Episode 5.16: “Tested”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Glee continues to try to establish its new setting and focus by using what it knows best: copious amounts of voiceover. Hey, it saves actually establishing what’s going on if we just have characters tell us about it, right? In “Tested,” we learn that Artie has become a total player who has two girlfriends and has his eye on a third, that Blaine has gained a crippling amount of insecurity that is both causing him to eat all the time and hurting his relationship with Kurt, and that Mercedes and Sam’s relationship has hit a speedbump because she is a virgin and Sam is a 19-year-old dude. This continues the tradition started by “Bash” of having two plotlines that feel oddly melodramatic/didactic, and one that actually feels somewhat natural and character-based.

Moving to New York City does weird things to a show.

First up, we have Blaine’s inferiority complex and food mania. He just loves New York for the food, the culture, the food, the sights, the food, and the food. He’s enjoying various ethnic foods, ice cream, cronuts, and… cheese puffs… and putting on quite a few pounds in the process. Neither Blaine nor the audience take too long to figure out that his voracious eating is a symptom of another problem. His relationship with Kurt has changed (beyond, you know, them breaking up and then getting engaged and then moving in together and then moving out again). Kurt is comfortable in New York City, almost serene. He’s happy, social, and well-adjusted. That wasn’t the Kurt that Blaine first started dating in season two. Blaine misses the feeling of protecting and guiding Kurt, and has the idea that the new, more normal, Kurt doesn’t need him anymore. This fear not only leads to Blaine’s overeating, but to his being unable to bring himself to be intimate with Kurt, and to the audience getting a little too much TMI information about what’s going on (or not) in their bedrooms.

When Blaine and Kurt finally have a frank discussion about this, Kurt assures him that everything is okay. Their relationship has changed, but they still love each other. Also they both go on a healthy diet.

Blaine has changed a lot since season two, something that I’ve kvetched about once or twice. He’s become whiny, insecure, unconfident, kinda stupid, and all around fairly unpleasant. However, Kurt has also changed a lot. It’s not something that just happened in NYC either, as the episode seems to suggest. It’s been happening throughout the series, but the biggest changes actually happened in season two… way back when Kurt and Blaine first started dating. I’d never really thought to connect Blaine’s changes with Kurt’s before, but it kinda makes sense. Blaine has gone from Kurt’s mentor and role model to, well, his partner. And Blaine has never really managed to adjust to it.

I can’t say I think that this is something they’ve actually been developing over the course of three and a half seasons, but it seems reasonable here. At least it’s some kind of explanation for Blaine’s creeping insanity.

The downfall of this plotline is that it’s just too melodramatic and contrived. Blaine’s voracious eating, inability to face intimacy, and passive-aggressive methods of dealing with his issues (including trying to turn stage combat into real combat) all combine to make this whole thing resemble a Gay Lifetime Movie of the Week. As with “Bash,” the problem is more with the execution than the writing. There’s something here. It’s just dressed up in a way that makes it look overwrought. With the focus more on their relationship than on Blaine’s psychological problems, this would have worked better.

Meanwhile, speaking of characters changing, Artie has become a “film school player,” having unceremoniously broken up with Kitty offscreen. He has two girlfriends who he is consciously just using for sex, but he has his eye on Julie, who he actually likes as a person. It comes to light during a conversation with Sam and Blaine that Artie hasn’t been using condoms because, well, Artie is stupid. Having apparently only recently realized the danger of STD’s (so much for WMHS’s sex ed program), he decides to get himself tested, and finds out that he has chlamydia. It’s at this point that Julie finally comes around and agrees to go out with him.

Artie’s horror at the social stigma of having an STD is believable, but the problem with this plotline, again, is in the execution. Artie’s imaginary STD costume, along with his perception that everyone can tell he’s tainted and is talking about him, make this story seem like the same kind of bad PSA or sex ed video that they bizarrely parodied at the beginning of the episode.

The plotline does take a hard left at the end, when Artie comes clean with his girlfriends regarding his chlamydia. Julie doesn’t care so much that he has an STD as she does that he sleeps around with mindless women, and she tells him she isn’t interested in going out with him anymore.

The other problem I have with this story is that Julie has pretty much no characteristics, but exists only as a symbol of purity to compare with Artie’s shameful fall from grace. In fact, the other two women exist only to be Artie’s poor choices. If Artie is Goldilocks, his girlfriends are the porridge.

The other third of the show accomplishes the impossible: it almost gets me to care about Mercedes and Sam’s relationship. Being a virgin in a relationship is different after high school, even if it’s just a little after high school, and Mercedes’s and Sam’s concerns are believable and feel heartfelt. That Mercedes is a virgin is news but not all that surprising, I guess. As for Sam… he dated Santana, so yeah. Sam’s bumbling about how to approach Mercedes, including presenting her with a clean STD test, feel like exactly the kinds of things that Classic Sam would do as opposed to New Stupid Sam, so that was nice. His reaction after Mercedes tells him that she doesn’t want to have sex until marriage proved that he learned a thing or two from Will the asshole boyfriend. His response to having a relationship with a woman without having sex is “What’s the difference between that and being real good friends?”, which is pretty damn heartless. But, it was his lower brain doing the thinking there. In the end, Sam decides that being with Mercedes is worth abstaining from sex, because that’s not actually the point of a relationship, and they stay together.

This works far better than anything else they’ve done with Sam and Mercedes. It doesn’t assume a past that hasn’t been established, it doesn’t make things overdramatic, and it doesn’t shove everything into the background. It deals with a real problem in a realistic way, and faces it head-on. If they’d done that more often (or ever) with Sam and Mercedes, maybe I would have cared about them a couple of years ago.

Mercedes’s scene with Rachel is also quite good. I like that they manage to talk about Finn without actually having to say his name, and that the issue of Rachel moving on has been broached. She’s clearly not ready yet, but I hope that Lea Michele is dealing with her loss half as well as Rachel is.

Overall, this was an improvement over “Bash,” but we’re still going in the wrong direction. There are some bizarre tonal problems, even for Glee, that make me wonder what they’re thinking.

Musically, there wasn’t much to write home about, but it was decent. “Addicted to Love” was a good performance, and Artie’s harem made me think that maybe I should have gone to film school in NYC… and been paralyzed. Maybe just the first one. In a weak and thin field, this is probably the highlight. “I Want to Know what Love Is” was weird, considering that it was sung as part of a church service and yet seemed to be all about Mercedes and Sam. Shouldn’t she be singing about Jesus or something? I could see this as a spiritual song, but that’s not how they sold it. Good performance, weird context. “Love is a Battlefield” continued Blaine’s descent into madness. The performance and context were good, but what I really loved was the choreography. “Let’s Wait Awhile” was good, but a bit obvious of a choice. It was hurt by the inclusion of Artie, who still thinks that waiting a while means “seven to ten days.” He doesn’t get smacked down until after the song.

Other thoughts:

I can’t even begin to emphasize how ludicrous the amount of voiceover in this episode was. There was probably more voiceover than music.

As incredibly weird as that PSA parody at the beginning of the episode was, my second thought about it was, “Wait, can paraplegics serve in the Navy?”

Speaking of weird choices, what was with Artie’s girlfriends introducing themselves to the audience by talking directly to the camera?

Artie is the new Jake. Discuss.

I can’t imagine that Artie’s “plastic bag in the wind” film isn’t a reference to American Beauty, but they didn’t really do anything with it. They didn’t even emphasize Artie ruining it with voiceover.

Frozen hot chocolate?

Apparently men don’t get anorexic, they get manorexic.

I could be mistaken, but I don’t think that they use sport fencing gear in stage combat classes.

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