Alright, Glee. You’re back on the right track. Last week’s episode wasn’t bad, but it wasnt’ as goodas  “Yes/No” or the excellent “Michael.” Well, we still haven’t captured the magic of “Michael” again yet, but this year’s Valentine’s Day themed episode was a fun reminder of why I love Glee where three new characters were introduced, one old friend made a return, and in addition to generally strong performances, we got one knock-out solo from Amber Riley that rivals the best numbers of the whole series. I may not have had the most exciting Valentine’s Day in real life, but returning to all of my friends at McKinley High made it a little better. While I’m still not happy with the fact that the story is continuing to go down this Finn/Rachel getting married route, that still makes for more compelling (and less hair-wrenching) drama than the shit that was happening earlier in the season. Next week is Regionals (seems like it’s happening much earlier in the season than last year), and we are seriously entering crunch time on this season which has the potential to be one of the most important of the series as we say our farewell to several characters.

(I apologize in advance for any haziness in this review. I watched the episode Tuesday and I’ve been sort of busy since then) The episode began with Rachel and Finn getting notes telling to meet in the school’s auditorium (paid for by a Miss April Rhodes that we haven’t seen in far too long). It turns out the notes were from Rachel’s gay fathers, Hiram (a hilarious Jeff Goldblum) and Leroy (Broadway’s Brian Stokes Mitchell) who had been informed (as it turned out, by Kurt) that Rachel and Finn were planning on getting married and they gave their approval. Their only request was that Rachel and Finn tell everyone else (since if they honestly believe in their decision, they should be proud of it) and they invited Carol and Burt over for dinner so they could be told as well. It turned out that Hiram and Leroy’s (and Finn’s parents’) plan was to force Rachel and Finn to live together for a night so they’d learn how hard it is being in a couple but it backfired when Rachel and Finn’s first post-engagement fight (over Rachel not wanting Finn to have a BM in her bathroom) cleared up pretty quickly

That may have been the main story of the episode but this is Glee which means there were around 4 or 5 other stories going on as well. We met a new kid at McKinley, Joe Hart (The Glee Project co-winner Samuel Larsen), a dreadlocked but super-religious kid, who was part of the school’s religious club with Mercedes, Sam, and Quinn. They sang Valentine love songs to raise money in the episode and eventually decided that there would be nothing wrong with them singing a love song to Brittany from Santana (cue crazy angry Christians). Speaking of Mercedes and Sam, she felt guilty about kissing Sam last week and told Shane (who cried!) and they broke up but now she feels too guilty to be with Sam (am I the only one who doesn’t care about this ship at all). Sugar (well her father) paid for the New Directions costs for regionals and also threw a massive Valentine’s day party at Breadstix. Artie and Rory spent the entire episode trying to one up each other in the romance department to impress Sugar and to be her date to the party. Eventually, Rory’s story about being deported back to Ireland at the end of the year pulled at Sugar’s heart strings enough that she chose him, but the series also gave slight hints that he might have been lying. Kurt kept getting notes from a secret admirer that he assumed was the AWOL Blaine. It turned out to be Karofsky who declared his love for Kurt, but of course, Kurt turned him down because… Darren Criss. Come on!

We had some really great performances this week. Mike and Tina sang “L-O-V-E” by Nat King Cole, and Harry Shum Jr. shows us yet again how much his voice has grown over the course of the series. Also, it was just nice for Jenna Ushkowitz to have a chance to contribute to the show at all. It’s a problem when one of the original members of the club gets less screen time than the incredibly grating Sugar. Kevin McHale knocked out Mario’s “Let Me Love You.” He’s consistently had one of the most under-appreciated voices on the program and that was just a great soulful rendition. We got to hear Samuel Larsen sing for the first time on Gym Class Heroes “Stereo Hearts” and he was great as well. I hope he joins the New Directions as well. He’s just a sophomore. They’ll need him next year. There are way too many great male singers at that high school. Damian McGinty performed Michael Buble’s “Home.” He sounded as good as he always does, but they should consider letting him sing a happy song every now and then. His character is just starting to make me sad these days.

In a crazy and eerie coincidence (the episode was finished before Whitney Houston had died), Amber Riley simply brought the house down with “I Will Always Love You.” I’m not prepared to say it was better than “Try a Little Tenderness” or “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” yet, but repeated listens may change my mind. Perhaps partially because of what happened this weekend, Amber Riley’s stunning performance gave me chills. Jeff Goldblum (who can’t carry a tune at all), Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Lea Michele sang “You’re the Top” fromAnything Goes which wasn’t supposed to be a show-stopper but a cute vision of this family (that explains so much about Rachel’s personality). Quinn and the rest of the “God Squad” (Mercedes, Joe, and Sam) performed a mash-up of two songs called “Cherish”, one by Madonna and one by the Association. Blaine returned momentarily to end the episode with a really fun version of B-52’s “Love Shack” and Kurt nailed the sillier spoken word parts of the songs with his intentional campiness.

I would love to devote some time to the actual writing of the episode, but I still have to review Tuesday’s episode of Justified as well as The Goodbye Girl which I watched last night with my roommate’s friend (loved it!). So, I’m going to try and not exhaust the writer in me and bring this already long-winded review of Glee to a close. This was a move back to the kind of Glee that I can actually allow myself to enjoy and not have to wonder why the hell I still watch this show. I don’t think the show’s “jumped the shark” yet (though it came close at times last season). Glee may not always be this pleasurable to watch (actually that Tuesday’s New Girl was so much better. I love that show if you aren’t watching it yet), but I know I’m here for the long haul. I’m a committed gleek and it would take a pretty catastrophic series of events for me to give up on her now.

Final Score: B+

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