Glee s2e4 review: “Duets”
|REVIEWS - TV|
The standard is rising after a rocky start to season three...
It’s been a rough road for Glee since coming back from last winter’s hiatus. Having developed something of an unpleasable fan base since its initial success, the show has been severely hit or miss in terms of quality, continuity and consistency. Most episodes land somewhere in the “frustrating” end of “meh” while a few seem to effortlessly shine. I think it’s less about what the show is than what viewers think it should be; to tell the truth, I’m having trouble figuring out that for myself.
The series’ truly transcendent musical portions have been relatively few and far between, with none occurring yet this season. Sure, there’s enjoyable numbers, most of tonight’s were above average; but much of the snarky black comedy from the first few episodes is long gone and hasn’t been replaced by anything of note.
That said, tonight’s hour was a step in the right direction (directed by Eric Stoltz, of all people). Brushing aside the throwaway explanation for Puck’s absence, which is irrelevant since he’ll be back in the next episode anyway, Will welcomes the newest member of Nude Erections, Beiber-cut (or “Sam” to everyone else). He is immediately given the up-and-down by both Quinn and Kurt, who is convinced he’s gay since “no straight guy dyes his hair to look like Linda Evangelista circa 1993.” Since this week’s assignment is duets, Kurt sets his predatory sights on the new guy.
Speaking of gay (kind of), Brittany and Santana are making out (kind of) on Brittany’s bed, which is kind of sweet (kind of) until Brit ruins it for Santana by ::shudder:: talking. Brittany wants to partner with Santana, of course, who doesn’t want to sing “Come to My Window” by Melissa Etheridge and would prefer instead to actually win the competition Will has set and besides, she’s only with Brit because Puck’s unavailable. More on this development later. Santana, it turns out, wants to partner with Mercedes, who grudgingly agrees that their voices go well together, but doesn’t understand Santana’s obsession with the prize: dinner for two at Breadstix, which is apparently the only restaurant in town and I guess some kind of half-assed running joke.
"Finn and Rachel then practice their number (holy shit, practice!), and I have to pause to mention something I think is important. It seems that when Glee has a guest director, things look not only different, but better."
Finn has caught wind that Kurt is trying to partner with Sam and attempts to dissuade him on the grounds that if they sing together, Sam will catch so much shit, he’ll quit glee club and quite frankly, they need him. Kurt lapses into his I’m-the-put-upon-gay-kid-and-anyone-who-disagrees-with-me-inappropriately-and-aggressively-pursuing-straight-guys-is-a-dirty-ignorant-Nazi-homophobe act but Finn isn’t having it. He blatantly tells Kurt that what he did to him was wrong and that if he chases Sam, he puts all of them at risk. Kurt, of course, refuses to listen or admit he’s in the wrong, his principal character flaw.
Finn and Rachel then practice their number (holy shit, practice!), and I have to pause to mention something I think is important. It seems that when Glee has a guest director, things look not only different, but better. The cinematography and editing aren’t bad by any stretch, but they are pedestrian in the strictest sense. Starting with the night’s first number, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” there looks to be more artistry than usual, especially in the musical segments. Truthfully, though, I only really pay attention to the directing when there is a guest, but still...
Of particular note were the shots of the band. We don’t normally get to see them, except maybe during a guitar solo, but they were featured well in tonight’s early numbers. I also noticed Finn’s drumming has gotten a lot more natural-looking and the hand-off to the usual drummer in the middle of the song was much smoother than it’s historically been.
Getting back to it, though; tonight did denote a significant step forward for the hated Rachel. After perfectly (and rather earnestly) rehearsing their number, Rachel has what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity: she sits down and says - out loud - “I’m not a really nice person,” and seems somewhat shaken by the realization. No, Rachel, you’re not; and as you go on to point out, you’re selfish and only care about others insofar as it helps you.
It’s played as though it might be the first time it’s ever occurred to her and consequently, she recognizes Finn’s inherent goodness (outside of last week’s Jesus-genie bastardry) and wants to be a better person. Of course, even then, her newfound magnanimity is still in the service of something she wants: she decides they have to lose the competition so Sam can win in the hopes that he’ll stick around. She brushes it off when Finn immediately calls her on it, but for her, it’s still a big step forward.
Next is a well-done scene intercutting Tina and Mike fighting in the library with Brittany coming onto Artie. Tina’s upset because they never go anywhere interesting, just the same dim-sum place with his mom. She desperately wants to win so they can go somewhere else, but Mike doesn’t want to sing, only dance. Brittany, meanwhile, wants to date Artie both for a duet partner and to get back at Santana for rejecting her, prompting a reaction that looks more confused than jealous.
