Wednesday, February 26, 2014

'Glee' Recap: Focus on 'Frenemies' Hints At a Maturing Series

Rae Votta/Billboard

Adam Rose/FOX
After a lengthy hiatus “Glee” returns to address the prickly topic of Frenemies. Drama is “Glee’s” middle name, and shifting alliances, friendships and relationships is the bread and butter of the series, but this episode deals head-on with this particular dilemma -- what if the enemy you kept close and let your guard down around betrayed you? From the inconsequential to the imagined to the potentially friendship-ending, Frenemies gives us a glimpse at a maturing “Glee.”

First, the easy stuff -- high school. We’re so close to saying goodbye to McKinley and finally shifting the focus to NYC full time, but there’s a few loose ends to be tied up in this never-ending year. Namely, who will be Valedictorian, a massive high school concern that means mostly nothing after you’ve been at college for a week. Tina and Artie -- who have just sung and danced to the Kenny Loggins and Stevie Nick duet “Whenever I Call You Friend” to celebrate the fact that they’re such good buddies even through all the drama -- find out they’re tied for the honor. All those happy Tuesday lunches are promptly thrown out the window as they go cut-throat to prove they’re the ideal candidate. Tina demands Artie withdraws from the running because she needs the honor to get her off the waitlist at Brown, and Artie fires back that it’s not his fault she didn’t apply to enough safety schools. Things get heated, with Tina accusing Kitty of only dating Artie out of pity, and Artie calling out that Tina’s the meanest person at school this year and no one knows why.

This is, of course, further dealt with in song, as the duo competes for the one remaining solo at Nationals that isn’t earmarked for Blaine with En Vogue’s “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)” in a way that invokes Season 1 choir room performances that felt more fun than mechanical. Unfortunately the fun is cut short as Tina gets overly aggressive and knocks Artie clear out of his wheelchair. She tries to apologize, but the cold from between them prevails and they both try to win over a panel of judges deciding their Valedictorian status by their proposed speeches by going for sympathy votes. They each concede the win to the other in their speech with treacly platitudes about how the other is a god among humans. Of course, their plan backfires and since they split the vote Sue decides to bump them to Salutatorian and give the coveted spot to Blaine Anderson. Even Blaine can’t help but meta on how he gets everything just handed to him at this school, but he soothes over the situation by offering to sing with both Artie and Tina at graduation in lieu of speeches. The trio croons Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway” as the episode ends, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Over in New York we get a double-dose of Frenemies. First, the lite version in the form of Kurt and Elliott. Kurt is convinced Elliot is out to steal his spotlight based on some overly paranoid worries based on innocuous statements. He takes Blaine’s advice to keep his enemies closer by scheduling some bonding time with Elliot where he feeds him cucumber sandwiches and over-compliments his talents. After Kurt practically begs Elliot to teach him guitar, a freaked-out Elliot suggests Kurt buys his own, leading him to a guitar store for the sole purpose of a rocking duet to The Darkness’ “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” during which Kurt and Elliot have chemistry with everything in the store -- people, instruments and structural elements. Glee has a hard time with rock, and this is no exception, but it’s easy to ignore any flaws when Kurt Hummel is pole dancing.

Finally Elliot confronts Kurt about his see-through attempts to cosy up over his band-related worries. He promises Kurt he’s not out to lead Pamela Lansbury, and is just happy to have a cool and talented gay friend who isn’t trying to hook up with him. They eat cinnamon rolls and pose for cutesy selfies and all is right in the world -- even Blaine looks nonplussed when Becky confronts him with Facebook evidence of their extra-close status. Sometimes Frenemies are just actual friends waiting to happen.

Then we have Rachel Berry and Santana Lopez. Things start off sweet and kind, with Rachel trying to support a frustrated Santana who feels like she’s lagging behind her roommates on living her true New York dreams. Rachel’s form of support revolves around her own achievements, of course, and she invites Santana to come be pampered and pose as a background extra on her big New York Magazine cover shoot. Once there, Santana fantasizes about sharing the spotlight as she and Rachel duet on Sara Bareilles’ “Brave.” Rachel’s sanity only lasts so long, and once she gets wind that they’re casting her understudy she freaks out in typical neurotic fashion, sparking an ambitious Santana to surprise show up and use “Don’t Rain On My Parade” as her audition song unannounced.

“Glee” expects you to take so many logic leaps here -- that you can just walk into audition with no notice, that they’d have ever waited this long to cast an understudy, that Santana would ever be considered for Fanny Brice. But Santana’s unique take on the number we’ve been conditioned to hear as “Rachel’s Song Only” is refreshing and a neat trick of how “Glee” can still make the musical fantasy reality work for it. Once the director realizes there’s marketing potential in the story of Santana and Rachel going to the same school and being friends, he’s sold.

At home Rachel blows up and Rachel’s demands for Santana fall on deaf ears, and instead the director decrees they’ll be attached at each other’s hips until the show closes to get more press. As they rehearse and stalk around the theatre, the girls sing “Every Breath You Take” by The Police. Fed up, Rachel demands Santana moves out and drags Kurt into the fight, escalating to a point where since she refuses to back-down, she packs her bags and goes. Over the closing number we see her dramatically rip up a graduation picture of the pair and toss the remains as she exits the loft.

Sure, the Frenemies drama is heightened across the board, but it’s refreshing to see “Glee” tackling these issues. There’s a big elephant in the Rachel and Santana drama that “Glee” might never head-on address (Santana took Finn’s virginity, and that was a big deal and part of why the rift between them is so strong, and why they perhaps came together more as characters this season) but it’s there and simmering and real. The conflict of ambition and friendship we see across the three stories, but more acutely in New York, is the “Glee” fans are hoping for as the shift to New York comes. If this was a test case, “Glee” passed with flying colors. Bring on the future of “Glee.”

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