“The Hurt Locker, Part One” features, before even a quarter of the episode has Clockwork Oranged its way deep into your psyche, a storage locker containing voodoo Cheerios and a serial killer board dedicated to the New Directions, a black-and-white hypnotizing spiral curtain Fox has on loan from the estate of Rod Serling, and a bear cub (genus Ursus, not Homo) on the rainbow bedspread Blaine shares with Karofksy. Glee turned into that eastern European variety show from The State so suddenly my little fan heart stopped pumping to the beat of “Don’t Stop Believin’.” The inanity culminates in ostensibly daunting renditions of show-off numbers like “Rock Lobster” and “Whip It,” songs whose lines have a three syllable max yet still dazzle the entire audience of show choir newbies and veterans alike, a scene nobody will believe in performed by characters nobody knows. “The Hurt Locker, Part One” is like when you get caught smoking and your dad makes you finish the entire carton. This is Glee immersion therapy.
You could try to sum up all the zaniness as “Sue Sylvester,” the Wile E. Coyote of McKinley. If we accept Sue Sylvester, she comes with several strings attached to several ridiculous ACME products. After all, Sue gives good shade, even in “The Hurt Locker.” She begins with a genuine truce lunch with Will, which she tunes out. “The sound of Will’s voice is like listening to Brian Boitano figure skate across a chalkboard while rubbing together the Styrofoam his Tom of Finland ball-gag came packaged in.” When Will accidentally leaves an unused plastic fork behind, Sue flies into a rage, vowing once again to destroy him, and it’s as boring as that sounds. Her dialogue is usually a chance for the writers to let loose:
“Your bizarre psychosexual obsession with that glee club was disturbing from the first moment you stalked a nude student in the showers. You know, I’m honestly surprised you didn’t reenact what was clearly the formative event of your teenage years.”
But in action, Sue is just boring. Her performance of “Bitch,” has some delightful moments like when Rachel opens a desk drawer and finds Sue in there singing, but mostly it’s a shot of her fire extinguishing students in the hall. Later she incorporates a drone camera into her own psychosexual studentplay, and we’re treated to what must be stock footage by now of Sue stalking the halls physically assaulting students. “Good dragon, your Khaleesi loves you,” she tells the drone in a bit so cheesy it congeals in your stomach. All the creativity goes into the rants, I guess, but Jane Lynch even seems exhausted with the dialogue.
Sue’s big revenge plan this week (and next, I gather) comes in three parts: destroy Will, break Rachel’s heart, and reunite Kurt and Blaine. That last one is an indication of just how arbitrary this is. Suddenly Sue is an ardent Klaine shipper, and her ultimate dream is to be a flower girl at their fabulous gay wedding. It makes sense on zero levels. First of all, it makes Sue an idiot. Second of all, it runs contrary to her general war on the entity known as New Directions, past and present, in all permutations, in perpetuity. There’s also an element of kid gloves that diminishes whatever Kurt’s story is this year. The writers can publicly humiliate Rachel (but seriously, nobody’s watching network TV, Rachel), the better for her to bounce back, but Kurt can’t even handle Sue in a yearlong rivalry? What’s more, this whole Santanaforsaken subplot results in both Blaine and Kurt switching positions, the former edging away from what turns out to be the third cousin he’s dating and the latter insisting they should just be friends and going out on dates himself. (That evening’s date: a man named Walter played by Harry Hamlin. Catfishing is real.)
The Rachel portion of the plan entails a glee club Invitational Sue organized to destroy New Directions. “I said that out loud, didn’t I? I should have said that in voice-over.” Concerned that her students will have their fragile hopes trampled by Vocal Adrenaline, Rachel asks Will to go easy on them, to which he ultimately acquiesces. Later Blaine asks Kurt and Rachel if it’s occurred to them that Invitationals might discourage their kids, too. So that’s pretty much all of our heroes agreeing that tough competition is enough to make Roderick, Jane, and the twins give up. In what world? Glee club is, what, an hour of competition every few months? It’s also a semester of hanging out with friends or friendly rivals or villains who perform some functions of friendship on an episode-by-episode basis doing something creative and fun. It’s not Trafalgar. In fact, this is exactly the kind of condescending narrative season six had been good about overcoming.
The Will portion of Sue’s plot primarily consists of the aforeexcerpted willippics. But the Rachel plot involves Sue Manchurian Candidating suggestible Sam. She hypnotizes him periodically throughout the episode, adjusting his instructions as need be, but the main thing is to seduce Rachel. (Remember, the goal for Rachel is heartbreak, for some reason, not getting her and her club out of McKinley.) So Sam and Rachel decide to take piano lessons from Blaine, which is just one of the many seamless segues in this masterpiece. Eventually, they’re good enough to perform “A Thousand Miles,” at which point we smash cut to them playing piano on the back of a truck or something, riding through town, holding up a bike race, serenading a marathon, and eventually kissing. It’s a cute sequence. In another episode it might actually feel romantic. Here it’s a joke about how malleable Rachel and Sam’s wee-brains are. When she asks him about later, all mousy and nervous-like, he genuinely doesn’t remember it due to the hypnotism, which gives the scene some semblance of humor. And then Sam “thanks but no thanks”-es Rachel when she asks him out. He’s still hung up on Mercedes. On the one hand, it’s refreshing and a little funny to see the latest random Glee romance aborted. On the other, it’s because of Mercedes? Sometimes it’s okay for people to date people other than their high school loves.
That’s pretty much the state of things in “The Hurt Locker, Part One.” It makes no sense, but some of those nonsensical things are kind of funny. Like when Will tries to get Vocal Adrenaline to do a show circle, but nobody’s moving, and one of them pipes up, really low in the mix, “We don’t like you.” Or when Sam reports to Will that Rachel blames him for “that time she broke her nose, ‘Run Joey Run,’ and Boko Haram.” Poor Will is a punching bag this week—something they’d never do to sweet Gelfling Porcelain—but he’ll have the last laugh. Apparently Sue’s on her way out. Which isn’t quite enough to explain the fact that this episode feels like Sue having a psychotic break and, more importantly, has already happened once. (Twice?)
Regarding Invitationals as the first test of his team’s readiness, Will tells Rachel, “I’m just glad it’s in such a low-stakes environment.” Nail on the head. A lot of silly stuff happens in “The Hurt Locker,” but none of it really matters. Low stakes might be great for the kids’ self-esteem, but it makes for a boring watch.
- Brad the piano player keeps a fastidious scrapbook of photos of women’s feet. So add that to your file on Brad.
- As Rachel and Sam practice piano with Blaine, Sue suddenly descends from the rafters. “What are you doing up there?” “I’m just loosening some bolts.”
- It’s seriously unclear whether Blaine and Karofsky being third cousins is a deal-breaker. Nothing in this episode matters. Did I mention there was a bear?
- When Sue visits Will’s principal, she’s shocked to find what looks like Figgins in a wig (or as Arrested Development fans know her, Nazhgalia). Instead it’s Principal Figgins’ sister, Abigail Figgins Gunderson. “Wait, Figgins’ first name is Principal?” Sue asks. Abigail replies, “Of course. He’s firstborn.”
- Walter, who I will remind you looks like Harry Hamlin: “I still feel like I’m 30, which is why I still use that photo on my profile.” In the end Kurt and Walter agree to be friends until one of them feels uncomfortable. Sure.
- After trying to hobble Vocal Adrenaline the whole episode, Will finally decides to let them off the leash. “I want you to OWN this stage and DOMINATE!” The lead female responds, “Are you bipolar?”