Credit where credit is due: For a competition episode, this was a pretty darn good hour of Glee, almost obliterating last year's New York Nationals from our minds.
Here's what went down in Tuesday's big Sectionals showdown, "Hold on to 16": Sam returned to McKinley to help New Directions beat the Troubletones and get Mercedes back (with his stripper-honed body rolls). Tina decided it was time to get Mike's dad on board with his son's future in the arts. Sebastian told Kurt to get ready because he wants himself some Blaine. Finn confessed that he was jealous of Blaine and apologized for throwing so much 'tude his way. Sam, Shelby and Rachel forced Quinn out of her funk. The New Directions triumphed at Sectionals, and the Troubletones agreed to re-join the group.
So, let's rate the stories and songs:
Sam's ab-tastic comeback. Leaving the washboard out, it was nice to see him back, nice to see him have a grown-up conversation with his parents about being hit by hard times, and not so nice to hear him sing "Red Solo Cup" (see below). Fortunately, because we didn't see it last season, there also appears to be some real chemistry between Sam and Mercedes. By our estimate, he's already logged the same amount of screentime with her as Shane. (Where was super supportive boyfriend Shane during Sectionals anyway? Did he have a game?) The only thing that would have topped it off was a Sean Connery impression. Grade: B
"Red Solo Cup" A novelty song about drinking beer that makes even Toby Keith pause. Really, Glee? It's not even a good performance! It's especially disappointing that this is Sam's big comeback song after he demonstrated his excellent aptitude for R&B and pop tunes like "Billionaire" and "Baby" all last season. (Does no one else miss the Justin Bieber Experience?) When Sam later quotes John Mellancamp's "Jack and Diane" to Quinn, we have to wonder why that wasn't his big solo. Grade: F-
Sebastian is... still here. Shut up, Sebastian! Sorry, knee-jerk reaction. Why is this not-sexy Warbler guy still around? Must he talk in forced, gross come-ons? Can't Kurt and Blaine drink coffee elsewhere? Can't Kurt say to Blaine: "This guy is so annoying, can we not be friends with him? All he does is flirt very poorly! Kthxbai!" Grade: D
Finn and Blaine call a truce. It takes a big man to forgive Blaine for being so darn peppy it's cloying. No one could blame Finn for being annoyed. He's juggling an uncertain post-grad future and maybe-probably the loss of Rachel, who can't go one episode without saying NYADA. The show could give Blaine a problem or two, but we like seeing Finn rally. It's what he does best. (At least we got to see Blaine take a punch from someone. Thanks, Sam!) Grade: B
Mike's dad gives Tina a reality check (that she doesn't take). The best part of Tina's visit with Mike's dad? His trying to give her a reality check: A career in the arts is hard. Failure is routine. Ultimately, Glee is about a group of kids in Ohio pursuing their dreams, but when they get those wake up calls, it's heartbreaking stuff. No hard feelings that Tina and Mike are going to go for it anyway — and ultimately with support from Mr. Chang. Because sometimes, you do have to go for it. Grade: A-
"Buenos Aires" Does it strike anyone else as odd that this entire glee club is OK with letting just one performer hog the spotlight so much? This performance is pretty much a solo with an oversized group of extremely well-choreographed back-up dancers, but it's sort of logical when you have someone like Harmony (aka Rachel and Kurt's NYADA rival and real-life Glee Project finalist Lindsay Pearce), you have to use her for all she's worth — especially on a big Broadway number. Grade: B
"I Will Survive/ Survivor" This has to be one of the best mash-ups of the season (and — dare I say — Glee history) in terms of both song match-up and similar themes. Santana's and Mercedes kill it again. The only thing that distracts? The arm-flying choreography. At least there's a too-sweet shot of Santana and Brittany tangoing. Grade: B+
"ABC" Tina, one of the only remaining women in New Directions, gets her due here, and it's welcome because we remember her take on "Dog Days Are Over," and it was awesome and yet wasted in last season's overcrowded Sectionals (which used "I've Had the Time of My Life," "Valerie" and the Warbler's "Hey Soul Sister" in competition instead.) "ABC" is upbeat enough, and since Mike is now one of our favorite singers, we're happy about that. But it all felt a wee bit on the safe side, even with the boys busting out those body rolls Sam brought with him from Kentucky. (Kurt has come so far from his awkward dancing during "Animal" last season.) Grade: B
"Control" OK, scary, sadistic Quinn, let's calm it down with the crazy eyes. Are you trying to intimidate the judges into voting for New Directions? Because that's not how it works. Though Artie finally gets his time to shine, the song is just OK for the group. The energy is weird and it doesn't feel like "Control" is particularly well-suited for anyone's voice or dance moves. Surely they could have considered Janet Jackson's other songs? Grade: C
"Man in the Mirror" Dear Glee bosses, please take note of how closely Puck's voice and dance moves resemble Michael Jackson's for the tribute episode later this season. Ditto Artie, who we knew would kill it. Beyond Pucky Puck's (we have good "Good Vibrations" memories) ability to moonwalk like its 1988, this song is definitely the strongest of the three for New Directions. Undeniably powerful, wonderful harmonies, and great showcase for the boys. Grade: A-
New Directions wins Sectionals. They deserved it for "Man in the Mirror" alone. Our only wish for spring semester? To see the work that goes into Regionals. That way Mr. Schuester can have something to do (and not plan set-lists for major competitions at the last minute. Or volunteer to run city council campaigns. Or let someone who isn't him direct the school musicals. It already looks like he might not even be teaching Spanish next year.) Grade: A
Quinn's psychotic break ends. As soon as the switch was flipped, and Quinn returned to being a normal human being, we realized how much we actually love Diana Agron. And Quinn. All the writers needed to do was treat her like a teenager and not a psycho. Quinn had dreams of getting out of Ohio, too. She had self-esteem issues. There were other ways for her to feel bad about herself, to miss her daughter, to be lost... but we digress. All is forgiven for now. Grade: B+
Shelby, out? Hope not, because there's still more to do with her and Rachel if the show wanted. But we're not sure how she can continue at McKinley (even though sleeping with Puck, we maintain, was not nearly as ludicrous as Terri's fake pregnancy or Quinn's plan to steal her daughter back). Still, the Troubletones have re-joined New Directions, so this might be her curtain call. Grade: C
"We Are Young." Does Rachel sing a lot on this show? Yes, but her pipes were still very much missed during Sectionals. Fortunately, she was back to lead this episode-ending tune, which was pretty perfect, had a little something for everyone and, frankly, reminded us of Season 1 group numbers that would give us tingles, like "Somebody to Love" and "Keep Holding On." Grade: A
What were your favorite numbers? Is crazy Quinn really gone? Do you want Shelby to come back? Will they ever find something for Mr. Schuester to do? Tell us know what you thought in the comments below.