May 25th, 2010
Glee is a show that needs to know the limitations of its own premise, something that I don’t know if Ryan Murphy is all that interested in. I think he’s concerned that if he limits the show in terms of the stereotypes it can fight or the type of music it can do, he will be “giving in” to the same types of negative forces that the show’s messaging speaks against.
In some cases, especially musically, I want this show to push certain boundaries and break down misconceptions about genres of music or the role that music can play in our lives. In others, however, I wonder if the show’s format is actually capable of providing a grounded take on those issues without exaggerating them into something completely different. The show has only gotten away with its choice to confront issues of difference through some strong performances, and in “Theatricality” the eponymous quality results in a ludicrously overplayed storyline about the battle between jocks and the Glee club which has absolutely zero nuance. Other storylines, meanwhile, suffer because they do have nuance and yet often step too far into the emotional for that nuance to emerge in a satisfying fashion.
It results in a combination of stories that are fine until you actually think about them (something the show unfortunately rarely bothers to do once it’s reached its powerful statement on morality or the strength of individuality) and some which never come close to being emotionally effective because there’s not an ounce of realistic human behaviour.
And no amount of “Theatricality” can keep me from feeling like the show is ignoring some pretty glaring concerns within its so-called morality.
Let’s get it out of the way: “Bad Romance” was a lot of fun, the arrangement on “Poker Face” worked really well for Michele and Menzel’s voices, “Shout it Out Loud” was enjoyable, and the little “Beth” runner for Puck and Quinn doesn’t really make any sense but was so contained within this episode that its only real fault was linearity plus I appreciate more from Mark Salling. From a musical perspective, this was a good episode of Glee, and you might argue that this makes everything else worth it.
And in some cases, I’m right there with you: I think it’s ridiculous that Tina would be singled out for being goth (especially the whole vampire runner, which was just insulting to my intelligence), but I’m used to the show dropping some anvils into the works to get to its central premise so I’m over it so long as the setup ends up with something enjoyable. Episodes of Glee are never really going to make much sense, and so long as the idiotic behaviour remains contained to the school’s bureaucracy I’m willing to turn a blind eye.
What I am not able to deal with is the degree to which the show is glossing over some pretty complicated situations in its quest for those after-school special moments. In some cases, this just makes the show look dumb: the jocks were one-dimensional to the point of embarrassment, responding to the Gaga costumes and Kurt’s homosexuality only because the story asked them to do so. I understand that high school has bullies who treat people differently, and that people wearing Lady Gaga costumes all day at school would result in ridicule, but rather than having the bullies rightfully point out they looked ridiculous and in the process using offensive language, the show just ratcheted the bully knob up to 11 and called it a day. It’s pitifully lazy, and the show at its very worst.
Meanwhile, in some cases it just makes the show a bit confusing. In the case of Rachel’s reunion with her mother, the story suffers because of what they’re not talking about, mainly that Rachel was duped into meeting her mother by Jesse’s infiltration of New Directions. Now, apparently this was filmed as the penultimate episode of the season so there may be something in next week’s episode that explains why Rachel seems fine having been manipulated like that, but if there is I have to seriously question their decision to switch the episode’s around in order to get the Lady Gaga episode into the post-Idol slot in the final days of May Sweeps (I also presume we’ll learn more about Quinn’s plans for the adoption, as that returned out of nowhere too). The decision completely twisted around the story, and it seemed like the show was ignoring rather than moving past that particular story point. I thought both Michele and Menzel did some nice work in the story, but I was distracted by the simplicity of Rachel’s quest for a mother considering the situation at hand.
However, with Kurt and Finn’s storyline, I was legitimately angered by the way the show handled things on the whole. The show’s decision to follow through on Kurt’s crush on Finn is the very definition of a dead-end narrative: we know how this is going to end, so the story lacks any of the dynamism that Glee’s infectious musical spirit often feeds off of. Now, as everyone is noting, Mike O’Malley absolutely brought it in the scene where Finn starts describing Kurt’s decor as faggy, and of the episode’s after-school special moments it was by far the most effective.
