Score another one for the gays! Tonight on “Glee,” special guest Neil Patrick Harris showed up as Will Shuester’s worst nightmare: his old glee club nemesis, Bryan Ryan, who’s now old and bitter and bent on shuttering glee club for good. The good news: Bryan Ryan’s thinly veiled anti-glee agenda gave the show a hilarious new way to poke fun at homophobic America, one that doesn’t require Kurt to make out with girls and wear flannel just to figure out how much happier he is in his own skin. (Please, let’s have no more of that.)
The bad news? Despite being written by show co-creator Brad Fulchuk and directed by the King of Geekery himself, Joss Whedon, Episode 19 felt a little off-balance at times, thanks to an overabundance of Will Shuester-Bryan Ryan frenemy duets and far too fewer scenes of, well, anyone else. Rachel and Miss Corcoran’s tear-jerking “I Dreamed a Dream” and Artie’s two — yes, TWO! — musical numbers were more effective than Will and Ryan’s two man-to-man duets, even if Matthew Morrison and NPH did hit those ridiculously high notes during Aerosmith’s “Dream On.”
And while the main theme (friends helping their friends achieve their dreams) followed NPH’s ex-Gleek Bryan Ryan and Rachel Berry’s mommy issues, the heart of tonight’s episode belonged to Kevin McHale’s Artie, whose dream to one day walk and dance again gave us an emotional rollercoaster of a through line. Artie may have risen and fallen a few too many heart wrenching times this episode — literally — but we finally delved deeper into the hopes and dreams (and realities) of McKinley High’s resident wheelchair-riding Gleek. I can’t wait to see how Artie channels Lady Gaga in next week’s not-to-be-missed episode.
[Full recap of Tuesday’s (May 18) “Glee” after the break…]
Will’s former high school glee nemesis, Bryan Ryan (Neil Patrick Harris), has arrived to perform an audit at McKinley, where he already plans to cut the glee club budget out of spite even though he himself was a glee star back in the day. Turns out all of his glee success led to a professional singing career on the cruise ship circuit and a resulting downward spiral. Now, he runs a used Hummer dealership and leads a support group for ex-Gleeks, which includes Molly Shannon’s Brenda Castle and other depressed former Broadway addicts. Now Bryan wants to talk to Will’s Gleeks to warn them about the dark and dangerous paths that glee club is leading them down.
Bryan asks the Gleeks to write down their biggest, scariest dreams to demonstrate how unattainable they are — especially the ones involving showbiz, which pretty much covers all of Shuester’s kids. Bryan uses Will as an example of a former Gleek whose big singing dreams turned into a low-paying state funded teaching job in his hometown.
In the library, Tina finds Artie browsing the classic filmmaking tome Godard on Godard. “He was a master of the French new wave,” explains Artie, who’s considering a career behind the camera since performing in his wheelchair seems even less promising now that Bryan Ryan has literally tossed his real crumpled dream into the garbage — a dream that Tina knows is to be a dancer. Since Shuester was too flustered to give the class an assignment, Tina proposes that she and Artie work on a number together. A dance number. Awww.
Speaking of dance, Rachel’s practicing her ballet twirls when Jesse shows up for an awkward chat. She’s already got her dream career mapped out: “I’m gonna play three parts on Broadway: Evita, Funny Girl, and Laurie in Oklahoma!” And she’s doing what she always does when she feels depressed: dancing alone practicing her future Broadway numbers. Jesse sweetly tells Rachel that Broadway for her isn’t a dream; it’s an inevitability. (Perhaps an “in-EVITA-bility?” Ahem.) The two exes hug it out and within minutes are walking hand in hand again, once again boyfriend and girlfriend. Rachel tells Jesse that the one thing she wants is to know who her birth mother is. Jesse is gung ho about helping her.
In the glee room, Tina’s tap dancing up a storm with Artie, but Artie’s not feeling his less-than-impressive tap wheels. He’s borrowed a pair of canes from a kid with cerebral palsy, but when he attempts to walk with them he falls. Embarrassed, Artie blames Tina for pushing him and sends her away. Later, Tina catches up with Artie, who’s still smarting from his big fall. She’s pulled a Dr. Jack Shephard and hands Artie folders of internet research on spinal cord injury treatments that could one day help Artie walk again.
Will catches up with Bryan Ryan in an effort to make peace and convince him that he’s wrong about glee. (And we STILL haven’t heard a single song so far, which really should be against the laws of “Glee.”) Over beers, Will bonds with Bryan over old times and, in the course of pleading the transformative powers of glee singing, Bryan caves. He’s been living a lie, thinking he could be re-educated to not love glee! He goes to Broadway shows on the down low! He hides Playbills in his basement — show tunes as porn! To help Bryan Ryan, Will plays “Piano Man” on the jukebox — the song Bryan soloed at Sectionals in high school — and the two old foes duet, beers in hand. Will proposes that the two of them try out for the upcoming town production of Les Miserables, and the repentant Bryan Ryan agrees.
