I wanted to put this post up last night immediately after I finished watching the epic two-part episode leading into next week’s season finale (and the last time we’ll be seeing some of our favorite residents of McKinley High), but I wisely chose to wait 24 hours because I was far too emotional to write about Glee in any sort of objective form. I’m an unashamed “Gleek” (well for the most part). However, I’m also a vocal critic of the series when I think it’s making missteps. I’m the first person to call it out for god-awful stories like: Puck & Shelby, Quinn trying to take Beth, Sue trying to have a baby, etc. I’ve also been vocal when I thought an episode was just really subpar or lazy (“Mash-off,” “The Spanish Teacher,” “New York” [last season]). Still, despite the fact that Glee is most likely a deeply, structurally flawed program, its highs are so much fun and its most memorable dramatic stories are so real and heartbreaking that I keep coming back week after week. Last night’s two episodes were the highs that Glee is truly capable of, and if you were to score television by how deeply, emotionally touched something left me, “Props” & “Nationals” were smash successes.

There were two episodes last night so each one will get its own paragraph (god help my soul if they both require two). In “Props,” it’s crunch time for Nationals and Mr. Schu tasks Rachel with getting prepared for her solo (even though she’s finally beginning to process how much she’s screwed things up with NYADA and she’s semi-stalking Carmen Thibodeau) when Tina finally speaks up for the first time since “Asian F.” She wants the chance to shine (or even be noticed) and honestly, the girl sort of has a point. It’s just the worst possible time to bring it up. As she’s moping about the way the New Directions ignore her, she hits her head at the mall and has a body-swap fantasy (way, way cooler than it sounds) where she becomes Rachel and everyone else in the ND’s becomes somebody else. She finally has her moment in the sun (and gives a lovely version of a Celine Dion song) and she shares a nice moment with Rachel-as-Tina where R/T gives T/R advice on how to go after her NYADA dreams. Tina wakes up from her fantasy and she and Rachel go off and confront Carmen Thibodeau and potentially convince her to come see Rachel’s performance at Nationals (since she’ll conveniently already be in Chicago). There’s also a story about Puck and Bieste where Puck pulls a (fake) knife on a kid in a fight because he’s acting out about the fact that he’s failing out of school. He and Bieste share a touching (read: I was crying) moment together which convinces Bieste to finally leave Cooter. She also talks to Puck’s geography teacher and gives him one more chance to pass and graduate. It’s time for Nationals!

Things start getting out of hand at Nationals in true New Directions fashion almost immediately. Mercedes either had food poisoning or swine flu. The boys are fighting because Puck is spending more time studying for his geography final than practicing his choreography. Unique has become a nearly national show choir sensation which is putting the fear in the NDs. Will is suffering a crisis of confidence. Still, Mercedes pulls throw (thanks to a most likely highly dangerous cure from Sue) and the Nationals perform an absolutely stunning set (even including one with the Troubletones [where do they hide those girls during regular rehearsals?]) and Carmen Thibodeau arrives during the middle of Rachel’s gorgeous performance of a Celine Dion track and cheers with the rest of the crowd after their third and final song is finished. Vocal Adrenaline also puts on a fun show (but I’ll critique the performances more in-depth later), and before the winner is announced, Jesse St. James does a genuinely unselfish thing and tells Carmen that he thinks Rachel is the most talented performer he’s ever met (and she remembers him auditioning for NYADA the previous year). The New Directions win Nationals (I’ll have more on why I’m okay with it being semi-predictable)! And they return to school hailed as champs and actually appreciated for the first time ever. Will and Emma have sex for the first time! Mr. Schu is named the teacher of the year and honored by his kids in another of many tear-jerking moments. Now, the only thing left is graduation.

Once again, two episodes so a paragraph for each one’s performances. Lea Michele started the evening off with Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up.” It worked thematically with the scene and Lea Michele is the best vocalist on the show, but the song is dull and I wasn’t feeling it. Jenna Ushkowitz gave her best performance of the entire series (not that she has a lot of choices) with Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me.” My jaw dropped because I did not think she could sing that well. Lea Michele would have sang it better, but Jenna Ushkowitz more than did it justice and it helps allay my concern that there won’t be any top-tier female vocalists for the New Directions next season. I hate Taylor Swift but I would be lying if I said that Dot Marie Jones and Mark Salling’s rendition of “Mean” didn’t have me slightly in tears. It wasn’t a great vocal performance (from either of them) but it was incredibly emotional, and I’ll take it. Lea Michele and Jenna Ushkowitz closed out the first episode with a duet of Irene Cara’s “Flashdance… What a Feeling” (from Flashdance…), and it was very old school Glee fun. Their choreography was fun and their voices harmonized very well. Also, I loved Rachel’s outfit. I can’t gush about it without sounding very effete so I’ll just say it was great.

