We all prayed to our respective gods that after two lackluster episodes Glee would get good again. Our entreaties were answered with not only a great episode, but a surprisingly nuanced discussion about faith. Praise Grilled Cheesus, Glee is back.
I totally freaked out after the first crappy episode of this season. Maybe everyone's fears about our beloved show's sophomore stint would come true and it was totally suck. I still held out hope for the Britney Spears episode, and that turned out to be a total abortion. Then I read a very interesting theory that says that only every third episode of Glee really matters. The show has only three main writers who work in rotation, and the one who has consistently cranked out the best episodes is Brad Falchuk. Guess who wrote last night's episode? Yes, Brad Falchuk. And it was fucking brilliant. So far, the theory proves to be true. Of course now I'm going to be checking the opening credits every week.
The episode starts off when Finn makes a grilled cheese sandwich in his George Foreman grill and, like a Weekly World News story come to life, the face of Jesus appears on the burnt bread. A Grilled Cheesus! Never the religious type, Finn prays to the Grilled Cheesus and says that if his team wins their first football game that he will devote the week to singing his devotion to the lord in Glee club. When the McKinley High football squad has a rare victory, Finn's plan to thank god like a Grammy winner is met with mixed reaction. It's wrapped up in this song from Puck, who only sings tunes from Jewish artists, it appears.
Not a bad rendition of this song, but I'd be lying (and my mother would never forgive me) if I said that Puck did it better than Mr. Billy Joel. The great thing about this song though is that it sounds like it's devotional, but it's really just our randy Mr. Joel trying to convince a Catholic girl to go against her morals and give him some loving. It's a song against religion.
Puck is against religion because, as a Jew, when he has to hear about religion it's always from silly Christians trying to convert him and shit. Babygay Kurt doesn't like religion because most denominations don't like gays, women, or science. Brittany doesn't like religion because it gives her narcolepsy. Santana doesn't like religion because she's a slut. If I started a religion, it would only be for sluts like Juggs McGee.
But the person with the soundest and most rational argument (for a change) is Sue Motherfucking Sylvester. She says that when she was younger she prayed and prayed for her sister—the one person SMFS really loves—to recover from her Down Syndrome and it never happened. That's when she decided there was no god. Sue stops the Glee club from doing any more religious songs, not because she's trying to fuck with them (as per usual) but because she's philosophically opposed to it. And with good reason! When Emma says it's cruel to rob people of religion, Sue says that it's also cruel for people of faith to tell non-believers that they're amoral or going to hell. For a change, there wasn't even a hint of snark in her voice. Amen, Sue Goddamning Sylvester!
Of course there are still some students who love Jesus.
You would figure that Whitney Houston's "I Look to You" would be about crack or Bobby Brown or something, but Mercedes thinks it's about Jesus. Of course Mercedes does a more than competent job belting this one out. This is sort of like lobbing her a slow pitch and just letting her hit it out of the park. Like Mercedes, Quinn is a true believer because she turned to God when she was pregnant so that her fetus wouldn't come out a serpent child. Emma is also a true believer and thinks that the children should be able to express whatever spirituality they believe in, and even tries to convince Sue that religion is a good idea.
Honestly, I think this song was a bit of filler. Some great-sounding, wonderful filler, but filler indeed.
Rachel's number for a change, wasn't filler at all.
Of course Rachel sings "Poppa Can You Hear Me?" from the movie Yentl because, Barbra Streisand is basically her religion. I can't believe I'm about to admit this in print, but I haven't seen the 1983 movie that stars Streisand as a woman who poses as a man so that she can study at a Jewish yeshiva. Actually, I'm not much of a Streisand fan in general. Go ahead, shoot me! Rachel continues to show that she she will win the first of her five Tonys in the Broadway revival of Funny Girl because she can channel the fuck out of Barbra. That's great and all, if you pray at the altar of Streisand. Which I don't. Wow, that feels great to confess.
What was great was this wasn't just another excuse for Rachel to dip into her heroine's songbook, but it really fit into the story. It affirmed Rachel's spirituality—she was even willing to let Finn grab the boobs when he said they could raise their children Jewish—but fit in with Babygay Kurt's problems with religion.
Just as Yentl is calling to her unresponsive father in heaven (and through him, her unresponsive god), BG Kurt is also looking to get in touch with his father, who fell into a coma after a heart attack. Rachel and the rest of the Glee crew shows up to pray over Kurt's father, and he throws them out of the room. Now, I'm all for sticking up for one's atheism, but Kurt didn't have to be such a jerk about it. Just because he doesn't believe in god is no reason to be mean to his friends or to tell them that their beliefs don't matter.
Eventually Kurt comes around and it's time for a showstopper of his own.
Goddamn it, Babygay Kurt, why you always gotta me me cry! This song is everything that is right about Glee. It took an unexpected song—in this case an upbeat early Beatles hit—and transformed it into something else entirely. The slow arrangement was beautiful, BG Kurt's explanation was touching, and the accompanying montage had just enough heart and comedy to keep it from being sentimental mush. It's great that a throw-away ditty about a guy wanting to get with a girl can be turned into a dirge about a son missing his father. All they had to do was adjust the music and the context and this song that everyone already knows the words to became something sparkling and new. What makes this show great isn't the songs, but the emotional power behind the songs. It's so great to see that back on track.
Everyone thought that BG Kurt didn't care about his father because he was keeping God away from him, but he showed them all just how deeply he cares about his dear old dad, despite their differences and the fact that he'd rather go see Sing-Along Sound of Music then have dinner with his father. I think they all believe how much he cares after this.
Now it's time for Finn to have a crisis of faith.
