If you go into “Diva” wondering why Glee is returning to the driest well since Sue Sylvester, pun sincerely not intended, you must be new here. That’s what season four is all about. And I never thought I’d say this, but good thing, because Tina Cohen-Chang is a star. Jenna Ushkowitz is trapped in the weirdest, most excruciating, most Glee story all season, and she’s rocking it. Tina’s crush on Blaine could easily be change-the-channel bad. It could be another excuse to keep hauling out Tina only in order to humiliate her. It could be a naked set-up for a Lifetime sexual assault interlude. It could seriously entertain the idea of Tina and Blaine dating. Any and all of which would be so typically Glee. Instead, this is about Tina and her depressing, debasing, head-swimming, love-hurts, “Don't You Want Me” infatuation. She can’t just turn it off. She likes Blaine. And it’s killing her.
Ushkowitz commits heart-and-soul to the crush. Tina asks Blaine if he’s ever been with a girl, and he says not unless Rachel counts. She says, “We’re young. We still have time to find ourselves,” and it’s achingly wistful. He nods in agreement because he’s out of it, but he’s found himself already. He’s gay. There’s not a hint of irony in her big confession, and with all the leads on this show, fly-by one-liners are kind of Tina’s thing. Instead, Tina tearfully facing up to the monkey on her back is touching, but not “aw, cute” so much as “oh, no.” It’s sad to see Tina so impossibly heartsick. The sight of her rubbing Vick's on Blaine’s chest and crying is some Lee Daniels kitsch, but it’s just genuine enough to resonate. So it’s all the more satisfying to see her in full, kickass diva mode. Nothing gets resolved in her out-and-proud ‘90s flashback rendition of Madonna’s “Hung Up,” but at least Tina gets to assert herself.
No wonder Tina wins the New Directions’ seventeenth tri-monthly diva-off. Unique fires some trash talk and sings a fifth of the opening number before realizing that being a diva actually takes effort and calling it quits. Blaine’s only in it for the progressive kudos—that and the chance to dress up like a Kurt Hummel remake of a Kenneth Anger film. Kurt and Rachel think divadom is just singing the same show tune? The point is to find the superstar who can shine some light during competitions, which isn’t a bad idea. Say what you will about Rachel, Kurt, Mercedes, and Santana, but they’ve got the arrogance to truly own a stage. The new kids on the block are never faker than when they’re pretending they have any drive, but maybe I’m just chuckling about the flex-off still. The point is Tina turns out to be the secret star of New Directions, which checks out. Technically, assuming anyone remembers why this diva-off started sixty minutes earlier, that means Finn should want to spotlight Tina at regionals. Hahahahahaha. We’ll see.
The other big diva is Santana, who drops in from Louisville with some cheerleadermates because she just really wants to win the diva-off. But that’s just a ruse for her completely, unguessably DL plan to separate Brittany and Sam by pretending to have a lesbian girlfriend and calling him boring and singing a song against him. It doesn’t make much sense, even in a world where a rival school will show up on your stage, throw down by way of a single song, and then drive back to their hometown just to say, “Bring it.” The subplot even wastes its non-romantic drama. When Finn loses everything in the course of a month, he spirals and turns around and learns how to be funny. When Santana drops out of cheerleading and school just after losing her girlfriend, she . . . meddles in her ex’s new relationship. The romance side of things is marginally more interesting, what with two of Santana’s exes dating, but we’ve seen most of this before. The only difference is now when Santana and Brittany have that final-act heart-to-heart, they reaffirm their status as best friends instead of girlfriends. Think back to “The Break Up” just a few months ago, and it’s still tender. Brittany found a way to move on. Now it’s Santana’s turn.
Speaking of dusting off old ideas, Naya Rivera crosses the country in a single song—“Girl on Fire” with a minimalist stop-light background—and it’s no less moving than when Rachel did it, or when Kurt did. The show was always heading to this point, but it still feels excitingly sudden. Kurt couldn’t be less happy to see Santana show up at his door, but maybe that’s because he just saw her last week. And then Santana shows Little Miss “Bring Him Home” a real diva move. She barges in, cases the joint, and tells her new roommates, “I’m moving in.”
And since everything comes in threes, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how great Lea Michele is with the diva ‘tude. Until the Midnight “Madness” sing-off, which Brody thinks is a blood-sport because he’s more of a quiet beauty, Rachel is hysterically full of herself. Director Paris Barclay immediately dispels any feelings of exhaustion with the stylish opening shot, a slo-mo dolly working its way from behind Rachel’s flamboyant free-sing show-off through the crowd of admiring fans to Kurt seething in the back. Rachel faux humbly shrugs at her applause, and I died laughing. She’s picked up Jenna Maroney’s entourage, a gaggle of gossipy sycophants. And of course she’s already invited her boyfriend to move in without consulting her roommate, and she’s been ignoring Kurt, and she warned him not to do the one thing he wants to do at NYADA. Lea Michele is a lot of fun being a bitch, but Kurt wins Midnight Madness by the slimmest margin in NYADA history, because of course he does, and instead of giving Rachel some real (read: fake) adversity to struggle against, “Diva” just lets her mope around until Kurt gives her a pep talk which nobody acknowledges isn’t far off from what the entourage would have told her. Which is par for the episode, half interesting fun, half missed opportunities, and all spectacularly realized by Barclay and the divas.
- I loved the opening number, a coke-ad runway show set to Beyonce’s “Diva,” a larger-than-life intro to a larger-than-life assignment. It’s spectacular from the moment the kids dance-walk out of the room and the camera rumbles behind. Plus: funny backstage moments like Brittany berating Ryder for doing something wrong and snapshot portraits.
- Will’s having a lot of success in Washington. Congress is cutting arts education funding by 15% less than they were planning.
- Emma goes the way of everyone else this week, starting strong with her diva lesson—“I myself have been called a diva at many local restaurants because I know what I want and I will send a dish back”—and ending up crying about the wedding she can’t handle because I don’t even know anymore. And then Finn kisses her, and at least they acknowledge it’s weird, but what is going on?
- Santana knows Brittany’s dating Sam. “I had just left a comment on my favorite Rizzoli & Isles lesbian subtext blog when I heard the news.”
- See, where Santana's reversal of fortune is a plotty rehash, Finn's is wrung for every last drop: “She changed her Facebook relationship status to ‘shacked up.’ Mine’s still ‘heartbroken.’”
- “No one thinks ‘diva’ and pictures me,” Tina says. First of all, false! Second of all, Blaine says there are, too, Asian divas. B.D. Wong, for instance.
- Blaine powers through a cold to help his new best friend in the whole world Tina with her non-problem after school. I have a cold and can barely follow what’s happening with the Blaine-Sam friendship/crush.
- Before Brittany encourages Santana to move to New York, Santana entertains Sue’s apprenticeship offer, knowing she won’t have to endure it for long. “I’m totally going to ricin her protein shakes in a few years.”