As a television monologue, the scene is powerful stuff, but I feel as if that situation was far more complicated than Kurt’s father made it out to be. I don’t want to sound like a horrible person, but I would very much argue that Kurt brought this on himself. While Finn went too far in his use of that word, he has every right to be angry that Kurt is refusing to respect his wishes for privacy in his self-destructive quest to make Finn fall in love with him. I feel like the show occasionally conflates Kurt’s self-confidence with self-awareness, but how is it that Kurt becomes the innocent victim when he was the one who organized this all to happen? There was a lot of nuance at the start of that scene, with Finn losing it over the moist towelette and making Kurt feel bad for even trying to help, but once Finn used “the word” it became about how Finn was homophobic. I kept expecting Kurt to speak up, to stop his father from berating Finn and take some sort of responsibility for pushing his gambit with Finn too far, but it was never there: for the sake of simplifying the message, the show zapped the story of any nuance, placing all responsibility on Finn and forcing him to put on a rubber dress while Kurt never has to admit that he did anything wrong.
I get that the show is going to have anvil-like scenes that establish key themes or messages, but the point at which they seem to overwrite actual character development or keep the show from investigating something more interesting is a problem for me. Those scenes can be as powerful as they want to be, but if it feels like they’re cutting off rather than extending the nuance of the series then I’m going to keep responding negatively. I can love a musical number like “Bad Romance” despite its origins because that’s the spirit of musical numbers in the series: however, speeches like the one from Kurt’s father are there to make us think, but once I start thinking about the storyline I wonder how it is that I’m not supposed to be confused about the progression of that storyline.
It also doesn’t help to have it sort of shoved in my face: admittedly, I had read on Twitter before watching the episode about the fact that there was a big speech from Mike O’Malley’s character, so I knew the story was happening in that context. Similarly, the conceit of the costumes made the “message” of the episode more visible than usual, and the conclusion (with all of the characters staring off the villains) literally had Will emerging to tell them that this was the real lesson they learned this week. When you take all of that into account, it doesn’t leave me in anything close to a happy place: instead, it leads me to write a review like this one, filled with concerns that the show is willing to ignore for reasons that are still outside of my understanding.
- I was thinking that the staging in the scene with Rachel and her mother in the stands was bizarre, so I chuckled when Rachel’s dialogue made it out to be a theatricality bit. Clever.
- Have you ever noticed how “Marvelous” can sound like “Motherless?” I definitely did during “Poker Face.”
- Cringed at the praise of Lady Gaga – it’s one thing with Madonna, who has something close to a legacy, but something as recent as Lady Gaga is to be highlighted or celebrated more than idolized and turned into some sort of cultural touchstone. I’m not bashing Gaga here (I enjoy her for what she is, and appreciate her theatricality), but the House of Gaga stuff was embarrassing.
- As Eric Almendral noted on Twitter, and as I had subconsciously noticed watching the episode, Puck’s Paul Stanley-style makeup had a Star of David rather than a usual five-pointed star, which is darn inspired.
- Couple of fun Brittany lines (“Cross-Country Skiier” was funnier than “Happy Meal No Onions”), but Santana really stole the show here: she got the best part of “Bad Romance” (the bridge – Quinn got the second-best pre-chorus), and her Gaga outfit was the most fashionable.
- All signs point to the episode being aired out of order, so let me just say this: FOX, you are not doing this show’s frakked up narrative any favours with such tomfoolery. Quit it.
42 responses to “Glee – “Theatricality””
A lot of great points here, and your review said just about everything far better than I could have. I watched Murphy’s earlier series “Popular” and found the same problem in that while that show sometimes very effectively conveyed nuances in it’s characters, at other times it was less successful, and sometimes it seemed to stop even trying to do anything other than convey “the message”. That’s a particular shame imo as both shows could have been especially great if they could have been reined in more. But it is what it is, and I do my best to try to enjoy Glee for what it accomplishes rather than what it doesn’t.
I especially agreed with your emphasis on the Finn/Kurt scenes. Finn was obviously uncomfortable being told that he was moving, and I expected a transition scene with heartfelt dialogue between him and his mother, or at least him and Kurt’s father Burt. Yet that scene never came and Finn was clearly made out to be the only bad guy when expressing his discomfort to a somewhat stalkerish situation. I think that the show could have made a much bolder move by acknowledging the arrangement for what it was, and placing more responsibility on Kurt.
What I appreciate is that Glee, for all of its anvils, relies a lot of times, on the random glance between characters and the throwaways everyone may not catch (like Puck’s Star of David in the Kiss scene). Kurt’s expression when his father is yelling at Finn indicates some degree of culpability and that the situation isn’t clear cut. However, Kurt is silent because he isn’t going to sully the moment his dad stands up for him and against Finn (and I feel like we’ve been leading up to that choice for several episodes, with Kurt’s doubts and his dad’s enjoyment of having someone with whom he has something in common). It’s selfish, but very much understandable. Thus, from a scene standpoint, it was critical that Kurt’s father came in at precisely the moment of the slurs and failed to see (or know anything about) the backstory. WE know that there’s more going on, but the first purpose of that moment was to have the father stand up for his son publicly and unequivocally despite his having more in common with Finn and at the possible risk of his relationship with Finn’s mom. Maybe with this, Kurt won’t be quite so insecure about their relationship.