The reason this clip of "Losing My Religion" is so short is because, well, it sucked. Sorry, Finn, but you did not do justice to the indie rock standard. And I'm not convinced this REM song is about actually losing one's religion as literally as it's used here. Actually, I'm not sure what this song means. I listed to this CD so much back in the day that I wore out the grooves on the disc. I can probably sing the lyrics by heart, but I still have no idea what they really mean. Isn't Michael Stipe always trying to be cryptic and ambiguous anyway?
So, Finn takes the song at face value when he starts forgetting his new-found faith. He treats the Grilled Cheesus like a genie, like something that is there to grant his wishes. First it helps them win their first football game. Then it lets him touch Rachel's boob. Then it gets him to be quarterback again, but the last one happens only after Sam gets injured on the field by a 23-year-old steroid-riddled linebacker. Like St. Teresa of Giudice (or Avila or whatever) said, "Answered prayers cause more tears than those that remain unanswered." Finn feels guilty that Sam's misfortune leads to his triumph. Oh, Finn, don't worry. It was just a plot device to get him in Glee club anyway!
What was really interesting is that Finn goes to Emma and tells her about his Grilled Cheesus and she tells him that he's absolutely nuts. Earlier Emma went to Sue and told her it was cruel that Sue Goddamn Sylvester was taking religion away from the kids. Now Emma is on the other side of the desk and she's doing the same thing to Finn. She's saying the things Finn attributed to divine intervention had much more simple explanations. Well, Emma, if you can explain away these things, can't you explain away any event that people feel is created by god. It's the worst kind of hypocrisy to say that doing the rosary and going to church is OK, but that believing in a sandwich is wrong. If we have to respect any religions, we have to respect the crazy ones too. Except Scientology. They're just fucked.
And with her advice, Emma has destroyed another of the faithful. Luckily, Mercedes is a lot stronger in her faith—and her vocal abilities.
This was the second show-stopper of the night, and again it was a thoughtful reimagining of a classic. Simon & Garfunkle's secular "Bridge over Troubled Waters" so easily lends itself to a gospel rendition and a religious reading that it's almost scary. So often when the choir comes in to jazz up a standard, it overpowers everything else and seems like a gimmick. But between Mercedes powerful singing and a bit of restraint, this is nothing short of heavenly.
Mercedes really proves to be that bridge she sings about for Kurt. She tells him that she respects his beliefs, but that he should respect hers too and let her try to help in her way. He finally realizes that people aren't attacking him by turning to religion, but trying to help. He's gracious enough to accept her offer to go to church. Probably because there was a promise of fabulous hats.
Babygay Kurt (in a glorious chapeau) really is moved when he's in church, but it's not by Jesus, it's by the human spirit. All these people—all these strangers—are willing to pray for his father and support him in his time of need. They gay Kurt what he really needed: community and hope.
And finally, it was time for the crappy final number.
Last season the show-capper was usually the most powerful number, but this year they've all been disappointments. This performance sounded and looked great, but I just fucking hate "What if God Was One of Us." I hated it when it was on the radio back in the '90s and I hate it now. I hope that Joan Osbourne finds out that god is not one of us and that she burns in hell for all eternity being tormented by Sue Goddamn Sylvester's arch-nemesis, Mary Lou Retton. I understand why it's in the show—because it's about humanizing religion and finding a faith that is less about churches and silly prejudices than something human—but, man, is it a crappy song.
BG Kurt never turned to god, but he did find something to believe it. That seems to be the lesson of the episode—if something as multi-layered as this were aiming to be didactic—is that you have to believe in something. Kurt goes to his father's bedside and tells him that he doesn't believe in god, but that he believes in their love and he hopes that's enough to make him well again. Again with making us cry, Babygay Kurt! He was robbed of that Emmy.
Secondly, I was so glad that he didn't come around and pray and have his father get better. I was so afraid that this was going to be like the Santa episode of every sitcom. You know the one where Kevin James' or Jim Belushi or Ray Romano or some other fat fuck's kid find out that Santa doesn't exist and they're all sad, but then right at the end of the episode something miraculous happens to make them believe again and faith is restored! But, no, Glee is too smart and good for that. Kurt is still an atheist and just as firm in his convictions as the Christians around him. He's not punished for it and he doesn't have to compromise himself for something good to happen to him. A-men!
Sue Motherfucking Sylvester even comes around after talking to her very wise sister, who convinces her that sometimes you have to believe in other people and leave room for their strange ideas of religion, no matter if you agree with them or not. We hope that letting New Directions sing a faith-based song is her one act of kindness, because we like her so much better as a sinner than as a saint.
Finn also loses all of his faith when he realizes that the Grilled Cheesus is nothing but an invented figure. He doesn't go on to find another religion or something else to believe in, and the episode leaves him drifting, which was an ending that was both satisfying and open-ended. What was totally gross though was that he ate the nasty week-old sandwich. After three days a Grilled Cheesus does not come back to life—it goes bad! When Finn wakes up with stomach pains it's not going to be god talking, it will be science.
This was still one of the greatest debates about religion I've ever seen on prime-time network television. When I heard the concept for the episode, I was afraid, because the Christians out there in the flatlands have hijacked so much of our popular entertainment for so long. It's like producers and network execs are afraid to piss off such a vocal demographic that they won't do anything to challenge their beliefs. Sure we can get a LeAnn Rimes Christmas special where she sings in front of an illuminated crucifix, but try to have an intelligent and thoughtful discussion about atheism and the Christians go completely batshit. So, all bow down and pray that Glee had the power to fight against them so eloquently. It's restored our faith in the show.