I can’t help but admire the lengths to which “Opening Night” goes to make Rachel’s big day seem special, even though the event itself is no big deal. There’s an opening dream sequence that pulls from the dankest corners of Rachel’s brain—Karofsky?!—to visualize the premise that she’s paralyzed by fear of failure. Not just the main cast but out-of-towners too are pulled into Rachel’s orbit, here simply to reflect light back at her. Mr. Schue has a baby, and still he’s only on screen insofar as he’s interesting to Rachel. Even Finn gets spliced into Rachel’s performance whether he wants to or not, an object of dedication. It’s the benevolent version of that Bill Mumy Twilight Zone; toward the end Rachel very nearly wishes Sue into the cornfield. Sue gets something that quacks like a B-story, but it’s just as dreamy and slow as Rachel’s big night, which only heightens the inescapable feeling that something is up. So does the Glee encore of “I’m The Greatest Star.” Long takes lead Rachel to the stage to the din of the orchestra. The tension keeps mounting. Well, the goal-posts keep shifting. First it’s about Rachel even being able to go on, then about her nailing the second act, which comes with a great bit of worried scoring, then about her keeping it together during the final song, which always reminds her of Finn, and then about how the New York Times review will turn out. Eventually I fell for it, fantasizing about the version of Glee where Rachel spends a season rehearsing for her first Broadway show and gets spit out after a single performance, but the outcome is as predetermined as her getting the part in the first place. Rachel Berry is a star.
Really what “Opening Night” is about is conquering fear. That’s pretty much the entirety of the expansive, undulating lake that is Rachel’s story. There’s her nightmare, then her no-good, very bad day, and finally there is Sue Sylvester. The episode keeps falling back on anonymous comments online, which it turns out isn’t actually a very relatable problem, so conflating that with a bully like Sue is a smart move. Yes, the negative voices in Rachel’s ear eventually achieve corporeal form and even sentience, the better for Rachel to vanquish them. And thanks to Sue’s presence, “Opening Night” is pivotal beyond being Rachel’s opening night. If any shred of continuity remains, this represents another door closing on Lima. Rachel finally stands up to Sue, smiles, and moves on. And she does it, by the looks of things anyway, not just for herself but for all of them.
After years of a sort of masochism whereby our heroes identify with their bullies, who are just pushing them to be their best after all, “Opening Night” discovers dignity. Not enough to laugh off Santana’s pep talk, maybe. Even though her speech is half about how much she hates Rachel, that’s still the thingamabob that does the job and gets Rachel out of bed. But later Rachel pushes back against Sue and everything the character stands for. She’s not a hardass who believes in her. She’s a pathetic misanthrope who can’t experience love. She’s a figure of pity, not fear, and Rachel overcomes her not by fighting back but by calmly evicting her from her apartment and her life.
Meanwhile Sue’s fears about New York melt away with the outer casing of her heart when she catches sight of Chris Parnell at Funny Girl. I submit that there is nothing in the entire history of Glee as strange as this subplop (which is a subplot that just floats there). The idea is that Sue experiences love and it opens her eyes to the beauty of New York and maybe humanity. But that’s barely a story, because Sue falls in love in a heartbeat, and then fills time in a moony haze, making eyes at the cutie, trading first-date questions with all the nervous hesitancy of a freshman. There would be some tension if any of this were really romantic, but it’s Sue Sylvester and Chris Parnell. It takes some work to really convince us. He’s pretty charming, although what he sees in her is beyond me. But she’s so quiet it’s unnerving. What is romantic is the final bit, where she hails a taxi—her inability to do so in the beginning is how he pegged her as an out-of-towner—and they kiss through the window, and then her heart grows three sizes and she kind of sort of repents on “Sue’s Corner.”
Will’s return is far more interesting in about a tenth of the screen-time. That’s because Will comes with baggage. “I always knew that we would end up here,” he tells Rachel in her dressing room, before correcting himself. They didn’t end up there. She did. It feels like a real Freudian slip the way Matthew Morrison plays it—at least until the overdramatic course correction. Will’s “loser” baggage, exemplified in that hangdog opening bit walking the halls of McKinley (guess he didn’t get that job), is so persuasive that Emma has to give birth this week just so we can bear to look at Will without bursting into tears for him. He actually does have a full life, whether he chased Broadway or not. Just before he leaves, he tells Rachel, “You’re making my dreams come true, too.” It’s the perfect goodbye, for this episode anyway. In “Opening Night,” everyone lives vicariously through Rachel, Rachel stands for everyone, and Rachel finally vanquishes Sue on their collective behalf. Are we sure this wasn’t a dream?
- I can’t say enough about the “Lovefool” number. Sue nodding off, hostile signifiers like Jacob and Karofsky, the cross-cutting between the New York New Directions dancing and them standing stoic. Sue schmue. Rachel really is her own worst critic.
- Later Sue and Will get to travel by song with a rendition of Annie’s “N.Y.C.” that’s more end-of-episode Sue than beginning-of-episode Sue, but I’m not going to complain about Jane Lynch getting an involved dance routine.
- The performance of Funny Girl itself really threads a needle. It’s so mixed, the performance so hushed, the audience so dutiful, that I could have easily seen the Times critic panning Rachel instead.
- “Bags In The Wind” got accepted to the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. So congratulations, Artie! Glee doesn’t need you this week.
- Once Sue shows up, Tina, who is hilarious, by the way, says, “Things could not possibly get any worse.” Cut to outside, where Santana steps out of a cab like it’s a beer commercial. Then she flips her hair in slo-mo and gets attacked by a pigeon. I’m telling you, this entire episode is controlled by Rachel’s subconscious.
- Seriously, that long shot down the hall, down the stairs, down another hall, and down another flight of stairs, and across to the stage is so vivid I’m anxious just thinking about it. Great work by Lea Michele, the discordant scoring, and the camerawork. And that’s just the beginning. Then there’s a following shot as she actually goes out on stage, then the curtain rises, the audience applauds, and the spotlight hits her. And then we cut to a close-up as Rachel snaps into Fanny. Never doubted her for a second.
- Actually I find Sue’s banter pretty charming. “I was briefly married to myself but it didn’t work out.” But then I remember she’s not joking.
- Blaine knows a club in Greenwich Village that’s obsessed with Rachel and packed to the gills with hot shirtless guys. So why is this the first we’re hearing about it?
- It’s a boy! Daniel Finn Schuester. And Will got there just in time. “Opening Night” is definitely bowling with bumpers.
- When the New Directions get home from Greenwich Village (without any shirtless guys for some reason), Chris Parnell wanders out of the bedroom with a coffee order. Then he looks around, a little groggy, and says, “Who are all you people?”