The tension brewed last night as Mr. Schuester challenged the group to sing duets, offering dinner — at local hotspot Breadsticks — to the winning duo. Once again, we were graced with a plot-driven episode that blended wit, heart and power pipes: Puck landed in juvy after driving his mom's car into a convenience store window — and leaving with the ATM. Chord Overstreet returned as Sam to officially join the club — and pair up with Quinn, in more ways than one. The long-predicted Brittany/Santana romance became tangible thanks to Santana giving Brittany "sweet lady kisses." ("I'm only here because Puck's been in the slammer for 12 hours now and I'm like a lizard. I need something warm beneath me or I can't digest my food," Santana explains). We were so entertained we almost forgave Ryan Murphy for Jane Lynch's absence. Thankfully we had her Sue Sylvester-filled Glee theme song from SNL to tide us over. "Great duets are like a great marriage. The singers complement each other, push each other to do better," explained Mr. Schuester. So how did this week's attempts stack up?
"Don't Go Breaking My Heart"
This one's a no-brainer: Rachel and Finn tackle the classic Elton John and Kiki Dee number to honor their relationship. After an effortless run-through, complete with strings and Finn playing drums, he agrees with Rachel when she says, "We're totally going to win this thing." Her confidence turns to crisis, and New Directions' power couple ultimately decide to throw the competition by singing a bad song so newbie Sam wins — giving him the boost to stay on board and get the team to Nationals.
"River Deep Mountain High"
Looks like Murphy listened to our plea for more Mercedes: Her powerhouse duet with Santana on the Ike and Tina Turner hit goes down as one of the series' best — we only wish they had as much of a "moment" as Rachel did when belting "Don't Rain on My Parade" to push it over the top. When she recruited Mercedes to sing with her, Santana said, "Look Weezy ... you and I are the best singers at this school — if we do a duet together we will be the undisputed top bitches." Mission: accomplished.
"Le Jazz Hot"
"Until you find someone as open and brave as you are, you're just going to have to go it alone," Kurt's father advises him after his plan to duet with Sam goes awry. This means Kurt must embody the Julie Andrews character in Victor/Victoria, a show about a woman impersonating a man impersonating a woman. Though the production is outstanding and Kurt's range is well-demonstrated, the number as a whole is too self-indulgent and reminiscent of previous performances like "Rose's Turn." We want to see Kurt challenged with a non-show-tune from this decade.
Tina gets Mike to sing for the first time in this thoroughly entertaining, spirited number from A Chorus Line, which shows off her often-overlooked vocals and his slick moves. After realizing he wasn't over Tina, Artie falls for Brittany's attempt to pair with him to win the show — and lets her take his virginity. The show gets into PSA territory when Artie confronts Brittany about the moment being special to him, even though it wasn't for her. He ultimately withdraws from the duets competition as a result.
Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat's duet is a fitting tune to soundtrack the beginning of Sam and Quinn's relationship, and helps position Sam as a direct threat to Finn. It's charming, but even the slightly saucy tone in Quinn's vocals doesn't make it worthy — spoiler alert! — of winning the contest.
"Happy Days Are Here Again/Get Happy"
This episode was taped before the recent surge of support for gay youth, but Kurt's "be proud to be yourself" theme was perfectly timed. Rachel confronts Kurt in her character's first truly selfless moment: "I can't even imagine how hard it must be to have feelings in high school you can't act on for fear of being humiliated, ridiculed or worse — I know you're lonely, but you're not alone." She proposes teaming up on a song — just for fun — that will be "everything you and I love." Cue a Glee rendition of the Barbra Streisand/Judy Garland duet that's sweet, note-perfect and unexpectedly touching. Added Easter egg: Rachel and Kurt's wardrobe and seated positions match the original's.
Bottom Line: We wish Ryan Murphy acted on Brittany's genius proposal for her and Santana to team up on Melissa Etheridge's "Come to My Window." We also wish Mercedes and Santana grabbed the winning votes. But it was refreshing to see the main glee clubbers (minus Puck) get even screen — and sing — time. Next Up: In two weeks Glee goes Rocky Horror, just in time for Halloween and the reissue of the cult movie in an Adam Shankman-directed episode that will undoubtedly put the show's camp factor over the edge.