Well? Worth the three-week wait, right? Coming off that momentum-muffling fall break — thanks to the jocks who hijacked Fox with the World Series — "Glee" offered up the fittingly titled ''Wheels.'' Not just because that was Sue's un-PC name for wheelchair-bound Artie (the focus of the episode), but because the musical comedy quickly got back on a roll. For the second straight episode, we were treated to a new side of Sue. We watched Artie stick up for himself, Rachel save father-to-be Finn, and Puck turn into a criminally good baker and turn on his best bud, Finn. We also witnessed a dandy of a ''diva-off'' between Kurt and Rachel. (More of these in coming weeks, please.) Clearly, this emotional episode gave us lots of material to recap, so stop dancing with yourself and start scrolling.
Sue Sylvester ... Super Sister?Last week, we saw the romantic side of the Cheerios' marvelously militant leader, and it was like someone opened a window on this character just a crack. This week, though, it was if someone punched it out entirely, allowing a gust of humanity to come rushing in.
The episode began, however, with Sue as her usual merciless self. Her response to Blog Boy Jacob's assertion that she booted Quinn off Cheerios because Quinn was preggers? ''If I have a pregnant girl doing a handspring into a double layout, the judges aren't going to be admiring her impeccable form, they're going to be wondering if the centrifugal force is going to make the baby's head start crowning.'' (OK. And ewww.) She was less than enthused about Figgins' order to hold open tryouts for the vacant Cheerios spot, noting that ''as soon as a cheerleader rolls herself out onto the field in a wheelchair, she becomes decidedly less effective at cheering people up. Just a fact.'' Not surprisingly, during tryouts, she Simon Cowell-ed the candidates, calling one hyper-limber hoopster a ''freak.'' (Crab-dude, you made my fictional squad.) But when the last hopeful, a girl with Down Syndrome named Becky, demonstrated feeble jump-rope skills, Sue gave her the thumbs-up. Wha? ''I'm just following orders,'' she shrugged to a highly skeptical Will.
Cut to Becky in boot camp. ''Those better be tears of joy, Becky! Faster! Harder!'' barked Sue, a ''Bring It On'' poster hanging in the background. When Becky shared that this was hard work, Sue shot back: ''You think this is hard? Try auditioning for "Baywatch" and being told that they're going in another direction.'' (No cut-away to that failed audition? Boo!) None of this tough stuff sat well with Will. ''You're asking me to treat this girl differently because she has a disability,'' said Sue, ''when actually it seems to me she just wants to be treated like everybody else.'' Will was consumed with figuring out Sue's angle, especially when he learned that she cut a check to buy new wheelchair ramps for McKinley. (His crusade came off as more grating than noble.) Of course, when Sue told Will, ''You don't know the first thing about me,'' we were being set up for a major Sue-prise: Turns out she'd been visiting an assisted living facility to spend time with her big sister, Jean, who has... Down Syndrome. She sweetly gave Jean a pom-pom, pulled out "Little Red Riding Hood," and asked ''Want to start at the beginning?'' Oh, yes, Jean did. As they held hands, Sue warmly read to her. POW! Sentimental sucker punch!
A little manipulative? Probably. But I didn't care in that glorious moment. I'll be curious to see how "Glee" handles Sue in coming weeks, though. It's a rush to get a breakthrough moment like that, but hopefully the writers won't yield to tender temptation too often or our Sue might lose her dictatorial swagger.
To paraphrase Mellencamp, Kurt's so goodYet again, Kurt proved that he's much more than a fabulous punchline machine. The moment Will selected the accessible ''Defying Gravity'' for Sectionals, Kurt lit up (he even has an iPod shuffle dedicated exclusively to "Wicked" songs!). Alas, Will wanted Rachel to take the solo (it's her go-to shower song and ring tone!). That didn't stop Mercedes from volunteering. Loved her exchange with Will: ''Why do we have to go all vanilla on this song? See, what we need is my chocolate thunder.'' ''Don't worry, we'll find something for you to ... dip in chocolate.'' (Finn's face: Ha-ha-wait-I-don't-get it.) Will kept trying to toss cold water on Kurt's fire — there's a high F! it's a female lead! — but this fire was impervious to the will of Will. Or it was electrical.
