Rachel's in New York, attending Fake New York Theater School, and she's miserable. Partly because she's lonely and misses Finn and is surrounded by people who only know her as an annoying pain in the ass, but mostly because her dance instructor, Cassandra July (played by Kate Hudson), is a bitter drunk who has chosen Rachel to be her whipping girl. But things look up when she meets a hot, hot junior, who bucks her up and helps her regain that special feeling.
Back at McKinley, the remaining members of New Directions are tasting the sweet elixir of popularity. Unfortunately, that popularity is also turning them into jerks, as highlighted by their cruel mockery of an overweight lunch lady. But they're also feeling pressure to fill the gaping hole that Rachel and her outsized talent (and ego) left in the group. That pressure mounts when Unique (formerly seen as lead singer of Vocal Adrenaline) transfer to McKinley and joins the group. And that pressure builds to an explosive climax when new student Marley blows her audition out of the water. And that Marley? Daughter of the picked-on lunch lady. And she makes them feel like crap when she confronts them over their cruelty.
Kurt, meanwhile, is attending a local community college, working at the Lima Bean and hanging around McKinley like some kind of over-aged predator. Fortunately, Blaine has the sense to know that Kurt needs to go to New York right away rather than waiting a year to reapply to Fake New York Theater School. So his dad, the congressman, packs him off to New York. He arrives just in time to save Rachel from a serious crying jag.
Also, Sue had her baby. And Puck had an unknown half-brother, Jake, who has a nice audition, but blows it when he has a temper tantrum. Will still offers him a space in New Directions if he loses the chip on his shoulder, but Jake is quite attached to that chip and turns Will down. And the new head cheerleader is really mean.
Featuring Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind," sung by Rachel and Marley; a mash-up of Lady Gaga's "Americano" and J. Lo's Dance Again," sung by Cassandra July; Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe," sung Thunderdome style by Unique, Blaine, Tina and Brit-Brit; Adele's "Chasing Pavements," sung by Marley; Imagine Dragons' "It's Time," sung by Blaine; and The Fray's "Never Say Never," sung by Jake Puckerman.
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We start at Fictional New York Theater School, where Rachel is in her first dance class. Her teacher is one Ms. Cassandra July, played by Kate Hudson. And just so you know what a horrible person Ms. July is, her first words are to encourage her students to feel bad about their bodies and to give one girl the nickname "Muffin Top." Rachel rolls her eyes at this, causing Cassandra to pick on her next by giving her the nickname, "Little Miss David Schwimmer" and calling her out on her pissy attitude and pathetic dance skills. Rachel proves her right by nervously falling, leading Cassandra to lean down and tell her that she sucks. Not really very good pedagogy, but I still find myself oddly drawn to this teacher. Title card.
McKinley. We open on Jacob ben Israel, formerly known as Jewfro but now known as "Oh my God, he cut off his Jewfro." He's doing a video recap of the summer and welcoming everyone back to school. The big news is that the New Directions kids are now popular after their win at Nationals last year. Artie is getting high fives from jocks, Sam is signing autographs, and Tina has taken on a personal assistant to fetch her organic bananas. Tina has also broken up with Mike Chang. Jewfro[less] finds Blaine, Brit, Artie and Tina in the music room, admiring their trophy. He points out to them that Rachel was the star of the group and asks which of them is the new Rachel. All but Artie simultaneously volunteer themselves for the job.
Cut to Rachel in her dorm room, watching this video on Jacob Blog Israel. Her voice-over tries to pretend that her life doesn't totally suck. She talks about missing her dads and Finn, whom she hasn't spoken to in two months. We also learn that her roommate appears to be a voracious 'ho-bag who is constantly entertaining male callers. She also tells us that she got sick of everybody in the co-ed bathrooms making fun of her nighttime beauty ritual, so she's started taking showers at 3 AM. She enters said bathroom now, and is soon entranced by the sound of a man singing in one of the showers. That turns into open-mouthed gaping as he emerges from said shower sans towel. Tall, hot, short hair. Very nicely put together. She shuts her piehole and returns to moisturizing. He joins her at the sink (now with a towel covering his junk) and introduces himself as Brody Weston, a junior who is also majoring in musical theater. He commiserates about how awful Cassandra is, but also points out that her teaching helped him get a chorus role in a Broadway show that has since closed. He also has an extensive moisturizing ritual. He reminds her that just being there makes her the best of the best. And on his way out, he tells us all that he's straight. Which I think is kind of gross? Like, why not just tell her that he knows they want to bang each other?