(Spoilers lurk below.)
Well, after the heaviness of last week, it was nice to get a much lighter episode that sticks closer to Glee‘s usual tone and style. Even nicer, it was an episode that actually worked.
One could argue that “Duets” lacked narrative coherence, but it was an episode much more about characters and relationships than about plot. Through the duets, we got to see characters interact who we haven’t seen interact much before: Santana and Mercedes, Brittany and Artie, Rachel and Kurt, Mike and Tina. That these interactions were interesting and at least somewhat nuanced shows that Glee has matured to a point where it can actually play around with established characters. In a way, it reminds me of why the Seinfeld episode “The Opposite” worked. To understand that episode, you had to understand the character of George, so it depended on work done by previous episodes of the series and the viewers’ familiarity with them. In the same way, to understand why it is weird to see Mercedes and Santana working together you have to have some familiarity with what has been established about the characters in the past season.
It was nice to see the character of Mike have any lines at all. He’s been a glee club member since very early in the first season, but has done essentially nothing in the series but show off his dance moves in performances. They hung a lampshade on that in this episode by portraying Mike as unconfident in his singing ability. Also, it turns out that Harry Shum, Jr. isn’t a bad actor at all. I hope we see more of his character later.
In this episode we also got to see some facets of certain relationships that we hadn’t really examined before. The primary one is probably Brittany and Santana’s sexual relationship, which has been referred to before, but primarily as a joke. (“Sex isn’t dating!” “If it was, Santana and I would be dating.”) Their relationship is clearly one of convenience, at least to Santana. “Duets” hints that Brittany may feel something deeper, despite the fact that sex is apparently completely meaningless to her. I get the feeling that this may never be developed, though it would be interesting if it ever was. At least Brittany moved somewhat past her status as just a background joke in this episode (much more so than in “Britney/Brittany”) with her relationship with Santana being explored a little and her relationship with Artie beginning and blowing up. I’m not sure if she really felt anything for Artie, but she clearly seemed sorry that she hurt him.
Seeing Rachel approach Kurt at the end was also a nice touch. He and Rachel are actually very similar characters. Both are selfish attention whores (and I mean that in the nicest way possible) who have always been outcasts. It would actually be nice to see their relationship fleshed out some.
Of course, it would also be nice to see Mercedes’s and Quinn’s friendship fleshed out some, but it’s been essentially ignored since this season began.
“Duets” also features another episode of the miniseries “Kurt and his Malfunctioning Gaydar.” It was nice to see Kurt finally called on his frankly creepy stalkerish behavior towards Finn last season. That said, I didn’t like the way the subplot with Sam and Kurt worked out. Yes, Kurt probably initiated the duet partnership to try to get in Sam’s pants, or at least prove that he was gay. That was wrong. But I think that having Kurt break it off entirely teaches the wrong lesson. Kurt could have realized that his motivations were wrong and simply approached his relationship with Sam differently. It would also have been nice to see Sam get some choice about whether or not to sing with Kurt. Yes, it might have earned him some ribbing by his classmates. But maybe he was okay with that. Kurt’s relationship with Sam was treated much more as just being about Kurt’s relationship with himself. Then again, maybe that was appropriate, given the theme of loneliness.
It was also nice to see Kurt’s dad suffering some repercussions from the heart attack. I get the feeling that if he had been at 100%, he might have handled advising his son on the Sam problem a bit better. He could have come off as cold-hearted just because he’s still recovering.
The relationship between Sam and Quinn was actually handled quite well. I’ve been waiting for an episode to feature Quinn, because I’ve grown quite fond on her character, probably going back to “Funk” and her rendition of “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” I was worried in “Audition” when she went back to the Cheerios that they were reverting her character to the way she was in early season one. However, “Duets” showed that Quinn is quieter, more vulnerable, and much kinder and gentler than she used to be. The best part is that all that seems earned now. Character development in Glee? Shocking!
As to the duets themselves, most of them were quite good. The standout in terms of quality was probably “River Deep – Mountain High” by Mercedes and Santana. Not only was that a really cool song, but the two singers’ voices really do go together well and it was a very fun, energetic performance. However, I probably got the most personal enjoyment out of “Don’t Go Breaking my Heart” by Finn and Rachel. I love that song for a very mysterious reason. Whenever I hear it, I realize that I have some memory associated with it from very early in my childhood. Sometimes, it almost comes to the forefront so that I can recognize it, but it never quite makes it. I can never quite place what the memory is. The song makes me wistful and nostalgic, and I don’t know why. It’s a very strange feeling that I enjoy.
I thought that Kurt’s duet with himself fell flat, despite the high production values. I just didn’t feel it. Tina and Mike’s song was really fun, but I was kinda hoping to hear Shum sing for real, solo, at last. Maybe another time.
I feel like this has been a bit of a rambling review, but it was a bit of a rambling episode. However, it was also a very enjoyable episode. That’s two episodes in a row that I’d call at least good, and all three since “Audition” have been at least decent. Maybe there is hope for the future of Glee after all.