22. “Shooting Star” (Episode 18)
High Notes: The performance of “More Than Words,” directed at Brittany’s cat Lord Tubbington, is silly but a nice moment of levity in an otherwise dark hour.
Low Notes: The school shooting plot is at the very least hackneyed and manipulative. At worst, it’s offensive coming so soon after the Sandy Hook massacre, and it adds nothing to the story aside from a few cheap emotional tricks.
21. “Glee, Actually” (Episode 10)
High Notes: The return of Jessalyn Gilsig as Will’s wife Terri, and the introduction of Aisha Tyler as Jake’s mom. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is as resonant as ever.
Low Notes: The divergent storylines never really come together. Some are worse than others — namely Sue Sylvester trying to find the perfect gift for Marley’s family, Brittany and Sam getting married (but not really), and the awkward return of exiled Glee Project winner Damian McGinty as Rory.
20. “Britney 2.0” (Episode 2)
High Notes: There are some good Britney songs here that weren’t included in the first Britney episode, like “Hold It Against Me” and “Everytime.” The disastrous “Gimme More” performance is pitch-perfect parody.
Low Notes: As unnecessary as the first Britney Spears episode was, this one’s even more gratuitous. The storyline is fine, really, but it’s all too contrived to be taken seriously.
19. “Wonder-ful” (Episode 21)
High Notes: Good emotional moments with the parents — Mike O’Malley is always great as Kurt’s dad, and Katey Sagal makes her first appearance as Artie’s mom.
Low Notes: Very little about the plot makes sense, from Cassandra’s abrupt turnaround on Rachel to Mercedes’ flimsy record contract. Equally nonsensical: framing an episode around the music of Stevie Wonder.
18. “Sadie Hawkins” (Episode 11)
High Notes: A couple good performances, particularly Tina’s “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” (ignoring the uncomfortable context) and the boys’ “No Scrubs.”
Low Notes: You really have to suspend disbelief to accept that a school would allow its students to perform “Locked Out of Heaven” at a dance. This is also the episode that full-on stole Jonathan Coulton’s arrangement of “Baby Got Back.” Plot-wise, Tina’s crush on Blaine is a problem.
17. “Glease” (Episode 6)
High Notes: Santana, Unique, and Cassandra collaborating on “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” is pretty great. Grease is at least an age-appropriate musical, and the costumes are fun.
Low Notes: High school musicals on Glee never really work. This production feels shoehorned in from the beginning. Kitty’s cruel prank on Marley, leading the latter to become bulimic, is an unequivocal mess.
16. “Naked” (Episode 12)
High Notes: Getting all the hot men on this show to take their shirts off is predictable but appreciated nonetheless. The calendar idea makes just enough sense in the Glee universe. It’s nice to hear Rachel, Santana, and Quinn singing together.
Low Notes: Rachel’s moral dilemma over nudity is boring, as is the intervention by her frenemies. (Since when do Santana and Quinn give a shit about what she does?) The duet between old and new Rachel is also weak.
15. “Dynamic Duets” (Episode 7)
High Notes: The Warblers are strong as ever — their rendition of “Dark Side” is awesome. The superhero challenge is silly but it’s also very Glee, and how refreshing to see Finn not suck at something. Closing on “Some Nights” is a nice reminder that Glee basically made Fun happen.
Low Notes: More forced drama, including a love triangle that never really goes anywhere and the revelation that Ryder is dyslexic. Seeing how far Puck has fallen is more of a bummer than anything else.
14. “Feud” (Episode 16)
High Notes: Mash-ups! At last, the Backstreet Boys-*NSYNC collaboration we’ve all been waiting for. “The Bitch Is Back”/”Dress You Up” is also good, and Tegan and Sara’s “Closer” is the perfect way to end an episode. In terms of plot, high five to Glee for giving us a manwhore with a heart of gold.
Low Notes: This is the beginning of Ryder’s catfish plotline. Ugh. On top of that, Sue doing “Super Bass” is not nearly as cool as it should be. Along the same lines, while the revelation of Brody’s side job is interesting, the execution is weak.
13. “Girls (And Boys) On Film” (Episode 15)
High Notes: Lots of big musical numbers, including Glee’s landmark 500th performance. (Good lord, those kids sing a lot.) The romantic moments, while cribbed from movies like Ghost and Moulin Rouge, are genuinely sweet.
Low Notes: Although the production values are high, the song choices leave something to be desired. Mostly, they don’t scream movie music, and the whole theme feels a little half-assed.
12. “All or Nothing” (Episode 22)
High Notes: It’s one of those rare Glee episodes where the non-musical moments are the standouts — Brittany’s meltdown and her eventual goodbye are equal parts hilarious and upsetting. Bonus points for using gay icon Patty Duke and actual gay Meredith Baxter as an old married couple. And the catfish conclusion is surprisingly not awful.
Low Notes: The musical performances, though… It’s Regionals, so you expect the best of the best, but nothing really stands out. The closest McKinley High comes is with Icona Pop, and they cut a huge chunk of the song, making it a repetitive mess.
11. “The Role You Were Born to Play” (Episode 5)
High Notes: As it turns out, the casting of Grease is more interesting than the production of Grease. Blaine’s “Hopelessly Devoted to You” is epic. The audition songs are all kind of odd choices, but they’re at least fun. And at last, Unique’s gender identity gets addressed.
