Occasionally, I like to anthropomorphize Glee as a senior citizen who has started to go through the beginning stages of dementia. It’s lucid and entertaining most of the time, but occasionally it will throw out stories and individual moments that make you wonder how this is the same program that came up with Kurt and Blaine’s sexy rendition of “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” the series pinnacle of “Like a Prayer,” or any of the storytelling achievements it made in its second season. Outside of the unmitigated train wreck that was Nationals last season, this problem has never been more apparent than in Tuesday’s episode, “Mash Off.” Managing to simultaneously incorporate some of the weakest and most outrageous (not in a good way) stories of the entire series, along with possibly two of the worst musical numbers in series history), alongside a final twenty minutes that were among the finest of the season, Tuesday’s episode of Glee was a living, breathing artifact of all of the things that make this show fail as well as make it work. While I get that every episode can’t be as good as last week’s “The First Time”, to go from one of the best episodes in the entire series to one that was among its worst (if not the worst) is more quality whiplash than any fan should have to endure.

One would be forgiven for thinking last week’s game-changing episode involving teen sexuality had never occurred because at no point do Finn, Rachel, Kurt, or Blaine discuss the fact that they all lost their virginity last week (except for Finn who lost it in Season 1). Instead, we’re thrown head-first into somewhere around four distinct stories (none of which pay off at all until the very end). After Puck and Shelby kissed two weeks ago, Puck has fallen in love with Shelby and is actively pursuing an actual relationship with her, though she has refused to lead him on anymore. Puck also comes clean about Quinn’s plan to frame Shelby as a poor parent to get Beth back. At the end of the episode, Shelby goes off on Quinn and explains to her what it really means to be a mother and that she no longer wants Quinn to be in Beth’s life. The second story involves the election for Congress between Sue, Burt, and (eventually we learn) a pizza salesman who can only be a not so subtle knock at Herman Cain. Sue is running an egregiously negative campaign in which she not only accuses Burt of having a baboon heart (from his angioplasty after the heart attack) but also being married to a donkey (because apparently Ohio voters are stupid enough to believe these things). This storyline will eventually intersect with one of the others and I’ll get to that in a moment. The third story involves the campaign for student body president. During the debate (in which Brittany pledged to make tornadoes illegal and to go topless on Tuesdays), Kurt made his speech about ending dodgeball which he saw as a form of bullying in addition to his campaign to fight obesity. In one of her rare moments of not being a selfish diva, Rachel drops out of the race when she realizes that Kurt needs this more than she does and that she misses being friends with him.

The real meat of the episode however is the growing tension between the New Directions and Shelby’s Troubletones. This story provided one of the weakest moments of the entire series and managed to jump back and provide one of its stronger so that’s Glee for you. After Santana began to viciously insult Finn in the hallway, Shelby and Mr. Schuester realize that the tension between their two rival Glee clubs has gotten out of hand. Will remembers that around this time of year, the New Directions would do their annual mash-ups as a team-building exercise to get ready for Sectionals. Shelby and Will decide to have a friendly competition between the Troubletones and the New Directions. When the tensions between Santana and Finn grow (and she drags Rory into the mix), the New Directions and the Troubletones have a game of dodgeball (and sing and nearly ruin the entire series). After Mercedes becomes the leader of the Troubletones and Santana promises to apologize to Finn, things just get worse. After laying down some of her most mean-spirited insults to date, Finn proceeds to out Santana in front of the entire school (not cool man, not cool). Things only continue to go down hill when one of the candidates running for Congress (the Herman Cain joke character) has a niece that attends McKinley High who hears the conversation, reports it to her uncle, and the uncle proceeds to out Santana in his Congressional campaign video to attack Sue’s family values for promoting a lesbian to cheer captain. At the very end of the episode, after the Troubletones bring down the house with their mash-up, Santana slaps Finn right in the face and blames him for the political shit storm he managed to brew up.