In the locker room, Finn is trying to convince Sam to not partner with Kurt for fear of the damage it would do to his reputation and the hassle it would bring down on him. “I didn’t realize that you had a problem with gay dudes,” Maybe-gay Sam says, not-quite-mirroring Kurt’s if-you-have-ANY-issue-with-teh_gheys-you-MUST-be-a-homophobe stance, but skirting its edge. They’ve broached it, so now I feel like I can say so without the risk of being spoilery, but I think Sam is going to be Kurt’s love interest and not in a unidirectional Finn-way.
Between his homoerotic banter with Puck and the half-hints he drops this episode (I’m willing to put a fiver down that his secret isn’t really that he dyes his hair), I’m fair certain I’m right, since the show is generally nuance-free, but wouldn’t be surprised in the least if I’m wrong. I want Kurt to get a boyfriend, either open or closeted, for a few reasons. One, we can stop the borderline-offensive harassment plots which mar an otherwise interesting character. Two, it would give occasion for a rarely-told (on network shows, anyway) story to play out: the courting of gay teens, which leads to three - Sam’s eventual uncloseting, which is directly complicated by the very next scene.
Walking out of the locker room after telling Finn he’s already promised Kurt he’ll work with him and wearing a shirt with a target on it (I know it’s the French Air Force logo, but come on!), he is immediately slushied by those thirty-year-old jocks who usually fuck with Finn. And who just happened to be walking by? Quinn, who cleans him up while making eyes at him, which he compliments in Na’vi. That’s right, friends, Sam is a dork.
A big dork.
That night, Kurt brings his troubles to his ailing dad. I know it’s kind of redundant at this point, because there’s never been a bad scene with the two of them, but I do love their scenes together and now, it appears, Burt isn’t taking Kurt’s shit either. When Kurt tries to pull his aghast-at-your-homophobia routine, Burt tells him Carole has informed him of his son’s inappropriate behavior from the previous school year and that maybe he’s coming on too strong with they guys he likes, especially since they’re straight (well, maybe straight).
After Mercedes and Santana knock their Ike and Tina duet out of the park (they’d get my vote), Kurt releases Sam from their partnership. In a shower scene. I guess he’s finally learned to not be so pushy, if even his father is aware of it and disagrees; it won’t stop him from flirting, though, nor should it - just be aware that you can and do sometimes make people uncomfortable and you’re already on the right path.
Tina shows an even more fickle shade than we’ve seen previously when she comes to Artie, asking to be his duet partner so that if they win, they can have a nice free dinner “as friends.” A few fights with Mike and she’s ready to jump back into a relationship that clearly wasn’t worth being in? I don’t buy it, and neither does Artie, pleased with his new arrangement with Brittany.
Kurt declares his new partner is himself and he performs a song from Victor/Victoria that isn’t a duet. Just because he was wearing a half-and-half masculine/feminine costume didn’t make that a duet - he didn’t even sing any differently when one side or the other was facing out. Though it was a great number, if I were Will, I’d still take points off for not following even the gist of the assignment.
So Sam’s partnered with Quinn now, whom he instructs to get behind him and grab his hips then reach around (told you so). Kidding aside, their scenes are sweet, leading me to believe Sam’s seriously bi or just that damn good at passing. The handjob joke was about as subtle as a hammer (“Put your fingers right here; now do it fast - back and forth”) but they have good chemistry and it’s fairly obvious that in the face of his crippling dorkiness, she’s into him. His motivations still remain to be seen even after he tries to kiss her and she takes off.
Tina and Mike then pull off a cute little number where he gets to sing badly on purpose, but dances really well to make up for it. She and Artie share a glance at the end. Sigh... fickle high school couplings. Artie isn’t as comfortable now and tries breaking it off with Brittany, who (in the funniest scene of the season so far) literally sweeps him off his feet and carries him to her bed for a good, old-fashioned deflowering to help him get over Tina (“I mean, you’re on the football team anyways; we were gonna get around to this at some point”).
I shit you not.
Rachel and Finn decide the best way to lose is to not only perform a bad song, but also an offensive one, leading to a performance where they sing a love song while Finn wears a Roman collar. This, of course, has the desired effect (Quinn: “I seriously wanted to punch both of you”). Quinn and Sam are up next and they do a charming little ditty about being in love with your best friend. It was really cute, their voices blend well, and they do win, but I would still have given my vote to The Santana and Mercedes Revue.
"it seriously must be in Lea Michele’s contract that she gets to sing two numbers per episode now. Last week we were spared, but this hour she sang three times! What, did they need to make up for last week?"
