September 23rd, 2009
“I don’t want to be a Lima Loser the rest of my life”
On Sue’s Corner, Sue Sylvester tells it like it is. She’s bold enough to take a pro-littering stance, brave enough to say “Yes We Cane,” and ballsy enough to ask the homeless how that homelessness thing is working out for them. In Lima, Ohio, Sue Sylvester is a big deal with her two mentions in USA Today and her satellite interviews (that’s lingo, for interviews done by satellite), but without her national championships she is nothing. The studio boss tells her, flat out, that if she doesn’t remain a champion outside of this small little town she is no longer going to be telling the town how Sue sees it.
Because, without her success as the head coach of the Cheerios, Sue is nothing. She and Sandy, her new compatriot, are both teachers who don’t quite know how to deal with teenagers, and if not for her success Sue’s blackmail would be a desperate stab at power rather than a reminder of her existing control. She’s a big fish in a small pond, a fact which remains dependent on her continued success and perhaps one more mention in USA Today.
“Preggers” is an episode about the fact that the teenagers at the core of the show do not yet know what kind of fish they will be, and being stuck in this small town is doing very little to inspire them to greatness. Everyone has a different story, but to some degree your place of residence can just as easily make you (as it does for Sue, whose success breaks expectation and thus deems her a champion worthy of a public opinion segment) as break you. It’s the kind of place where Kurt is too scared to tell his father a truth he probably already knows, and where a sudden pregnancy is defined less by immediate consequences than long term ramifications. If these people are going to avoid being Lima Losers, they’re going to have to find a way to avoid the same kind of pitfalls (and, since this is technically a comedy, pratfalls) which await them.
And while part of Glee’s DNA implies a certain degree of fantasy, football players breaking into a dance sequence without getting a delay of game penalty for example, another part of it knows that life is not a game, and that musical numbers or no musical numbers high school is very, very rule. And, with an episode that seems to embrace this dichotomy rather than exploiting it for sudden shifts of tone designed to shock the viewer, Glee again returns to what made its premise so darn compelling in the first place.
The problems from Glee’s opening episodes largely remain. Its pacing continues to be a pretty considerable problem, as this episode sidetracks Rachel’s sudden departure from Glee for almost the entire running time before returning to it at the end of the episode as if nothing has happened. The show loves to speed things up, having Sandy and Sue’s plan turn into a musical, and then into auditions, and then into Rachel auditioning, so quickly that when the show abandons her storyline for the rest of the hour you can’t help but be somewhat confused. That fast pace is sometimes the show’s greatest asset, a televisual representation of the whirlwind of high school and in particular the somewhat fairy tale existence that Rachel tends to lead when it comes to auditions involving the names Liza Minelli and Celine Dion. But in other instances, it takes an episode like this one and makes it seem as if the editing is entirely off: while some storylines feel perfectly paced, consistently becoming more complicated or evolved as the episode wears on, others feel like plot-driven sequences dropped in wherever they can find room to make sure to set up for the next episode (which is all the Rachel episode was, in a way).
The episode was really about Kurt, who after last week’s debacle with Mercedes finally comes to terms with his own sexuality by proving to himself that he can accomplish just about anything he can put his mind to, and thus can accomplish telling his father the truth. Chris Colfer, who was a highlight in the pilot, is finally given a real chance to shine here – I was quite critical of “Acafellas” for what I felt was some uncharacteristic behaviour (not telling Mercedes he was gay), but here we started to see just why he has been so reticent to coming out of the closet. And just to be clear, I understand why Kurt would not tell Finn he was gay (having a crush on him and all), as there’s an element of discomfort to be found, but with Mercedes it seemed like he wouldn’t be quite so scared of saying it. Here, though, his father is another symbol of judgment, and Kurt’s attempts to hide it (selling his leotard as athletic equipment, which doesn’t explain the “Single Ladies” choreography he memorized) are as much about easing his father’s mind than they are about easing his own.
What worked about the storyline is that the emotional moment was achieved through just about every trick in Glee’s book. We have the realistic musical number with his performance of “Single Ladies,” brilliantly performed by Colfer, which establishes the kind of behaviour that has been raising his father’s eyebrows but making him happy. Then you have the football sequences (both the elaborateness of his field goal dance and the whole team eventually dancing), fantasy musical sequences that ignore how people would logically react and create reactions that reinforce Kurt’s ability to inspire people and achieve things he never dreamed possible all while gaining his (single) father’s pride. It is only then that we are able to get that quiet final moment, as after discussing his dead mother’s pride Kurt finally tells his Dad what had been apparent since he wanted a pair of sensible heels at the age of 3: he’s gay.
It’s a load off of the character’s back, but also off of the show’s. The show has never pretended that Kurt wasn’t gay, so for him to be denying it outright felt false with the show’s usual brand of bombastic presentation. They wanted Kurt to be the flamboyant one, but to feel really upset about it, and in episodes where Kurt isn’t given enough time that doesn’t come out. However, here he was given a whole storyline to work things through, and I bought it every step of the way. And, when I didn’t buy it, that was the whole point: something about this experience allowed Kurt (if only for this moment) to transcend his supposed place within the school caste based system, and thus for the show to transcend the rules of football (that would have earned them a delay of game penalty) and for a single-point kick (the least suspenseful part of every football game) to become for Kurt an epic game-winning moment. I don’t view these as contrivances so much as I do fantasies, necessary stylistic events that help to build compelling, entertaining and emotional storylines like this one.