Finn’s uncomfortableness was understandable on a lot of levels, being moved from his home, having to share a room period, having to share a space with someone who obviously crushes on him. However, he took it to a nasty place, and became just another one of the bullies – a guy who beats up on (whether literally or with words) the weak with whatever weapons he has on hand.
Thus, the second point of the scene and Finn’s response to his own actions is to move Finn forward on his maturation curve. Finn needed to recognize and overcome the bully in himself and also, like Kurt’s dad, make a public choice, i.e. to grow and change from the lunkhead jock who pre-glee probably would have laughed at his buddies terrorizing the glee kids and might have even participated in the hazing, even if that puts him at risk for a fight (or purple slushee-ing) and makes him feel less than comfortable.
While there is a decent amout of “teaching moment” stuff on the show, they are students, and it is school. Will should be trying to infuse some lessons here and there.
On another note, I enjoyed the continuation of the thread of dreams dying or not coming true with Rachel and her birth mom. Both Rachel and her birth mother had theatrical notions of what being together would be like and mean for them, but the reality was quite disappointing. The VC coach realized that she liked the idea of being a mom rather than being one and Rachel realized that this woman, despite their commonalities, wasn’t really one of her parents. The inappropriateness of Poker Face was awesome, as it was so not a mother-daughter song, and I’m sure it wasn’t on the list of Rachel’s fantasy mother-daughter duets.
Kurt’s expression when his father is yelling at Finn indicates some degree of culpability and that the situation isn’t clear cut.
I understand this point – we, as the audience, know the situation is more complex, so we won’t necessarily judge Finn as harshly as Kurt’s father or entirely forgive Kurt his part in the story.
However, I would contest the notion that Finn needs to change: from all the way back in the pilot, Finn has resisted the traditional bully subculture, and at no point has he made any remarks towards Kurt which indicated that sort of relationship. Sure, Finn has always been a bit “slow” and has had some unfortunate interpretations of homosexuality and femininity/masculinity in general, but they have never been filtered through such a vicious lens. Anyone is capable of losing their temper when they’re pushed as far as Finn was pushed in that scene and in the episode as a whole, so what emerges is less an attempt to bully Kurt and more an attempt to defend his personal space and his identity. An unfortunate word works its way into that situation, but the problem here is not intolerance or bullying so much as allowing himself to lose sight of the big picture in the heat of the moment.
There’s an argument to be made that Kurt is in the same situation, so caught up in his crush on Finn that he loses sight of how Finn might feel about these advances. You could even tie it in with the “dreams” theme you mention, as Kurt has dreamed up this perfect scenario without considering its impossibility in reality. However, while a look from Colfer might sell us on its complexity, his decision to not interrupt his father and let Finn be portrayed as a homophobic bully is far more unforgivable than Finn losing his temper, and yet the episode never raises that point.
You note that there are some things which the show allows to remain subtle, which you read as depth or complexity. For me, however, it reads as imbalance and elision, an unwillingness to have the message of the story get muddled by the actions therein. There is a way, I’d argue, to maintain the message while having Kurt admit his own wrongdoing, and perhaps it will come in a later episode, but taking “Theatricality” as a standalone piece I think Murphy’s script takes on Kurt’s father’s speech as gospel and in the process overrides Kurt’s culpability to the situation.
And looks or no looks, that’s difficult for me to swallow.
I would still need to argue that Finn needs to change. While Finn is not the perpetrator of the violence against Kurt he has not been opposed to it because he feels that it is better to just fit in than rather be yourself. This is the issue that Finn has been struggling with since joining Glee. What does it mean for Finn’s gender identification that he feels more at home in the Glee club than being the Alpha male leader of the football team? He and Quin tried to mask the problem by wearing sun glasses in an episode and try to just fit in. The whole idea of theatricality (or performativity) as Todd VanDerWerff points out: http://www.avclub.com/articles/theatricality,41530/ is about identity. We perform our identities everyday in public. Finn realizing at the end of the episode what his words meant shows his understanding of performativity on a deeper level and that playing into the schema of fiting in causes problems.
