Warning: The following review contains spoilers for all aired episodes of “Glee,” including the most recent, “Mash-Up.”
In “Vitamin D,” Will Schuester taught the glee kids the meaning of the term, “mash-up,” describing it as what happens “when you take two songs and mash them together to make an even richer explosion of musical expression.” In other words, two songs that might not initially seem to belong together are blended, the process of which reveals unexpected connections between the songs and might even yield an even stronger work than either one is on its own. Finn and the boys demonstrated this with their mash-up of Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” and Usher’s “Confessions, Part I,” while Rachel and the girls did so with Beyonce’s “Halo” and “Walking on Sunshine.” Tonight’s episode asks what happens, however, when two songs that people are desperately trying to join together, just don’t work together. It is the episode’s central irony that, though it is entitled, “Mash-Up,” no successful mash-up seems to occur, either on a literal or metaphorical level. For the songs aren’t the only failed mash-ups in this episode. So are the relationships between people, such as Emma and Tanaka, trying to force emotions that just aren’t there.
Throughout the episode, events occur that just don’t feel quite right. One example is, of course, Rachel and Puck hooking up. Though we are given Puck’s hilarious explanation for why he is going after Rachel (complete with Schindler’s List-influenced flashback and crazy dream sequence), something about it just doesn’t feel kosher, no pun intended, from the outset. We, of course, come to realize, over the course of the episode, that this is because it isn’t. The two of them are using one another as stand-ins for who they really want to be with–for Rachel, Finn, and for Puck, Quinn, of course.
Another failed mash-up is between Sue Sylvester and Rod Remington, the skeevy local anchorman for whom she falls, only to have him stomp upon her heart when she least expects it. As audience members, we can tell from the start that something is wrong with the universe. Sue is warm. Sue is happy. Sue is forgiving, both to Quinn and Will. And in what might be the series’ most entertaining and shocking scene to date, Sue is swing-dancing with Will! Who would have ever expected Sue Sylvester to take an active part in a musical scene of Glee?
We also know that the butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-his-mouth anchorman is up to no good. The episode still provides a fascinating hint that Sue is not just the iron-cold exterior she projects, so while this particular mash-up is an ultimate bust, and will most likely lead to a great deal of danger for New Directions in the future (and already has for Quinn), we now know, unequivocally, that there is a human buried deep within the forbidding construct that is Sue Sylvester.
And that leads to one of the episode’s subtler nuances. While it argues that some mash-ups just do not work, it also surreptitiously demonstrates how (a) the failure of some might teach people valuable lessons about themselves and (b) some that don’t seem to currently mesh might still come to do so in the future. Will and Emma, for example, are perfect for one another (illustrated by Emma’s rendition of “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady, one of the loveliest moments the show has done yet), despite the fact that the fates have conspired to separate them. Another potentially perfect mash-up? Glee and football. Sure, they couldn’t seem to be more opposite, but as Kurt proved in “Preggers,” the combination of the two can provide surprising rewards.
As a reaction to the mounting pressures of the William McKinley High universe going topsy-turvy (the formerly popular kids, now in glee, are now also becoming the victims of the slushie attacks that only plague the dorky kids), Finn temporarily quits glee club, in favor of football. Tanaka had, of course, forced the kids to choose–a reaction to his feeling threatened by his fiancee’s flirtations with Will (again, his engagement is another failed mash-up). Finn finally makes the right decision and returns when Kurt shows him the meaning of bravery and true friendship by performing an act of great personal sacrifice, allowing Finn to take credit for the attack without having to feel the guilt of betraying his friend. This noble action reminds Finn why he loves straddling the social boundaries so much in the first place–because it allows him to have the best of both worlds (a mash-up), a sentiment he expresses to Tanaka in a speech that references such heroes as Thomas Jefferson and The Terminator‘s John Connor (yet another mash-up). He foresees a day when glee will be considered cool, and topsy turvy will become the norm–a theme that has been building since the pilot. New Directions: the greatest mash-up of all. “Mash-Up”: the best Glee episode yet.