The other major storyline given some time to develop in the episode is the revelation that Quinn Febray, president of the Celibacy club, is “Preggers.” It’s a shock to Finn, the good guy in this scenario, who learns that she’s keeping the baby and that it can’t be anyone else but his. She sells him a cock-and-bull story about a moment of prematurity in a hot tub (which provided the “payoff” to the murdered mailman we saw last week), and suddenly he’s an expectant father. In an effort to isolate the storyline (a smart one, considering the show’s penchant for over-extending itself), they don’t tell their parents but instead go to their teachers and friends in an effort to find a solution. In every instance, though, their concern is not so much the baby itself as it is how it is going to change their futures. For Will, his apprehension about being a father is about whether he’ll be good enough, or if he’ll be a proud example for his son or daughter (which doesn’t exist, but we’ll get to that in a second). For Finn, it’s about how he’s going to need to get a football scholarship (inspiring him to take the unique step of the dance lessons that worked so well for the Acafellas), and for Quinn it’s about how she’s going to be a Lima Loser for the rest of her life, whether she likes it or not.
Finn and Quinn, of course, are the kind of people who have dreamed big. They’re young kids, with their whole lives ahead of them, achieving in their respective fields and capable of going on to become Sue Sylvester equivalents, albeit ones which are probably slightly more decent as human beings. But they also dream bigger than that, looking outside of Ohio for their respective futures: this baby changes all of that, and it really shouldn’t be Finn’s problem at all. When we learn that Puck is the actual father, Quinn having gotten drunk on wine coolers and felt fat that particular day, he becomes a suddenly more interesting character. We learned last week that he has his own business cleaning pools and picking up older women, but it’s a small business in Lima: he’s already started living the life of a Lima Loser, resigning himself to being a grunt of a football player and a manual labourer for the rest of his life barring some moment of transformation. He had a deadbeat dad, which means that he wants to do good by this child, but Quinn won’t let him in because some part of her wants to be able to hold onto that dream and Finn (the relatively innocent quarterback) is more likely to achieve that goal than Puck. There is something legitimately sad about that, and it made me very sorry for the cheating jerk who the pilot originally sold as a run of the mill villain.
And that’s the side of Glee that connects with me the most, the one which transforms our expectations for characters based on a combination of flash and substance. When the show seems to slow down is when it goes into plot, such as with Rachel leaving Glee over not getting the solo in West Side Story. That storyline had a couple of really nice subtle moments, like Tina finally getting her moment in the spotlight performing the beautiful “Tonight” on her own, where they discussed how her increase in confidence was improving her stuttering. But when it felt like the plot moving along, it seemed to comparatively perfunctory, never stopping to say what it meant for Rachel or anything else. The other plot-based development, Terri realizing that Quinn’s baby could be of use to her in terms of not disappointing her husband and being able to fake a miscarriage (I presume) and still get what she wants (a baby to keep him close to home and away from hugging Emma after last-second football victories), was more effective because of how welcome it was. That whole storyline felt like so much of a gimmick before, but now Terri can be connected to someone other than Will and the storyline can feel less disruptive to the flow of the show as a whole. It’s still concerning, and the whole thing came together much too easily (how did she get into her car?), but it’s plot-development that I guess must be done.
Overally, this is the show that I wanted to fall in love with. No, it’s not perfect, but it is a show that I’ve just spent far more words than you’ve ever going to read discussing. It’s a show that has layers, and when it doesn’t have layers it’s doing it for a reason as opposed to a lack of intelligence or a thematic misstep. It’s a show that displays confidence without being cocky, and which embraces fantasy not so much as an escape from reality as a temporary window in a potential future that not everyone will be able to have but perhaps someone will. Sue’s Corner got somewhat less explosive at episode’s end when she evoked the idea of imagining that everyone is cheering for you. In her context, it was of course about how not everyone can be winners so the most you can do is pretend not to be homeless or pretend that people actually like you if you want to be more like her. However, for these kids, Glee Club and Football and everything else is a way to step into the shoes of Celine Dion or O.J. Simpson (hey, Finn said it, not me) and imagine themselves as anything but a Lima Loser, and the show’s very thesis is the transformative (if not definitive) power of that process. And, as long as it stays along those lines, that’s the show that I’m very glad just got a full season.
- There were a lot of great lines in the episode, but Mercedes’ “I’m a JET?!” made me crack up the most for some reason.
- I’ve listened to “Taking Chances” way too many times today for it being best known as a Celine Dion song, so was disappointed that the episode only featured a few lines. I’m glad, as the musical numbers can’t overwhelm the other elements of the show, but it was nonetheless kind of anti-climactic after listening for the better part of the day. And yes, I’m somewhat ashamed.
- The Mumbai Air commercial was a clever bit, but I’ve clearly been out of high school too long and didn’t get what was so scandalous about it.
- The show continues to get mileage out of Finn’s naive qualities, whether it’s dealing with women or here his pleasant surprise at the fact that you can just borrow any book you want from the library. Cory Monteith is pretty solid all around, handling the emotional stuff in this episode well, but that line reading just cracked me up.
- First thought during Sue’s caning lecture? This.
- I complained about how much the Rachel storyline was blatantly setting up next week’s episode, but considering that next week’s episode features emmy-winning Kristin Chenoweth (!) singing (!) and dancing (!) and replacing Rachel as a mature student member of Glee club (!!), I shall forgive.