Turns out Santana’s a little more peeved about Artie and Brittany than she initially let on. In the lunchroom, she preys on his emotional insecurity by telling him point blank Brittany was only using him for his voice and verifies it by grabbing a random guy walking by who has, of course, had sex with her as well. When he breaks up with her, it’s hard to blame him on one hand; she was using him. On the other, though, he could have just said no. In fact, he seemed pretty excited at the prospect of losing his virginity, so it looks to me more like a case of buyer’s remorse - he was happy to go through with it, thinking it would help him get over Tina, but it did not and he’s sad he gave it to someone who didn’t recognize its significance.
The real sadness, however, is for Brittany. Even though she’s still the central comic relief, she’s played as more of a tragic figure here; her dimness is complete and total, thereby limiting her ability to connect on any meaningful level with others, even Santana, her Bi-FF. Sex means nothing to her because she doesn’t appear to understand emotions or how they work. She didn’t see that losing his virginity could mean anything to Artie, especially in light of his paralysis which left his penis thankfully functional, but she does appear genuinely sorry for inadvertently hurting him.
She seemed to really like him, too. “But, I really wanted to go [to Breadstix] with you,” she explains. “I was gonna order us one really, really long piece of spaghetti, like in Lady and the Tramp. I’ve been practicing... nudging the meatball across the table... with my nose.” But he still leaves her standing, forlorn, in the middle of the hallway. I can’t imagine how lonely it must really be to be Brittany - to not understand... well, anything.
Speaking of lonely, Rachel does her first nice thing of the season. Knowing how alone Kurt must feel, being the only gay teenager he knows, she cheers him up by honestly telling him they can’t win Nationals without him and that even though the competition is over, she’d like to sing a duet with him. It’s a really nice thing to do, but in the end, it comes off as though it seriously must be in Lea Michele’s contract that she gets to sing two numbers per episode now. Last week we were spared, but this hour she sang three times! What, did they need to make up for last week?
The episode ends (for me) with Quinn and Sam at Breadstix on a non-date where he makes more embarrassing small talk before dropping further semi-hints of his prospective gaiety. All-boys boarding school? I’d buy that for a dollar. After he praises her bravery for soldiering on after the previous school year, Sam flatly denies being gay (yet another sign), and charms her with his “real” secret: Kurt was right - he did dye his hair. She decides he needs to pay for dinner since it’s now their first date. Boy, she’s sure gonna be disappointed later on... maybe.
One last note of whimsy, though...
So that was definitely better: character development, laughs, bittersweet moments, all above average performances and a minimum of broken logic. Now was that so hard? Why can’t it be at least this good most weeks? If it was, I wouldn’t have to suffer through shit like the next episode: a Rocky Horror tribute.
I fucking HATE Rocky Horror...
“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” - Elton John and Kiki Dee (B)
“River Deep -- Mountain High” - Ike and Tina Turner (A-)
“Le Jazz Hot!” - from Victor/Victoria (B+)
“Sing!” - from A Chorus Line (B+: extra points for Mike dancing)
“With You I’m Born Again” - Billy Preston and Syreeta (B-)
“Lucky” - Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat (B-)
“Happy Days Are Here Again / Get Happy” - Barbra Streisand / Judy Garland (B)
Kurt’s middle name - is Elizabeth.
Brittany’s pictures - are all of herself.
Kurt’s Navy shirt - marks him as a Petty Officer Third Class Electronics Technician
A checklist of Brittany’s kinks so far - armpit-licking, infantilism, shagging anyone.
Brittany’s little sister - Would it be more clichéd if she were a genius or just like Brit?
Fanservice - This episode had way more than usual, between Brittana on the bed, multiple Sam’s torso shots and repeated flip-ups of Santana’s skirt.
“Le Jazz Hot!” - I know I saw Mike and Brittany, and I think I saw Tina, but I’m not sure.
Brittany - Oh! Sweet lady kisses. Santana - Mm hmm... It’s a nice break from all that scissoring.*
Santana - I’m not making out with you because I’m in love with you and want to sing about making lady-babies.
Mike - Everyone knows I’m here to do one thing: dance!
Artie - I’m confused; you’ve never even made eye contact with me. Brittany - I know, for a while I thought you were a robot.
Tina - I’m not saying steamed pork knuckles aren’t delicious.
Brittany - (to Artie) I just really wanna get you in a stroller.
Santana - How can you do a duet by yourself? That’s like, vocal masturbation or something.
Brittany - (to Santana) I’m mad at you, but you’re still so hot.
Rachel - I think that you and I are a little bit more similar than you think. Kurt - That’s a terrible thing to say.
*Good job getting that past standards and practices.