‘Glee’ recap: Meet the Beiste, the Bieber-alike and Santana’s chest enhancements!

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‘Glee’ returned from summer vacation Tuesday night and reminded us all why we love it so. Two main reasons, really: those heart-swelling musical numbers and the delicious nastiness of one Coach Sue Sylvester.

But would the music come roaring back after last season’s themed episodes? Would Sue Sylvester, who’d been showing signs of softness, return this season without her claws?

Thankfully, Sue’s claws were out and scratching away on Tuesday night’s episode: Deprived of her usual target (she and Will Schuester banded together to fend off a common adversary), Sue managed to slash everyone from prodigal Cheerio Quinn (“I don’t want you anywhere near my squad; you’ll deafen them with the sound of your stretch marks rubbing together’) to the newly augmented Santana (“A person who has to pump her nonnies full of gravy to feel good about herself clearly doesn’t have the self-esteem to be my head cheerleader … Oh, and Boobs McGee, you’re demoted to the bottom of the pyramid, so when it collapses your exploding sandbags will protect the squad from injury. Now take your juicy, vine-ripened chest fruit and get the hell out of my office”). That is, before Quinn and Santana released their wrath on each other in a hair-pulling, locker-crashing, knock-down, drag-out.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The episode begins by catching us up on where things stand with our favorite singing students as they return from the summer break. As they tell their stories, with various degrees of reluctance, to icky school blogger Jacob Ben Israel (aka the oversexed dweeb with the ‘fro), hosting a video segment called “Glee’s Big GAY Summer, with all the dish you’re dying to know,” we learn that …


1. Rachel and Finn have been dating all summer, though that has made her no less spotlight-obsessed, controlling (a total “controllist,” as Finn put it), self-promoting and all-around irritating.

2. Mike Chang may finally get a chance to define himself as something other than “other Asian” this season -– as he began to do at the end of the last one. He and Tina have become an item, drawn to each other while working as counselors at a summer camp for Asian kids (one of whom, in one of those funny stereotype winks that only “Glee” can pull off and still look innocent, snaps a photo of their first embrace with his phone). Though Artie has been inattentive to Tina, losing her -– particularly to a guy with such incredible abs -– completely deflates him.

3. Puck has had a vasectomy over the summer (“It was the responsible thing to do,” he said) and is still hung up on Quinn.

4. Quinn, having given up her baby for adoption, is ready to step back into her former head cheerleader/chief mean girl role. (“I’m a lot less hormonal so there’s not really any crying,” she notes.) Santana and Brittany, meanwhile, seem to be the same as ever – except for Santana’s added oomph up top.

5. Mr. Schue is still earnestly trying to do his best for the kids.

6. No matter how boldly and bravely the “Glee” clubbers stand up and declare their Schu-given right to sing, ridicule and slushies are still ever poised to smash them in the kisser.

Speaking of unfortunate surprises, Mr. Schue and Coach Sue learn that McKinley High has a new football coach (Ken Tanaka, bless his Emma-broken heart, has had a nervous breakdown), and that their budgets have been cut to bolster the football team. And in a stroke of pure “Glee”-writer genius, the new football coach happens to be a hulk of a woman with a penchant for nonsensical aphorisms and a sensitive nature. (She’s played with a perfect blend of brutishness and grace by actress Dot Jones, who, it turns out, is a former professional arm wrestling champion!)

Her name, fittingly, is Shannon Beiste (though she calls herself “The Panther”). And Sue and Will take an instant dislike to her, eventually joining forces in hopes of pushing her out: playing pranks like ordering pizzas in her name and depriving her of a place to sit in the faculty lunchroom, in an attempt to break her spirit.

“I know gals like Beiste,” Sue tells Will. “Her high school life must have been miserable. She’s oversized, humorless, refers to herself in the third person as an animal. This kind of abuse and teasing will bring back all those childhood memories and she’ll be shaken to the core. Humiliated, devastated, she’ll have no choice but to quit her job and our budgets will be restored.’

But alas, Will just doesn’t have the heart -– or rather, has too much of one -– for Sue’s “Operation Mean Girl.” Recognizing a fellow outsider, he reaches out to Beiste, inciting Sue’s wrath and reinstating their formerly overtly antagonistic relationship. But Coach Beiste isn’t the only new kid in town. When the “Glee” clubbers take to the schoolyard at lunchtime to drum up new talent (they’re short one member and need all the help they can get with Nationals, which will take place this year in New York), they show what they can do with a popular hit, suitably, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind.”

Their voices build and blend, the camera swoops around them as they dance, the open sky makes the world seem endless with possibility. Surely, everyone will want to join the glee club now. Surely, now that the rest of the school has heard them and seen what they do, their days of being outcasts are over. But no, their performance’s triumphant, uplifting end is greeted by averted eyes and crashing silence.

So much has changed, and yet nothing has.

Except the club has connected with two new students: one a full-lipped, Bieber-headed blond angel named Sam Evans, whom Finn hears emotively singing Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” in the shower; the other a button-cute Filipino transfer student named Sunshine who Rachel inadvertently insults, then with whom she sings a remarkable duet (Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” –- yeah, “Glee” is taking advantage of its popularity by incorporating more current mega-hits).

But Rachel, being Rachel, is threatened by Sunshine’s talent, and putting her needs before the group’s (all the while claiming she’s doing it for their sake), she alienates the girl, sending her to a crackhouse, where they used her sheet music as toilet paper, instead of to auditions. It’s no wonder Sunshine, upon reflection, decides not to hide her light (she tears up the house with “Listen” from “Dreamgirls”) under New Directions’ bushel, and instead transfers to join the club’s arch-enemy, Vocal Adrenaline.

Alas, the boy with the angel voice and the pillow lips is out too. Though he has wowed the guys with an amazing rendition of Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire,” he sees how the glee club is treated around the school and decides it might not be the best idea “to start out three touchdowns behind.” Instead, he takes Finn’s spot as quarterback on the football team after Finn gets the boot for trying to get Artie a spot on the team. (Coach Beiste, having been messed around by Will and Sue, is sure Finn’s messing with her by trying to get her to draft a kid in a wheelchair.) So Finn, deprived of football and thus his social status, tries out for the Cheerios.

The episode ends with Rachel, center stage, belting out “What I Did For Love” from “A Chorus Line,’ leaving us wondering: What was she singing about? What did she do, and for whom? She sabotaged Sunshine for the love of herself, the spotlight, the group? Or ... what?

-- Amy Reiter