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'Glee' Season 4 Premiere Recap: Do the Newbies Make the Grade?

New cast members Kate Hudson, Dean Geyer, Jacob Artist, Melissa Benoist and Becca Tobin arrive as the Fox musical unveils its New York-set story.

Meet Marley
Adam Rose/FOX
"Glee's" Melissa Benoist

[Warning: This post contains spoilers from Glee's fourth-season premiere.]

It's been a long off-season for Glee, with the Fox dramedy wasting no time in pulling back the covers on its New York location in its fourth-season premiere Thursday.

Following the graduation of its core cast, New Directions returned to a half-empty choir room with a handful of fresh faces as the newly minted champions started replenishing its ranks with faces both new and old as returning members battled their own inflated egos and each other to become the "new Rachel."

So how did the club -- and McKinley -- make up for the losses of Mercedes (Amber Riley), Kurt (Chris Colfer), Finn (Cory Monteith), Rachel (Lea Michele), Santana (Naya Rivera), Quinn (Dianna Agron), Mike (Harry Shum Jr.) and Puck (Mark Salling)? By adding characters who nearly resembled many of them circa Glee's first season: Marley (Melissa Benoist), Kitty (Becca Tobin), Brody (Dean Geyer) and Jake (Jacob Artist) -- plus bringing Wade "Unique" Adams (Alex Newell) over to McKinley.

Here 13 highlights from "The New Rachel," including Sue's (Jane Lynch) new daughter.

PHOTOS: 'Glee' Season 4 in Pictures

1. Rachel vs. Cassandra July (Kate Hudson): The ex-New Directions star gets off on the wrong foot almost instantly with her new NYADA dance teacher. After her T.A. bails for Broadway, she pours herself a nice stiff drink, which Rachel smells on her breath. "Cassie" later reveals that she's not picking on Rachel, but instead motivating her to be the best that she can (see, it's a good thing she's being picked on). After a pep talk from NYADA junior Brody, whom she bumps into in the co-ed bathroom, she tells Cassie that she's going to be the best student she's ever had.

2. Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) and Mike (Shum) have split because the long-distance thing was too hard. She still loves him though, and while she has tweaked her tattoo to reflect change instead of "Chang," it's clear she's not too happy about the split despite being the one who severed the ties.

PHOTOS: 'Glee's' Season 4 Premiere Party

3. Blaine (Darren Criss) vs. Tina vs. Brittany (Heather Morris) vs. Unique. The battle to become "new Rachel" doesn't take long to get under way among the new (but not improved) New Directions. Wade "Unique" Adams (Newell) is in the mix after he transfers to McKinley to be more accepted. The battle that ensues to be the new grand diva between crowns a likely winner thanks to Artie (Kevin McHale), who returns to his directing passion ultimately names Blaine the victor after a duel set to "Call Me Maybe."

4. Rachel and Finn. It's been two months since Rachel has heard from Finn, and she vows (to Brody no less) that she's not going to give up hope on him despite his silence. 

5. Brody, an upperclassman majoring in musical theater, is the new Mr. Nice Guy. In addition to having great abs (which were on full display in his first scene), he supports Rachel becoming the star she came to New York to be -- and her longing desire to hold on to Finn despite their growing chemistry, just like Finn did with Rachel in Glee's early days.

PHOTOS: 'Glee' Season 4 Cast Portraits

6. Sue has a baby Robin -- and a new "nanny." Sue's new daughter was named after her favorite member of the Bee-Gees, Robin, who gets an assist from the coach's new head bitch in Kitty (Tobin). Kitty, Sue notes, is like a young Quinn, only she isn't pregnant, manic depressive or in and out of a wheelchair. Ouch.

7. Brittany and Santana (Rivera) are still together -- but are experiencing technical difficulties. "It's hard to scissor over webcam," Brittany says. That's one plus for a diminished New Directions: More quips from H-Mo. 

8. Kurt and Blaine. Blaine tells his partner that he's stuck and can't be at McKinley anymore -- noting that he doesn't need admission to NYADA in order to move to New York. "In a year, I'll be there, too. But right now it's your time and you're ready," he tells Kurt, before launching into Imagine Dragons' "It's Time."

9. Meet Marley Rose (Benoist), the newest member of New Directions who has the show's second-best parent in her mother, played by Trisha Rae Stahl (ER). Turns out her dearest mother just so happens to be McKinley's new lunch lady and the subject of barbs from everyone, including the newly popular New Directions gang. Marley auditions to "New York State of Mind," which is intercut with Rachel's first public NYADA performance. The track earns both high marks, with Marley turning enough heads to make the returning New Directions members take notice -- and perhaps wonder if they've just met the new Rachel. Her first big number as part of the gang: Adele's "Chasing Pavements," which leaves Jake -- who sneaks in to watch rehearsal -- in awe.

10. Speaking of Jake, the younger Puckerman has arrived. His New Directions audition impresses both Wade and Sugar (Vanessa Lengies) -- and Will (Matthew Morrison) -- with a brilliant cover of the Fray's "Never Say Never." Turns out he also has a similar attitude problem in common with his older half-brother and it costs him what he wants most: a slot in New Directions. Later, after reviewing his file, Mr. Schuester learns that Puck didn't know he had a younger half-brother and wants Jake in the club -- but only if he ditches the chip on his shoulder. "I'm not my brother," Jake tells him, declining the deal.

STORY: 'Glee': Artie's Mysterious Plans, Familiar Faces Poised to Return and More Spoilers From the Cast

11. Back at NYADA, Rachel survives the "Freshman Reaping," getting an awkward and obvious standing ovation from Brody. The big test, however, is yet to come: Will she earn an invitation to the Winter Showcase at the end of the semester?

12. Burt's (Mike O'Malley) back -- and with his blessing, Kurt is off to New York while he waits to reapply for NYADA. "New York is filled with people like you, people who aren't afraid to be different," Burt tells his son. "You're going to feel at home there." It's a tearful farewell and one we hope doesn't mark the last of Burt. "You can always come back … but you won't," Burt says as he watches his son take the first steps toward becoming the star he knows he is. Sniff.

13. After the shortest flight ever, Rachel and Kurt reunite in New York where the idea for what we know is coming is born: roommates!

What did you think of the Glee premiere? Do you like the new characters and New Directions 2.0? Hit the comments with your thoughts. Glee airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on Fox.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@thr.com; Twitter: @Snoodit