I completely agree that Burt Hummels speech got in the way of letting the teenage character’s find these messages out for themselves.
It is also unfair of Kurt to expect Finn to behave normally when Finn knows that Kurt likes him. It was interesting to show how Finn felt objectified by Kurt and noted that this lead Finn to not feel comfortable changing in front of Kurt. This complicates the issue further because it is not just about Kurt being gay but that Kurt likes/liked Finn as well.
I wasn’t bothered by Kurt not interrupting his father’s rant; it’s hard to interrupt such a rant in the first place, and he was probably shocked and touched to see his father speak on his behalf like that, and his father is right that “I didn’t mean it that way” isn’t an excuse. Finn was completely justified in blowing up at Kurt, but using the word “faggy” was wrong and I’m sure thanks to the rant he won’t be doing it again.
What DID bother me was when Finn wants to talk to him afterwards, and Kurt says there isn’t much to talk about. It was one thing to not intervene in the heat in the moment, but for him to continue to act like he did nothing wrong a day later is outrageous.
I was really upset when Kurt acted like he did nothing wrong as well. I lost sympathy for him. I don’t think Finn should have reacted that way, but I don’t blame him.
I really appreciate your mentioning Finn’s appearing in a dress, which mostly seems to not be mentioned/is considered completely awesome. To me, that scene really hammered home that the authorial intent was “Finn has done something wrong and must redeem himself.” It’s true that it is never ok to use a word like faggy, and clearly Finn does have some homophobic tendencies deep inside him that he needs to grow past if that’s the word he reached for, but Kurt’s behavior has been consistently inappropriate. So having Finn appear as the white knight in red dress, in a scene that reminded me of a campy remake of a romance novel (the jerky hero realizes that he was wrong and saves the girl while also giving up status/humiliating himself) was just disturbing. Additionally, just as Tina has the right to dress like a goth, as long as she’s not distracting other students or violating the dress code– Finn has the right to dress in flannel and play football and be middle america boring! Individuality is being who you are, not just what’s outrageous. He shouldn’t have to violate his sense of self to fit in with his peer group and the narrow box of what a glee kid should be.
Completely agree with your take on this ep, especially the Finn/Kurt part.
I just feel Finn was right in this situation to be angry. And in anger we can say words we don’t mean. So yelling ‘faggy’ or whatever, isn’t such a big deal in this case. He clearly regretted in, and has been treating Kurt with nothing but respect lately.
They really messed up here, big time. And made it worse with the dad barging in, misreading the situation and giving some speech that doesn’t apply.
So yelling ‘faggy’ or whatever, isn’t such a big deal in this case.
As Kurt’s father pointed out… Would you call a black person “nigger” if you were angry at them ?
Whether he meant it or not isn’t relevant, to the person on the receiving end of the word it will feel much the same. The idea is that the word shouldn’t be part of the vocabulary you resort to when you’re angry in the first place. This can be hard to achieve if one grew up with it, but that’s why we need to be called on it hard when we do use it.
Finn isn’t homophobic, the word just got into his vocabulary through cultural osmosis. He still shouldn’t use it, whatever the circumstances.
100 % Agree with the Kurt/Finn thing.
Finn is portrayed as the typical “homophobic” in the scene in the bedroom. He feels uncomfortable to dress and undress in front of Kurt, and called the decorations “Faggy”. It’s this discomfort that’s stereotypical…
But the thing is, Finn’s discomfort turns out to be warranted! Kurt DOES want Finn, so it’s perfectibility reasonable for Finn not to feel comfortable.
Now, Kurt looked like the innocent victim, and Finn like the asshole. Which isn’t the case.
Kurt’s Dad rocked the scene though, and he deserves props for that. But everything else Kurt/Finn related has terrible.
– Where was SUE?
– Artie back in the background…. *sighs*
I’m a big fan of Glee, so I usually think you are a little hard with the series.
But I completely recognize and understand your arguments. Damn, I would probably agree with you if I wasn’t so in love with the whole thing.
But last night, for some reason, some things felt off. And you talked about many of those things on your text.
“I can love a musical number like “Bad Romance” despite its origins because that’s the spirit of musical numbers in the series: however, speeches like the one from Kurt’s father are there to make us think, but once I start thinking about the storyline I wonder how it is that I’m not supposed to be confused about the progression of that storyline.”
This! I couldn’t agree more. They handled this storyline poorly. I know it’s supposed to be touching, but if you think of the story as a whole, and not only a powerful scene well performed by the actors, it was kind of crazy. Finn was out of the line using the word, but he had every right to be mad. I’m not much of a Finn’s fan, but I tough Kurt was as guilty as him.
