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9th December 2011 12:00:00
Posted by Luke McNaney

Hold on to Sixteen

God bless Sectionals. Sure, in the eyes of Glee devotees, it may only be a warm-up to the show-stopping highs of Regionals and Nationals but, just as the obligatory 'mash-up' episode did a few weeks back, the familiar setup of the show's regular Sectionals showcase gives the third season a spit and a polish as we enter the season's second act. With Rachel cast out following her vote-fixing tricks and Quinn intent on airing Shelby's dirty Puck-scented laundry, the stakes have never been higher for both New Directions and their fellow McKinley student rivals, The Trouble Tones. Oh yeah, and Sam's back. Let's get ready for some rumblin'...

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This week's title is lifted from the lyrics of a John Mellencamp song and directly alluded to in the dialogue of an early scene, setting up the theme for the entire episode. Quinn, whose steely gaze is set on baby Beth and usurping Shelby as the mother (thereby ruining The Trouble Tones' chances on Sectionals night), is told: 'You only get one senior year; enjoy it.' As the competition heats up on the eve itself, appreciating youth and all the joy that comes with it is something Quinn embraces, and she's not alone. So, Tina persuades Mike Chang's dad to watch his son perform and accept his dreams, while the burgeoning tension between Finn and Kurt is wrapped up and put aside in order for New Directions to deliver an A-plus routine - y'know, the usual heartwarming, cheesy stuff.

One of my gripes this season has been the ever-expanding cast; while it's great to bring in fresh blood and avoid stagnancy, the supporting cast is bigger than ever - for instance, this episode alone brings back The Glee Project competitor Lindsay Pearce as Unitards frontwoman Harmony, as well as Warbling thorn-in-Kurt's-side Sebastian as a catty rival for Blaine's affections. So far, the additions this season have been hit and miss (will Sugar ever amount to more than a sketch of a character?) but bringing back Sam is an unexpected treat. Last year, Chord Overstreet and his blonde Bieber cut were woefully underused to the point where his exit didn't feel like much of a big deal. However, from Rachel and Finn discovering the self-apointed 'White Chocolate' working as a dinner hour stripper in Kentucky to his cheeky plays for ex-girlfriend Mercedes, 'trouty mouth' Overstreet is to thank for some of the added exuberance in this week's melting pot.

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When it comes down to it though, this episode - as with both previous Sectionals episodes - is all about the music. Featuring perhaps the biggest song quotient of the season so far, the ep delivers as a platform for the talents of an ensemble, cleverly demonstrating that the cast can still knock it out of the park without Lea Michele on lead duty (surely the writers paving the way for a fourth season devoid of half of the main players?). It's unfortunate that The Trouble Tones shine during only one song (although it's an admittedly inspired mash-up of Gloria Gaynor and Dstiny's Child) but the screentime is needed for a New Directions Jackson tribute, each member shining during a one-two-three punch of The Jackson 5, Janet Jackson and 'the man in the mirror' himself. Of course, the New Directions win and - of course! - they offer the Trouble Tones a starring role at every future stage of the competition, thanks to Quinn's help (yup, she's all nice and non-crazy again after learning her Mellencamp-inspired lesson). Clearly, at the end of this hour, everything is all tied up a little too cleanly but this ep is so entertaining you'll even be forgiven for not noticing Sue's absence. Roll on Regionals!

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