I'll be honest: at first, "Guilty Pleasures" didn't seem like an episode I would enjoy. I'm not a big fan of the concept of a "guilty pleasure" in the first place, because it implies feeling shame for liking something and we'd all be better off not feeling like we have to apologize for the things we genuinely enjoy. (Although we wander into new territory when that thing we like is Chris Brown. But more on that in a moment.) No, a "guilty pleasure" episode featuring wacky pointless covers of Wham! and ABBA seemed like it had the potential for high cheese. But in a weird way, "Guilty Pleasures"... worked?
"Guilty Pleasures," written by Russel Friend and Garrett Lerner, directed by Eric Stoltz
There are a few things that helped "Guilty Pleasures" along, which were done surprisingly well. First of all, the episode was low content. This can either be a blessing or a curse. Having room to breathe can mean letting us spend fun time with likeable characters just doing their thing, or it can mean that the audience might tune out because nothing in particular is holding their interest. Low content doesn't sound like a selling point, right? But low content for "Guilty Pleasures" worked, simply because Friend, Lerner, and Stoltz allowed for the fun stuff in between the plot and supporting the plot, which kept it from wading into murky and overwrought territory. Elements of the story tied together without being hamfisted or too melodramatic! (Okay, maybe not those slow-motion running shots during "Creep." But otherwise.)
The other aspect of "Guilty Pleasures" that helped bolster this lack of content was the idea that these kids were unsupervised for a week. Glee has rarely been able to seamlessly incorporate the adults into their universe, and thus tends to work better when we leave Sue and Schue and Emma and Beiste at the door. It's less cluttered to just deal with the kids, and there's something charming about this gang of misfits plugging along without any adult supervision. "Guilty Pleasures" featured a Schue-less week, and left the kids in Lima and the kids in NYC to their own agendas. And the agenda this week? Getting secrets out in the open.
The third highlight of "Guilty Pleasures" was what the narrative chose to do with these secrets. Usually, the unveiling of secrets is an easy way to create conflict - both inner conflict and person-to-person tension. It's a tried-and-true, go-to, shit-stirring device. In other words, Finn's bound to kick a chair. So it was refreshing that Glee instead chose to use secret-revealing as a way to bond the two groups of kids together... without anyone making them! There was a lovely sense that we were somehow watching these mini-groups (the New New Directions and the New York Roommates) cement their camaraderie as they weathered through a barrage of truth bombs. It's the first time this season where I've felt any real inkling of togetherness in either location. The character dynamics in "Guilty Pleasures" were actually firing naturally on more cylinders than we've seen in a long while.
Which brings me back around to my first point: the filler. Those spaces in between the necessary serialized plot points found interesting character interactions for Kitty with the New Directions - Brittany? Tina? Artie?! - as well as Rachel and Kurt with Santana, and even Blaine and Sam, whose storyline finally confronted the awkward unrequited love thing and made good on the straight-guy-and-gay-guy-are-meaningful-bros display Glee's put in their front window. We were shown things about these new and heretofore-underdeveloped interactions! That's what happens when, y'know, there's actually time to do stuff. We get little gems like Kurt and Santana watching The Facts of Life, y'all.
In New York City, Santana has promised Kurt to keep the Brody-is-gigolo secret from Rachel, which makes it super weird when you realize she has no idea why he broke up with her. But the secret doesn't stay in for long, and eventually Santana drops the truth bomb and Rachel is forced to confront Brody. I will say this: I feel really badly for Brody, actually. Guy does not deserve all the heat for being a male prostitute. He needs a way to pay the bills! Guy probably does deserve all the heat for having lied to Rachel about it, because having sex with a dude who's having sex with a lot of other people and not telling you is not quite on the up-and-up. Lying? Yes, bad Brody! Gigolo? Cut the dude a break. If Glee shames their male prostitutes this much, I'd hate to think how they'd treat a lady prostitute character.
