The first instalment of this week's double bill might as well be titled 'an apology to Jenna Ushkowitz'. A frequent grumble of Glee fans is that despite being part of New Directions from the pilot episode, Tina is barely rewarded any screen time. The character has kind of gained a cult following based solely on how underdeveloped she is.
There's no doubting that the Glee team are aware of this. They extend the recap to hammer home how little impact Tina has on the series and later show her snapping at the New Directions about how she never gets the limelight, a rant that basically points out everything that's wrong with the dynamic of Glee.
Rachel isn't happy about Tina kicking off because Nationals need to go well if she wants to get into NYADA. After choking in her audition, she's calling Carmen Tibideaux (Whoopi Goldberg) on a daily basis and offering her muffin bribes, but a win for New Directions would really help her case.
However, Tina isn't content to just be the lead of New Directions next year and says that all she wants is one of the standing ovations Rachel gets on a regular basis. Ms Berry's on Tina's mind so much that while out running errands for the glee club, she ends up tripping into a mall fountain and smacking her head.
Blaine and Kurt are nearby and rush over to help her, but when she is pulled from the water Puck and Finn are in their clothes and calling her Rachel. It's body-swap hallucination time!
There's been quite a few special Glee episodes in the run-up to the finale - the disco one, the Whitney tribute, the prom edition - but none have been more hotly-anticipated than the body-swap episode. And yes, it is tons of fun - even if it's far too short.
Highlights of the segment are Will and Sue getting a major personality overhaul and clothing change when they swap roles, the normally cool and quiet Quinn shrieking all over the place as Sugar and Artie nailing Santana's bitchy cheerleader shtick, while she is all kinds of adorable geeking out in her wheelchair.
Credit also needs to go to Chris Colfer for expertly replicating Finn's stance, squints and goofy glances, as well as Lea Michele for somehow still managing to draw focus as Tina. Her star quality shines through even when she's looking at the floor and being all meek and humble.
There's a few swaps that don't quite work though. Mercedes and Brittany are boring as each other, the idea of Finn and Puck as Kurt and Blaine doesn't really get off the ground as they understandably refrain from camping it up too much (even Cory Monteith's softer speech feels a bit iffy) and Darren Criss looks like a serial killer when given a mohawk.
The purpose of the swap really is to give Tina that big solo she (and we) have been waiting for. Her performance of 'Because You Loved Me' is just as captivating as if Rachel was doing it.
But just when you think this twist might backfire on the Glee gang by simply highlighting how unjust it is for a brilliant character to be smothered, Tina comes back to reality with the realisation that everyone has a place and she should be happy with hers.
She even volunteers to drive Rachel across county and pester Carmen Tibideaux for a place at NYADA in person (Lea Michele as Tina gave her the idea in the alternative reality). Both ladies make a pretty convincing case for Rachel joining the academy, but Tibideaux is having none of it and sends them away. There's still two episodes left though, so, you never know.
Personally, I'm not really happy with this conclusion. The episode showed that Tina is a strong enough character to carry Glee and even though Lea Michele is obviously still the star of the series, Jenna Ushkowitz deserves to do more than sway in the background. I can understand her having to take a back seat to some other cast members, but not to this extent. And it's not right that Glee is trying to justify completely ignoring one of their most talented cast members through a transparent plot.
However, there's no such grumbles with the episode's other storyline, which sheds light on another background character, Puck. The former top jock comes waltzing into the glee club wearing a dress and a blonde wig when Sue becomes convinced that props and cross-dressing are the only way to stop Vocal Adrenaline, who are riding high with Unique as their lead.
The stunt attracts some unwanted attention from the hockey team, leading to Puck being tossed in a dumpster after being beaten in a fight by that ginger guy with the mullet. Taunts of "loser" ringing in his ears, he leaps out and pulls a knife on them - at which point Coach Beiste ushers him away to the boys' locker room.
Puck says the knife is a prop but the tension in the room is already at boiling point. Puck explodes in an emotional rage about how he's feeling weak and pathetic for failing to graduate and collapses in tears into Beiste's arms. His outpouring of emotion hits something deep within the coach, who is still with her abusive husband Cooter.
As Beiste herself notes, it's completely unexpected seeing these two "badasses" in such a fragile state. It's a raw scene that's beautifully acted, shocking in all the right ways and, in all honesty, was needed in order to flesh out these minor characters that have expressed so little while going through so much.
The next scene where a shivering, yet confident Beiste tells Cooter that she's leaving him is captivating as well. And it's a graceful way to end the story, one that I feared wouldn't come after that awful shot of Beiste holding a knife while getting shouted at. Thankfully Glee remembered that shock tactics aren't needed to get across the horrifying effects that domestic abuse can have on a person. Treating issues this sensitive with subtle dignity is what the show's best at.
Beiste later finds Puck in the auditorium and together they sing Taylor Swift's 'Mean', an empowering track about rising above your tormentors. Beiste reveals after that Puck will now have a second chance to take the exam and graduate after showing how passionate he is about the glee club (by cross-dressing... shh, don't ruin the moment).
Beiste informs Will and Sue that she has ended her marriage and accompanies them on the bus to Nationals, which sets off once Rachel and Tina have performed the episode's closing number 'What A Feeling'. Just don't expect the latter character to be centre stage again when New Directions take on Vocal Adrenaline...