So after a lengthy hiatus (where my not so secret desire for musical theater was going unfulfilled), Glee has finally returned. While I’m reviewing this several days late, I’ve spent enough time on previous posts explaining why I’ve been especially busy this week in a way that finally has nothing to do with Star Wars: The Old Republic. The first half of the third season of  Glee was a distressingly uneven affair with some of the highest moments of the series (“The First Time”, Mike Chang’s portion of “Asian F”, and Jackson family medley during “Hold on to Sixteen”) alongside several of the worst over-arching plots in the series’ history (Shelby and Puck, Quinn trying to take away Beth, the Troubletones fiasco). Season 1 had weak episodes but there were rarely moments when a poorly written story was able to drag the entire series down (mainly because no story lasted more than a couple episodes back in Season 1), and Season 2 introduced longer-lasting stories but they were almost all good (the Nationals disaster excepted). If the mid-season return is any indication, Glee may not be at the top of its game, but it’s managed to leave the trouble from last fall behind us, and there’s not much more a gleek can ask for.

The episode begins with an immediate callback to the musical Grease (a personal favorite from my youth that hasn’t necessarily aged well with me) as Sam and Mercedes reminisce on their summer romance and that eventually segues into Sam’s early attempts to win back the heart of Mercedes who is still dating Shane, the brick wall of a linebacker. In order to impress Mercedes, Sam tries to rejoin basketball, but it is full and he’s forced to join synchronized swimming to try and receive his letterman jacket. Mercedes ultimately realizes she still has feelings for Sam though the episode gives no real closure as to whether they’ll get back together. The main plots of the episode though involve Will trying to propose to Emma and Finn learning some unwanted truths about his father. Will spends much of the episode trying to figure out the perfect way to propose, and ultimately settles on an elaborate synchronized swimming number (which is much cooler than it sounds) and Emma says yes. Finn finds out that his father didn’t really die in Iraq. He was dishonorably discharged from the military, and when he came back, he developed a drug problem and died of an overdose. Finn battles with this new image of the father he previously idolized. At the end of the episode, Finn realizes the only bright spot in his life is Rachel and he (stupidly in my opinion) proposes marriage to her but the episode ends before we hear her answer. There’s also a story about Artie going on a couple of dates with Becky but it has little overall season importance.

Let’s get to the musical numbers which I was not as crazy about as everyone else in the fandom (especially Rachel’s supposedly show-stopping number). Grease is one of my favorite musicals for mostly sentimental reasons, and while I’m not normally a fan of those moments when the numbers aren’t realistically occurring within the context of the show, Chord Overstreet and Amber Riley did a great job with a classic tune, and seeing all of the choreography from the musical was a guilty pleasure. It was nice to hear Emma sing again for the first time since Rocky Horror, and while she sounded fine on “Wedding Bell Blues”, the ridiculous costumes were a little over-the-top even by Glee standards. “Moves Like Jagger”/”Jumpin’ Jack Flash” was a great excuse to see Mike dance while Artie sang like last season’s rendition of “P.Y.T.” but I’m not crazy about Maroon 5, and this is one of their more annoying tracks of the last couple years. The girls did a beautiful job of singing Roberta Flack’s “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face”, and it never ceases to impress me how much Santana’s voice has improved over the years. Lea Michele sanga a slowed down version of David Guetta’s “Without You” which quickly shot to #1 on iTunes the day after the episode aired. It was good but I can name at least ten Rachel performances that I’ve preferred. The big number that Will uses to propose to Emma was Rihanna’s “We Found Love.” I wasn’t crazy about the song but the choreography was ridiculously fun and the number had me choked up by the end.

For the first time in ages, there weren’t any stories in this episode that made me want to bang my head off the wall because they were so terrible. On that same note though, nothing about the episode seemed particularly memorable. The big twist about Finn’s father seems sort of forced and ridiculously unexpected (that’s not a compliment), but Cory Monteith and the actress that plays Carol really made it work. It’s the first time in ages that Finn has had more weighty material to work with, and he reminded me that even though he’s not an excellent singer, Cory Monteith is still a decent actor. I’m glad that the show has decided to stop the “will they or won’t they” antics with Emma and Will. Emma’s increasing descent into crazy town was one of the weakest aspects of Season 2 as her OCD went from being cute and adorable to more annoying. Their initial flirtations were a high point of season 1, and its good to know that all of the emotional investments in their relationships over the year will pay off. I wasn’t shocked by the Finn proposal and I hate that they’re taking Finchel down the same path as countless other high school couples like Corey and Topanga or Eric and Donna. We’ll see how they handle it.

I could write more about how Sue’s scenes with Becky made me cry (because any time that Sue is in serious mode and kind she makes me cry) but I’m ready to draw this review to a close. Next week is the two hour Michael Jackson tribute episode and obviously I can’t wait to see it. Michael Jackson is the King of Pop, and Glee has a pretty exceptional record on covering MJ (and other Jackson family) songs. I hope that Rachel says no to Finn’s proposal because I really can’t stand the thought of Rachel throwing away her dreams to marry her high school sweet heart. Also, there wasn’t nearly enough Kurt in this episode. He had something like one line the entire time. As I understand it, Blaine may be leaving the cast soon for a while so that Darren Criss can perform in Broadway’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. I’m obviously going to miss his presence during his hiatus. All told, this episode gave me hope that the second half of this season can avoid the potholes of the first half because I want to love Glee. Sometimes, it just makes itself unloveable.

Final Score: B+