One of the episode's strengths was the return of Kurt's dad, played by the increasingly surprising Mike O'Malley (see also: "My Own Worst Enemy.") The relationship between Kurt and his guy's-guy dad is rich, entertaining, and steering pretty clear of cliché. We can enjoy Mr. Hummel's bumbling struggle with his son's sexuality because we don't question his love for Kurt. (When Kurt said that Will wouldn't consider him for the solo because it's typically performed by a girl, Mr. Hummel responded: ''Well, you sing like a girl — you know, in a good way — look, Kurt, I don't how this music stuff works, I'm pretty exclusively committed to my Mellencamp collection, but isn't there more crossover nowadays? You know, chicks doing construction? Guys wearing dress shoes with no socks? Didn't that girl from your high school just join the boys wrestling team?'') Seeing his son in full-on ennui-mode, Mr. H. marched into Figgins' office to advocate for his son. And later, even though he was rattled by the anonymous gay-slur phone call (which was juxtaposed nicely with Kurt practicing his high F), he reminded Kurt: ''No one pushes the Hummels around, especially cowards on the phone.''
By the way, I'd call Glee Club's first ''diva-off'' a success, starting with Kurt's amusing preface: (''We all know I'm more popular than Rachel and I dress better than her, but I want you all to promise me that you're going to vote for whoever sings the song better''). But make no mistake, he was all business. ''I'm defying gravity and you won't bring me down,'' he sang at Rachel. ''I'm through accepting limits, 'cause someone says they're so.'' (That note's for you, Mr. S.!) But Rachel matched him note for note as we cut neatly between the two grand performances. And then, as she soared gracefully up the register, it was curtains for Kurt. He botched the high F, and came crashing back down to Earth with consolation applause.
During a poignant heart-to-heart with his dad in the garage, Kurt explained that he'd thrown the competition: ''When I saw you right after you got the call, and you were so hurt and so upset ... it just killed me,'' he said, choking up. ''I'm not saying I'm going to hide in the closet — I'm proud of who I am — I am just saying that I love you more than I love being the star.'' ''You are your mother,'' proudly returned Mr. Hummel. ''You know, she was always the strong one. Look, uh ... you want to help me put a 195 on this bad boy, huh?'' (Hey! Another wheel reference!) Kurt placed a perfect bow on the scene by responding, ''Let me change into my coveralls. This sweater's an Alexander McQueen.''
The Art(ie) of self-confidenceWhat a week for our wheelchair-bound strummer, who truly came into his own. Here's how: Told that the school wouldn't pay for a special Artie-friendly bus to take the Glee Club to Sectionals, Will suggested to the kids that they hold a bake sale, an idea met with scoffs and indifference. (Finn: ''Mr. Schue, kids are busier than when you went here. We've got homework, and football, teen pregnancy ... lunch.'') At first, Artie went with the flow when his friends told Will that Artie didn't mind riding with his dad. ''It's OK,'' he sighed to Will afterward. ''I'm used to it. They just ... don't get it.'' What we got was a musical treat: Artie sang a retro, acoustic, lounge-y version of Billy Idol's ''Dancing with Myself'' while bopping down the hall and into the caf, where he longingly eyed Tina before winding up back in the darkened auditorium, executing a few more wistful wheelchair moves.
A little later, Artie piped up and admitted that his feelings were hurt by their bus dis. (Did you like Artie's response to Rachel's ''We didn't think you would take it personally'' comment? ''Well, you're irritating most of the time, but don't take that personally.'') Rachel & Co. soon learned what it was like to roll a few miles in his shoes when Mr. S ordered wheelchairs for Glee Club with an assignment to sit in them for three hours a day. Against the backdrop of the original ''Dancing with Myself,'' Finn endured a rocky hallway ride while Rachel took a plate of creamy pasta in the face. (It's worse than a slushie facial — twice the carbs.)
Although the gang ultimately raised $1,200 with Puck's magical cupcakes (''That's enough for the short bus and two cases of Natty Light for the ride home,'' Puck informed Will), Artie announced that he'd ride with his dad after all so the money could be used to buy a ramp to benefit other wheelchair-bound kids. That move was classy; his next was ballsy, if a bit harsh. Earlier in the episode, Artie blew an intimate moment with Tina, telling her about his fateful car accident yet adding: ''But I want to be very clear — I still have the use of my penis.'' (Kids: Do not try that pickup line at home.)