The biggest problem, for me, it’s their inability in actually building a storyline and not just throwing them on an episode and killing it on the next. That’s just lazy writing. I really think they lost a huge opportunity of creating something very cool with Rachel and Shelby, but the writing, especially on this episode, was bad and if it wasn’t for Michele and Menzel things would have been even worse.
Sorry about my terrible English.
I’m Brazilian and, as you can see, don’t have great English skills.
But, I think you could understand me.
Nice blog and great reviews. I really like to read your opinions, even when I don’t agree with them.
I wouldn’t call it terrible at all – it’s an intelligent comment, and your point comes across just fine!
Thanks for the kind words, and do keep commenting!
I agree with you about the Finn/Kurt stuff as well though I don’t necessarily agree with Marcus (above) about how having the dad misread the situation made it worse. What made it worse was, as you pointed out, they could have made Kurt step in there and acknowledge that Finn had a point. He’s denying any wrongdoing to Finn but that moment was the perfect time for him to realize his part.
I had no problem with the actual dressing down of Finn in the sense that we know the dad doesn’t know the full scope of the issue and he’s already sensitive to people picking on his son (which we’ve been shown he deals with a lot outside of the high school setting we typically live in on the show). So having him enter the scene after Finn has gone pretty far into his rant would explain why he immediately jumps to Kurt’s defense. It’s everything that comes AFTER that moment that’s unforgivable. If they do not address the issue further in upcoming episodes (not next week’s obviously), it will completely undermine what was said in that speech. Because there’s no excuse for treating Finn like the bad guy for feeling uncomfortable by being forced to room with someone who has been coming on to him for some time now.
My biggest issue with the choice of “Beth” was, not just that the show is freaking inconsistent with the Quinn/Puck stuff (I know this episode is out of place but we had weeks of Quinn and Puck acting like a couple then Puck going for Mercedes and Santana freaking out about it and now we’re back to Puck chasing Quinn?? WHAT?!), but because Puck STILL picks something stupid to use as a way for naming his daughter. It felt very much like them picking a song they wanted vs picking a song that actually fit the effort Puck was trying to make.
You know, like Poker Face. Because that’s an appropriate song for a teenage girl to be singing, much less with her mother?! But then that captures some of my issue with using Gaga as a setup for this kind of “morality lesson.” You can’t convince me Gaga uses her costumes as anything other than a marketing gimmick. A brilliant one perhaps but, if she were trying to teach kids a lessons about their true selves, she wouldn’t be singing about riding on people’s disco sticks. GAH is right.
Errr, correction to my comment above re: Puck picking “Beth,” not so much a song they wanted as a song that fit into the musical theme they had set for the show — having the kids, depending on their grouping, singing Gaga or KISS songs.
A lot of my issues with this second half of the season have been how manipulated the story feels. I don’t know that they *didn’t* do the same in the first half but they did a much better job at making it feel like they picked songs AFTER they wrote the stories. Now it feels like they keep doing stuff to set up their song choices rather than using the songs to support the stories they want to tell.
I have to say, I all but completely disagree with almost everything that’s been said here. There are some notable flaws in the series/this episode that I’ve observed. For one, I think far too much emphasis has been placed on Kurt in general. Second, yeah, sometimes the songs progress the story because of theme, but are not all that fun and infectious (I’m looking your way most of “Home”). But, for a review claiming to examine cultural significance, I find your lack of praise of Kurt/Burt’s storyline alarming.
I think when anyone has a crush, under any circumstance, 90% of them you know are not going to end with the desired outcome, particularly in high school. Teens do foolish things that lead to foolish outcomes because that’s how they become adults. Also, emotions aren’t exactly a switch you can turn on or off, so I’d argue it would be less realistic for Kurt to stand up one day and say “Finn, I’m done with you because this goes no where.” We all know he should say that, but if decades of romantic entanglement plots on screen (and in our personal lives) have taught us anything, it’s that he never will. Eventually it’ll fizzle and we can laugh at it.
At no point did I feel Kurt was coming off innocent. Besides the looks mentioned above, half the episode focused on his lack of self-preservation. But, as most minority development theorists will tell you, being of an underrepresented population is all about expressing yourself to the max when you’re a teen. As you get older, you develop and acceptance and appreciation of who you are, and some of the more radical tones subside. Even sitting there watching I was thinking just take off the spandex! But, even if in an exaggerated for TV kind of way, that’s not what always happens.
