It's interested in results. Many shows would have gotten a good half season's worth of plotlines out of the kids getting ready to put on West Side Story. You would have had the initial reading episode, the episode where we learned all about how Artie was finding himself as a director, the episode where some of the kids had a brief romance, the episode where dress rehearsal was a disaster, etc., etc., etc. But Glee has never much wanted to do the boring stuff on the way to the fireworks factory. It wants to just get to the fireworks factory as soon as possible, so we get an episode that crams all of those different episodes into one—most of them in what amounts to a single scene or a half-scene or just a dramatic beat—and it's also an episode that's all about doin' it. Surprisingly, it works pretty well. Or, put another way, this is an episode where Schu only appears so he can sit in the audience and tear up about how great his kids are. So, yeah, it's pretty good.
Artie's worried that Rachel and Blaine's romantic chemistry just isn't cutting it—despite the fact that they're still on book and performing without facing each other—so he summarily orders them to have sex. Anyway, this gets into my one big gripe with the episode, so we might as well get it out of the way here. Wasn't Blaine supposed to be the worldly guy who ushered Kurt into the ways of being a gay man in the 21st century? Didn't we have that whole thing where he was in love with an older guy who worked at the Gap? And, sure, none of that's predicated on Blaine being older and more experienced than Kurt necessarily, but didn't it sure seem like he was there for a while?
In this episode, at least, Blaine's so young and inexperienced that he needs his own Blaine, some Warbler named Sebastian who's been to Paris and Lima's premier gay bar. It'd be interesting if the show were playing around with the idea that Blaine was bluffing, that he was putting on a worldly exterior to hide just how little he actually knew. And, yes, confidence goes a long way and can get you in a lot of doors. But it really does feel like Blaine left Dalton and went to McKinley and also abruptly realized when he got there that he was going to have to replace whole portions of his personality with a different one so he could have a ready-made character arc. The story arc hasn't been bad by any means, but it does feel like Darren Criss is playing someone who's quite a bit different from the guy he was playing last season.
That said, I thought most of the rest of the episode worked. This is probably my inner theatre geek speaking, but I enjoyed the vast majority of the West Side Story numbers, and I like the way that the show used them to comment on the action, occasionally directly, occasionally indirectly. The storyline mostly drops away toward the end so the kids can perform an elaborately choreographed and staged—seriously, suspension of disbelief, yes, but this is the greatest high school arts program ever, and the teachers are throwing it together with paperclips and Slim Jims—version of "America" that doesn't have anything to do with anything but is one of the best production numbers the show has ever done. When the songs are this much fun, the show can get away with having them not really have anything to do with the plot or characters, but this one also highlighted Rachel and Blaine's nerves, Finn's anger, and the whole question of whether McKinley could put on a good musical at all. There's something to be said for getting dessert before the meal from time to time, and "America" was damn good dessert.
Another reason this mostly worked? As much as it possibly could, it focused on the kids. Yes, there were a few scenes where Cooter tried to charm Coach Beiste and she just didn't get that he was hitting on her, but for the most part, we were zeroed in on Rachel, Finn, Kurt, and Blaine. Much as I love some of the other kids, they only popped up when the story needed them to, and that was the right call. The exception here? A weird, tonally off scene where Mike Chang's dad dropped by just to repeat everything he said back in "Asian F," but add in the fact that he wanted to be a tennis player at one time. It's tough to criticize anything in Glee for being "on the nose," but this scene was pretty on the nose, particularly since it was largely the only part of this storyline we got to see and it ended with, "If you dance, then you are not my son!" which should be beneath even this show.
Anyway, yes, the kids. This was basically an episode about the two couples, with Artie wandering through storylines to bring people together or play matchmaker or briefly realize that performing the roles of assistant director and set designer and costume designer and whatever else it was he was doing was too much to place on his shoulders, prompting a pre-show freak-out. The material about Blaine and Kurt and Rachel and Finn talking about having sex was unexpectedly sweet, and there was little talk about, "Oh, gosh, if I give you my virginity, will I always regret it forever, and maybe I should just wait?" Thanks to a pep talk from Tina about how it's nice to have sex for the first time with someone you really love and how it will give you memories you'll cherish forever, no matter how the relationship ends, Rachel, at least, seems to think, sure, having sex as a teenager, if you're safe and conscientious, can be a fun, nice thing to share. Kurt and Blaine conclude the same, and the episode ends with some tastefully shot staring-into-each-other's-eyes and post-coital cuddling. It's, dare I say it, nice.
Of course, there's plenty of stuff on the way there that's fun, too. Since the episode opens with Artie telling these two crazy kids to have sex with their significant others, the episode has to end with at least one couple having sex or with both of them doing so. So there needs to be some false conflict, and I can't say this was my favorite thing in the world. Rachel blurting out to Finn that she was only having sex with him because she was worried about her performance was stupid. I buy that as a character motivation, but I don't buy it as something she'd just say accidentally, out of nowhere. It was a way to prolong the inevitable.
That said, the big night out at the gay bar was a much better way of extending the other storyline. Kurt's a big ol' romantic who wants to have sex with Taylor Lautner in a field full of lilies or something, while Blaine doesn't have any such illusions about his first time. So Sebastian—who all but steps out and twirls his mustache at several points in this episode—represents something of a credible threat, and the gay bar scene also gets at another difference between Kurt and Blaine. The latter is starting to think, more and more, about how he could stay in Lima and help people. Presumably, he means that there may be a role for an out and proud gay man in a small town as a pillar of the community and someone for gay teenagers to look up to. And he's not wrong! But Kurt's not wrong to want to pursue his dreams in New York either. Like Finn and Rachel, the show is exploring what happens when two people are right for each other in high school but almost certainly won't be the second they graduate.
It's at the gay bar where Kurt meets his old nemesis, Karofsky, who's transferred high schools, so terrified is he of people finding out he's gay. The two have something like a coming to terms, and Karofsky lets on that he's just trying to get through his senior year before his life can really begin. And it's here that the show zeroes in on what it's doing this season and why it's been, on average, a better show than it was in season two, even if it's not exactly as crazy and wacky as it was then.
For all that Glee doesn't seem interested in the process of getting to a point and so much more interested in just getting to that conclusion, it's actually taking its time this season to examine who these people are in their senior years and whether they'll choose big dreams or something smaller-scale. And to the show's credit, it's not really condemning anyone for any of their choices. Blaine's desires aren't demonized. Yes, they'll get between him and Kurt, eventually, but they're also worthwhile, positive goals. And the scene where Finn erupts at Rachel about how he'll never get out of town, about how he's not good enough at football and not good enough at singing, is surprisingly powerful. Lima is many things, but over this final season, the characters are going on a journey wherein they decide whether or not it's a place they want to make better or a place they want to escape as best they can, even if escape only comes for a few fleeting moments in bed.