FOX’s Glee returns from hiatus this week with “Frenemies.” The episode revolves around three pairs of characters with very different relationships. Each work through something within the installment, providing great character moments and furthering of the larger plot arcs, as well as a couple of major shakeups. And, as usual, the New York scenes are much, much better than the McKinley story, which is heartening, since the show will soon become New York-centric.
The first pair, and the best in my opinion, is Santana (Naya Rivera) and Rachel (Lea Michele). The hour begins with them never having been closer, Santana regretting being mean to Rachel in high school, so viewers will quickly note there’s nowhere to go but down for them. After Rachel invites Santana to take part in a photo shoot, resulting in a fun “Brave” performance, Santana sees Rachel as rubbing success in the face of the former cheerleader who is now stuck waitressing. So Santana steals Rachel’s signature number, “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” and nails a Funny Girl audition, being cast as Rachel’s understudy. Rachel is so angry she calls off any relationship they have, while performing duet of a terrific “Every Breath You Take,” and moves out of the apartment.
First, for this plot to work, we must completely ignore the fact that Funny Girl is holding auditions specifically for an understudy, not having chosen one from among the ensemble or girls who previously auditioned for the lead. We also must set aside the surprise Rachel seems to exhibit when learning she will get an understudy, a staple of Broadway that she would surely have known about., Then, we have to forget that we see an absolutely terrible singer audition at a Broadway level in front of a Broadway director (Peter Facinelli). This is a completely unrealistic and dumb scenario. Almost as dumb as expecting up to believe Rachel has time to work, go to school, be in a band, and lead the musical.
But, where the characters are concerned, the episode soars. Rachel is being a stuck up pain in the butt. Starring in one show that isn’t even close to getting off the ground yet has gone to her head, something we’ve seen from her before, harkening back to the early days of her personality. It makes sense that Rachel would lose it here, and Santana being a convenient dumping ground to let off steam about her own insecurities, Rachel targets the doubts she has about herself and slays Santana. Plus, there is likely still lingering pain for the things Santana did in high school, and Rachel begins to lose trust in the other girl, if she ever truly had any.
Santana is not without blame for this feud. Choosing to try out without telling Rachel first is an understandable move, and one that can easily be forgiven. Picking Rachel’s song to sing is less so, a very personal blow. But Santana is just pushing Rachel’s buttons, not really launching a war. If their friendship is real, Rachel should be able to look past these things and rejoice to spend more time with her buddy.
The end of the episode is extremely sad. Santana only shows a bit of regret when its too late, and the feeling is not strong enough to spark an apology, nor should it be. Rachel is completely without remorse, storming out and burning the bridges. If things are ever to repair themselves, and they must because, as great as the drama is between them, their friendship is inspiring and an important element of these later seasons, Rachel has to swallow her pride, willingly or being humbled against her will, and say she’s sorry. This probably won’t be quick in coming, but that’s OK, as long as it does in the end.
Poor Kurt (Chris Colfer) is caught in the middle of the fight, but he does the absolute right thing by refusing to take a side, remaining completely neutral, which, given his history with Rachel, Rachel sees as betrayal. But Kurt recognizes that the bond they all share has grown too vital to turn on it, and since they’ll all still be in his band, he must play nice. Something tells me the next practice sessions is going to get ugly, if Rachel doesn’t just quit between episodes.
Besides his roommates’ falling out, Kurt has his own story in “Frenemies.” Convinced Elliott, a.k.a. Starchild (Adam Lambert), is out to take over the band, Kurt tries to be his closest friend, putting stock in the old adage about keeping your enemies closer. Blaine sees right through this and takes Kurt guitar shopping with a rousing “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.” So Elliott does seem to be what he appears – a genuine, nice, supportive person who won’t stab Kurt in the back.
Sure, there’s a chance Elliott is putting on an act and will still turn out to be a villain, but I don’t think so. Glee has always been an optimistic, cheery show at heart, and I really, really dig the relationship between Kurt and Elliott. As upset as Blaine (Darren Criss) might be when he glimpses a too-chummy photo of the two, and as much as Elliott might provide to be an obstacle in that relationship going forward, he also seems like he’s good for Kurt, helping Kurt get past skepticism and find his potential. I hope he doesn’t just disappear one day without closure, a la Adam.
Back in Ohio, Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) and Artie (Kevin McHale) celebrate their continued friendship, despite their romantic break up years ago, with a sweet “Whenever I Call You Friend.” That lasts only until Sue (Jane Lynch) forces them to compete for the title of valedictorian. This sends Tina into another ugly spiral, sparring with Artie in the sadly under-charged “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It).” Tina goes too far, shoving Artie from his wheelchair, but they soon make up and celebrate their renewed happiness with “Breakaway,” though neither gets the speech at graduation.
I’ve said it before, much to the dismay of some Glee viewers, and I’ll say it again: Artie and Tina are lame, boring, unlikeable characters. Tina is a selfish jerk, as shown on numerous occasions, and Artie is a whiny pushover, forgiving Tina far too quickly for her very cruel comments about Artie’s girlfriend, Kitty (Becca Tobin). One assumes they’ll make up soon, which they do, because neither has the backbone for a continued battle. But their relationship lacks depth because how can two people who treat each other like this really be friends? It’s true that those who know you the best can wound the deepest, but I just don’t see Tina display real, sympathetic remorse when apologizing.
Their storyline drags “Frenemies” down, and they will likely continue to have an increased presence until at least graduation. I’d like to believe we’ll ditch them then, but signs point to at least Artie will be joining the New York contingent. I’ve never understood Glee‘s insistence to make the two of them continued main characters when ditching better players, but I guess we’ll probably be stuck with them til the end.
Sue is ridiculous in this episode. I like her meta-references, which point out completely real flaws in the show, but her silliness just does not make up for bad writing and story structure. Plus, there’s no way she can make the third place student valedictorian, as much as I enjoyed Blaine’s cheeky quote about getting everything just handed to him. She is not being a fit or realistic principal, and its time to get her back out of that office.
I also don’t buy that the judging panel of Will (Matthew Morrison), Beiste (Dot-Marie Jones), Figgins (Iqbal Therba), and Sue is deadlocked on choosing the valedictorian. For one, both Tina and Artie’s speeches (which start touching, and then veer off into terrible and inane) are basically identical, and knowing Will and Beiste, they’d argue to let both of them share the honor. The only way this result occurs is if Sue just declares that’s not an option and makes a unilateral decision, which is likely what happened, but I wish we’d seen it play out.
In short, “Frenemies” has some heartbreaking, but really great, drama in New York, and a weak, stupid sequence at McKinley. This unevenness has always bugged me about the show. I hope when they finally commit to the Big Apple, which has proven to exhibit some much higher-level storytelling, the series improves again before it comes to an end.
Glee now airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.