In regards to Finn’s use of the “F” word. Yeah, sometimes people say things they don’t mean when they’re angry…but using a slur, especially one that demeans another population, takes it to a different level. This is not an act that I think villified Finn, in the same way I don’t think Kurt was innocent, because life isn’t a black and white battleground. In the end, the Finn in a dress scene was a little jarring. After all, none of the other male characters (save Kurt, because the gay kid always gets separated out) were in similar garb. But, that’s our culture. It’s not normal for us to see that…which I think is exactly why it works. It wasn’t about Finn taking all of this epic blame; it was about someone needing to say they were sorry first.
Josh, these are all fair points, and I’m not suggesting the series entirely abandon Kurt’s crush on Finn (that would, as you say, be unrealistic). However, the problem is that the show’s “theatricality” has allowed that crush to manifest as a complex conspiracy designed to force the two into the same living quarters, which goes beyond self-preservation (which I would agree governs the rest of Kurt’s behaviour) to something more problematic. It’s not just a crush, it’s legitimately close to stalker-esque (not helped by that image of Kurt standing outside on the patio staring at his father and Finn bonding), a purposefully exaggerated and melodramatic representation of teenage behaviour which fits in with the show’s usual tonal gymnastics.
It’s part of why I resist “praising” Kurt and Burt’s storyline – that speech was powerful, definitely, but in order to actually capture the sort of nuanced reading you’re suggesting I think Kurt had to have a voice in that scene. It doesn’t have to be a voice of reason or some sort of sudden awakening, but it does need to feel like part of that conversation. For me, the duration of the speech and the choice to end the episode on a grand gesture rather than an honest confrontation clearly established the moral of the story while doing a disservice to the journey up to that point.
Perhaps the show deserves credit for being progressive and for capturing the challenges and pitfalls of minority development, but the other reason I respond this way is that we’ve seen it many, many times before. Kurt has had moments of self-discovery in many previous episodes, coming to terms with his sexuality and his identity in empowering ways. On top of this, episodes where Kurt is not heavily featured show no signs of this sort of turmoil, so it’s not like we can read Kurt’s storyline as a consistent arc.
And therein lies my problem: while particular moments may suggest a potent understanding of minority development, the show has proven woefully incapable of doing the same with long-term characters arcs. And so Kurt gets to this pivotal moment in his life through some behaviour that I personally view as morally questionable, and rather than folding that into the storyline or acknowledging the character’s past actions it all fades away to simplify the message.
I appreciate the message, but I’d appreciate it a lot more if the show went beyond subtle glances and engaged with Kurt’s actions head-on. And while it may be about Finn saying sorry first, that Kurt doesn’t say sorry (or that we never seem him struggling to say sorry in a scene that actually allows him to express his feelings openly) leaves too much unsaid for the sake of simplicity rather than clarity.
I think here you’ve made some valid points, particularly with the lack of longterm storyline potential. With its already overflowing cast, some of whom have yet to utter a line of dialogue, I can’t imagine what will go down in the writers room next season with even more additions and guest stars.
In reading other comments, it’s clear to me there’s a division over how much Kurt’s silence in the big speech scene really says. I do agree with you that at somepoint, which I’m hoping will be in the near future, the truth of Kurt’s deception will come out.
What I think has been missed in the broad spectrum of reviews of this episode is the overall theme. I think it’s clear in episodes like “Home” and “Dream On” that a message exists and is explored (the nature of home, what it means to follow a dream, etc). This week, what spoke to me was how we covet things that were never (and, in some cases, never meant to be) ours. Kurt’s spent the back nine coveting a relationship with Finn that never was, fraternal or otherwise. Idina Menzel’s character is driven by her motivation to reclaim a daughter that she’s just realizing she doesn’t want. During the moist towlette scene, I think this is very apparent when he says to Finn he realizes they’ll never be together…but he keeps trying. Why? Because sometimes we just do crazy things. Because we’re not perfect. And because sometimes you want something even though you know you can never have it.
Kurt and Finn’s storyline was especially problematic this week, but another thing that bothered me — there’s all this drama with Rachel and her birth mother, but her parents don’t seem to have any kind of role in it. Glee has too many characters already, but I still find it ridiculous that we literally have not seen Rachel’s dads since a throwaway visual joke in the pilot. Glee tends not to be particularly concerned with reality, but this woman fragrantly violated a legal agreement with Rachel’s parents, and she’s clearly having a huge impact on all of their lives. Limiting that to just Michele and Menzel’s characters takes the story even further out of reality. (Will talks to Shelby and not Rachel’s dads? Really?)
