"Glee continues" to pull the curtain back on the wonderland of New York City. Dreams come true, but everything isn’t as simple as a musical in that town. Finding yourself isn’t a straight-line process, and the tests that you take to get to who you are and how you relate to those around you is central to the “Tested” episode. "Glee" is familiar with the musical to dating -- when the song stops, find yourself a new partner and repeat the woes of how one relationships intersects another. This week it’s refreshing to see them forget the main character triangles and let characters instead dig deeper into what it means to be partnered with someone, for the short or long term depending. From Artie’s flighty lust to Kurt and Blaine’s long-term commitment, "Glee" focuses on the characters refining their sense of self, and how that sense of self intersections with their romantic relationships.
Artie had success in romance in high school, but he never managed to reach "player" status. At film school, he’s a star and starts dating two different girls while courting another, inciting a stirring recreation of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted To Love.” All his free-wheeling fun comes to an abrupt halt when he tests positive for chlamydia. Sam slut-shames him, Blaine points out that wearing condoms might help him avoid disease, and Kurt reminds that he’s got to fess up to his partners now. Girl #1 freaks out, Girl #2 barely cares, and the girl he’s been after all along agrees to a date without knowing.
Artie can’t get his mind off STDs at the diner. He hallucinates Kurt asking if they want various forms of STDs instead of food at the diner. He freaks. He tells her they can’t have sex and promptly weirds the poor girl out singing a duet with Sam and Mercedes to Janet Jackson’s “Let’s Wait A While.” When he finally comes clean at school she’s more grossed out that he’s been sleeping around with such lame girls than for the disease, and tells him he’s a creeper. Artie’s had some questionable behavior around women in the past, so it’s nice to finally see him called out. Let’s see if his reformation sticks.
Sam is ready to take his relationship with Mercedes to the next level when she drops a bombshell -- she’s still a virgin. He tries to woo her with a clean bill of health, but Mercedes asks Rachel for some advice, then takes to prayer and the singing of Foreigner’s “I Wanna Know What Love Is” with a church choir. Her conclusion is she wants to wait until marriage, or at least a little while longer. There’s a different kind of cache to Mercedes, an adult, choosing celibacy and the high school trope of the virgin who isn’t ready. It’s a refreshing look and reminder that just because you grow up doesn’t mean that suddenly you’re happy to hop into the sack with your significant other.
Sam admits he’s a red-blooded 19-year-old dude, and he really does want to have sex, but he also loves Mercedes a lot. To show her how much, he lights every candle in Brooklyn and puts them in her apartment to surprise her (Mercedes first thought is Blaine lit a bunch of candles, of course.) He’ll wait until she’s ready, even if that’s never. Mercedes goes back to Rachel for some sweet girl bonding, where they address the dropped Rachel and Sam suggestions that bubbled up earlier this season post-Finn’s death (Rachel liked that he understood how she felt and he reminded her of home, but the feelings passed) and how Rachel is dealing with herself and her dating life now. It’s tender and nuanced, and the right kind of next steps in grieving; it’s a pleasure that "Glee" lets us see this.
Kurt and Blaine are having the roughest time this episode with meshing their selves into their relationships. Blaine’s biggest love affair right now is food, including an expensive multiple-cronut-a-day-habit. As he eats Cheetos in class Kurt is being fawned over by other dudes for his trim physique. Blaine voice-overs that this shifting dynamic of their relationship is throwing him off, and he reacts mostly by trying to fatten Kurt up with frozen hot chocolates and fettuccine. Then Kurt accidentally discovers Blaine’s favorite porn site on his browser and sets off an awkward tension that culminates in a stage combat class dance-off to Pat Benatar’s “Love Is A Battlefield.” It’s a striking sequence in only the way a dance fight can be, with the pair circling each other, charging each other and glaring daggers of death and sexiness.
As Blaine’s been falling out of comfort with himself, Kurt’s been starting to shine. While he’s aware he need to be careful of Blaine’s feelings, when Blaine finally unleashes them in a confessional scene in the loft it’s definitely more than Kurt even anticipated. Blaine’s feeling out of synch, like Kurt’s ahead of him in life. He’s insecure about his body in comparison to Kurt and food and pornography won’t judge him like he fears Kurt will. Their dynamic is changed -- Kurt isn’t the scared high schooler who needs protecting, and Blaine feels like the only direction this can go is them drifting apart until Kurt realizes he doesn’t love Blaine anymore. Kurt promises there’s no way he’d ever stop loving Blaine, and that they need to talk when they feel this way, not shut the other person out. There’s no closer that shows Blaine is totally better, but he and Kurt are making efforts to live healthier as a couple activity and try to compete in life on the same team, instead of against each other. When Blaine Teenage-Dreamed his way onto our screens a few years back, it’s hard to imagine that "Glee" would eventually get to tell such nuanced stories about young gay people that went beyond the tropes of bullying and coming out. What a brave new world on our televisions every week. Anything that involves '80s music and fight-dance sequences is the kind of progress you can feel good about.
Music that serves a purpose, storylines that don’t forget the past, and off-the-charts chemistry between a seemingly endless combination of characters in the group -- sometimes it’s shocking how unrecognizable this brand new "Glee" is from from just a few months ago. But just as New York is feeling like home, there’s news this week from Ryan Murphy that Season 6 will not focus on NYC, but instead an all-new locale. It’s a hard pill to swallow when "Glee" was finally feeling settled, but the strength of these characters and their stories over the past few weeks bestow optimism. Surely they’ll be good anywhere, right? Only time will tell, but for now they’re passing the test with flying colors.