After doing some investigating in the library, Rachel has deduced that her birth mother is none other than… Broadway legend Patti Lupone! Okay, maybe not. Jesse suggests they launch a real investigation, CSI style, with Rachel’s old baby things. Jesse and Rachel go through boxes of Rachel’s old stuff. While she’s not looking, Jesse slips a cassette marked “From mother to daughter” into a box and pretends it’s from Rachel’s mom. But Rachel’s not ready to listen to it, and asks Jesse to leave.
Will and Bryan both show up at Les Mis auditions, but when they discover they’re both going for the part of Jean Valjean, the two new friends revert back to musical nemeses. Short on time, the musical director instructs Will and Bryan to sing their audition together. And thus, we get yet another Will-Bryan song: a duet of Aerosmith’s “Dream On.” Yawn.
Tina and Artie are on a date at the mall, when Artie reveals that his doctor has started him on the crazy new meds Tina Googled. And what’s more, they’re TOTALLY working! Artie slowly stands and walks a few steps on his own without his wheelchair, and tells Tina that what he really wants to do… is DANCE! Which leads us to the coolest scene of the episode, in which Artie and an army of dancers and gleeks (including Mike Chang and Brittany, who are two of the best dancers on the show) put on an impromptu fantasy dance flash mob in the middle of the mall to the tune of “The Safety Dance.” It’s thrilling to see Artie not only dancing, but hip-hop dancing to his own huge solo number. (And it makes us want to YouTube Kevin McHale’s old boy bander days!) But alas, it’s only a dream.
We FINALLY get a fix of Sue Sylvester when Bryan Ryan, newly reverted Gleek, pays a visit to audit the skyrocketing costs of her Cheerios program. The two argue over the merits of music and sports programs, respectively, and both have a point. Their conversation gets so heated that both Sue and Bryan get turned on, and head upstairs to Sue’s “secret room” to have totally believable, un-yucky heterosexual anger sex.
Jesse meets in secret with his old Vocal Adrenaline coach, Shelby Corcoran (Idina Menzel), where we learn that he IS an agent of the enemy, under orders to seduce — okay, befriend — Rachel! But his mission wasn’t just to sabotage the New Directions; it was to act as a go-between with Rachel and Miss Corcoran, who’s Rachel’s birth mother! Miss Corcoran can’t legally contact her directly until she’s 18, so she instructed Jesse to plant the cassette tape of her singing so that her voice would haunt Rachel until she found her herself. Jesse’s orders are to get Rachel to listen to the tape, because giving Rachel up to her gay dads was Miss Corcoran’s only regret. Jesse plans to return to Vocal Adrenaline in a week.
Emma counsels Artie, who’s now put all of his faith in the experimental procedures that could help him walk again. She tries to gently let him down with the reality that the cure for his condition is unlikely to happen anytime soon, and Artie wheels out of her office, his dream crushed once again. Way to go, guidance counselor!
Bryan Ryan is now in full Glee support mode, and has used Cheerios cash to buy the glee club news dance outfits, sheet music, and bedazzled jean jackets! (Kurt’s eyes light up at the sight. It’s like Christmas!) Sue arrives just in time to put a damper on the swag party by announcing that Will’s won the lead in Les Mis. Hurt and bitter, Bryan takes back his gear and vows to cut the entire glee club budget. And thus ends this week’s all too brief fix of Sue Sylvester.
Once again, Will tries to appeal to Bryan not to kill glee off. He compares Bryan to a black hole, but more importantly, offers to give up the lead in the play if Bryan lets him keep glee.
Also forcing people towards their dreams — whether they like it or not — is Secret Agent Jesse, who glides into Rachel’s bedroom, pops in the cassette, and pushes play. He leaves her with a kiss and leaves us wondering what exactly his true feelings for Rachel are. As Miss Corcoran’s voice greets Rachel by singing “I Dreamed a Dream,” the episode takes another turn for the fantastical as Idina Menzel is joined by Lea Michele on a darkened stage to duet the song like mother and daughter. The number ends as both Rachel and Miss Corcoran sit separate and alone in tears, Rachel in her room and her mother sitting sadly in her car.
Artie’s come to terms with the fact that he’ll never be able to dance, and bows out of dancing the number with Tina. But he agrees to sing it for her. At Artie’s request, Tina calls Mike Chang up to be her dancing partner, and Artie starts off a wistful rendition of “Dream a Little Dream” on stage as the glee club backs him up. As he sings Artie chokes up watching another guy dance with his girl, and if you notice carefully, Quinn reaches over to give Artie a tender pat of support. It’s the little things we love about “Glee.”
Next week: “Glee” goes GAGA! And Rachel finds her way to her mother.