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Welcome to the Convo, where ACG Blog contributors get together for discussion and analysis. Today’s topic is this year’s “Doctor Who” Christmas special “A Christmas Carol.”

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Merry Christmas, Whoniverse! Ever since the BBC’s flagship science-fiction program Doctor Who was brought back to our televisions in 2005, there’s been a special episode aired at Christmastime to tide audiences over between the regular seasons that are shown in the spring. While the previous offerings have been fine adventures in their own right, most have had only the trappings of Christmas — snowy countrysides, robot Santas, and the occasional homicidal Christmas tree, but little else that would link their stories to the holiday. Last year’s two-parter, “The End of Time,” was a poignant farewell to lead actor David Tennant, but its tone was about as far from Christmas as could be. This year’s special, “A Christmas Carol,” is the first to feature Tennant’s successor Matt Smith in the lead role as the time-traveling alien Doctor, and the episode more than lives up to its name. It is a fantastic timey-wimey romp, and it is quintessentially Christmas.

The episode takes its name from the classic Christmas story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s ghostly visitors, but it offers a “Doctor Who” twist on the story, rather than a simple retelling. In fact, in a clever bit of writing, we are shown the Doctor getting his inspiration for how to deal with the Scrooge-like Kazran Sardick by a chance mentioning of the phrase “a Christmas carol.” The context was unrelated to the original ghost story, but you can almost see the wheels turning in the Doctor’s head as he makes the connection. The Doctor met Charles Dickens himself several years ago in the episode “The Unquiet Dead” and professed himself to be a huge fan, so it’s of little surprise that when faced with a Scrooge he decides to reenact the tale. What follows, however, is a version of the classic story that only writer-producer Stephen Moffat could have come up with.

The Doctor is brought into the case by a crashing spaceship, which happens to be carrying his two companions, Mr. and Mrs. Amy Pond. Sardick is the only one who can save them, because only his device can part the clouds enough for the ship to stabilize. When he refuses, the Doctor decides that it is up to him to play the Ghost of Christmas Past to persuade Sardick to become a better person. Although it is not often recognized as such, the original short story was a time-travel adventure — the ghosts take Scrooge into the past to see his former self, and then into the future to see where his present path is leading. In Moffat’s version, however, the time-travel is even more blatant: facing rejection by Sardick in the present day, the Doctor travels back into the man’s past alone and sets about trying to make things right back then. In the present, Sardick is watching a recording of his past self, and so is able to witness both internally and externally as his memories change.

In truth, this bit had the potential to be incredibly creepy, but it was played just right by the “Doctor Who” team. Sardick is startled by the Doctor’s presence in the recording and by the new memories that start flooding in, but he never appears to be scared or violated by them. This is good, for what the Doctor is attempting is a much riskier venture than any we’ve seen before. By stepping in and attempting to willfully mold a person’s entire life history, the Doctor is flirting with the kind of dangers that his Ninth incarnation let loose in the 2005 episode “Father’s Day”, in addition to risking the arrogance of the Time Lord Victorious last seen in 2009’s “The Waters of Mars.” Luckily, Sardick never seems angry at what the Doctor is doing to his life — just exasperated and wishing he had time to sort out which memories are which.

The visits from the Doctor’s Ghost of Christmas Past begin to mollify Kazran Sardick in the present, mostly due to the beautiful Abigail whom the Doctor finds frozen in Sardick’s father’s vaults. Abigail, however, is harboring a secret illness, and although she has had the night of her life many times over with the Doctor and young Sardick, she must eventually be frozen away forever after letting a now lovestruck Sardick know she has but one day left to live. When the Doctor returns to the present day, it is to find a less bitter Sardick who recognizes him as a friend — but one hardened by the loss of his beloved Abigail, and still unwilling to part the skies.

The Doctor’s companions are woefully underused in this story, being primarily stuck on a crashing starship for the majority of the episode. Amy Pond, however, oversees the next step of the Doctor’s Christmas plan, which is to show Sardick up-close and personally the four thousand people in space he is condemning to death. Unfortunately, the caroling holograms she projects do little to sway his mind.

As it turns out, however, Amy’s brief appearance as the Ghost of Christmas Present seems to have been only a distraction for Sardick while the Doctor readied the final apparition. Sardick, perhaps familiar with the original tale, asks bitterly if the Doctor has come to show him a lonely grave as the final ghost showed Scrooge. As it turns out, however, Sardick himself is the terrifying future he faces, as the Doctor has brought forward in time the miser’s horrified younger self. Michael Gambon’s portrayal of Sardick is masterful throughout the entire episode, but in this scene between him and his former self, the actor’s emotion is simply incredible. This, for me, is where the story ends. When Kazran realizes the kind of man he has become (and is brought face-to-face with the kind of man he wanted to be), he breaks down and cries into his younger self’s shoulders. When he stands back up, it is clear that he has rededicated himself and will help the spaceship land.

Of course, the episode doesn’t end there, and some more fancy footwork is required until the day has been saved for real. The most important aspect of this last part is that Abigail must be woken up for her final day to sing to a flying shark – a piece of storytelling that was charming, odd, and unexpectedly integral to the plot. Kazran, Abigail, and everyone else know that Abigail is going to pass away after this last day, because apparently future health care practitioners are good enough to put an exact count on this sort of thing. Not even the Doctor can do anything to help the young woman – but as he reminds Amy, “Everything’s got to end sometime, otherwise nothing would ever get started.” Amy, who has a tendency to take her time with the Doctor for granted, seemed rather unsettled by this line, which I thought was a good note to end the episode on.

All in all, I think the Christmas special was a hit. Fans of the show may notice that under Stephen Moffat, the Doctor’s adventures are getting more “timey-wimey” — aka, relying more on time-travel as an actual plot element rather than just a framing device that gets our characters to the start of an adventure and takes them away at the end. This current Doctor, whose previous incarnations frequently claimed to not be able to leave a timeline once they’d become part of events, seems to not be bound by such rules. Instead, time-traveling jaunts back and forth in Kazran’s life (along with the occasional side trip to visit the pyramids or Marilyn Monroe) seem perfectly acceptable. There’s a danger in this, both for the accompanying arrogance of the Doctor’s character and for the storylines which no longer are possible if the Doctor feels free to hop in his TARDIS and go anywhere at any time. In previous adventures, Moffat has portrayed the Doctor as perpetually out-of-sync, regularly missing appointments with Madame de Pompadour and Amy herself due to overshooting his arrival in the time-traveling TARDIS. It’s hard to imagine the Doctor of “A Christmas Carol,” with his propensity to hop back in the blue box to try something different, ever being so out-of-sync again.

But this lovely program is entering its forty-eighth year, and I am well aware that plotlines and characters evolve — or all the best ones do, at least. If the madman in a box is becoming even madder, I for one am excited to see where that leads. And if the preview for series six that aired at the end of the Christmas special is anything to go on, the Doctor’s adventures from here on out will be mad indeed. Geronimo!

Joe Kessler

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I never like when this happens. I love “Doctor Who,” I really do, but sometimes an episode is simply just too bad or questionable or full of holes that I have to become — wait for it — miserly. This, unfortunately, was the case with this year’s Christmas special, “A Christmas Carol.” Thankfully, I do feel less guilty about the review I’m about to write because of Joe’s nearly unequivocal endorsement above.

Don’t get me wrong; there were many things I enjoyed about “A Christmas Carol.” Amy and Rory dressed up as a policewoman and Roman centurion for honeymoon games, for example, which was amusing enough to raise a grin but sly enough to slip past young viewers. Plus, come on, we all knew what those handcuffs were going to be used for. I quite liked the smooth reference in Abigail’s song that “Silence will fall all around.” As an Arthur Darvill fan I was pleased to finally see his name in the opening credits, a place extremely deserved. Michael Gambon was exceptionally skilled in portraying a quasi-Scrooge, continuing a long and proud tradition of exceptional performances on the show. And of course it was beautifully designed and executed; each set, each shot and each costume was a triumph, especially considering the increasingly slashed show budgets.

There are equally nitpicky things I was not happy about, too. The Blinovitch Limitation Effect, for example, which was critical during “Father’s Day” but has apparently gone completely out the window now. How could it possibly be cost-effective to keep people frozen as collateral over long periods of time? Also, I hated basically everything about the fish, from their unnecessary part in the plot to the contradiction that the air is so full of water they can swim and yet everyone walks around dry as a bone. Of course, those are the kinds of things I’m willing to overlook. Unfortunately, “A Christmas Carol” had some rather major structural problems I simply cannot ignore.

I’m a big fan of timey-wimey shenanigans done well. See “Blink”; “The Big Bang”; River Song. But this was simply too unbelievable and too difficult to follow. A fast pace is part of “Doctor Who,” I know, but there was simply so much flying by me this time that I had to give up and simply focus on holding on for dear life. I was following it right up until the Doctor and Young Kazran began time traveling each Christmas Eve with Abigail. Why her over the other frozen people creepily taking up Sardick basement real estate? Was it simply because Old Kazran had referred to her as unimportant? Or did the Doctor hope for the outcome that would break the heart of Horny Kazran (as I refer to the kiss-happy middle incarnation)? Their love is also a little questionable. Although it seems nice on the surface, remember, to her he was 12 like three days ago. He certainly was handsome, but, come on, that’s a little much.

