So that’s what Artie’s been up to since moving to New York. He’s been sowing his wild oats at film school, which is kind of like American Pie’s band camp but more pretentious. “I’m Vanessa,” says his first girlfriend. This place is so fanciful she introduces herself to the audience in direct address. “I’m so hot for Godard I made my parents throw a French New Wave party for my sixth birthday.” Next up is Jess, who’s been ruining party conversations since Paul Haggis’ Crash came out. They both admire Artie as an artist, not just the trendsetter behind the sweater vest tucked into pleated chinos who’s been sweeping Brooklyn Film Academy or, as he calls himself, the pied piper of co-ed trim. No, these are people who appreciate the substance, the personality, the mind behind the short meditation “Rags The Homeless Clown.”
There’s a lot of that in Glee’s newest sex episode, teenagers reconciling physical attraction and emotional security. Obviously Mercedes enjoys Sam the body, but she wants to be sure of Sam the person before giving up her virginity. Blaine’s sort of in the same boat. He’s sure of Kurt right now, but he’s afraid one day Kurt will wake up in the kind of body one might do push-ups in his underwear on national television in and realize he’s over Blaine. That’s what he says anyway. Really he’s insecure about his own body and the power dynamic in their relationship changing now that Kurt has everything figured out and Blaine’s the new fish. I think it’s just clumsy phrasing, but as a testament to how depressed Blaine is, he voiceovers, “I guess I’m not used to Kurt being seen as a sexual object.” Kurt’s fiancé, ladies and gentlemen.
Naturally Glee pamphleteers like a pro. The sexually active should get tested for STD, they should inform their partners if they are infected, the only way they should try to murder each other in stage combat is if Zack Snyder’s directing, and then only if they can strike to the beat of “Love Is A Battlefield.” Nothing brings Glee to a halt like Mercedes and Sam needing to have a talk, however. That’s all they do. They’re making out off-screen, and then they need to have a talk, and it’s always the same talk, and I’m still confused why they’re saying they love each other after two weeks after years apart. I’d bring up my suggestion that Mercedes should sing everything, but this week she pulls Sam from his pew to sing, “I Want To Know What Love Is” to him in front of her entire congregation, which would be a nice performance if she weren’t talking about having sex for the first time.
But the Artie side of things is awfully lively. The boys all go to get tested together, and it turns out Artie’s been incubating chlamydia, leading to this delightful back-and-forth:
“How is that possible?” asks Blaine.
“I don’t know how!”
“Well, do you wear condoms?”
“That would be how.”
Sam keeps things light. “Artie needs to be slut-shamed. I’m slut-shaming you, Artie… Slut! Slut-shame!” On the one hand, he’s too dim to know exactly what he’s saying. And Artie clearly needs it impressed upon him that condoms are a simple and effective containment policy for several public health issues. On the other, one gets the sense that Glee has some abrasive views on sex and sexuality. At the climax of the Blaine-Kurt cold war, as part of his laying down of arms, Kurt says, “Maybe it is a contest. Maybe that’s the way it has to be with two guys.” So let’s call the lessons a draw.
What’s great about “Tested” is the cartoonish expressionism that conveys what the characters are feeling. The episode opens with a 1940s newsreel pastiche that casts the guys as sailors on shore leave tasked by the announcer with getting tested. On his way back from the clinic, Artie’s waiting to cross a street, and when a van rushes past, suddenly he’s wearing a giant, cartoonish catch-all STD costume. And when he takes a third girl, Julie, out to dinner, he mishears “Booth or table?” as “So, do you guys want HPV or Herpes Simplex 2?” “Tested” even holds off at times, letting Artie tell his story about being too embarrassed to buy condoms instead of trying to pack another digression in. Meanwhile Blaine’s belly is exaggerated in this awful bedroom angle and Kurt gets costumed in tight black tanks. When they duel, two fencing foils pointed at the ground frame the shot, compressing them. When some dude asks Kurt to flex, he dutifully gives the audience what they want as we zoom through the space in his Thinker to find Blaine stuffing his face with cheese puffs. Even though Blaine and Kurt are going through some ambiguous, heavy phase in their relationship, the way that’s expressed keeps things exciting for a while.
Maybe that’s another reason the Mercedes-Sam stuff is such a drag. There’s no visual play. Not even any voiceover, not that we need it. These two say exactly how they feel, and Mercedes has Rachel for a sounding board. (Yes, the balance is so great here in New York that even Rachel takes a turn in the backseat.) Kurt and Blaine are even grimmer, their story so inexplicably tempestuous and Hallmark, but they have all those stylistic touches elevating things. Even their song, “Love Is A Battlefield,” takes after the surface delights of 300 with its phalanx dance and metal-on-metal percussion. Meanwhile Mercedes has to pray on her issues and sings a song in church. That’s not a knock on prayer, just an acknowledgment that it occurs in private, with solemnity, between Mercedes and an unvisualized higher power. She also sings “Lets Wait Awhile” back in the same location where she sang “(You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman.” Keep it up and people are going to think she’s busking.
What is exciting about the Mercedes plot is when she says she wants to wait until marriage, but that test of Sam’s two-week-old love is so difficult to dramatize the producers don’t even try, having him pray off-screen and come back to Mercedes with a thousands candles and the answer that he can live without sex but not without her. Besides, she girl-talks with Rachel that she might change her mind in a couple months anyway, but Sam accepting her terms means a lot in itself. Talk about “Tested.”
- As for Artie, Julie understandably thinks it’s grosser that Artie slept with the kinds of people who like “Rags The Homeless Clown” than that he has a treatable STD. “Jessica had an endoscopy for a stomach ulcer and then entitled the footage Another Holocaust and submitted it to Sundance.” The irony is that Julie herself is doing voiceover on Artie’s latest project, “Bags In The Wind.” Artie tells her to put more twilight in her voice. “Twilight? That’s amazing direction, Artie.” What I’m trying to say is I love the Brooklyn Film Academy.
- Blaine steps outside, catches sight of a family, and voiceovers, “I couldn’t agree with you more, happy tourist family. I love New York!”
- Artie asks the waiter, “How’s your reuben?” “It’s okay, but there is a lot of pus on it.” “I’ll have that.”
- Best running gag of New York so far is Sam binge-watching surprising TV: “Come on, Blaine. Season seven of Arli$$ is when it gets really good.”
- Rachel calls Mercedes a prude, and Mercedes laughs about it. “Okay, I’m kind of a prude.” And so Glee concludes an episode of tremendous anxiety with one beautiful moment of self-acceptance.
- Don’t worry, Blaine’s fake belly will be gone before you even have a chance to think about how he put on all that weight in a week. He’s on a Matthew McConaughey diet, which begins with a nasty liquid cleanse. “And then you basically jog until you hallucinate.”