I don’t really understand why I continue to watch Glee.
Yes! It’s not like her dads are unaware – aren’t they moving a therapist INTO THE HOUSE?
Also, why can’t they sew? Why can’t she sew? Why can’t she go and buy a costume at a costume store? I find it hard to believe that a performer like Rachel hasn’t had any thought about costumes.
I find it very believable that Rachel can’t sew. In my own personal experience with actors, singers, and performers, I would say that a lot of them don’t know who to do anything else but sing or act. A lot of people with superstar complexes don’t have time to “waste” in costumes and set construction. =)
I think you’re missing a few things with the Kurt/Finn relationship. While Burt’s speech was brilliant/relevent, he is completely unaware of the puppet strings his son is holding behind his back. Kurt set up his father with Finn’s mother for his own personal gain – Finn. And you could see the absolute guilt in Kurt’s eyes while his father laid into Finn. And in defense of Finn, he’s 16, too. His whole world is coming undone, with his mother uprooting him from his home. I think anyone in his position would eventually lash out at Kurt’s constant pushing. Can you think of a ‘normal’ 16 year old guy who would be thrilled about losing the home and ties he feels to his late father? Who would be excited about a Morrocan themed bedroom over his own comfortable plaid’n sports motif? Everything about that scene made sense for the characters and for the show at large.
Jess, you are not the only one who says he saw something in Kurt’s expression which indicates Kurt is aware of his responsibility. However, the next scene, at school totally negates this:
Finn: Let’s talk about this.
Kurt: I thought you were different.
Different how? Gay? I don’t think so. Finn has shown friendship in the past while indicating he is not gay (early episode before Kurt came out). One of the few continuing themes in Glee is Kurt’s continued pursuit of Finn. It is sad in its self-delusion and it does, in fact, border on stalking.
Burt’s reaction is understandable. Although if he plans on doing more than shacking up with Finn’s mother he needs to deal with Finn better than he did.
It amazes me how well Kurt is liked when his actions are so consistently self-centered. Too bad Rachel’s gay dads are never shown. Kurt needs to talk to someone very badly.
Myles, you have no idea how stupid “zero-tolerance” administrators can be. A few years ago a Jewish girl in Texas was expelled for wearing a “Goth” symbol: a Star of David. The vampires are real was a bit much though (at least for Fox).
“Burt’s reaction is understandable. Although if he plans on doing more than shacking up with Finn’s mother he needs to deal with Finn better than he did.”
Yes… because didn’t he just kick Finn out on the streets? I assume he still wants the mom to live with him – but Finn can’t? Where is he supposed to go?
I actually got the impression that Burt is taking back the offer for both Finn and his mom to move in (when he said something like “I love your mom but this is my son” or whatever). That was the part I considered over-reacting given the obvious unintentional use of the “f” word. I don’t think it makes sense that only we would see it as unintentional. From the previous development we’ve seen of this story, I think it would be pretty obvious to all involved that Finn is a nice guy who just didn’t realize how wrong (and hurtful) it is to throw around language like this. Like Myles has commented on numerous times, each episode seems to separate itself on a whim from things we have already seen and that makes characters respond in a way that’s incongruent with their previous developments.
However, I do think the message that it’s wrong to use words like this is important- just went a bit too far with it in this case.
As for Kurt, I actually think HIS part was handled quite well- best out of all of them. I think it’s completely believable that this teenager who overcompensates for many self-esteem issues and has a hopeless crush would initially feel guilty at how hard his dad is coming down on Finn- but then would appreciate him so much for standing up for him, and THEN in his mind he could certainly tell himself that his dad is right, and that would lead to Finn being a homophobe and Kurt gets to reject HIM based on this. His saying “I thought you were different” is basically saying “It’s all your fault for somehow making me think you were a nice guy and falling for you but now I see you’re not so I don’t like you anymore”.
Kurt has systematically manipulated other people, including his own father, in an attempt to seduce a person who does not want to be seduced. He has reached out and physically touched a man who clearly has stated that he is not interested. If genders and orientations were slightly rearranged–if Kurt was an aggressive, intelligent male, trying to shack up with an uninterested (and somewhat unintelligent) female–we would be up in arms at the inappropriateness of it all.
Finn’s use of a slur in such a scenario ought be the least of our ethical objections where that scene is concerned. Kurt’s being gay does not give him a free pass to be so careless about other peoples’ lives and feelings, and it is probably only Finn’s good nature that kept him from saying far worse.