Furthermore, Amy and especially Rory were criminally underused. This hopefully won’t be a running problem through the series, but sometimes Rory gets rather shut out, and I’m desperate for more Rory time. Perhaps they could even do one from Rory’s point of view, where he feels a little left out and then has his own little side adventure or something. I know, I know, “Buffy” has done it before, but frankly “Doctor Who” could do it even better.

I could go on and on, but in the Christmas spirit I’ve decided to let my point lie. I had some problems with the episode’s format, that’s clear enough, and its incoherence interfered with enjoying the episode. But it’s Christmastime, and I shall forgive “Doctor Who” its problems and plot holes. With the new year coming up, I’d rather focus on the fabulous looking sixth series. Here’s to 2011!

Alex Guillén

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Welcome to the Convo, where ACG Blog contributors get together for discussion and analysis. Today’s topic is last night’s episode of “Glee,” “A Very Glee Christmas.”

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Glee Christmas — another mixed bag. Is this show really as good as, or does it have the potential to be as good as, those first thirteen episodes (at least as I remember them)?

Artie and Brittany officially stole the sweetest couple crown from… well, no one, really. But that doesn’t make them less sweet! Brittany may be as dumb as a sack of hammers, but her stupidity compounded this week with her wide-eyed innocence (she still believes in Santa Claus — even if he’s black, or a woman, or a woman dressed in Grinch-gear) endeared her to me. Artie doesn’t want to ruin the Santa illusion, but the plan backfires when a mall-Santa promises that he’ll grant her wish: for Artie to walk. She also walks in on Sue tearing up the glee club’s tree and stealing the presents for the homeless. Brittany’s all dolled up as Cindy-Lou Who, acting out the classic scene from the animated Grinch. Pretty cheesy, and I wasn’t completely sold on it, but Brittany’s offering of a dollhouse was cute (“at least their dolls won’t be homeless”).

Coach Beiste (as Santa) tells Brittany she just won’t be able to give her her wish this year, and that what Brittany really needs this year is patience. Brittany may not even want to believe in Santa anymore, but she goes home to find an exoskeleton device called the ReWalk under her tree. It seems to have been procured by Coach Beiste (how did she afford it?), and provides a nice moment when Artie surprises the glee club by walking.

The Sue/Grinch story failed for me. Would Sue rig secret Santa so everyone would have to buy her gifts? Yes. Would the teachers reclaim everything when they figured it out? Probably. Would Sue steal all the presents back, after it was decided they should go to charity? Eh, I don’t think so. And she realized the error of her ways when all the Whos down in Whoville began to sing. Lazy, lazy writing. There’s no need to retread classic children’s cartoons. Sue returns the gifts by making her way into Will’s home with the glee kids, so he won’t have to be alone on during Christmas. Sue gifts him some hair clippers. Score.

Finn and Rachel continue to bore me. Finn is a pretty likeable character, and is totally in the right about breaking up with Rachel. Clearly he is going to have some trust issues. But Rachel is determined to win him back, it seems, by singing to him. Which means we get some more Rachel solos. Also this bothered me the whole episode, but you would think that in a glee club all about diversity and tolerance, there might have been a token attempt to recognize other religious holidays.

Oh, and Kurt and Blaine are shoehorned into the episode. Blaine needs help rehearsing for some community gig. “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” The insertion into the story was somewhat clunky, but I liked this cover — even if it is the sketchiest holiday song of all time. This and “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” were really the only numbers I enjoyed. So, par for the course really. Another theme episode, another middling to poor episode for the effort, with just a few bright spots.

More Artie and Brittany in the new year, please.

Alexandria Jackson

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“Glee” had its heart in the right place for last night’s Christmas special. The two main plots were each delightfully Christmassy, albeit somewhat unlikely to ever actually occur. But this is “Glee,” home of the grilled-cheese Jesus. Let’s take a look.

Sue rigs the faculty Secret Santa, so that everyone else ends up getting gifts for her. Schue figures it out, but Ms. Sylvester threatens to sue him if he tries to take the gifts back. He assumes she’s being unreasonable, and grabs the gifts to give to a charity for homeless kids. She responds by being even more unreasonable, dressing like the Grinch, and trashing the choir room. She’s spotted in the act by Brittany Pierce, who acts as an uncannily appropriate Cindy Lou Who to Sue Sylvester’s Grinch. Brittany, our naïve innocent, believes Sue’s claim that she’s Santa, there to fix a light on the tree.

This moment works very well, and ties Sue’s plotline nicely to the other main story of this episode: Brittany still believing in Santa Claus. This would be hard to believe of nearly any high schooler out there, but actress Heather Morris pulls off Brittany’s earnestness beautifully. As usual, she is utterly convincing as the simpleminded cheerleader. The extent of Brittany’s cluelessness is of course highly unrealistic, and I was wondering along with Artie whether she was kidding when she first mentioned writing to Santa Claus. But I’m glad that she wasn’t. Kudos to the “Glee” writers as well — the ‘magic comb’ plot from last week’s episode was a good lead-in to Artie’s revelation about his girlfriend this week, and made the Santa business even more believable.

Because Brittany still believes, Artie decides that the glee kids need to take her to the mall so that she can see the big man herself. A ‘very tan’ Santa asks her what she wants for Christmas, and Brittany casually utters a heartbreaking request: make my boyfriend walk again. The mall Santa, not seeing Artie’s desperate gestures behind Brittany’s back, says that he’ll make sure it happens, and the kids are left facing the question of how to keep Brittany believing in Santa despite the impossibility of her request and the inevitability of a letdown on Christmas day.

Like I said: delightfully Christmassy. I liked the football guys convincing Coach Beiste to dress as Santa (to break the news as Brittany that her wish wouldn’t be coming true after all), and I thought Dot Jones gave one of her best performances yet in that Santa suit. What I loved, though, was the mysterious gift of a “ReWalk” that showed up under Brittany’s tree. It might have come from Beiste, or Artie, or Brittany’s parents… or maybe from Saint Nick himself. “Glee” didn’t try to answer the question, and I think that decision really made this episode shine.

Back at school, the rest of the New Directions sings “Welcome Christmas” from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and Sue’s heart grows three sizes or something. Anyway, she breaks into Schue’s apartment — she had a key made ages ago — along with the glee kids, and they decorate and put back all the presents Sue stole. It’s a nice touch, since various characters had commented throughout the episode how sad it was for Schue to be spending Christmas alone this year. Of course, character-wise, it doesn’t really make much sense for Sue… but I’ve almost given up on her character having any consistency from week to week.

There was way too much in this episode about Rachel and Finn, which ended with him breaking up with her for good… which I thought he already did last week. Anyway, Rachel (again) behaved terribly in this episode, continually pressuring Finn to get back together and refusing to give him the space he said that he needed. I tire of Rachel very easily these days, and I’m disappointed that the writers keep making her this pathetic. A better use of her character in a holiday special might have been to make her Judaism more than just a throwaway punchline. I know there aren’t a whole lot of Hannukah songs out there… but for an episode about the winter holidays that aired during the Jewish one, on a show with at least two main characters who are Jews, it feels sort of strange to make it all about Christmas.

You’ll noticed I haven’t mentioned the music. And the reason for that is… Eh. A Christmas carol is a Christmas carol, really. “Glee” did them adequately, but with the exception of Kurt and Blaine’s duet of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” none of the songs this episode were particularly memorable or noteworthy. I’m expecting the iTunes sales to drop this time around, although I suppose there is some novelty to be had in “You’re a Mean One, Sue the Grinch.” All in all, “A Very Glee Christmas” was a great Christmas special, but it was one carried more by the plot than the music.

Joe Kessler

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Welcome to the Convo, where ACG Blog contributors get together for discussion and analysis. Today’s topic is last night’s episode of “Glee,” “Special Education.”

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Last night was all about capitalism vs. socialism, baby. That’s right: Glee-conomics. Okay, it wasn’t that nakedly fiduciary, but the undercurrents of those two antithetical models were clear and present between New Directions and the Warblers. At McKinley, the glee club is struggling to dredge up a twelfth member since Kurt left suddenly for Dalton last week. Schue calling on Puck was interesting, but it went fairly predictably when he proposed the other football jocks sign up. Did anyone really expect Karofsky to raise his hand — or rather, his jazz hand? Please. He does manage to convince AV Club president, and noted sex rioter, Lauren Zises to join, and although we didn’t hear her sing she was remarkably more animated than Jacob Ben Israel’s ill-informed four-second stint before regionals last season.

Emma sticks yet another idea worm in Schue’s ear — there’s too much focus on the “stars” of glee club and not enough on the other wildly talented members. Like, I guess, Mike Chang. Okay, whatever. As usual, he takes the idea and runs with it, turning the club, a competitive organization, into super-happy fun-time where everyone gets an equal role. This time, however, it doesn’t seem so bad on the surface. They really all are pretty talented; maybe it will work out. Equality, fraternity, all that jazz. This, of course, only enrages the already-boiling tensions flowing beneath the surface, and soon Tina alleges Brittany and Mike Chang are having an affair and Santana drops the news that she took Finn’s v-card last season. Why? Apparently, mostly to stick it to Rachel, because she gets all the lead parts. I don’t fully buy that simple explanation. Santana is more likely jealous that Rachel has a steady relationship with Finn. Is she jealous that it is Finn, or just that it’s anybody? She does seem to have a longtime thing for Puck. But Puck has a thing for Rachel. But Rachel has a thing for Finn. But Finn banged Santana. It’s last season’s Rachel-Finn-Quinn-Puck love quadrangle all over again, but with one new member. Will they ever escape it’s four-sided walls?