First, the musical numbers. While Puck sang the song well enough (he definitely sounded better than he did on “Waiting for a Girl Like You), his rendition of “Hot for Teacher” still made me horribly uncomfortable and the terrible choreography with Blaine and Mike only made things worse. Will and Shelby’s mash-up of Lady Gaga’s “You and I” with Eddie Rabbit and Crystal Gayle’s “You and I” made me remember how much I love Idina Menzel’s voice. She and Matthew Morrison have a fantastic vocal chemistry. Why can’t he date her instead of nut job Emma? Her quirks used to be cute but have simply grown to be unsettling. The mash-up with Santan singing lead on Blondie’s “One Way or Another” with Finn singing lead on Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” was actually pretty good in terms of the singing. However, setting this song during a terribly over-the-top game of dodge ball nearly ruined the show. This was worse than “Run Joey Run,” and nothing should ever be worse than “Run Joey Run.” The New Directions with Finn and Rory on lead did a mash-up of Hall & Oates “You Make My Dreams”/”I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” and it was pretty horrendous as well. While I appreciated the opportunity to see Finn, Rory, and Kurt rocking Don Johnson jackets, Finn’s ill-suited voice for the number, the unnecessary use of John Oates mustaches for half the boys, and the awkward choreography made this one of the worst performances in series history. We were saved at the end though with the show-stopping mash-up of Adele’s “Rumor Has It”/”Someone Like You”. It was not only one of the best numbers of the season but one of the best numbers of the series. Santana gave her best performance since “Valerie”, and Mercedes’s stunning pipes made me stop hating her just for a moment. It was just superb.

If they drag out this story between Puck and Shelby much longer, I may have to stop watching Glee. I love this show, and it feeds my inner musical theater geek addiction in a way nothing else can, but that particular story is so disgusting and poorly written that it nearly ruins the rest of the program. While I was glad to see that Shelby has no more intentions of kissing Puck and her verbal beat-down of Quinn was even more satisfying than the one Mr. Schue delivered in the season premiere, this has become the single worst plot line the show has ever had. What’s sad about that previous statement is that before the big reveal of the attack ad exploiting Santana, Sue’s run for Congress was giving the Shelby storyline good competition for worst story. I understand that Glee is a satire and that the existence of Brittany, who would be considered mentally handicapped in any normal universe, means I shouldn’t take any story particularly serious; however, at least Brittany’s stupidity is legitimately funny. The jokes centered around Sue’s political campaign are so stale and unentertaining that I rue every second devoted to this waste of screen time. It has now only been salvaged by the way it intersected with Santana’s life which took the show to an unexpected but gratifyingly dark place. I just hope that out of all of these stories, now that Shelby has blown up on Quinn, Quinn’s whole plot to get back Beth is over because it is also an absolutely atrocious plot.

I’m hoping that next week’s episode (which is entitled “I Kissed a Girl” and centers on Santana coming out to her family) at some point deals with how wrong it was for Finn to out Santana in public like that. Don’t get me wrong. Santana was being the very definition of a bitch, and she was turning vicious verbal beat-downs into an art form. However, Finn is supposed to be one of the truly nice people in the New Directions (except for that awkward period last season where he was helping Quinn cheat on Sam). Since he has a gay brother in the form of Kurt Hummel, he should know better than to use outing Santana as a form of revenge. It was just a really disappointing moment in Finn’s character. He definitely deserved the righteous slap that Santana laid on him at episode’s end. It will be interesting to see where things go from here. I was so happy to see Rachel drop out of the race for student body president. Her character development (along with Kurt’s) has been one of the most rewarding aspect of the series as she has gone from a nigh insufferable diva to a still nearly insufferable diva but one we can find ourselves rooting for. Her scenes with Shelby were particularly touching and I hope there is more time devoted to them growing closer this season because I at least have to hear them sing a duet together one last time before Rachel graduates.

I wasn’t the only one who though this episode was pretty horrendous. My sister and I were texting during the entire original airing about how awful we thought it had been up until its final moments when the quality improved exponentially. If I ever wanted to pick one single episode of the show which formed the best and the worst of the program, you really couldn’t look much further than this. It’s lows were the lowest of the whole program, but it’s highs were series highlights as well. The only other episode of Glee that I’ve given this score was Nationals. It was all around bad, but it’s worst moments were never as awful as Tuesday’s. This one was simply saved by it’s final act. I hope that next week’s Glee (though I actually think there’s a week off from the show) is better than this. Considering its subject matter, it should be pretty interesting.

Final Score: C+