This week’s Glee is a bit odd. Though seemingly about love and sex, it sort of also promotes an abstinence agenda. Artie (Kevin McHale) gets an STD and loses the girl he likes because he sleeps with a couple of skanks. Mercedes (Amber Riley) wants Sam (Chord Overstreet) to wait until marriage to engage in carnal acts… maybe. And Blaine (Darren Criss) is feeling self-conscious, killing his sex life with Kurt (Chris Colfer). One would think this means “Tested” teaches a lesson that sex is bad at this age, yet most of the characters come out of the hour feeling the opposite.
I give Glee credit for tackling several elements of a sensitive topic without really taking sides. It dances around judgment, letting the characters fall into shades of grey, rather than being right and wrong. Many shows, this one included, often have a viewpoint they are trying to push. In “Tested,” however, it seems more a character exploration than a message episode, which is surprising in a good way, even if the execution is only fair compared with other recent installments (i.e. worst episode in the New York-centric run so far, but better than a lot of this year’s entries split with Ohio).
I have to admit, I don’t buy Artie as a ladies’ man. There is someone out there for everyone, and in the right environment, multiple partners may be interested in the same man at once. But Artie? He’s annoying and whiny and unlikeable. I barely understand why his high school classmates are pleased to see him in the city, let alone any new fellow students. I’m sure these girls could do better, and given Artie’s immaturity and nervousness when dealing with this week’s topics, how does he possibly handle himself in the bedroom in this scenario?
Artie seems an inconsistently built character. Which is all the more disappointing because Glee has portrayed people with disabilities and differences so well in the past and he’s the only one left in this category, no one else in the center of the story having something like this that sets them apart. But his wheelchair has nothing to do with his personality, and it’s the latter that’s the problem.
Artie’s conquests, Vanessa (Galadriel Stineman, The Middle), the crazy one, Jessica (Tahlena Chikami, Prom), the chill one, and Julie (Stephanie Hunt, Friday Night Lights, Californication), the sweet one, are a varied group. They all get to participate in Artie’s lame “Addicted to Love” number, and Julie pops back up in the confusing “Let’s Wait Awhile” performance, looking quite uncomfortable. None of the three really get developed that much as separate individuals, barely used in the songs, mostly as background, and more ‘types’ than fully fleshed-out people. So I guess they probably aren’t sticking around, leaving Artie back at square one.
“Let’s Wait Awhile” is confusing because it seems unnecessary in the thrust of the tale, as well as captures characters in ways that don’t quite gel with their established personas. Artie has to wait until his STD is treated, but he’s trying to play it off as being tender, which doesn’t suit the rest of him in this episode. Julie is understandably thrown because this is a first date and sex isn’t on the table. Surely she just wants to run off at this point. Why doesn’t she? She’s not shown to be shy later on.
Sam and Mercedes sing in “Let’s Wait Awhile,” too, as Mercedes asks Sam to wait for sex, and it’s just as confusing to their story. It’s hard to buy Mercedes’ religion as the reason she’d like to put this off, the girl singing a very secular (and unrealistic), though enjoyable, “I Want to Know What Love Is” in her church. This indicates she doesn’t have a ton of respect for the religious building, or she’s part of an extremely progressive congregation, which would most likely take a more liberal view on premarital relations. But I don’t quite buy the religious angle, either, because during Mercedes and Rachel’s (Lea Michele) girl talk, an excellent scene for the pair, Mercedes seems more scared about pain and pleasing a man than morality, and she hints later that she might not wait til there’s a ring on her finger after all.
Sam is a bit more consistent. It’s easy to see why the nineteen year-old boy wouldn’t want to wait forever, even if he does love Mercedes. But I like that he comes around, lighting a bunch of candles in a grand romantic gesture. I really enjoy the chemistry between the two, under-explored when they dated before, and I want to see them make it work. Sam does care deeply about her, so he’s willing to make the sacrifice. Good for him.
The final couple in “Tested” is Blaine and Kurt. Blaine is gaining the freshman fifteen (though his paunch only shows through in a couple of select scenes), letting himself go. The root cause is determined to be that he’s jealous Kurt has come into his own and doesn’t feel worthy of his fiance any more. This is a very sympathetic position, and it’s understandable how Blaine gets that way. Kudos also goes to Kurt for making sure Blaine feels comfortable discussing the issues and supporting his lover. Their union may be suffering some rocky stumbles, their beautifully-staged “Love Is a Battlefield” an excellent illustration of the latest, but it definitely looks like it has what it takes for the long haul. They’ll get through this.
One thing “Tested” does well is give us bonding time among pals. As mentioned above, Mercedes and Rachel get to share a special moment, and since we haven’t seen a lot of their friendship, this is really cool. Similarly, Sam, Artie, Blaine, and Kurt hang out at a restaurant a couple of times, enjoying one another’s company and offering advice. With this suddenly smaller cast, Glee has time to luxuriate in such dynamics, and it’s all the better for it, showing off a side of each player that is less well developed before now.
“Tested” isn’t the best episode musically; the songs more concerned with showcasing Riley’s amazing voice than furthering the plot, which is the major drag-down factor at play. (Side note: when is Sam going to get a true solo?) But the writing is more complex than I expected, and this does feel like new territory for Glee. If this is the worst installment we get in the New York run, it should still be seen as a triumph overall.
Glee airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET.
[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=B00JMKFT0K]