Glee, Episode Five: Rachel Encourages Self-Immolation

I'm choosing to view last night's Glee -- "The Rhodes Not Taken" -- as the end of a rocky first chapter and the turning point into something a bit more streamlined and specific, like the pilot promised. (Damn right I mix metaphors.)

The whole episode was kind of a wacky mess, with the adorable Kristin Chenoweth half-wasted in a role as fully wasted high school dropout April Rhodes. She showed up only after Will Schuester learned a pretty startling piece of information: that one of the members of rival show choir Vocal Adrenaline has been failed six times just to keep him singing in high school. But rather than tease out that potentially interesting thread, the episode sputtered around with Will's attempts to bring in April as a ringer for his own glee club. It's not that Will would eventually have no choice but to cut April; it's that nobody involved tried to pretend otherwise. Most of the ep was lazy like that.

But damn if it didn't pull back from the brink at the last minute. Every time! Maybe the whole point is to see how muddy an episode can be before it brings the awesome.

This was also (thankfully) the end of the whole boring plot where Rachel quits glee for the musical, except not really, except no wait really for serious, except wait maybe she wants to be back in glee. She was never gonna bail on glee permanently, and there was never enough legit tension put into her many, many attempts to leave, so the idea got old fast. But by the end of last night's installment, she seemed back in the show choir fold for good.

Anyway: So things kick off with Will persuading April to be in glee. She's a broad, boozy wackjob, but Chenoweth brought the right amount of heart to the role. She managed to somehow be innocently skanky; she hooks up with a few football players in the showers at one point, but you still want to help her out. (Will's deadpan recruitment line was pretty great, too: "I want you to be in the glee club. We'll get you sobered up, find you some underwear.") April also got to drop some cutely dated references, like comparing the glee kids to the "world's worst Benetton ad"; then again, what else do you expect from a character who does business through a MySpace page?

Blah blah she does things, Will says he used to like her, you wonder where Will's wife is but don't actually miss her presence, etc. Another wobbly part of the episode was the song selection. Glee is kitschy and angsty and fun, and works best as a kind of large-scale version of a karaoke song come to life. So when Kurt and the football team trot to "Single Ladies," it's great; when April grinds through a Carrie Underwood song (I Googled it to find out the artist, because holy hell I avoid music like that if at all possible), it's off.

But by the time April said her predictable goodbye and Rachel had returned to the glee fold, things were moving more naturally, in part thanks to the interesting twist that Finn half-faked affection for Rachel to get her back in the choir just to boost their odds of winning and thereby his chance at a music scholarship for college. I know! I didn't think it would ever have played out like that, but it's nice to keep some thorny distance between the guy and girl obviously meant for each other.

Anyway, with the glee club roster intact once more, they sang an infinitely better song with much better staging and production values: Queen's "Somebody to Love." And they killed it. It was catchy and happy and even a little heartwarming, which is what this show can be at its best. Here's hoping that with Rachel back and the school year heating up, they're on their way.

Line of the night: Puck again, discussing Rachel. "That Rachel chick makes me wanna light myself on fire, but she can sing."

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