Anyways, "Guilty Pleasures" made me feel genuinely bad for Brody, and that, for me, is a point in the plus column. Of course, this point is negated completely by Rachel seeming to swell with love at the idea that Finn beat the shit out of her boyfriend for her. (More awkward still that this physical violence was romanticized in the same episode where Chris Brown was vilified for his own acts of physical violence. So it's bad when Chris Brown does it, but romantic and gentlemanly when Finn does it? Yikes. It's bad all around, Glee. Physical violence is bad. Sure, I guess you can argue that domestic abuse is not the same as an all-boy saloon brawl, but... that's getting into a whole mess of gender-related issues. Let's just stick with this: physical violence is bad. I don't care if it's 'on behalf of a lady's honor.' Let's not glorify male aggression and encourage feminine frailty. Physical violence is bad!)
So Brody accuses Rachel of still being in love with Finn, and Rachel basically agrees. Actually, the moment at which I felt worst for Brody was when Rachel told him she was dating him because part of her wanted to make Finn jealous, and the other part wanted him to help her with her own heartache. Uh, ouch? Two terrible reasons to be in a relationship! And while I think the writers were stretching these reasons to (re)write their own history for Rachel and Brody, it doesn't change the fact that those reasons, assuming that Brody accepts them as true, really, really suck. I was never Brody's biggest fan, but damn. Damn.
(Also, on a sidenote, did the thought strike anyone that maybe Cassandra July paid Brody for sex back in that one episode where she wanted to piss Rachel off? Add Brody's cost to the JetBlue miles Cassandra gave up so Rachel could go home, and that was one pricey backstab. And it somehow makes Cassandra July really rather tragic. But she's not here anymore, so I don't know why I'm devoting brainspace to her. Be free, Kate Hudson!)
Through all this messy Brody-Rachel-Finn nonsense, though, we finally got to witness a fleshed-out dynamic between Kurt and Rachel, Kurt and Santana, and Rachel and Santana. "Guilty Pleasures" seals the deal on Santana's incorporation into NYC being a good choice for the show. We got great moments of snark and heart, all with effortless ease of interaction. Kurt and Santana casually watched The Facts of Life and chatted; Rachel and Santana casually went about their morning routine in the bathroom and argued; Rachel and Kurt casually made gooey-BFF eyes at each other as they supported each other through their troubles. Rachel and Santana were going to prank Kurt! Kurt made Rachel and Santana matching boyfriend/girlfriend pillow arms! Santana's a part of the family now! This three-handed dynamic is easily the best character-based thing Glee has done since... well, who knows how long it's been.
Back in Ohio, Blaine and Sam co-opted glee club and decided to make it all about spilling your secrets because it feels so good. What idiots. In a charming way, it worked, albeit with a few hiccups. These all kind of boiled down to the fact that confessing you like Barry Manilow is really not the same thing as confessing to your same-sex crush that you like them. It's really, really not. But luckily, this was helped along by the redirect at the end of Blaine's piano ballad - he never meant to reveal that his "guilty pleasure" was Sam (which is kind of a weird notion in and of itself, but whatever) and instead stuck to his Phil Collins story. I breathed a sigh of relief that this was not going to blow up in Blaine's face in front of the whole New Directions.
In the end, Sam brings it out in the open for Blaine, and reassures him everything's going to be fine. What could easily have been a big deal, for drama's sake, was wrapped up smoothly and without embarrassment. There was no "predatory gay" angle, or discomfort on Sam's part that Blaine has a crush on him. Basically, this was the Finn-Kurt storyline from S1 done with far fewer cringeworthy moments - although, admittedly, with far less character-based emotional depth as well. So, I choose to remember the Blaine-Sam team-up for this graceful sidestep of messy homophobic drama, while I simultaneously choose to forget that Sam told Blaine he could never really bond with Kurt because of the gay thing.