Kurt, meanwhile, is settling in at the Warblers, but not so well. His frankly hilarious joke about the coal mine was completely ignored by those stuffed shirts. This scene struck me as somewhat contrived. Here’s the paraphrased version.

“Anybody got any ideas for sectionals?”

“Yes, OMG, Duran Duran!”

“SHUT THE HELL UP NO0B!”

Okay, that last part was said much more nicely, but still, they solicited suggestions and then said, “We don’t want your suggestion.” Nice start, guys! Kurt takes it like a man, though, and as a reward they let him (and two others) audition for a sectionals solo. Kurt goes to none other than Rachel, where they share the first of two wildly touching scenes. Why didn’t they have more scenes like this before? Oh right, they hate each other because each sees the other as competition. Just to be clear, in real life they would be best friends — the spoiled diva and the flag-waving queen? BFFs. Sure, they would occasionally stab each other in the back, but what’s a little knife wound among friends?

She convinces him to sing “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” and it was quite well done. Bravo. It reminded me of the “Gravity” sing-off, which was really fantastic. Kurt and Rachel complement each other very well, and I wish they would pair off more often. Anyway, Kurt belts his heart out but Blaine tells him it was simply to ostentatious for the Warblers’ groupthink. Hold the phone. He just tried out for a solo — you know, the think where only one person sings — and it was too singular for them? I’ve heard of being inclusive, but really, that goes too far. It clearly doesn’t work for Kurt, and I think he’s fooling himself that it will in the future. Kurt thrives on a challenge, and assimilating into a big group is not his thing. Besides, as we’ve learned so far, Blaine gets the solos, okay?

So it’s off to sectionals, minus Emma, who — surprise! — got married in Vegas over the weekend. Carl seems like a nice guy, and of course John Stamos, like a fine wine, only gets better with age, but I can’t help but think that something is wrong with that. Perhaps its my inner Schue-Emma shipper, but that’s just too damn tragic, even as much as I’ve come to dislike Schue (well-performed big band croons notwithstanding). As usual, this world-shattering event is swept under the rug, and apparently will be a stronger plot point later.

Finally, sectionals! Rachel and Kurt share another impossibly good scene at the snack bar, where she reveals her deep frustrations with the glee club and he tells her he lost the audition (or whatever the lingo is). Seriously, Leah Michele and Chris Colfer were so incredibly natural chatting with each other I desperately want a spin-off reality show where they critique peoples’ clothes or something. There’s a deeper relationship there that has yet to be fully mined (Get it? Mined! It’s a reference!). The Hipsters sing first at sectionals, and they get props for their name and nothing else. They were so obviously created to provide a third leg to the whole McKinley-Dalton thing I wish they hadn’t even spent the screen time showing their song. Next is Dalton, with a surprisingly disappointing a cappella rendition of “Hey Soul Sister.” I love that song, so I was displeased with the poor quality. The music didn’t translate well into the a cappella medium, and Blaine’s menthol-cool voice and rug-cutting moves couldn’t rescue it. I’ll stick to the original Train, thank you. Kurt did look very awkward with the group’s fairly stilted routine, perhaps because he’s a show choir boy at heart stuck in an a cappella group. Similar, but not the same. Finally, Schue rallied the sullen troops with the public school version of “Pull it together, you jerks!” and New Directions came on with a competent if unremarkable rendition of “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” and another song I’d never heard of that served more to showcase Mike and Brittany’s dance moves than the singing. And, of course, ND and the Warblers tied. It was an outcome so obvious and so pedestrian I can’t decide whether to loathe it or merely be irritated. Compare to last year’s sectionals — fantastic renditions of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” — and the mediocrity of this season’s competition becomes even more obvious.

Finally, Rachel forgives Finn for sleeping with Santana, because, I don’t know, maybe she realized a) it happened before they were together, b) she was with another guy who was only using her, and c) she lied to Finn about sleeping with Jesse. So, yeah, there’s all that. She rehashes her “being part of something special makes you special” line, and Finn whips out the adorable and responds, “Are we a part of something special? You and me?” Awwwww. She then proceeds to stomp on his heart when she reveals she nearly slept with Puck when she was mad at Finn — and only didn’t because he walked away! Before we get caught up in the Finchel business, let’s stop for one second and acknowledge that Puck walked away. Character growth, anyone? Back to Finchel. Finn is understandably hurt, and he walks away from her and the relationship. What did she think would happen? Besides, I suppose it’s better she told him now rather than bottling that one up inside. Maybe he’ll one day forgive her, and Finchel will be born anew. My guess is that won’t happen for a while, though. We concluded with another song that should have been a slam-dunk hit and instead came across as boring and uninspired. Nobody beats Mercedes R&B tones, and Tina is good in her own way, too, but their duet of “Dog Days Are Over” should really just be left to Florence + the Machine. It fell flat, much like this episode. Underwhelmed? Me too. I understand it’s difficult to write a convincing mid-season finale (although apparently there’s a Christmas episode next week), but last year’s was terrific, even despite the uncertainty of whether the series would be renewed past that point. Pull it together, “Glee” writers.

There was a subplot involving Artie and Brittany that was so boring I don’t even feel like recapping it here. Line of the night goes to Emma, who suggests to Rachel, “Maybe you should storm out.” Indeed. Although I know I’ll be back next week.

Alex Guillén

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It’s difficult for me to not compare “Special Education” to last year’s “Sectionals.” In the battle between the episodes, “Sectionals” comes out ahead by a mile. But on the whole, I enjoyed “Special Education.” Though of course, it wasn’t without its flaws.

After Emma’s commentary on the glee club’s formula being oh so precise, Mr. Schue decides to switch things up for sectionals. Sam and Quinn will be leads on the ballad, Brittany and Mike Chang will showcase their dance moves, and even Santana will get a solo over Rachel. Puck ends up recruiting/bribing wrestler Lauren to be the club’s twelfth member after Kurt’s departure. Santana reveals that she slept with Finn, and the club’s camaraderie starts to break down. Tina and Artie start thinking their respective partners are cheating on them. Rachel protests her demotion from the club’s star spot. The team heads off to sectionals in the least cohesive mood they’ve ever faced. That’s all… pretty typical, actually.

Things aren’t quite the fantasy land Kurt looked forward to at Dalton Academy and with the Warblers. (They give him an actual warbler as part of some fraternity tradition. I thought it was funny.) He’s not fitting in quite like he thought, and the Warblers aren’t as accepting or proud of his uniqueness as he expected. He auditions for a solo with “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” — which brought about a laugh out loud moment for me, Blaine’s quick headshake as Kurt begins to raise his arms a la Evita. He doesn’t get the solo, and Blaine’s advice? Try not to stand out so much, there’s a reason for those uniforms.

Oh “Glee,” the mixed messages continue!

Rachel has a heart-to-heart with Kurt before sectionals, which I actually really enjoyed. Even though Rachel’s character was all over the place this episode, I think she and Kurt would really get along like this if they weren’t competing for leads. Her instructions from the crowd for Kurt to “Smile!” were cute.

It looks like things are heading for a meltdown in the green room once again for McKinley, but Mr. Schue comes in and shouts “enough!” — something he did a lot this episode — and tells the kids to get their asses on stage and just perform already. Sam and Quinn pull Rachel’s sing-up-the-aisle trick from last season’s corresponding episode, but I enjoyed their duet on “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” Sometimes I don’t understand my reactions to Glee episodes. I enjoyed Sam and Quinn? Artie and Brittany were totally adorable and hilarious? Well the latter is true. Their relationship seemed like another piece of throwaway ridiculousness, but I actually think it’s pretty sweet. Brittany and Mike tore up the dancing on “Valerie” and I adore Santana’s voice.

This episode lacked the tension of last year’s “Sectionals,” and the song selection was more enjoyable last year. “Don’t Rain on My Parade” is one of my favorites that the show has done. Anyway, we knew the glee club had to make it through (otherwise where could this season go), but as it happens they tie with the Warblers, so both teams head to regionals. Whoo.

Then come the reveals. “I have to tell you about my weekend,” says Emma to Will. “Carl took me to Vegas.” *displays wedding ring*

Rachel tells Finn that she made out with Puck while they were fighting. Finn is understandably upset. Not only did she cheat on him, just as Quinn did, but with the same guy! He breaks up with her. Rachel has no conception of the fact that her making out with Puck does not “cancel out” Finn sleeping with Santana (because THEY WERE NOT TOGETHER WHEN THAT HAPPENED). “You said you would never break up with me!” Rachel nearly sobs. Yeah, well, that’s what happens when you cheat on someone. Also, this is totally out of character for Rachel.

We get one final musical number, but it was pretty pointless. Also, the glee kids are unhealthily interested in Mr. Schue’s love life. Upon reflection at the end of writing this recap, this episode was nearly as formulaic as any other, but I still enjoyed it. Brittany got some one-liners, Santana was kind of bitchy, Emma was out of her depth when it came to being a counselor, Kurt is dealing with a lot of issues, Rachel needs to be a star, Puck decides to zero-in on being Jewish, etc etc. Somehow, it all worked. This time.

