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'Glee' recap: 'Born This Way' and the T-shirt to prove it

April 27, 2011 |  9:40 am


It's a funny thing. For all the unsubtlety you'd expect from an episode of "Glee" that tackles teen self-acceptance, starts with a knock in the nose, and culminates in a group rendition of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" in which deepest secrets ("Likes Boys!" "Can't Sing!" "Can't Dance!" "I'm With Stupid!") are emblazoned in black block letters on white T-shirts (and I'm not saying that's a bad thing), there came a moment that pierced the heart and expanded into transcendence.

Kurt, returning to McKinley High from Dalton, to old friends who embrace him and old enemies whom he may have helped move toward embracing themselves, wanders through the old high school's halls and empty spaces, gradually crescendoing toward triumph, ending center stage in the choir room singing "As If We Never Said Goodbye" from "Sunset Boulevard." (Standing O!)

The song, perhaps as no other moment of "Glee" has done as well before, seems to locate with laser precision long-forgotten pockets of adolescent angst: the fears and self-doubt, the longing for the fast-retreating familiar, the growing awareness of the world's imperfections and falsities, the sense of immense possibility, and ultimately, the awareness of how far we've come as we look back at our origins from a new distance.

"We taught the world new ways to dream," Kurt sings. And Kurt, who, in Chris Colfer's sensitive hands, has grown to become the emotional heart of "Glee," has handed us a dream we never realized we had: What if we could go back to our old high school and face the bullies and doubters and detractors and show them all we've become? What if we knew then what we know now?

Ah, if only.

So, it seems, sometimes you need to go away from the familiar for a while to realize all you'd had. And this episode reminds us all over again -- after the series took several weeks off and returned last week with an episode that was also a little off -- why we love "Glee" and why we've missed it so.

The 90-minute episode had a lot of laughs, a lot of heart, some good lessons, character development, a few good numbers and more than a few surprises.

Among the surprises (and in no particular order):

Lauren Zizes, a three-time Miss Tiara Toddler in Allan County, has prom-queen dreams. (Puck, sweetly, wants to help her realize them.)

Quinn has a secret past as a fat girl named Lucy. (She changed schools, lost weight, had her nose fixed, and started going by her middle name.)

Finn likes Quinn not just because she's hot. (He's slipped a photo of her from her chunky "Lucy Kaboosey" days into his wallet. Aww.)

Santana and Dave Karofsky form an unlikely alliance as mutual "beards" -- and a Guardian Angels-like anti-bullying group. (Complete with red berets!)

Brittany thinks lesbian is spelled "Lebanese" -- and is pronounced that way, too: "You're Lebanese and I'm bi-curious," she tells Santana in one of the episode's funniest lines.

Will actually has the guts to confront Emma about her obsessive-compulsive disorder, shoving unwashed (and unpolished!) fruit at her as an unwelcome challenge to get some help.  She doesn't eat the fruit (I mean, come on, it's blueberries and strawberries -- two of the dirty dozen!), but Emma does go for help, visiting a therapist and taking medication as a first step.

Rachel actually learns to love (or at least accept) the way she looks, complete with a Semitic nose that Puck (again, sweetly) tells her -- "one hot Jew to another" -- is a sign of the survival of the Jewish people, a legacy passed down through the generations.

People at Ohio malls love to dance. Or people love to dance at Ohio malls. Or they love Barbra Streisand. Or something.

I was also surprised at how much I loved the way Rachel and Quinn's voices blended in their mash-up duet, "I Feel Pretty/Unpretty," and how fun it was to watch Finn dance with Mike Chang on "I've Gotta Be Me."

What about you? What did you love/hate about this episode? What were your favorite songs and lines? And are you happy to see Kurt back at McKinley? Pleased to see Emma tackle her OCD? Dismayed that Finn is still with faux-nosed Quinn, rather than Rachel, whose nose remains less Fabray-ic and more Hebraic, to switch up a great line from the show? Weigh in!

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-- Amy Reiter

Photos: From left in middle row, Ashley Fink, Chris Colfer, Lea Michele and Harry Shum Jr. appear in  the 90-minute "Born This Way" episode of "Glee."  Credit: Adam Rose / Fox