Somehow he rebounded from that faux pas and later, at the end of their wheelchair race date, she kissed him. Then she confessed something crazy: She'd been faking that stutter since the sixth grade because she didn't want to give a speech — she was shy and wanted to be left alone — but now that she was in Glee Club, she wanted to stop pushing people away. Surely, he could relate? No. He felt betrayed: ''I would never try to push people away because being in the chair kind of does that for you. I thought we had something really important in common.'' As he rolled away in disappointment, Tina called out, ''I'm sorry.'' Artie turned back ... to lower the boom: ''I am too. I'm sorry now you get to be normal and I'm going to be stuck in this chair the rest of my life — and that's not something I can fake.'' He rolled off, leaving her to choke on her own regret. (After his genital-based gaffe, who would've thought he'd have the upper hand by the end of this episode?)
Artie and Tina quickly cheered up in their yellow shirts as they and the rest of Glee Club turned Creedence Clearwater Revival's/Tina Turner's ''Proud Mary'' into a rollickin' production. The wheelchair choreography was nifty, yet the night's other numbers resonated a little more. Anyone else still humming ''Dancing with Myself''?
Quinn, Finn, and Puck: A love-shove triangleSmarting from being de-Cheerioed, and needing $685 to pay for the sonogram — plus bills to be named later! — Quinn took her stress out on Finn, needling him about job prospects. (''I almost got in at Olive Garden,'' he answered, ''but they said I was too tall to be a busboy.'') ''Somewhere in that pea brain of yours is a man,'' said Quinn. ''Access him and tell him to prove to me that I chose the right guy to have a baby with.'' She continued her frosty mug sensation for most of the hour, interrupting his cozy convo with Rachel to inform him that if he didn't pay the past-due sonogram bill, they were over.
While Finn's stock with Quinn was falling, Puck was trying to boost his. He gave her 18 bucks from his pool-cleaning job — would've been more, but he had dip and numchucks to buy — and asked leadingly: ''How much has Finn given you?'' She told him to stop: ''I don't care if that baby comes out with a mohawk, I will go to my grave swearing it's Finn's.'' Puck warmed her up with his own mohawk quip, and they engaged in a suggestive food fight that Finn interrupted just in time.
The tension was almost as thick as cupcake batter at the WHMS Glee Club Handicapable Bus Bake Sale (which kicked off weakly; ''Six months ago, I could've sold 50 of these things on fear alone,'' lamented Puck). Quinn quickly went after Finn, much to Puck's delight. But sideline satisfaction wasn't enough, so later he taunted Finn, ''All I know is that you're a punk who doesn't deserve to have Quinn as his girlfriend!,'' provoking a wheelchair mashup-turned-fistfight. In this episode, Puck was a man driven to prove himself to the mother of his child — at the expense of driving over his best friend.
In fact, Puck even resorted to crime — and Sandy — to achieve his goal. (Need. More. Sandy. Always.) Meeting the ex-Glee Club director under the bleachers in a wheelchair, Puck gave him a sob story about a shark fracturing his spinal cord, to which Sandy exclaimed: ''This is why I don't go to the aquarium.'' (Ha!) He sold Puck some discounted Chronic Lady, which Puck baked into the cupcakes, creating a craze that'd make Sprinkles execs envious. ''I don't put in enough to get you hallucinating,'' explained narrator Puck, ''just enough to give you a wicked case of the munchies.'' (Does this guy know how to party responsibly or what?)
The proud wanna-be papa presented Quinn with a fat stack of cash and said: ''People call me a screw-up because I think school's for suckers, but I got ambition. ... We could be a family.'' Quinn sniffed out that he'd skimmed this money from the bus fund and said softly: ''I should've never called you a Lima loser. You're not. You're special. And romantic ... and a good enough person to realize that we are not going to take money from a friend in a wheelchair.'' It was here that Finn busted in with good news: He got a job! (Putting aside her crush on Finn, Rachel took him in a wheelchair to a restaurant that was hiring, and threatened all sorts of legal action if they didn't hire him.) A happy Quinn rode off into the fluorescent hallway light on Finn's wheelchair. But she did look back at Puck apologetically. Or was it longingly? Hmmm....
I know, that was a lot to swallow. But we're just getting started, because it's time for you to weigh in. Did you like ''Wheels'' too? Did you get misty-eyed when Sue started reading to her sister? Were you digging Artie? Whose version of ''Defying Gravity'' did you like better? And which pairing are you now rooting for — Quinn-Puck, Finn-Rachel, or the original Quinn-Finn? To borrow a word from our friend Artie, preach.