least quietly supportive. So, witnessing that support take shape into an action was a wonderful payoff to the original Cheerios' relationship. Maybe we'll get more: Quinn's treatment by the writers this season has done a complete 180, and I couldn't be happier.
Santana was the second character to get the boon of the God Squad storyline, in that she stood up for her beliefs, called out an authority figure on his bias, and didn't back down from showing the world she loves Brittany. This is a far cry from the girl who was scared of the looks and the talks, and although it's been an inconsistent and bumpy ride from then to now, it's still rewarding to see Santana's change manifested so strongly. This is the girl we know and love, and I would much rather see commentary on gay teenagers with this message rather than gay panic and social ostracization (especially when the latter is so poorly handled). Plus, we finally got Brittana's first onscreen kisses, with two bookending their story arc: a quick peck to demonstrate that they're not all over each other like Finn and Rachel (hee) and a meaningful kiss at the Valentine's Day party. I never thought I'd say this, but it was well worth the wait.
Lastly, Mercedes was the third beneficiary of the God Squad Holy Trinity, with the realization that cheating on Shane with Sam didn't align with what kind of person she wants to be. This was slyly included as a consequence of Quinn's definition of a "true Christian," but Mercedes' epiphany was not overtly religious - she simply was the first character on this show to not only experience remorse for cheating, but also to do something about it. She told Sam she couldn't be with him. And not only that, but she confessed to Shane, and he was heartbroken. There are already a few things at work here that are excellent choices, but I was mainly thrilled that no one shamed Mercedes for her transgression. We didn't see Shane yell at her. We didn't see Sam yell at her. I was worried for a moment when Sam wordlessly walked away to leave Mercedes to her tears, but I think his part in the performance of "I Will Always Love You" clarifies Sam's emotions. Because goodness, how heartwrenching were Chord Overstreet's reaction shots? The idea that he understands Mercedes' emotions, but at the same time he's clearly heartbroken by the turn of events... ugh, I couldn't handle that face. Throw in Amber Riley's bone-chilling performance of the late Whitney Houston's classic, and the only outcome is soaking through a box of tissues.
(Can I just say as well that I loved the minor character detail of Mercedes taking a leadership position in the God Squad? She had turned out to be a damn fine leader in the Troubletones, and I love that this gets to be an actual character trait for our girl. Go Mercedes!)
The final thread in tonight's episode dealt with Kurt, and paid off in a much larger way than anyone could have guessed. Kurt started receiving messages from a secret admirer, and due to Blaine's continued recovery from eye surgery, we all assumed they were offscreen gifts from Blaine. Cute, right? But the writers threw us for a loop, and Kurt's admirer was revealed to be Dave Karofsky, who's finally come to terms with not only his sexuality, but also his feelings for Kurt. I'm unsure yet what path this storyline is going to take, but it was handled well within the episode - Kurt said all the right things to Karofsky and in all the right ways, and it was, again, rewarding to see these two's evolving dynamic, after all they've been through together. I'm guessing that whoever that Nick guy is, he's not good news for Karofsky keeping his sexuality a secret, and we'll see where this goes from here.
But even with all this conflict, everyone convened for Sugar's Valentine's Day extravaganza, and we got to see not only the wrap-ups for most of the characters, but also the return of Blaine, who remembered to bring his glittery heart eyepatch. Phew! Then, "Heart" ended with the one-two punch of "Cherish" and "Love Shack," the latter of which was so much more fun than I could have ever envisioned.
In all, that seemed to be the theme of the night: Ali Adler and Brad Falchuk assembled a damn solid episode that exceeded every expectation I could have ever had. "Heart" demonstrated a fine ensemble, and allowed its characters interesting conflict, genuine moments of development, and some damn good comedy on top of that. (Even besides Sugar, Hiram, and Leroy, we got some great bits of humor from all parties. Puck still proves to be one of the best go-to guys for background bits, and Sam and Mercedes' debate about which apostle could be gay had me in stitches. Imagine what those two talk about all the time - it's wonderful.) Happy Valentine's Day, indeed! I'm feeling the love.
The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: A+
Dance Numbers: A
Episode MVP: Ali Adler (heyo!)