'Glee' Recap: Mercedes and Rachel Face Off

Mercedes' Audition

Mercedes (Amber Riley) auditions for West Side Story. She sang Jennifer Hudson's "Spotlight" in a fierce diva-off for the lead in the musical.

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For anyone who may have given up on Glee after a second season that was widely criticized for being uneven, the Fox series has truly returned to form with Tuesday’s “Asian F” episode.

[Warning: Spoilers ahead if you haven’t watched Tuesday’s episode.]

Much of the episode focuses on auditions for McKinley High’s rendition of West Side Story, with Rachel (Lea Michele) and Mercedes (Amber Riley) going head-to-head for the lead role of Maria. Meanwhile, Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.) finds his once clear future up in the air after he brings home an A- on a chemistry exam -- the equivalent of an “Asian F” -- and his father tells him glee club is a waste of time and won’t help him get into Harvard anyway.

Here are The Hollywood Reporter’s top moments from “Asian F.”

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Family business. Watching Shum step into the spotlight was a long time coming from Season 2’s duet, when he and Jenna Ushkowitz teamed for “Sing” from “A Chorus Line.” When Mike’s father visits Principal Figgins and explains that his son must be on drugs, Mike explains that he’ll work harder and focus on his grades. Figgins, meanwhile, nearly steals the scene with a flashback to Season 1 when Tina, in full vampire mode, threatens him to get out of gym when the elder Chang notes that she’s a distraction.

Later, after Mike tries to back out of auditioning for Riff in West Side Story, Tina breaks things down for him when she reminds him that he shouldn’t have to hide his dreams. He briefly lashes out and reminds her that she hid for a long time behind her stuttering in the latest example of characters’ back stories playing a role in who they are now. Later, Mike finds himself alone in the school’s dance studio where he’s torn between his traditional father and safe career and Tina and a future in the arts. He winds up auditioning for the play when he sings “Cool” from West Side Story with backup from Puck (Mark Salling) and the rest of the football team. The performance nearly tops the football team’s “Single Ladies.” The most touching part of Mike’s story line comes after he nails the audition and his mother tracks him down for ditching his chemistry tutor. Turns out she had to give up her dream of dancing when her father wouldn’t let her take lessons. The two share a sweet dance together.

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The Diva-Off. With Mercedes and Rachel battling it out to play Maria, there were bound to be some high-wattage numbers, and Tuesday’s episode delivered in grand fashion. The episode opens when Mercedes strolls in late for “booty camp” and essentially phones it in. Mr. Schue (Matthew Morrison) quickly reprimands her and says, “It’s not about doing your best anymore – it’s about doing better.”

Mercedes, after three years playing second-best to Rachel, doesn’t feel like she needs to step it up and, thanks to support from new boyfriend Marcus (LaMarcus Tinker), her sense of entitlement is off the charts. After Mercedes wishes Rachel luck before their audition for Maria, Marcus tells her that she needs to start believing she’s Beyonce and not Effie, from Dreamgirls and notes that she’s “better than Rachel Berry.”

Mercedes then launches into “Spotlight” from Jennifer Hudson, which works both for the story and her audition. With both Brittany (Heather Morris) and Tina singing background, the performance is flawless and leaves Rachel terrified. “I wanted you guys to see me the way I see myself now: as a leading lady,” Mercedes says to co-directors Artie (Kevin McHale), Emma (Jayma Mays) and Coach Beiste (Dot Marie Jones). They’re all impressed and later tell Will that the work he’s doing with her is paying off.

Then, as the group reunites for more booty camp, a defensive Mercedes lashes out at everyone after she struggles with a move and blasts the club for not letting her shine. She accuses Mr. Schue of giving Rachel everything and says she’s outgrown everyone, including New Directions and ultimately winds up leaving the club. The scene transitions into a group performance of “It’s All Over” from Dreamgirls with Mercedes again playing Effie. It’s a tremendous number that works brilliantly with the story. The song ends with Mercedes confirming she’s left the glee club.

Later, Rachel and Mercedes are assigned the same song in their call-back for auditions: Fame’s “Out Here On My Own.” The intercut performance winds up playing as a duet and you can pretty much bet on this song winding up in the season’s best list come May. After watching Mercedes’ performance, a nervous Rachel confesses to Finn that Mercedes was better.

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The Diva-Off, Part 2: With Rachel feeling the heat from Mercedes and a desire to add more extracurricular activities to her transcripts, she throws her hat into McKinley High’s race for student body president. After Brittany makes a convincing argument to Kurt about why she’s best suited for the job, she seemingly wins over the rest of the school with an amazing performance of “Run the World (Girls)” from Beyonce, forcing Kurt to take her seriously. Later, after he learns of his new competition, Kurt tells Rachel that, were he to win, he could make a difference to other LGBT kids at McKinley, while Rachel offers him a VP role should she win. Kurt’s response sets up a feud for the ages: “In 10 years you’re not going to be thinking about the clubs you were in or the things you did, but the friends you had and the ones you tossed aside.” The election also forces an underused Finn (Cory Monteith) to decide between voting for the two people closest to him. Brittany’s looking better every day.

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West Side Story final casting. After the co-directors asked Blaine to go out for Tony in Episode 2, Kurt this week realizes that his boyfriend is the best man for the role and wishes him well via a bouquet of flowers. The two share an awkward moment, however, when Blaine leans in to kiss Kurt and, with other students around them, he opts out of the moment. Blaine winds up getting the part.

After the diva-off, the co-directors summon Mercedes and Rachel in and, in a very Glee Project fashion, reveal that they’ll both be Maria, each playing four nights and two matinees. Mercedes storms off but not before challenging Rachel to tell her that she was the better of the two and accusing Artie, Emma and Beiste of being too afraid to hurt Rachel’s feeling. Mercedes ultimately “makes it a pride thing” and declines the part.

Meanwhile, it’s good news for Santana, Mike and Kurt, as they’ve landed roles as Anita, Riff and Officer Krupke, respectively.

The Fixer. While Will and Emma navigated the minefield that was her ginger preservationist parents, the couple’s most touching moments came in the final minutes of the episode. When Emma begins to pray after her OCD comes roaring back – flashbacks reveal her mom was behind that behavioral trait – Will joins her at their bedside and the two admit that they’re still learning how to be a couple. He launches into Coldplay’s “Fix You” that will more than likely wind up on the iTunes top 10 come Wednesday.

With Mercedes turning to Shelby’s new glee club and Rachel on the ballot for student body president and Finn forced to pick between his step-brother and girlfriend, don’t look for the New Directions choir room to be a friendly place in the weeks ahead.

What were your top moments this week on Glee? Did you know Breadsticks delivered? Sound off in the comments below.

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