The thing about Glee is, every time you’re ready to write the show off completely, it sneaks in an episode that reels you right back in again. On the rare occasion, it takes your breath away completely—and last night's would qualify as one of those episodes. “The First Time” was a return to the “very special” themed episodes of Season 2, and while I approached it with the kind of trepidation typically reserved for a root canal, by the end I found myself utterly absorbed. The majority of the credit here must go to writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, a playwright and Marvel Comics writer who was recently hired to save the disastrously received Broadway musical, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Aguirre-Sacasa has a gift not just for snappy dialogue—and the script had plenty—but for building quiet, powerful, and wholly plausible moments between people with clear motivations, something Glee has been in dire need of.
Take for example the scenes at Scandals, a gay bar visited by Kurt and Blaine at the suggestion of Sebastian, a handsome and debonair Dalton Academy student with designs on Blaine. There was a lot going on, but all of it was skillfully played. Sebastian could have been written as a caricature, but instead, he was actually an intriguing character study: the natural seducer, neither good nor bad, simply living for the moment. As he and Blaine got down on the dance floor (to the strains of ‘80s synth group ABC, no less), Kurt stumbled into Dave Karofsky, his closeted former bully, who lingered beneath a baseball cap, home at last. Their exchange had the ring of truth to it—Karofsky, barely apologetic but now feeling comfortable in his own skin; Kurt, not savoring his victory but simply accepting it as an inevitability. But it was the scene in the bar’s parking lot that was really a tour de force, where Blaine drunkenly tried to force himself on Kurt in the back seat of Kurt's car, and Kurt lashed out angrily out of jealousy and disappointment in his boyfriend. Both of them were sympathetic in an alcohol-fueled fight that felt perfectly natural to me.
There were countless moments like that in “The First Time,” which eschewed auto-tuned pop for faithfully staged selections from West Side Story, probably one of the best musical theater scores ever written. If you’re going to have a song strengthen the themes of a dramatic scene, it helps to choose one written by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim; and so classics like “A Boy Like That” were woven into Blaine’s first conversation with Sebastian (“He give you trouble!”), “I Have a Love” played over Tina’s sweepingly romantic retelling of her first time with Mike Chang, and, most movingly, Blaine reconciled with Kurt by placing Kurt’s hand on his chest and pledging his love to him, under “One Hand, One Heart,” one of the most romantic songs ever written.
The episode was also enhanced by what wasn’t there: Mr. Schue and Emma were relegated to the cheering section, and Sue, whose shtick has worn thin, was a complete no-show. That allowed room for some of the more compelling supporting characters like Coach Bieste and Artie to have moments to move us. And they did: Bieste in a disarmingly touching exchange with a college recruiter whose romantic overtures she found suspect; Artie, the episode’s narrator and West Side Story's director, in what amounted to a coming-of-age speech in which he expressed gratitude to his cast for finally allowing him to feel like a complete, autonomous, and useful man.
In the end, Kurt and Blaine and Rachel and Finn would end up “doing it,” and each in their own time and for the right reasons. We barely got a glimpse of the act, and hallelujah for that, but what we needed to see—the emotion and psychology behind it—was on full-frontal display. With episodes like these, it’s no wonder kids around the world watch Glee and think to themselves, “I want to live in America.”
What did you think of the episode?