Oh, Glee. You just like to toy with me don’t you. After the nearly complete train wreck that was “Mash Off” two weeks ago, Glee returns to about the average quality of an episode from this season, which I’ve come to define as the season that features one (maybe two) great stories an episode and then tacks on some unnecessary material that just serves to make me incredibly uncomfortable (and not in that good Alexander Payne/Wes Anderson sort of way). Tonight’s episode, the aptly titled “I Kissed a Girl”, deals with Santana’s coming out process as the emotional core of the episode and then tacks two other stories on top. One was just mediocre, but the other follows what has become one of the major story arcs of the season and it just gets more loathsome by the moment. Seriously, writers of Glee, there isn’t a single person in the series fandom who likes where you’re taking the show in the Puck/Shelby department, and you need to stop. ASAP. Fortunately, the Santana material was absolutely top notch and this was one of the most consistently strong episodes in ages in terms of the musical selection which was uniformly great (Finn’s horrendous rendition of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” excepted). The episode even managed to throw in a shocking reveal at episode’s end which should have a big impact on Sectionals which is next week.

After Santana’s vicious (but deserved) slap across the face of Finn, this week starts with Santana on the verge of being expelled by Principal Figgins for said slap. Only Finn’s last minute intervention (cause this season is going with nice guy Finn, not pompous ass womanizer Finn of the last half of Season 2) where he claimed that it was a fake “stage slap” saved Santana from expulsion. Finn is able to convince Santana to gather the Troubletones girls for a double lesson for both the New Directions and their new rivals all in Santana’s honor and to help her out. Despite the fact that Santana spends the first half of the episode still being terrible to Finn (calling him Hamburgler elicited a laugh), Finn organizes a lesson where the groups sing songs by women for women to help Santana become more comfortable with herself and to let her know that everyone in this club celebrates her for who she is because that commercial run by Sue’s rival is going out her whether she’s ready or not and it’s better that she’s comfortable with herself and loves herself by her own decision. There’s a really touching scene where Finn touches on the gay suicide endemic our nation is facing and how he could never live with himself if he didn’t do everything in his power to help Santana. Eventually, Santana comes out to her parents (who handle it fine), and all of the girls deal with a homophobe rugby player who tries to make Santana “normal.” However, when Santana comes out to her abuela (grandmother for the non-Spanish speakers in the audience), her grandmother disowns her and tells her she never wants to see her again. The episode ends with Santana stating she still has some things to deal with but she finally thanks Finn and the others for helping her through this process and that she’s ready to be herself.

Of course, because Glee can be like an ADD child, there were three other stories, each with mixed success. Both the student body and Congressional elections are being held on the same day and all at McKinley High. Kurt’s story (the most effective of the three) focuses on his concerns that if he doesn’t win the student body election, he can never get into NYATA and pursue his dreams of an acting career. It’s heartbreaking in its sincerity, especially when he still loses to Brittany, despite Rachel stuffing the ballot boxes for Kurt to help him win. Because she cheated, Rachel has been suspended from school for a week and she won’t be able to compete at Sectionals (ruh roh Rooby!). In the Congressional election, Sue decides to steal Bieste’s man, Ohio State recruiter Cooter, to dispel any rumors that she may be a lesbian. Apparently, Bieste’s idea of a date is lifting weights and punching Cooter when he tries to hold her hand. Though Bieste finally stands up for her man by the end of the episode, it’s unclear as to whether Cooter will choose Sue or Bieste, especially since Sue lost her election to Burt Hummel (yay!). The last story (and the worst) is the continuing story of the creepy and unnecessary relationship between Shelby and Puck. After Beth gets injured, Puck rushes to the hospital to support Shelby, and he and Shelby end up having sex in her distressed state (this lady is getting fired for sure). After spurning him when she realized it was all a mistake, Puck angrily rushes to Quinn who wants to get pregnant again (Puck thankfully realizes how terrible of an idea this is and declines). However, he also makes the catastrophic mistake of telling Quinn about his affair with Shelby. This is going to end really badly.

