Glee packs a punch this week, as something our characters have been talking about since the season's opening episode - Kurt and Rachel's crucial NYADA auditions - finally come to fruition. And, unsurprisingly given the episode's title, there's a shocker in wait. The drama is ramped up elsewhere too, as Puck faces flunking his senior year and the ugly spectre of domestic violence reveals itself amidst all the jazz hands. With all this drama going on, it must mean the end of the season is neigh...
The episode opens with Rachel undergoing the early morning routine she's been perfecting for years, as she prepares to ace her NYADA audition with the song she's been singing since she was two, 'Don't Rain on My Parade' (a nice tie-in to Season One's big performance). She spends the first half of the episode trying to remain cucumber-cool but it's clear that, below the surface, she's increasingly tightly-wound. Kurt is in the same boat, attempting in earnest to pull his best Phantom out of the bag with 'The Music of the Night' but instinct is telling him to take a risk and go with a song he hasn't been incessantly practicing for three months. The arrival of NYADA judge Carmen Tibideaux (played by Whoopi Goldberg, herself no stranger to singing high-schoolers) sees the two hopefuls and fast friends bite the bullet and attempt to give it all they've got. As Rachel states, 'the time is now' and, especially during a scene when one of our intrepid hopefuls fudges it, the auditions prove a tense and upsetting affair; think 'The Voice' only without the swivelly chairs.
While Kurt and Rachel are bawling out their best Broadway numbers, Puck is daydreaming he's a rock god to 'School's Out' after deciding to drop out of McKinley before graduating. A chance meeting with his dad motivates him to at least attempt the geography test he's so sure he will fail, and the help of his male buddies (and a little bit of 'My Fair Lady', weirdly) give him the confidence he needs to attack the test with a little zest. Will he elude that big red 'F'? After all, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of luck going round in this episode.
Which brings us to Beiste, and the bitter aftertaste this episode leaves. A throwaway, bitchy (what else?) comment from Santana about a bruise Beiste is sporting leads Sue and 'Black Sue' Roz to sit Santana, Brittany and the girls down and discuss how domestic violence is no laughing matter. Which, duh, of course it isn't. It soon transpires that Santana's comment struck a nerve because Beiste's bruise was in fact a result of an incident with her husband Cooter. This plotline is another to add to the show's list of 'issue' topics; it's mostly handled sensitively, although a few zippy jibes (especially Brittany's 'Did he break his hand?') aren't especially funny considering the dark nature of the subject matter.
Late in the episode, a stripped back take on Florence and the Machine's 'Shake It Out' acts as an effectively graceful apology to Bieste courtesy of the girls, but the fact that this is intercut with scenes of Beiste returning to the marital home to give Cooter a second chance adds an ominous undertone that certifies this episode, with all its characters' struggles to overcome, a definitive downer. Of course, it has been calculated as so; this show has always highlighted the hardships of the outsider and underdog before giving them the chance to shine and, surely by the time the season finale rolls round, the trio of characters who are in the doldrums here will be back on their feet, singing and dancing. We hope.