Alexandria Jackson

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This was clearly a feel-good episode, and I have to admit that it left me feeling good. Rachel is really a pathetic and immature young woman (as her plot this episode demonstrated), so I really enjoy when “Glee” takes an episode to showcase its other characters. It was nice to see Artie and Brittany’s relationship blossoming some, and Kurt’s storyline was surprisingly strong for mostly taking place away from McKinley High and its regular cast of characters.

One thing I have to object to about last night’s trip to sectionals is the way “Glee” plays fast and loose with its own rules. Take the competition itself. For something as well-organized as competitive show choir, there has been a disturbing lack of consistency between the sectionals of season one and season two. For one thing, there seems to have been some glee club gerrymandering between seasons, as a result of which McKinley is competing with two schools that were not in its section in 2009 — and there’s no sign of the old teams, either. Sectionals also apparently can result in two winning teams (out of three), which really makes me wonder as to why the level of eliminative competition exists in the first place. Speaking of pointless, this year’s co-winners, the Warblers, apparently held that solo competition for no reason at all, since they were going to give the lead in their sectionals piece to Blaine, who wasn’t one of the competitors. The Warblers and the Hipsters also only got to sing one number for the competition, whereas our Lima-based favorites were allowed to perform two – and sit in the audience for the other groups’ performances to boot. They also got to take home that first-place trophy, with apparently no argument from Kurt’s new squad.

“Glee” is an absurd show, and its plot developments often don’t carry much justification. One week Sue is the cheerleading coach, the next she’s principal and the next she’s taking an unexplained absence. But for a show with as much potential for subversive humor as “Glee,” the writers are really missing out on the chance to have its characters comment on the inconsistencies. Changing how things work is not inherently a problem for a TV show, but “Glee” would be much stronger if the show embraced its madness.

Back to this last episode, I really liked Kurt’s storyline amongst the Warblers. The canary molting was a neat parallel for him transferring schools, and I liked the gradual hints that this new place is not the perfect high school paradise (a teenage dream, if you will) that Kurt had been led to believe. My guess is that he’ll be transferring back at some point, which is kind of a shame given how McKinley-centric “Glee” always is. I would love for the show to have a regular competitor outside the school that an audience could still root for. For a while, I thought we were getting that with Blaine, but after a closer look at the Warblers this episode, I’m really surprised that someone like him is happy there. Despite him singing, “I can be myself now finally / In fact there’s nothing I can’t be” in his solo of “Hey Soul Sister,” it really seems like the other, more totalitarian Warblers wouldn’t care for that sort of free spirit. When Kurt transfers back to New Directions, I hope and expect he’ll take Blaine with him.

Finally, a word about lying: it’s definitely not as bad as cheating, and I think Finn was entirely in the right to dump Rachel when she did the latter. But it was interesting to see how hurt Rachel was over his lies, especially in comparison to what we saw of Artie and Brittany this episode. They don’t communicate very well either (partly due to her thinking adultery means acting like a dolt), and he definitely took advantage of her naiveté by lying about the comb — even the ditzy cheerleader noticed something isn’t right about letting your girlfriend unknowingly comb her hair with something you found on the ground. So in some sense, Artie and Finn were set up as parallels in this episode, which the show hasn’t done very often. While Rachel got upset and fled to Puck, though, Brittany smiled and called Artie the best boyfriend ever. I’m far from convinced that the writers set up this comparison on purpose, but I found it to be an interesting one.

Joe Kessler

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Welcome to the Convo, where ACG Blog contributors get together for discussion and analysis. Today’s topic is last night’s episode of “Glee,” “The Substitute.”

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Last night’s episode of “Glee” was riddled with problems and came out as the worst episode since the Britney fiasco. But then, after a string of great episodes I suppose the narrative had to come down at some point. Terri and her poorly-written character coming back is always trouble. Yet again we had Sue rapidly and unbelievable promoted beyond her purview. But perhaps the greatest folly was making Gwyneth Paltrow the centerpiece; after all, to save glee club from dated songs they chose a mid-to-late-’90s actress with limited singing experience? The whole thing felt like a plug for her new movie, “Country Strong,” which coincidentally aired several commercials throughout the hour.

It all begins with an illness, which as any teacher knows runs rampant through claustrophobic and unhygienic student populations. Sue finally got to employ germ warfare by strategically aiming infected sneezes at Figgins, one of the funniest scenes of the night. Schue also catches the flu, which he only admits once he turns around and sees glee babies! I have to admit, this is possibly the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, and if you thought the same you absolutely must watch the following behind-the-scenes video. It is positively adorable.

Okay, take a minute to bask in the cuteness, then it’s back to the episode. Actually, so far so good, though we’re only a few minutes in. It kind of starts to go downhill from here. With Schue gone Kurt convinces substitute Holly Holiday—only a double entendre away from being a Bond girl—to also take over glee club to stop bossy Rachel. Holly gives the club essentially free reign to choose their songs, and Puck suggests “that new Cee Lo song,” since of course they can’t say “Fuck You!” on the air. Instead they perform a high-powered if watered-down version called “Forget You!” Ironically, in an attempt to give the glee clubbers freedom their freedoms had to be curtailed; the very message espoused by being allowed to sing the song was subverted by the necessary censoring. Perhaps Rachel sat out the song and pouted because she sensed the contradiction.

Mr. Schue, meanwhile, is floundering around at home, sweating and hallucinating, when — dun dun DUN — Terri appears out of the mist with soup, a DVD “Singin’ in the Rain” and sex, because people coughing up mucus and generally lying around in their own filth are so attractive. Don’t do her it, I thought. Since I was so spot-on about in-the-closet bully Salt Karofsky, I’m saying it right here, right now: Terri is totally going to get preggers from that one-night stand. Real preggers, too, not fake preggers. Damn you, “Glee” writers! We were this close to being rid of her and her horrendous plotline altogether!

Meanwhile, Sue, as acting principal, tries unsuccessfully to disband the football team before Bieste points out the Cheerios will have no one to cheer for. Sue practically mutters, “Curses! Foiled again!” as she stalks off. She also fires Schue, successfully, because, what the hell, why not? It’s not like there’s a teacher’s union or any sort of accountability. She also sets her sights on cafeteria tater tots, for some reason, and has the Cheerios dump them in trash cans right in front of tot-loving Mercedes. You know this won’t sit well, especially when Sue replaces all the food with probiotic foam and crap like that. Um, what? Have the writers ever even been to a school? It takes forever to get this kind of thing done, and it has to be done at the district level, the principal has no control over nutrition services, and oh yeah probiotic foam is expensive! ACG Blog readers know that I give “Glee” a lot of artistic license, but this just goes too far. Is a sliver of reality too much to ask? Come on.

There’s even an entire subplot involving Mercedes shoving tater tots up Sue’s car’s exhaust pipe that was so contrived and pointless recounting it would be an insult to you, the reader. The only positive to come out of the tots situation is a hysterical Breadsticks scene with Mercedes, Kurt and Blaine when they talk about nothing but Proposition 8, Patti LuPone and gay gay gay gay gay. Mercedes imagines their conversation becomes so gay that a teensy pocketbook spits out of Kurt’s mouth. “Oh my gosh, I opened my mouth and a little purse falls out.” “So gay,” Blaine says admiringly. “How’d that get in there?” Kurt wonders. It’s possibly one of my favorite “Glee” moments of all time.

Holly finally feels the pressure of being a full-time teacher — you know, actually having to control students and teach them stuff — and this leads to a Very Special Conversation about the role of a teacher. She tells Schue it’s about creating connections and stopping kids from dropping out, the statistic for which she has handily memorized. Schue rebuts that substitutes can afford to be flippant; regular teachers have responsibility to shepherd students into a wider worldview and new ideas. The lovely point-counterpoint ends with each one realizing they can incorporate parts of both methods and better appeal to students while also introducing new ideas. This actually leads to a nice mash-up of Rihanna and Jay-Z’s “Umbrella” with the truly classic “Singin’ in the Rain.” Schue gets rehired, blah blah blah.

Don’t get me wrong — there was far more wrong with this episode than right with it. Why did Mercedes have to realize food and Kurt are proxies for real relationships by staging some Norma Ray-esque tater tots protest? What was the point of the “Make ‘Em Laugh” hallucination, besides some excellent choreogaphy? Are they building up to something with Karofsky, who surfaced yet again brings up the kiss he wants kept a dead secret? Why haven’t they released the wildly entertaining cover of “Conjunction Junction”?

Also, I think there needs to be a serious examination of whether Sue is taking advantage of Becky. She makes a cute minion, to be sure, but Sue almost seems to exploit her, something someone with so much concern for the mentally disabled would be wary of. Of course, maybe the entire situation is a commentary on how normal and accepting Sue is; after all, any Cheerio, Santana or Brittany or even Quinn, could be her clipboard-toting assistant. It may have nothing to do with Becky’s disability. But we’ll see.

Alex Guillén

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Another episode of “Glee,” another week of ups and downs. Though this one consisted of more ups, in my opinion.

