Review: Glee, “The First Time”

When I read sometime last month that Glee would be doing an episode centered on Rachel and Kurt losing their respective virginities, I shuddered. A few times. Even though this season of Glee has been relatively solid (let’s just pretend last week’s episode never, ever happened OK?), I am always worried when the series decides it wants to take on big issues and moments like that one. I also considered the fact that the series already went down this route in “The Power of Madonna” with that surprisingly fantastic “Like a Virgin” performance and I just assumed that Glee wouldn’t be able to touch or recreate that kind of magic again, two years later.

Well, I’m very happy to be wrong in this instance. For the most part, “The First Time” is actually a great episode (three already this season!) and although it stumbles in a few instances that I’ll get to momentarily, this is one of those times where you remember that Glee does know how to tap into some strong emotions that lead to sequences that perhaps shouldn’t work, but ultimately do anyway. I don’t mean this to belittle what the episode actually did do, but let’s be honest: This could have been a hell of a lot worse.

The biggest problem that “The First Time” has is in its starting point. Instead of having Rachel and Blaine realize individually or perhaps even together that they need to take their respective love lives to the next level in hopes of creating an authentic performance during their version of West Side Story, this episode asks us to believe that Artie is just going to butt his way into their emotions and flat-out tell them they need to have sex. The opening scene of the episode includes Rachel, Blaine, Artie, Coach Beiste and Emma and while he’s forcing them all to talk about sex, you realize that he’s literally the only one in this room that’s actually done it. That’s Glee for you.

But the point isn’t who has or who hasn’t had sex, it’s the way “The First Time” pushes two characters towards a super-important and intimate moment because Artie says that it will make the high school play more believable. I understand that Glee logic works on an entirely different plane of rationale, but that felt pretty dumb and false to me, and then the middle of the episode included a few moments that only furthered that falseness more: Rachel randomly blurting out to Finn that Artie’s call to her was in fact the reason she was sleeping with him and Blaine’s quasi-manipulation of Kurt in hopes of making him more overtly sexual so he could reach a similar goal.

I’m willing to go with these moments just a  bit more because teenagers do and say dumb things, but I would like to believe that both Rachel and Blaine love their respective beaus enough that they wouldn’t need to manipulate them into sex or general intimacy. I understand why the episode went this route and ultimately, it made both couples’ final choice to indeed have sex more satisfying, but it does feel like the episode could have gotten there a bit more naturally, especially in Rachel’s case. Letting slip your already dumb reasoning for having sex when you’re about to have sex is pretty stupid, even for a character like Rachel. “The First Time” rectified these issues, but they still bothered me early on in the episode.

Nevertheless, despite the goofy start and some of the false, unnecessary drama in the middle, “The First Time” did handle the uncomfortability and the tension of having sex quite well. Rachel’s pow-wow with all the other female characters was obviously very funny in spots (Santana’s description of her sexual encounter with Finn was an episode highlight, even though FOX ruined it last week in the promo), but it also didn’t shy away from truth. Quinn provided her war story and then Tina delivered a nice little speech to Rachel about her first time with Mike. Though we haven’t spent too much time with the two of them (or Tina at all, for that matter), Tina’s recollection of that event was well-written and well-performed by Jenna Ushkowitz. I also really enjoyed the short little blip where Finn asked Puck about condoms and Puck was first pissed that Finn was cheating and then subsequently happy that he wasn’t. For a second there, it seemed like the two of them were actually friends. Puck has turned into the most mature member of the entire group and that was just a nice, short scene to remind us of that. Sometimes Glee gets so hung up on the big, sweeping moments that it forgets to handle the smaller ones with the same kind of care, but “The First Time” nailed many of those.

