The First Time
When it comes to 'issue' episodes, Glee has never been afraid to confront The Big Life Stuff head-on, for better or ill. While not all attempts have been successful (and remembering the show isn't exactly hyper-naturalistic kitchen sink drama), it's at the very least commendable that a teen series at least addresses the daily issues faced by its characters in the post-noughties era.
Sex has never been something Ryan Murphy and his writers have shied away from; teen pregnancy provided Season One with one of its main storylines (one that continues to have consequences two years down the line), the promiscuity of cheerleaders Brittany and Santana is well documented, and Gwyneth Paltrow's vivacious substitute teacher tackled the singing troupe's attitudes toward sex in last season's standout ep Sexy. However, by focusing on the consummation of two central relationships, the sexy stakes are high in The First Time.
The opening night of West Side Story is approaching and, against this backdrop, leads Rachel and Blaine seek to imbue their characters with a 'passion' that director Artie believes is lacking; naturally, the solution is to pop their cherries with their respective other halves. The intertwining of Rachel and Blaine's stories and their twin denouement foresakes many primary characters (Mercedes and Mr Schue watch the play from the cheap seats, last week's Shelby thread is put on pause, and Sue doesn't even get a look-in) but it's a wise decision from the creative team not to rush the 'sexual awakening' of characters the audience have rooted for. It means the music takes a backseat, with the school play conveniently scoring turning points in each seduction, but the soapy drama is rightfully centre stage.
Your enjoyment of this episode will depend on how invested you are in the four characters at its core. Chances are if you're a Gleek, you'll agree that Rachel and Finn's big moment has been a long time coming, and will no doubt be happy to see the consummation of a young gay relationship treated with equal regard. Lea Michele once again excels as Rachel, unafraid to highlight the ambition that is so frequently a detriment to her personal life where it's a boon to her creative blossoming. She fudges her first attempt at 'snuggling by the fire' with Finn by revealing it's her insecurity as an actress that is her primary motivation for getting jiggy. However, when Finn's football talents are overlooked by a talent scout following Rachel's successful debut as Maria, a tender moment between the young couple leads to its natural conclusion.
The progression of Kurt and Blaine's romance provides a little more entertainment value in the way of obstacles and humour, but the end result is as obligatory as it is well-played. Blaine returns to Dalton Academy to invite his old teammates to opening night (and for a sprightly dash through 'Uptown Girl', obvs) but is confronted with Sebastian, a Warbler newbie who makes it no secret that he agrees with the general consensus that Blaine is 'sex on a stick and sings like a dream'. An earlier scene shows Blaine is quite content to keep makeout sessions directed above 'south' but an extended invite to Blaine and Kurt to nearby gay bar Scandals is too tempting for McKinley High's new Tony to resist. 'Drag Queen Wednesday' at Scandals is a hoot and even includes a surprise cameo from Max Adler as a softened Karofsky, but Blaine has one too many beers (i.e. one in total) and an attempted fumble in the backseat of Kurt's car just won't suffice for romantic Mr Hummel. Will our two boys work it out? The show ends with a fade-out on a burning log fire if that helps you draw conclusions...
Five episodes in and the season is starting to hit something of a stride and finally deliver some punches. New staff writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa perhaps doesn't handle the nuances with as much finesse as Murphy, Brad Falchuk or Ian Brennan but it's a solid episode, and features admirable work from its four main players, notably Darren Criss who I imagine will have a glowing career outside of the show. The episode does come complete with well-meaning but ultimately baggy gumph revolving around Artie's success as the play's director and Coach Bieste's developing romance with a new gentleman suitor, threads that might have been better suited to an episode without so much going on already. Despite this, it's an hour of TV that should be praised and not criticised by parental groups for its positive portrayal of first-time sex; everyone else, meanwhile, can enjoy it as a prime example of teen trials and tribulations handled Glee-fully.