Meanwhile, Jake tried to sing Chris Brown and everyone yelled at him. Sure, the "separate the art from the artist" argument has its merit, but the issue with celebrity and success is that if you're buying the music, you're paying the artist, and therefore endorsing the continuation of the celebrity and the success. It's messy. Tackling Chris Brown is a messy, messy topic. Much of what was said is not entirely wrong - Chris Brown has done some real shitty stuff. And allowing so many people to speak out against Jake's song choice is fine. But I'm not entirely sure I'm on board with Marley voicing concern that Jake liking Chris Brown's music might be a red flag that Jake is capable of domestic abuse. It's a messy, messy implication that's a) pretty heavy, and b) kind of offensive. I felt a definite twinge of discomfort about Glee questioning its only MOC (currently onscreen) about his capacity for physical violence. Let's just not, please. Again - especially when two scenes over, Finn beating up Brody is treated as the equivalent of handing a lady a white rose. Messy, messy, messy.
(On a sidenote, is anyone else wondering, after Jake's performance, why he isn't the new featured player of New Directions? It's never even been a consideration, and yet I find myself watching his fancy footwork and thinking it should have at least been on the table. I'd love to see the guy lead a group number, instead of his endless string of shmoop duets with Marley and bro duets with Ryder.)
The remaining guilty pleasure at McKinley High belonged to Kitty, who for some reason didn't want to divulge her love of the Spice Girls. Spice World, as a masterpiece of high camp, I could maybe understand - but the Spice Girls? Since when was it embarrassing to like them?! Finn and Will had no issue recreating the boy bands of the same era, but the Spice Girls are embarrassing?! I comprehend nothing. Anyways, I just appreciated the way "Guilty Pleasures" wielded Kitty as a character. She's finally starting to show some layers, without feeling really inconsistent! She's becoming interesting, without declawing her completely! Consider me intrigued. Her brief interaction with Artie has me hopeful for some kind of goofy relationship, and her quiet "don't" to Tina after Blaine's performance has me wondering what exactly prompted the emotional nuance. Basically, I'm curious about how the writers are choosing to handle Kitty, who was basically introduced as a Molotov cocktail of Sue, Quinn, and Santana. At first, she was a bit two-dimensional. Then, she started getting funnier and a little less villainous. Now, she's one of the gang, but still pretending to be annoyed about it. (Her offscreen exasperation at Tina following her as Vicki the Robot Girl cracked me up.) I think this works for Kitty, and might perhaps be a new way to explore the loser vs. popular kid theme without being so heavyhanded about it.
Finally, credit must be given to Eric Stoltz for directing the crap out of this episode. Glee's pesky "oh by the way" flashbacks and signature-if-clunky narrations were handled a bit better than usual, thanks to visual intrigue. I loved the cutaway to Tina watching Brittany and Kitty on "Fondue for Two," placed perfectly after the line about the internet being a safe space. There was also a bit of fancy directing with the two time-lapse segments in the episode: Kurt zoning out in front of his "powerhouse ladies of television," with Rachel and Santana milling around behind him, and Brody and Rachel not quite connecting as one sits up and sings while the other half sleeps in their bed. Both instances worked rather well. The choice to act out the story of "Copacabana" with Artie, Brittany, and Jake was another smart choice.
And while this bit of praise can also be attributed to the individual actors, I'm going to throw a little Stoltz's way as well: he got some great performances out of everyone this episode. Chord Overstreet and Darren Criss did fine work with the comedy, and did well to avoid cheesiness in their final scene. Naya Rivera, Lea Michele, and Chris Colfer had a great ease of chemistry and walked that fine line between warmth and sass in their dynamic. And Michele and Dean Geyer both demonstrated some strong and specific acting choices in "Creep" - the closeups onstage actually showed off the genuine emotion of the song in this context. I was surprised to find myself actually engaged in their emotions of their breakup. Rachel exuded anger, pain, and sadness, while Brody sort of numbly expressed bitterness only. Some really great acting choices by all in this episode, actually, and very well-directed.
So, in a weird way, "Guilty Pleasures" was one of the stronger episodes this season. It didn't try to do too much with its potentially overdramatic plot threads, and instead focused on using its spare time to foster friendships and create a believable group dynamic without any adults watching. Because of that, there were so many little gems in this episode, all of them pretty delightful. With only five episodes left in this season, it's a bit disheartening to say that this was the first episode to feel like the characters are all finally clicking. But, better late than never.
The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: B
Dance Numbers: B
Episode MVP: Santana-Rachel-Kurt