As usual, before I attempt to analyze the writing/acting/directing of the episode, I’m devoting a paragraph to the episode’s musical numbers. For the first time in ages, almost every single of the episode’s 6 songs was a resounding success. Chris Colfer and Darren Criss evoked memories of their sizzling rendition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” for the duet of Pink’s “Fucking Perfect.” They sounded so much better together on this song than they did on last season’s “Candles” where they were just not harmonizing very well. Puck followed it up with Melissa Etheridge’s “I’m the Only One” which was easily his single best performance vocally of the series, except for possibly “The Lady’s a Tramp.” I may actually prefer his version of this song more than the original. My only performance was the uncomfortable looks he was shooting to Shelby the entire time. Have I mentioned I hate that story? While Finn sounded much better than normal on his cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” the slow, melancholy arrangement of the number was boring and uninteresting and it essentially ruined one of the best pop songs of the 80’s. Unlike last season’s “Umbrella”/”Singin’ in the Rain” mash-up, I’m certain this unconventional cover will not grow on me. While it was far from the best Katy Perry cover the series has done (Darren Criss’s star-making “Teenage Dream” gets that honor), I still really enjoyed “I Kissed a Girl”. Naya Rivera sounded great as did Lea Michele. Dot Marie Jones (Coach Bieste) proved she could sing when she covered a heart-breaking version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”. Naya Rivera brought the episode to a close with a wonderful rendition of k.d. Lang’s “Constant Craving.” It never ceases to impress me just how much her voice has grown since her nasally role in “The Boy is Mine.” She’s certainly a multi-faceted talent.

The Santana scenes this week were just heart-breaking. I can’t think of many characters who can elicit such a wide range of emotional responses in me as Santana, and I think that’s what makes her one of the more interesting characters on the program. When she isn’t in complete Queen Bitch mode, there is a considerable amount of vulnerability and tenderness in Naya Rivera’s acting that has made me cry on two separate occasions in the program now. Her story about coming out to Brittany in “Sexy” was one of the highlights of Season 2 (as well as their scenes in “Born This Way”). I’m not at all ashamed to admit that tears were streaming down my face in that tragic scene where she finally came out to Brittany and Brittany had to reject her for Artie. Similarly, her anguished performance as her beloved abuela looked at her like a monster or something disgusting that needed swept under the rug was almost too much to watch. I had to actively fight back the tears so I wouldn’t start sobbing during work (where I watched this episode for the first time) though they were able to flow a little more freely for my repeat viewing so I could write this post. I respect the show’s decision to show the reality that not every parent is as tolerant and loving as Burt Hummel and that so many gay teenagers have to deal with family and friends who will never be able to accept them for who they are.

I’ve ranted long enough this entire season about how sick and tired I am of Shelby/Puck (I refuse to try and come up with a clever couple name for them like Quinzel, Pizes, Finchel, and Puckleberry) so I’m just going to say that I’m legitimately shocked it’s still running and especially that they decided to have Puck and Shelby have sex. I thought her rejection of Puck last week was the end of this. Apparently, I was wrong. I also wasn’t crazy about Bieste’s story. One of the things that I love about Coach Bieste is that she is a strong and powerful woman (though she’s able to show surprising moments of tenderness like in “Never Been Kissed”.) She’s just starting to come off as Emma-level naive and oblivious. Also, the way she came begging back to Cooter after he tossed her for Sue made her come off as weak and not the basd-ass we all know she is. While I certainly understand why she want’s to fight for her man, it was the way it came off like she was in the fault (which admittedly she slightly was), but she never really called him out for dumping her for her chief rival. It was a low moment from the new character, and it appears as if they are no consequences for his womanizing ways. Though, of course, this is Glee, and it had no problem turning Finn and Mr. Schuester into rakes with little consequence in the past so maybe I’m expecting too much from the program.

All of my little (and not so little) quibbles aside, this episode was a serious step up from Glee‘s equivalent of Lost‘s “Stranger in a Strange Land” (for those not in the know, that was the Jack flashback episode with Bai Ling that pretty much everyone agrees is the single worst episode of the entire series) in two weeks’ ago’s “Mash Off”. Part of being a Glee fan is accepting that you have to sit through some mediocre and/or bad stuff in order to get to the great moments. Naya Rivera’s story this episode was one of those great moments and the type of Glee storytelling that keeps me returning to the show with excitement week after week even though the Shelby/Puck stuff makes me want to gouge out my eyes and that the Troubletones experiment has been an unmitigated disaster. Next week is Sectionals and like last year, there will be no Lea Michele taking lead (for either group) and Chord Overstreet returns (!!!). Sam is one of my favorite members of the club and I can’t begin to say how excited I am to see him return. He has a fantastic voice and between Chord, Darren Criss, and Chris Colfer the New Directions are simply over-flowing with spectacular vocal talent.

Final Score: B+