I was generally less enamored with the Blaine-Kurt side of the things, if only because Blaine’s random trip back to Dalton and the new character Sebastian both mostly suck. Sebastian is so over-the-top with his sexual advances that he more or less acts like a predator towards Blaine, which is not only annoying and unnecessary, but it paints Blaine as a shier, more uncomfortable young man than he was last year. Remember when he was this wiser older man showing Kurt the ropes of young gay love? What the hell happened to that guy? I don’t mind a little deconstruction of a character that seemed unflappable last season, but it is a bit odd that Darren Criss is basically playing someone else entirely in season three. Perhaps Blaine was all talk and now when it comes down to actually making it happen with someone he cares about, the awkwardness and the naivety strike? I might be able to buy that.

Despite Blaine’s brain transplant and Sebastian’s general suckiness, the episode made up for it with some great stuff for Kurt. After last season’s tour-de-force, all-Kurt all-the-time storytelling, Chris Colfer has had much less to do, but it was nice to be reminded that he’s probably the best dramatic actor of the young bunch. His confusion and pain in regards to Blaine and Sebastian’s conversations and dancing came off very natural and emotionally raw and the scene between he and Blaine in the parking lot of the bar was just fantastic. I think the series has sort of avoided going deeply into the emotional beats of Kurt and Blaine’s relationship, but this was a great step forward. And again, speaking of the small moments, the random conversation between Kurt and Karofsky was enjoyable and smart as well. It was probably unnecessary, but Colfer and Max Alder made it work.

As I suggested earlier, “The First Time” really nailed the ending to these stories, despite the early missteps. The last 10 minutes of this episode are probably my favorite 10 minutes of Glee all season. Bradley Buecker’s direction was really good and interesting throughout, but he did an exceptionally solid job with the final sequences, moving from the play performance to the couples and intercutting it all together very well. Of course the PTC was going to get worked up about the possibility of seeing any gay sexual relations, but this episode handled both couples’ first times with class and taste. We didn’t really need to see anything (in fact, Glee never really shows much in that regard) because the emotion of those moments was on-point. That’s what matters and that’s why “The First Time” ultimately worked very well, bumps and all.

Other thoughts:

  • Though this episode was primarily about Rachel, Kurt and Blaine, the sex and romance angle allowed for a few solid scenes for Cory Monteith and Finn as well. I’m very glad that the series didn’t try to convince us that Finn was good enough to play football at Ohio State, but forcing the character to see that pulls him out of that holding pattern he was in regards to his future. He now knows that he can’t play football in college and he’s probably not good enough to get a scholarship based on his singing and that’s kind of the worst. Monteith doesn’t get enough respect for his performance and I thought his breakdown in front of Lea Michele’s Rachel near the end of the episode was very, very good. I’m glad the series is giving him stuff to do again.
  • Additionally, Artie The Love Connector brought us some great Coach Beiste scenes this week, so I guess I can’t complain about the ridiculousness of Artie’s meddling too much (it was still ridiculous though, don’t you forget it). The bits with Beiste awkwardly flirting with the Ohio State recruiter were so cute and charming. Dot Marie Jones is legitimately awesome this season. As I think I said a few weeks ago, can she just be the main lead adult character now?
  • Speaking of that, this episode featured just a few shots of Will in the crowd and absolutely no Sue. It’s definitely a proven fact that no Sue means a better episode, but we’re closing in on confirmation for Will’s absence as well, right? I want Will to be better so badly because I loved that character in season one, but he’s just best-deserved clapping in the stands. At least the writers were smart enough to avoid shoe-horning a Will-Emma sex conversation into this episode. I was legitimately shocked that they were able to resist the temptation.
  • Artie’s “journey” in this episode could have been stretched out across multiple episodes, but Glee doesn’t swing that way. I wished that the series would have stretched the play story for a lot longer, as it would have given characters like Artie more to do, but the series would just prefer to cut to the end and tell us that characters learned something and grew in some way. OK then.
  • The episode kind of did the same thing with Mike Chang and his relationship with his parents. His father randomly appeared to disown him and then his mom gave him a crying nod during the play. BOOM, ARC.
  • Only one line for Damian McGinty this week, though it was pretty funny. I do kind of feel bad that he lost one of his contracted episodes just for that. Maybe they’ll give him more, but it sure seems like the writers have no idea how to make the character interesting at all.
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