I went into viewing prepared to hate Gwenyth Paltrow as the cool substitute Holly Holiday (Terri gets an awesome line: “Are you a porn star or a drag queen?”), but ended up enjoying her. Paltrow really gave it her all. She’s in for Mr. Schue, ill with monkey flu, and is shaking things up by letting them do whatever they want. This led to the semi-enjoyable performance of “Forget You” and the totally discursive “Hot Honey Rag” from “Chicago.”

Sue’s been set up as principal — after engineering Figgins’ receipt of the virus, one of her best moments this evening — and promptly goes after glee club, the football team and poor nutrition in the form of banning tater tots. Mercedes, feeling sidelined by Kurt’s burgeoning relationship with Blaine, takes up the cause to bring back tater tots with zeal. Including shoving tots up the exhaust pipe of Sue’s car. The Kurt and Mercedes plots didn’t really resonate this week. I felt Mercedes in particular would have had no trouble in pointing out how she felt Kurt was abandoning their friendship. Instead we get Mercedes campaigning for tots, then thinking maybe she should just try to get a boyfriend instead replacing Kurt with food. What?

The ailing Mr. Schue heralds the return of Terri, playing nursemaid. She seems to be genuinely trying to help herself and knows how to take care of Will when he’s sick. “That’s because you like me best when I’m weak,” he observes. Burn. Predictably they engage in some sexual activity, which Will almost instantly regrets. Is this the true end of Terri? I admit I thought we would be seeing a lot more of her than we have this season, but I won’t be too terribly upset if she’s gone for good. This show needs to prune some characters.

In the end, Holly turns out to be a great substitute but not a great teacher. Mr. Schue has pretty much always been there not just as a teacher but to help the kids out however he can. But Holly’s push to let the kids perform what they want and modernize their song selection leads to a number I unashamedly adored. The “Umbrella/Singin’ in the Rain” mash-up turned out to be spectacular (even if there’s no way the glee club could have reasonably produced those water effects). I’m always up for a good “Singin’ in the Rain” remix!

There were a lot of enjoyable little moments as well. Rachel once again tries to lead the club and feature herself before Holly steps in, and the rest of the group has to physically restrain Santana from starting a fight. Brittany gets a couple great lines like, “Mr. Schue taught me the second half of the alphabet. I stopped after M and N. I felt they were too similar and got frustrated.” Paltrow as Mary Todd Lincoln.  Mr. Schue hallucinating the kids as actual little children. Overall, this episode was another move in the right direction for “Glee.” Let’s see if they can keep it up.

Alexandria Jackson

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Like I said last week, “Glee” is generally better — and is able to do a whole lot more — when its musical numbers are not bound by a kitschy theme. This week, for example, there was very little tying the various songs together, and yet the show still delivered a solid demonstration of why Will Schuester is fast becoming everyone’s least favorite character.

The songs this week were fun. None of them really blew me away, although it sure seemed like the kids were loving guest star Gwyneth Paltrow’s performances. I was really disappointed by the choreography this episode, particularly in the songs that came from musicals: Schue and Mike’s cover of “Make ‘Em Laugh” from “Singin’ in the Rain” and Rachel and the substitute’s version of “Nowadays / Hot Honey Rag” from Chicago. In each case, the creative team did very little to change the song from its original form either vocally or visually. “Glee” has long since passed the point where showing the high school group faithfully performing a familiar song is exciting for its viewers. The show is at its best when it takes existing music and makes it its own, as it did in this episode’s final number, a mash-up of “Singin’ in the Rain” and Rihanna featuring Jay Z’s “Umbrella.” Even then the glee club’s choreography was largely taken from the Rihanna music video, but the originality of the mash-up made the performance seem fresher.  But seriously, whatever happened to the days when New Directions would wow us with new dance routines? I’ve been saying it since Sue Sylvester’s music video of “Vogue”: The show is just boring when it recreates an existing scene with complete faithfulness. Come on, “Glee.” Shake things up.

(Of course, some changes are just silly. I don’t generally mind the show’s censorship of explicit lyrics, and it makes sense that a substitute teacher, even one as loose with the rules as the improbably named Holly Holliday, wouldn’t sing the real lyrics to Cee Lo Green’s smash hit in the classroom. But that a character like Puck would refer to the song by its censored name of “Forget You” is pretty hard to swallow.)

Plotwise, the episode was a hit. Will’s sickness and the subsequent arrival of his substitute Miss Paltrow were great narrative tools for showing how Mr. Schuester’s typical methods of coaching both succeed and fail with his students. I particularly enjoyed the show’s subtle digs at its own Season One focus on the music of Journey. Will himself, as usual, is too controlling, although it seems that when he gives up control for a split second his crazy ex-wife jumps his bones. So maybe his usual manner is justified. Still, there’s no denying that everyone’s favorite glee coach is increasingly frustrating to watch. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even feel bad for him when Sue Sylvester makes fun of his hair.

Speaking of Sue, making her the new McKinley High principal seems to be a dangerous move for the show writers. Sue Sylvester’s ideal high school is one without a glee club (or a football team, for that matter), but since the show is hardly going to write off its central concept, giving the antagonist unlimited power in the school can only result in a weakening of her character. Hopefully, Principal Figgins’ time away from his office will be as short-lived as Puck’s stint in juvie.

The best thing about this episode, of course, was Will Schuester’s feverish hallucination that his glee clubbers were little children. Glee babies! I know there’s no good reason to have these children around the school, but I can’t deny how much they made me smile. If “Glee” can pull off a repeat without running the concept into the ground, I’d love to see some more of this gag.

Joe Kessler

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Welcome to the Convo, where ACG Blog contributors get together for discussion and analysis. Today’s topic is last night’s episode of “Glee,” “Never Been Kissed.”

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I would like to start by saying that I totally called it — Salt (what I call him since he’s always been seen with Pepper before) is definitely in the closet. The virulently homophobic being outed has become such a cliché it’s actually starting to become a safe assumption that the anti-gay are most likely merely compensating.

But let’s start at the beginning. The episode led off with a series of slights at Kurt, shoving, names, etc. Even Mr. Schue got in on it, albeit unknowingly, by ordering Kurt to the boys’ group for the week’s battle of the sexes. When Schue later witnesses the bullying Kurt endures each day, he realizes it’s getting to Kurt. He confesses that, as the sole out student at McKinley High, carrying the rainbow flag is his fabulous cross to bear. Schue tries to help by mixing up the challenge, ordering the groups to perform songs traditional to the other sex, which, of course, enthuses Kurt and irritates the other boys. Go spy on their new competition, an all-boys private school, Puck suggests, once again subtly but firmly perpetuating the hatred Kurt faces.

At the private school, though, Kurt finds a scene tailor made for soft-core pornography: an a cappella group performing Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dreams,” to the wild cheers of the other boys. Kurt is understandably bowled over by this tableau, and rightfully so. There was an awful lot odd about the scene. Even if one is willing to accept the Warblers’ popularity, and if one was could look past a room full of boys dancing to “Teenage Dreams,” there’s still the problem that a zero-tolerance policy probably wouldn’t create such a weirdly accepting atmosphere. Kurt’s painfully obvious infiltration of the competition led to his meeting Blaine, played by newcomer Darren Criss.

The plotline’s saving grace came from Blaine, who admitted that having transferred from a McKinley-esque bullying atmosphere to the academy hadn’t been the brave act it initially seems. No, Blaine admitted, he fled a battleground for paradise, lacking the courage to stand up for himself. His admission was very inflectional — too inflectional, in fact. Everything about Blaine screams too put together. Perhaps this is a theme we’ll revisit in the future, but for the time being he just came across as suspiciously polished.

Kurt, emboldened by Blaine, confronts Salt next time the behemoth shoves him in the hallway (side note: we finally saw an extra react to the bullying; the girl behind them had a horrified look on her face). Tracking him to the empty locker room, Kurt gets up in his face — and then Salt gets in his, quite literally. It was a moment that shocked them, but, as I noted previously, not me. Kurt gets Blaine to help him try and confront Salt about his obvious latent homosexuality, but he denies the whole incident and storms off. It’s not really anything about Salt, however, that has Kurt all teary eyed; he reveals to Blaine that that kiss, full of hatred and suppression and oppression, was his first. Unfortunately, there’s really no way back, but Blaine helps Kurt to press on. At first I was alarmed that Kurt had a locker photo of Blaine, but further reflection changed my mind. It’s important that it’s framed, not some secretive pin-up; Kurt isn’t lusting after Blaine, he’s looking up to him. Although this is great for his self-esteem now, I can’t help fearing that eventually Blaine will show a dark side, either romantically or through the glee competition, that could shatter Kurt’s newfound confidence.

Unfortunately, I think a greater tragedy went largely unnoticed last night: poor Salt. He’s gay, or at least curious, and is in such deep denial he lashes out violently at the one person he subconsciously admires most. “Well, he’s not coming out of the closet anytime soon,” Blaine quips, short-changing the deep anguish of the scene. In this case, Salt’s predicament is not one caused by any glee clubbers, at least, not specifically. He’s a victim of the modern American high school, and he represents the other side of the coin, those who don’t even really know themselves. Whether his storyline moves forward or not, we’re left with a sad impression of a wildly repressed man.

