… because the new lunch lady is Marley’s mom. Yes, Marley is a Poor. In a school where Kurt Hummel spends more money in one day on clothes than I do in one month on my mortgage, Marley’s mom is sewing a J. Crew label into her sweater so she can be “the right kind of special.” Marley hugs her mom and says, “Do you really think I have a chance of getting into these viewers’ hearts? Or am I always going to come up short when they compare me to Naya and Dianna?” Marley’s mom goes, “You have magic in your voice, Marley, and also in your face.” She tells Marley to sneak out under cover of her Invisibility Cloak so they won’t be seen together, and I mean, Glee is always as subtle as a sledgehammer like this, but for some reason it’s working on me this time. Probably because of the magic of Marley’s face, like her mom just said. But also, when I was in high school, one of my best friends’ moms worked as a lunch lady and it was awesome. We got double mashed potatoes, double dinner rolls, double chocolate milks for free.
At NYADA, Cassandra July stumbles into class, spots Rachel, goes, “Oh, hi, Poophio. I see you recovered from the literal beat down I gave you yesterday with only minimal damage to your ugly face.” Rachel, who has never seen an episode of Gossip Girl and thus does not know that gin and jam is the Manhattan breakfast of champions, gasps and says, “There’s liquor on your breath!” Cassandra July is like, “It gives my character depth, you twat! And an excuse to sing and dance to a Lady Gaga/J. Lo mash-up!” We’re meant to think she’s the greatest dancer in all the land, but we’ve been watching Harry Shum and Heather Morris for three years now, so we know a thing or two. Mostly Cassandra July writhes and slings her hair around and the camera keeps it above the waist except for a couple of long-distance quick-cuts.
If there’s one thing Smash and Glee have taught me about New York dance studios, it’s that they are bathed in the light of heaven. It is always the golden hour in those places. Anyway, Cassandra July dismisses class without ever teaching class. On the way out the door, she gets in Rachel’s face, all, “I’m the best goddamn dancer at the American Ballet Academy! Who the hell are you? Nobody!” And then she wallops her in the head again with that stick.
Glee club try-outs. Stoner Brett, who you might remember as the guy Kurt said “smells homeless,” raps “Mind on My Money,” much to Brittany’s delight. D’Wanda shows off more dance moves in ten seconds than Cassandra July did in five minutes, and she’s cuuuuute, but she doesn’t ever sing. Jake No Last Name sings half of “Never Say Never” and Unique and Sugar Motta rightly think he’s sexy as hell. Or, well, he is sexy as hell until Mr. Schue stops him mid-chorus. And then, on behalf of all the Not Rachels who were never allowed to finish their solos on this show, Jake thrashes the stage, flipping over music stands and pianos and just generally Hulking out. New Directions’ faces are like, “Well, I have never!” And Mr. Schue’s face is all, “Voice of an angel, issues like a Fabray! Oh, yes!”
One of the reasons this episode worked so well for me is that it pinged a lot of “Pilot” places in my heart without hammering me over the head with a dancing stick. Glee has always loved its parallels and this is one of the most seamless ones they’ve ever attempted. Rachel is no longer on the stage at her high school in Lima, Ohio. She’s in the round room at NYADA in New York City. There’s a new girl on her old stage. Marley Rose. Both of them have something to prove to themselves and to everyone around them. Both of them are just trying to fit in while knowing in their hearts that they were born to stand out. There’s something beautiful and bittersweet about the juxtaposition. In one way, it’s about believing in the beauty of your dreams always. But in another way, it’s about how time doesn’t stand still. When you’re a kid, you think the distance between dreaming a dream and living a dream is a hundred thousand years and billion miles, but it’s more like a single breath. Rachel was standing on that McKinley High School stage. And then you blinked and Marley Rose was standing in her place.
Rachel and Marley sing “New York State of Mind.” It’s a ballsy move, throwing Melissa Benoist up against Lea Michele and asking her to make us love her, but somehow she does it. Even in Rachel’s shadow, she does it. The Glee kids begrudgingly admit that Marley is awesome. And Carmen Tibideaux, who threw one girl out of the round room after three notes of “Ave Maria,” tells Rachel her performance was “nice.” After being literally beaten down by Cassandra July every time she shows up to dance class, “nice” probably feels like winning Nationals all over again.