There were basically two sides to Tuesday night's Michael Jackson themed episode of Glee: the Michael Jackson songs and the usual, ongoing storylines. And while "Michael" did a decent job melding the two sides when necessary, one half didn't absolutely need the other half to be effective.
Let's start with the songs. The music on Glee works, usually, in one of two ways. Either the chosen song is integral to the storytelling or it's a popular, well-loved song. Most of MJ's work falls into the latter category and so there wasn't much not to enjoy when it came to Tuesday night's musical selections. The cast didn't do a lot of new or amazing things with the songs, save for making a few of them duets or group sings. So on that level, a good song was a good song. It did feel like a couple, at least, were stretched a little long. Did we really need that much of Artie's "Scream" fantasy? Still, a catchy tune is a catchy tune and I've been playing "Black or White" in my head since the episode ended.
And as a bonus, the episode actually found good ways to have the song selections make sense in the context of the story. As extraneous as the extended "Scream" segment was, the build up to that moment was perfect. "Wanna Be Startin' Something" was an obvious, fun way to be startin' this episode. "Smooth Criminal," "Ben," and "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" all fit right into the context of what was going on. So while there was nothing new added to these songs, they worked in context and are just classic tracks that you can't really screw up.
But wait, there's more! There was also some storytelling going on in "Michael." This side of the episode was the most surprising for me because I was finally finding myself connecting to characters that haven't grabbed me since Season 1. Rachel's arc in the episode was her best in a while. Dealing with Finn's proposal, hearing the fantastically true advice from Quinn (dump him, move on) and her apparent failure to get into NYADA made for some compelling moments from Miss Berry. Her tearful breakdown with Kurt where she admits she has no idea what's she's doing was the first time in a long time I've seen Rachel as a real character and not just a caricature. Plus it didn't hurt that Rachel wasn't featured in the songs-- she shared both of her performances. (And I'll add here that it was great to see Quinn with a featured solo performance of "Never Can Say Goodbye.")
New Related Resources: Glee Season 6 DVD Box Set
The rivalry with Sebastian and his Warblers was also fun, mostly for it being so over-the-top. Sebastian is a nemesis you love to hate. It reached some cartoony levels, especially when the two groups "battled" to "Bad" in a parking garage, but this is Glee after all. Really, the only part that disappointed was the very end, when New Directions won over the rest of the Warblers with "Black or White." It's always tough to sell a moment like that and it didn't really work. There wasn't anything all that special about the performance that made me believe it moved the other Warblers to jump on stage and join their apparent "enemies." And not seeing Sebastian get more of a comeuppance was a big let down.
Still, with songs we know and love and storylines that actually connected and delivered some meaningful and moving moments, "Michael" was more than just a theme episode. It was one of the better Glee episodes this season.