In many ways Kurt and Coach Bieste shared themes this week, though the never-been-kissed bit, so poignant with Kurt, felt stale and forced when it came Bieste’s turn. It begins with Finn and Sam, relaxing in hot and cold tubs, respectively, when Finn shares his mailman secret to “cooling down,” the show’s awkward euphemism of the night. Sam notes he’s never nearly killed a civil servant before, and Finn tells him to find his own mailman. Sticking with the arrogant Sam who emerged last week over the sweet Sam introduced in “Duets,” the lemon-juice blonde latches onto images of Coach Bieste to help him “cool down” while making out with Quinn. It works well, so well he accidentally utters her name instead of Quinny’s. Oops. For some reason he shares it with Mike Chang, who tells Tina, who we learn has a surprisingly aggressive libido. The scene where they make out in a classroom once again raised the subtle specter of male objectivism; once again, Tina fixates on Mike Chang’s abs, even making an awkward and ill-times “Jersey Shore” reference. Obviously, any such objectification of a woman would be troubling, but it slips over Mike Chang like baby oil on his taut muscles. Oh, sorry! It’s really easy to fall into that trap.

Predictably, the whole Bieste thing makes its way to Mr. Schue, who excoriates Sam and Mike Chang (although really it’s Tina). Sam protests that it’s not personal, but Mr. Schue sputters, “Of course it’s personal!” and it is. I found it interesting that “Glee” didn’t go deeper with the anti-fantasies; were they because Bieste isn’t traditionally pretty (it is worth admitting she’s actually not ugly), or because she’s much older than the students, or, as Quinn intimated, because she’s in a position of power over them? I thought that motivation was never made clear. In any event, Bieste quits over the whole thing, admits to Schue she’s never been kissed because she’s an unusual type, and he kisses her, weirdly, without regard for sexual harassment charges, and she inexplicably feels better. The characterization kind of fell apart here, but I’ll let it go. The boys feel bad and win her back with a cleverly done mash-up, blah blah blah.

What’s more interesting in this whole debacle was Quinn, who we thought was no longer the ruthless cheer captain of the pilot. She happily accepted Sue Sylvester’s plan because it would get her man back — not giving second thought to the primary mission, getting Bieste fired. Her selfishness was presented so quickly it almost went unnoticed, but ultimately Quinn was more culpable for Bieste nearly leaving than Sam or any other boy.

The Artie subplot was both boring and pointless. Santana slobbered all over Puck, again, and Brittany seems to want Artie back. Not much came out of this, and it’s not worth recapping, even their enjoyable if unbelievable busking rendition of “One Love/People Get Ready.”

Some remainders:

Where is Quinn living? Did she move back home? Remember last season when she was thrown out and Puck, then Mercedes, took her in? Is she making out in front of Mercedes’ fireplace?

This episode proved Finn and Rachel could have mere supporting roles. It worked. Consider putting them in the background more. For example, I’m dying for some Mercedes. Put her in, coach.

Looking at the guys of glee club assembled before Bieste reminded me that they have all played for the football team at some point. There’s been no mention of Kurt being kicker again this year, so presumably he dropped that extracurricular, but the rest of them are definitely on the current team. Interesting crossover.

Best “leggo my Eggo” story I’ve ever heard — even if it was fake.

I want a confetti cannon.

Line of the night: Mr. Schue: “We’re not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” Brittany: “I’ve done that.”

Alex Guillén

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Episodes of Glee usually include at least one character picking up a life lesson. They sometimes veer into cheesy after-school special territory. There’s probably a case to be made for that here, but Glee’s subject matter has never been so timely. Even though it still occasionally suffers from mixed messages.

Kurt takes center stage again as he continues his trials as the only out teen at McKinley. A particularly stereotypical football player (what’s his name? Wiki tells me it’s Karofsky) repeatedly shoves Kurt into lockers and generally makes his life hell. What’s more, Kurt feels like he doesn’t get any support from the faculty, including Mr. Schue. And on top of everything else, Kurt knows he isn’t being challenged at McKinley.

Mr. Schue responds by turning the second annual boys versus girls mash-up competition (needs a catchy acronym) on its head, sort of. The boys perform songs traditionally sung by women, and the girls try out more the more “masculine” classic rock. The kids should try to be the opposite of what they are. The more opposite, the more points. I suppose this is to encourage the kids to have a new experience and try something they never normally would, it seemed odd placed in an episode once again about accepting people as they are and finding the beauty below the surface.

Not to denigrate the message of this episode, but I wish more media would address the fact that gender and sexuality are not binary. It’s not always male/female and gay/straight. Gender identity and sexual orientation is a spectrum. I think this is why it irked me so much last week when the word “transsexual” was edited out of “Sweet Transvestite.” Moving on…

Fed up with his situation at McKinley, Kurt checks out the Dalton Academy for Boys, under the guise of spying on their glee club, New Directions’ competition at sectionals this year. (Oh, they actually have to go through sectionals and regionals again? They don’t skip straight to nationals? News to me.) It is a strange new world! The Dalton glee club are like rock stars, and Kurt is swept up by Blaine, played by the adorable Darren Criss (seriously, go to YouTube and look up “A Very Potter Musical.”) Blaine encourages Kurt not to be a victim, and stand up to his bully. Which leads to a genuinely shocking moment when Kurt confronts Karofsky, who ends by kissing Kurt. Call me crazy, but Karofsky may have just become one of the most interesting characters on Glee. A small-town, midwestern jock so frightened that he might be gay that the only thing he can do is lash out. How can this show have so many poignant, realistic moments and yet be so unbelievable?

Which brings us to the secondary and tertiary plots this week. Finn tells Sam about his tried and true method for cooling down when things get hot and heavy with a girl (cue the mailman clip). So Sam comes up with his own version. Picturing Coach Beiste. Then he says her name instead of Quinn’s. Word gets around to the glee clubbers so Tina tries it too. Eventually Sue gets involved, Mr. Schue finds out, he has to tell Beiste, she quits, Mr. Schue talks to her and tells her she’s beautiful, and giver Beiste her first kiss. Again, what? I saw this coming as soon as she said she had never been kissed, but I don’t know. So many random plots. The boys’ mash-up is an apology to Beiste, who stays on as the coach.

And in the final story of the evening, Puck is back from juvie, hanging out with Artie as “community service.” They perform a song together. They go on a double date with Santana and Brittany. Puck needs to do actual community service. Whatever — the upshot is, we should expect Puck and Artie to hang out more, which I am all for. One of my favorite quotes last season: “I just really like Artie, okay!”

So, overall, I think I liked this episode. I’m all for Kurt. The musical numbers? Pretty much throwaways and not very memorable. But damn it if I wasn’t humming “Teenage Dream” when the show cut to commercial.

Alexandria Jackson

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“Glee’s” sixth episode of season two, “Never Been Kissed,” was a superb return to form for the Fox comedy. In a season that’s been suffering from too many themed episodes, last night’s offering showed just how compelling a story “Glee” can provide when the writers are not forced to shoehorn the dialogue and musical numbers into a single gimmicky theme. It was a welcome change after the rather inconsequential ‘Rocky Horror’ episode.

Part of what made this episode great was the payoff of plot points from earlier in the season. I’d remarked before about how unusually abrasive Kurt was acting, and now that that’s built for a few episodes, we finally start to see what he’s going through and how it’s affecting him. Kurt, just to be himself, is one of the strongest personalities that we see at McKinley High — which is saying a lot — so to show him quietly weeping over the basic human decency at Blaine’s school was a very powerful moment. In fact, just about everything about Kurt and Blaine’s storyline this episode felt right, and I’m glad that the show didn’t waste an unnecessary amount of drama over the fact that the two guys each mislead the other in their first meeting. Kurt’s lie of pretending to be a new student would be an okay starting premise for any number of mediocre romantic comedies, so it was a relief to see Glee had bigger intentions. Blaine referring to the Warblers as rock stars, while not letting on to Kurt that he’s a member of the group himself, was sort of rude — and it was another moment that could have been played up for more unnecessary drama. Instead, it was a nice way for the writers to show that no matter how much Kurt is idolizing his new friend at present, the kid isn’t perfect. Regardless, I liked Blaine’s character a whole lot, and I hope we see a lot more of him.

The surprise outing of Kurt’s main high school antagonist was a twist I wasn’t expecting, but it’s certainly presents some interesting character development for both him and Kurt. My immediate thought was to wonder whether the bully’s (unusually absent) partner in crime knows the truth about his friend, and whether he might be gay as well. And I really felt for Kurt when he told Blaine that he had never before been kissed, but after the mixed reaction I had to Schue kissing Beiste, I’m glad that we didn’t see Kurt hook up with Blaine after his own confession. Besides, we still know nothing about this kid. It won’t surprise me at all if we learn next week that Blaine already has the perfect boyfriend, although I’m sure he and Kurt will get together at some point regardless.

It was also great to see Puck back again, and I actually liked his and Artie’s storyline this episode better than I thought I would. It’s nice when Puck’s posturing can be taken down a notch, and it seems like his stint in juvie did just that — although of course, his response to getting scared there is to posture all the more. Still, I’m a big fan of how Puck’s personality and humor skew against the rest of glee club, so his return to the show is definitely a good thing in my book. I’m quite glad to see him regrowing his original haircut as well.