The show-stopping performances were all in the second episode however and unlike last year’s Nationals, this was not a disappointment. The Troubletones started things off with Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory.” I’m probably a closet Little Monster (I love me some Gaga), but I wasn’t crazy about Born This Way (“Judas” was the only really great Gaga track in my opinion). Anyways, I don’t really love the song but Naya Rivera and Amber Riley definitely sang it really well. It wasn’t bad but it was the least memorable part of an otherwise phenomenal set. Lea Michele just hit a grand slam home run with Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.” I mean. Wow. She can freaking sing. Her sheer talent has always been what makes Rachel lovable even in her least lovable moments (which are admittedly all the damn time). So that was just wonderful. However, I was not prepared for how energetic and well-sung “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” was going to be. Every member of the group had a moment to shine (which didn’t turn out to be a clusterfuck like it often does) and Finn does a really good Meatloaf. Obviously, Lea Michele was more than ready to handle the lead female vocal parts, but that song might be my current favorite competition performance of the NDs (and maybe every act). I hate the song “Starship” by Nicki Minaj, but there’s no denying that Alex Newell can give Amber Riley a run for her money in the vocals department. Sista can sing! I love “Pinball Wizard” by the Who which Vocal Adrenaline also did but I really didn’t like the very karoake feel of their arrangement for the song and the actual pinball machines were a bit much. For once, I honestly believed the New Directions gave the best final performance of a season. The NDs sang the song “Tongue Tied” over a very emotional montage where I was crying but I honestly can’t really judge it because I was too busy crying and watching these wonderful moments on screen. They also closed out the episode with Queen’s “We Are the Champions” which is a super obvious choice, but it too had that old school Glee feel and I was crying yet again. So, bravo Glee.

This review is going to be hella long. Like, Game of Thrones: Season 2 long. You’ve been warned. I want to actually talk in-depth about both episodes since each one was really good (though obviously “Nationals” was a little bit better). So, let’s start with “Props.” Jenna Ushkowitz gets almost no screen time on this show. I’ve probably complained on here about how useless she is. The show has found almost nothing worthwhile to do with her for three seasons. Ever since we found out she was faking her stutter, she’s basically either been arm-candy for a better developed male character (Artie, Mike) or she’s just been in the background of performances (or she’s been crying hysterically). If she’s going to be the new Queen Bee of the New Directions next year, the group might actually be in good hands (plus, they’ll still have Blaine. Those two need to sing a duet stat!). Also, Mark Salling had his best acted scene of the entire series as he finally breaks down in front of Bieste. And then Dot Marie Jones matches him in the emotional department and then some. Tears were flowing epically. Also, the scene where Cooter was yelling at Bieste and we see her holding a knife like she’s going to stab him and then dropping it in the sink was powerful, chilling stuff. Then, we find out she’s been sleeping with a knife under her pillow. I’m not sure it was appropriate to have all this in an episode which featured the characters body-swapping for humor purposes (which I could have used so much more of. Their impersonations of each other were pretty much amazing), but man, the moments taken in just their own context were haunting stuff. Dot Marie Jones is a real champ in this cast of champs.

As for Nationals, the fact that I was crying nearly the entire episode (lord knows I’ll be a total mess next week when they finally graduate. My dad, my sister and I will be crying like babies in unison lol) should say plenty about how well done I thought it was. There was almost no doubt in my mind that this was going to be the season that the New Directions finally won at Nationals. I didn’t question it for a minute. But, damn it, after three seasons of cheering this rag-tag group of misfits on, I’d say the audience deserves a moment like this. Friday Night Lights is one of the most critically acclaimed (and criminally underviewed) programs of the last ten years, and no one complained when they won their State Championships in the very first season. So, people who thinks its terribly predictable that the New Directions won don’t understand that unless we’re talking David Simon, a show can have a happy ending every now and then and be alright. These are the same kinds of people who thought that Harry should have died at the end of the Harry Potter franchise and had no idea what a “coming-of-age” story is traditionally about. My only complaint about the episode was the very half-hearted way it suddenly handled Emma and Will having sex. That should have been a major, major moment on the show, and it was used in a throw-away moment in this episode. Other than that, it was one of hte best episodes of the series.

Okay, I’m reaching my 2000 word self-imposed limit, so it’s time to draw this to a close. This two-parter (and I’m hoping I feel the same way about next week’s graduation episode) validated all of the time and emotional energy I’ve invested into this show (let alone the hours I’ve spent blogging about it). I feel like I know this group of kids better than I knew most of the kids I actually went to high school with (and since I was the Senior Class President that’s probably a problem). They’ve become a part of my daily routine and I invest way too much emotional attachment in fictional characters. It’s the reason why television is such a beloved medium to me. It allows me to spend more time with a group of people than any form except for a dozens of hours long JRPG (and most of the time in the latter is spent on character development). So, it’s going to be really emotional to see all of these kids go, and I now know that Glee is going to give these people the send-off that they deserve.

Final Score: “Props” – A-
“Nationals” – A