Low Notes: Unfortunately, when it comes to Unique, Glee continues to waffle. Is she a trans woman (this seems to be the case at this point), or a gay man who enjoys drag? Also, “Born to Hand Jive” is arguably the worst Grease song.
10. “Guilty Pleasures” (Episode 17)
High Notes: Ridiculous costumes (including a full-on Spice Girls recreation) and lots of great music. “Great” is relative, I guess, but come on — “Against All Odds,” “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” and “Mamma Mia”? Oh, and let’s not forget all the shade thrown at Chris Brown.
Low Notes: The performance of “Creep” is solid, but the Rachel-Brody break-up feels overblown. Also — and this is splitting hairs — none of the guilty pleasures are really all that guilty. Who cares if you’re really into Phil Collins.
9. “The New Rachel” (Episode 1)
High Notes: At the start of the season, Glee did a surprisingly good job of balancing McKinley High with NYADA. Blaine’s “It’s Time” is perfect (remember this was shortly before the song was inescapable). And Kate Hudson is fabulous in her debut as Cassandra July.
Low Notes: There’s too much going on, a problem that becomes more evident as the season progresses. The introduction of new characters Marley, Jake, and Kitty is a lot to take in all at once, especially since we’re still trying to get used to Rachel’s new life in the big city.
8. “Makeover” (Episode 3)
High Notes: Sarah Jessica Parker! Sorry, haters, but Isabelle brings something great to Glee. The makeover scene is so much fun that it erases some of the episode’s more ridiculous moments. Which I’ll get to in a minute. But seriously, this is the mash-up I never knew I needed.
Low Notes: So, ridiculousness. Like, for example, Kurt getting that job so easily. Anyone who has tried to get an internship with a major magazine in New York likely threw a heavy object at the TV when that happened. The McKinley drama also suffers as New York gets amped up.
7. “I Do” (Episode 14)
High Notes: It’s always a treat when Emma sings, and here she totally nails a very difficult Sondheim song. Kudos! Also, everyone gets laid. This is one of Glee’s more realistic hook-up episodes, with exes giving in to temptation, and Quinn trying something new with Santana.
Low Notes: Ali Stroker, who was great on The Glee Project, is mostly wasted. On a larger scale, Emma leaving Will at the altar feels like the obvious choice, and really, what’s the point? We just want them to settle down now, with no more forced complications.
6. “Sweet Dreams” (Episode 19)
High Notes: As tired as everyone is of “Don’t Stop Believin’,” this rendition really works. There’s something so sweet about Rachel imagining her friends at her side as she auditions. Her duet with Shelby is also great, because duh, Idina Menzel. Meanwhile, Puck and Finn get something to do.
Low Notes: Will is kind of a dick for no reason. It happens sometimes, but it never stops being annoying. At the same time, Marley’s songs are kind of dull, so it’s no wonder he’s not thrilled about singing them. Maybe they should just stick to the covers.
5. “Lights Out” (Episode 20)
High Notes: Jane Lynch’s “Little Girls” is a pleasant surprise. Remind me why we don’t give Sue more numbers. The other stripped-down songs are just good choices. And “At the Ballet,” performed by Isabelle, Rachel, Santana, and Kurt, is one of the best things Glee has ever done. Musical theater magic.
Low Notes: The molestation storyline is handled poorly, from the way it’s introduced to the way everyone reacts. Come on, these kids aren’t that tone deaf that they would want to high five their friend over sexual abuse.
4. “Swan Song” (Episode 9)
High Notes: A couple killer NYADA performances — Rachel’s “O Holy Night” is classic Rachel greatness, but it’s Kurt’s “Being Alive” that’s really stunning. Who wouldn’t admit him to the school after that. The Glee Club reuniting to “Don’t Dream It’s Over” is a nice moment, too.
Low Notes: The fact that the Glee Club disbanded at all is annoying, especially since everyone seems to be blaming Marley for her eating disorder. Um, what. This is obviously something out of her control. (And if you really want to blame someone, blame Kitty.)
3. “Thanksgiving” (Episode 8)
High Notes: The long-awaited returns of some of our Glee favorites. How sweet is that “Home”/”Homeward Bound” mash-up. The episode also really captures the feel of graduates coming home for the holidays and the discomfort upon finding out that things have changed. Finally, haters be damned, “Let’s Have a Kiki” is a lot of fun.
Low Notes: Santana picks up on Marley’s eating disorder and doesn’t really do anything about it. Come on now. Quinn’s protection of Kitty is equally strange, and the weird conflict ensuing conflict between Santana and Quinn doesn’t feel genuine. Have sex already, geez.
2. “Diva” (Episode 13)
High Notes: There’s so much to love here. Rachel getting called on her shit, culminating in an amazing dual performance of “Bring Him Home.” (Not the obvious Les Miz choice!) Sam and Santana fighting over Brittany via song. Santana killing it with “Girl on Fire,” then moving in with Rachel and Kurt.
Low Notes: Poor Tina, relegated to this awful storyline about loving Blaine. She’s just so sad and … creepy. It’s a bad look.
1. “The Break Up” (Episode 4)
High Notes: Of course Glee’s best episode would be its most devastating. What’s great about this is that it really rejects the status quo and isn’t afraid to seriously unnerve shippers. All of the break-ups feel genuine, and the final performance of “The Scientist” is a gut-punch.
Low Notes: Rachel and Brody doing “Give Your Heart a Break” is a little unnecessary. But it’s still a good performance, and it doesn’t take away from the overall effect of the episode.