For a show like “Glee,” I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the music at all, but I’m having sort of a hard time remembering what songs were in this episode. That’s because the Warblers’ number, an a cappella cover of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” was so terrific, it really put the rest of them to shame. Maybe this is my inherent love of a cappella music shining through, but I really think this was one of the best numbers we’ve seen on “Glee” — and from a bunch of new kids, no less! Regular cast, shape up (and do more a cappella songs, please).

Joe Kessler

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Welcome to the Convo, where ACG Blog contributors get together for discussion and analysis. Today’s topic is last night’s episode of “Glee,” “The Rocky Horror Glee Show.”

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I had been afraid that “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” would fall into the same trap as previous theme episodes such as Britney Spears and, to a lesser extent, Madonna. Fortunately I was proved largely wrong; aside from being a cute tribute to a cult classic, “Glee” furthered one plot that has been moving in fits and starts this season — the romance between Mr. Schue and Emma — and provided a surprisingly nuanced argument about what is and is not appropriate in the arts in schools. They even worked in a taboo topic, much like the original ‘Rocky’ did, this time the important but rarely acknowledged issue of male body image.

The club is putting on ‘Rocky’ because Mr. Schue is trying to get closer to Emma. She admits to him — while eating a sandwich with crusts — that she went to a midnight screening with Carl, in a sticky theater where toast is thrown and squirt bottles squeezed, and Schue grudgingly realizes Carl is “making her better.” She quickly points out that you’d have to edit out pretty much the entire thing to make it appropriate for a high school, and although a great deal of time is spent discussing what is and is not okay for kids, one must suspend one’s disbelief to even allow for the conversation to go beyond a joking wouldn’t-it-be-wacky stage.

We pretty quickly step into the episode’s taboo exploration, male body issues, something that rarely gets time on television. Finn, playing Brad, is nervous about the scene in which he’s in his underwear. Apparently being the star quarterback doesn’t buy you self esteem — although, standing next to the sculpted Sam it becomes understandable. Sam, meanwhile, has no problem with his body, although during dress rehearsal he complains about the skimpy gold shorts he wears (nobody notes, of course, that the original Rocky wore far a skimpier speedo). In fact, if anything, he was too comfortable with his body; Sam underwent a complete 180 from last week, when he was shy and sweet, to this week, when he actually dubbed himself “ab-ulous.” Come on, Ryan Murphy, some character consistency would be nice. I suppose I can let it slide this time. I also loved their weight-room conversation about keeping up a ripped body with Artie in the background chiming in while pumping the tiniest barbells the team owns.

Did anyone really think Finn walking down the hallway in his boxers would actually be traumatizing to anyone? This part stank to high heaven. Even if you found the sight of Finn nearly nude unpleasant, you’ve seen a male body before. This isn’t elementary school; grow up! Plus, did everyone see how quickly the Salt and Pepper bullies showed up? It’s like they smelled shirtless man and came running. They definitely seem to be overcompensating. Who wants to take bets on how long before we find out they’re making out behind the bleachers?

Side note: I thought the Brad Majors look really worked for Finn, or at least the glasses. Thoughts?

Schue decides that Sam is too uncomfortable playing Rocky, so he graciously steps in and asks Emma to rehearse “Touch-a Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me” with him. I remembered reading beforehand that this was the song Jayma Mays auditioned with, and I thought it was correspondingly cute. As you might expect, their latent sexual tension pretty quickly leaps to the surface, and Emma even rips Schue’s shirt off. Kudos for working in Brittany and Santana as the voyeuristic Magenta and Columbia. My only problem with the scene was that, in the actual play, Schue would be doing this with Rachel. Inappropriate much?

Also, Carl the dentist as Eddie? I get it, he’s handsome and dashing and his hair doesn’t get mussed even after riding a motorcycle through a wall; can we cut out the community theater crap? Stop putting adults into the kids’ performances. It’s seriously annoying and increasingly creepy. Mercedes, however, was excellent as Doctor Frank-N-Furter; in an odd way, a woman in that role is pushing boundaries, and I liked it. Mercedes hasn’t gotten too much screen time so far this season, and that should be remedied immediately.

Sue, meanwhile, is out for blood and a local Emmy again this time, convinced by Barry Bostwick and Meat Loaf to go undercover and expose the club’s ‘Rocky’ performance as a progressive liberal-fest on the taxpayers’ dime. Would that really up ratings? You bet your bottom tax dollar. When Becky, whose Sue Sylvester Halloween outfit is absolutely precious, shows Schue Sue’s planned expose, he’s pissed. Confronting her he says the arts have often been about pushing boundaries, but Sue (surprisingly, rightly) responds that pushing boundaries merely to push boundaries makes for bad art. Besides, she notes, cutting through Schue’s façade, he’s not doing ‘Rocky’ for the kids, he’s doing it for Emma. Unfortunately, Sue is a little too convincing, and Schue decides to cancel the show — entirely plausible, considering they’ve gone through dress rehearsals and paid for an entire set, including a functional elevator. Through her fingers slips the local Emmy, and Sue is left twirling her moustache and muttering, “Curses, foiled again.” Although Sue’s anti-glee efforts are generally entertaining, the writers need to be careful about turning her into a parody villain.

So where did this theme episode land? Not bad, considering. It would have been easy to simply play into the theme and not have any real issues explored, but we got a nice look at male body issues and what’s appropriate in high school arts, as well as development of the very cute Will-Emma thing, of which I always approve. It’s not going to be remembered for those things, however, and that’s okay. “Rocky Horror Glee Show” was a solid episode in itself; there have been much better episodes, and much worse.

Alex Guillén

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So… I universally loathe “Glee’s” theme episodes. Madonna, Britney, no thanks. The Rocky Horror Glee Show is no exception. This episode was pretty much pointless.

It’s ostensibly a “Halloween episode,” but honestly? This episode exists for the cast to perform Rocky Horror numbers. With limited success. I enjoyed “Science Fiction Double Feature” (was that Quinn or Santana?) and “Dammit Janet.” Finn and Rachel as Brad and Janet are amusing. But the other numbers are cringe-worthy. “Sweet Transvestite” was okay.

The writers try to shoehorn some plot in. Finn is self-conscious about his body image, especially compared to Sam’s abs — er, that is, to Sam. I thought Finn, Sam and Artie’s conversation in the workout room was entertaining. Also, Will is still trying to win Emma back (the reason the glee club will do this performance at all). The performance of “Touch-a Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me” was ridiculous, save for Santana and Brittany being fabulous as usual. And seriously, the phrase “heavy petting” had to be changed to “heavy sweating?” Please. The return of Sue’s Corner was entertaining, but her supposed expose? Completely random.

I find there’s not much to say about this episode. There’s no substantive plot development or character development, and mostly I’m left wondering if this show can bring even a shred of reality to the proceeding anymore. Is Puck still in juvie? How did they get a working elevator on the stage, or the money to finance the musical at all? How in god’s name would a high school ever be allowed to put on a performance of ‘Rocky Horror?’

Why did this episode fail to make me laugh out loud even once?

Alexandria Jackson

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Although there was lots for a “Rocky Horror Picture” fan to smile at in last night’s serving of “Glee,” on the whole the episode was very hit or miss. It had more than its fair share of comedy and the special glee club brand of drama, but the episode “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” also exposed some of the show’s more glaring faults, particularly the weakness of its style of musically themed episodes.

The episode was not intended to be a recreation of “Rocky Horror” (although it certainly started out that way with a shot of Santana’s bright-red lips singing the opening “Science Fiction/Double Feature”), but rather, to show the glee club’s attempt to put on the show as the McKinley High School musical. The problem is, “Glee” is itself a musical program, and when a single episode pulls all of its songs from the same musical while attempting to use those songs to tell its own story, many of the numbers are simply not going to work out. This was the case in last night’s “Glee.” Most of the songs were motivated solely by their occurrence in the group’s rehearsal, which frankly wasn’t that exciting to watch. “Glee” is at its strongest when it provides some new interpretation or deeper meaning to its musical numbers, and for the most part, the songs last night failed to do so. While I love the cast’s singing voices as much as the next Gleek out there, a “Glee” musical segment that doesn’t go beyond the original song it covers is something of a bore.

And there were some songs last night that excelled. The overwhelming highlight of the night was Emma’s solo of “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me,” sung smolderingly in an empty classroom to her not-boyfriend Will Schuester. This song did what a number should in any musical: it advanced the plot. We had already been shown in this episode that Schue is awkwardly not over Emma – and that she, happily dating her dentist, is all too aware of this awkwardness – but their dance together in the classroom revealed that Emma still has feelings for the glee coach as well. The song was also the culmination of Will’s attempts to use ‘Rocky Horror’ to get closer to Emma, and although that was a low thing for him to do, I have to admit that it was nice to see him start to triumph. And cheerleaders Brittany and Santana creepily watching through the classroom window, making fun of the teachers inside in an echo of Magenta and Columbia’s roles in the original movie? Perfect.

Two more moments deserve special mention from this episode. First, Carl’s rendition of “Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul,” while doing little to advance the episode’s plot, featured some truly lovely choreography in the form of his swing dancing with Emma and Mike Chang’s impromptu dance moves. It was also great of the show writers to feature a cameo by Barry Bostwick, who played the role of Brad Majors in the iconic ’70s Rocky Horror film. Such moments, unfortunately, were hardly the norm.

Plotwise, this show was a hot mess. In order to showcase as much of the club and its supporting cast as possible, the episode had characters switching their Rocky Horror roles practically every number, making the already hard-to-believe notion of a school group throwing together a musical in a single week nothing short of an absurdity. The episode’s plot of Will trying to get back with Emma was fairly well-handled, but its other main storyline, of Finn’s nervousness about showing off his body to others, felt very heavy-handed and out of place. I was also surprised to not see Puck again – has his actor actually left the show? If not, his barely mentioned stint in juvie is a rather odd move for the show to make. Then again, this past episode was already drowning in characters, so perhaps we should look on Puckerman’s absence as a good thing.

Overall, I was less than impressed with the latest offering from “Glee” – and that’s coming from a “Rocky Horror Picture Show” fan. For people who don’t like the musical, or who have never seen it, I’m sure the reaction would be even worse.

Joe Kessler

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Welcome to the Convo, where ACG Blog contributors get together for discussion and analysis. Today’s topic is last night’s episode of “Mad Men,” “Tomorrowland.”

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After the blockbuster series finales “Mad Men” has enjoyed in the past (think Don’s secret revealed, think the company is sold, think they’re breaking away to start their own firm), last night’s finale was surprising in its dearth of surprises. Little happened that was truly shocking, and generally the plot was unsatisfying and underwhelming. This didn’t feel so much like a finale as a mid-season break, and perhaps Matthew Weiner’s storyboard sketches were too much for a single season this time. Nevertheless, there’s a lot to talk about, so let’s dig in.

The episode opened in the ghost town of an office, typewriters covered, desks unoccupied, Joan reduced to pushing the mail cart. But it’s okay, Joanie; Lane informs her that the partners have given her a sweet title — but no raise. Joan, like a pro, professes only gratitude, for the time being. After all, what more duties could they assign her? “Well, it’s almost an honor,” she says sardonically. And Joanie’s not the only one reduced to clerical duties; we’re treated to Roger typing at his secretary’s desk, maybe because his own spindly, Alice in Wonderland-style desk can’t support anything heavier than his phone, rolodex and emotional baggage.

At the Francis residence, Carla is on duty when creepy Glenn shows up. “I just want to say goodbye,” he pleads. She relents, and their farewells are chaste and almost lamentable. He even asks if she’s decent before he enters her room! He’ll be able to drive in a few years, he says, maybe he can come visit. It’s sweet because you know it won’t happen; it’s creepy because it just might. I loved Glenn’s line, “I say goodbye to people all the time.” But Betty arrives home just as Glenn’s on his way out. “Why do you hate me?” he screams. Betty’s pissed, and she does perhaps the dumbest thing yet: cans Carla. It’s sad to see the most sensible person ever portrayed on “Mad Men” leaving, but at least she was able to vent off the tiniest amount of steam at Mrs. Francis. You go, Carla!

Meanwhile, Don is planning a business trip-slash-vacation with the kids to — where else — California. He’s with his accountant when Betty calls, urgently, but, Don confides, “It’s always urgent.” It turns out it’s no trivial call — Carla was supposed to accompany him out west to look after the children when he has meetings and such. Don turns to Megan (eliciting an immediate groan from those watching) and she becomes his replacement au pair.

Henry Francis, meanwhile, is fed up with Betty’s childish crap. He’s furious that she let Carla go and won’t give her a letter of recommendation after all her years of faithful service. And he doesn’t even know half the crap Carla probably was privy to. Betty throws a fit and asks why Henry is never on her side. “No one’s ever on your side, Betty,” he says, resignedly.

Back in the office, Peggy’s lesbian friend Joyce Ramsay stops by with some out-of-work model (and a horny Harry Crane) in tow. It seems clear that she was subtly giving Peggy a business tip; whether it was altruistic or if she has some endgame in mind is undetermined. It turns out Topaz pantyhose has summarily fired its agency (putting the model out of work). Peggy and Ken jump on it and secure a meeting. At the Topaz offices, Peggy impresses them by spooling off some impromptu ideas (with one stumble from Ken that reminds him why he’s accounts, not creative). As we later find out, she pitched at least four ideas they liked on the spot — all without Don’s input or knowledge.

Out in the Golden State, Don is discovering a odd blissful domesticity with Megan. She’s great with the kids, teaching them songs that are, like her, of French extraction. They sleep together (in a separate hotel room, thank goodness), but it isn’t until Sally and Bobby are fighting during lunch that he comes to a realization. Sally knocks over a milkshake during her protestations, something that would have sent Betty over the edge. Megan, however, calmly intones that it’s just a milkshake and proceeds to clean it up. I have to hand it to her; she’s smart, stable, competent, everything Don needs. He proposes to her the next morning, and she accepts. It’s worth noting that he used the ring the real Don Draper had given Anna. Is it an acknowledgement that he’s found a truly fulfilling relationship? Or is he tarnishing both their memories with a hasty and poorly-thought out marriage?

Their announcement back at the office is humorous. Roger didn’t even know Megan’s last name (though to be fair I don’t think any of us did), and Pete corrected someone that you say “Congratulations” to the groom and “Best wishes” to the bride. It’s strangely fitting that the last time I heard that was from uptight matron Emily Gilmore on “Gilmore Girls.” It’s at that moment that Ken tells Peggy they landed Topaz, a quarter-million dollar account and their first new business since Lucky Strike left. It’s huge news for the two second-in-commands, but when they burst in to tell Don their news is preempted by the engagement. Peggy once again proves her mettle and her unique relationship with Don when she shuts the door and subtly questions him. Of course, that doesn’t mean she’s not pissed.

“Whatever can be on your mind?” Joan asks sarcastically as Peggy stalks into her office. They both light up. “I learned a long time ago not to get all my satisfaction from this job,” Joan tells her. “That’s bullshit!” Peggy corrects. From past experience and her current mood we know full well that Joan has always derived a great deal of pleasure from her job, and she knows full well that her new title is an empty reward. As we soon learn, however, Joanie really shouldn’t be smoking. I’m reluctant to admit it, but the “Mad Men” club over at Slate actually got it right when they predicted Joan kept Roger’s baby from several weeks back. Dr. Rapist, still alive in Vietnam, believes it’s his. Either Joan is betting that Dr. Rapist will die in Vietnam — a real possibility — or she’s hoping for one of two implausible scenarios: an extremely preemie baby, by several months, or that Dr. Rapist missed the day in med school when they learned pregnancies last nine months. Sure, he was a butterfingers surgeon, but the whole nine-months thing is pretty basic knowledge.

Finally, Betty proves she’s not yet over Don when he catches her waiting around for him at the house, which he’s showing to a realtor. Real subtle, Betty. We’re left with a shot of Don and Megan in bed, Don looking out at the bright moon, providing illumination even in the dark of night.

So what really happened? Peggy proved (twice, counting the gloves people) that she is a talented copywriter and sales pitcher, only providing her more ammo for her next fight with Don about attribution. Ken also defined his boundaries, showing he was unwilling to exploit his father-in-law-to-be’s business connections to land new clients. Joan has got at least one awkward conversation coming up. So does Roger. Betty will begin backpedaling on her once-fairytale-like marriage to Henry. Don is once again embarking on a wobbly relationship, it would appear, and we’re not clear how that will affect the children or him. Hopefully when we return to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce next summer business — and the gang’s situations — will have picked up considerably.

Alex Guillén

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This episode delivered oodles of delectable, characteristically “Mad Men” twists. Some of them we saw coming (the Joan/Rodger spawn lives!), and some of them were total game-changing surprises (turns out Megan is like Maria Von Trapp in more ways than one). In the end, life’s inexorable ephemerality consumes our dashing antihero’s thoughts, clouding his judgment and leading him to try to recapture a bit of his lost youth. In other words: mid-life crisis, party of one.

Don wakes up with a “sick feeling” in the pit of his stomach — a sort of Kierkegaardian sickness unto death. Faye encourages him to reconcile his past with his present, telling him that afterward he’ll feel less disjointed and better able to live in the now. Good advice if he were a well-adjusted person, but Don Draper has no interest in the present. In the present, he’s a middle-aged divorcé whose business is on the precipice of total failure. In the present, Don can’t be a god; he has to settle for being “a human being like the rest of us.” And that’s a scary prospect.

Visiting Anna’s house and seeing the wall where he painted “Dick + Anna ’64” shakes Don up even more. Anna’s really dead; he’s lost that chapter of his youth forever. This memento mori mingles with the youthful wisdom of Anna’s niece: “I’ve got the rest of my life ahead of me. So do you.” Yes, Don still has life ahead of him. But who can say how much?

On an impulse, Don proposes to his secretary, Megan. She’s 25, and filled with vitality. She makes Don feel young, too, enabling him to ignore that uncomfortable feeling that comes with the knowledge that he will someday die. It seems that Don, like the teenagers he describes to the people at the American Cancer Society, is mourning his lost youth more than he’s anticipating his future. Because, to his mind, his future holds nothing but old age and eventual death. If he’s lucky.

This turn of events raises a host of questions. Is Don going to tell Megan about his past? Is it possible he actually loves her? How will this affect the balance of power at SCDP? Will this action, done on a whim, somehow wind up making him happy? What about her? The only thing certain is that time will continue to push everything forward. There’s only so much room for mourning the past before, like Betty, you become merely an emotionally stunted shell of an adult human being. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that for Don.

Vanessa Van Landingham

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