That’s right, Evamarie!
Great conversations here about Kurt, Finn, and Burt. But I want to also bring up your assessment of the interactions between the “jocks” and Gleeks as overly simplistic bullying. I don’t think it’s as one-dimensional as you make it out to be.
While the scenes of the jocks confronting Kurt and Tina in the hallway are instances of bullying, it’s also a reminder of the physical, material threat of violence often faced by those who choose to step outside of the dominant order. Simple? Perhaps, but also incredibly important to the daily lives of many choosing to live their lives out loud.
Secondly, the way that Kurt responds to the jocks in the first of those scenes goes beyond “after-school special,” in my opinion. When Kurt compares their GaGa costumes to the jocks football uniforms and letter jackets, it calls attention to the fact that all identity is a performance of some kind or another and that only some are threatened with violence. To me, that’s quite a sophisticated critique of discipline and power (echoing a poststructuralist Foucault/ Butler conception, particularly), and is more than just the “jocks beat up geeks and that’s sad” discourse of after-school specials. Also, while yes, Will overtly saying “this is the lesson for the week!” was ridiculous, the last scene reiterated the sense of community offered by the Glee Club, and visually complemented the oft-repeated and celebrated (though sometimes problematic) notion that Glee offers the sense that diverse misfits can in fact find a sense of community and are not alone in their struggles against the disciplining social norms of high school.
LeiLani Nishime over at Antenna articulates this function of the episode much better than I can – http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2010/05/27/glee’s-theatrical-identities-and-other-bad-romances/
I’ll respond to Leilani’s great post with a bit more detail, but I do want to expand on my use of “after school special” since it’s particularly to the language within the review.
For me, “after school special” is a term used when the things being said/done in a particular scene don’t ring true to how people would realistically act. Accordingly, the act of bullying isn’t so much of a problem, and the scenes do establish some complex identity politics within the high school environment.
However, the actual dialogue in the scenes doesn’t ring true – if the jocks were actual characters then I think the scenes could be considered three-dimensional, but what the bullies say feels too choreographed to fit in with the themes of the episode. It’s all too “on the nose” in execution: I don’t doubt that there are some interesting statements being made in the scenes, but they could be made in a way which was more than one-sided, and where the bullies could act more like human beings.
Some After School specials have strong messages that are made so explicit through contrivance that they lose all legitimacy: my worry is that Glee is heading down the same path, as I was too distracted by the lack of nuance on one side of that equation that I didn’t see (in the moment) the subtle response from the other side.
I was wondering if the understanding the level of influence that “camp” has on the execution of Glee would help to clear up the reasons for some of the plotting problems on Glee.
I also wonder if Mike O’Malley’s speech was a result of a network note which said that whatever message Murphy wanted to convey needed to be clearer or whether the speech was intended by Murphy all along.
I think it is also clear that Glee’s stand alone/assignment of the week structure has hurt its development in creating connected character arcs. I think steps have been taken to remedy this but things like Rachel announcing that the vocal adrenaline coach is her mother rather than slowly revealing the realization among the character’s over a couple of episodes is also hindering its ability to depict reality.
I thought Glee was unusually self-aware today. Lampshades everywhere. The whole lesson thing at the end, Rachel referring to her and her mother’s shared theatricality (I’m starting to get tired of those Word of the Day episodes, btw)…
One Brittany line I loved though : “I look awesome”. Yes Brittany, that huge silver lobster sticking out of your forehead suits you so…
I agree with everything that was said here about the Kurt/Finn situation and I was actually pretty glad to find somewhere in the internet where people are discussing this seriously. Others reviews that I read were all “It was so beautiful” and I felt I little mad that something so complicated was simplified in a way that is actually hard to write about it without being lashed out at for taking sides in the prejudice issue.
But I think I was actually more upset about the whole Rachel/Shelby thing, because the writing seemed so off with the acting, that I actually felt confused. It just seemed like Idina played a little more affection for Lea’a character than she was supposed to, because I found hard to believe that she was pulling away because she wasn’t getting what she wanted. I got the idea, I just didn’t feel it. Also, I felt it was a little simplistic too that somebody like her, who has dealt with a lot of disappointment in her life, wouldn’t be as sensible as to face reality and try to readjust her expectations. I just wasn’t buying that it would be better for Rachel if she just pulled off the whole deal. How is it not going to be painful and confusing for a teen to find out who her mother is, to meet her and like her, and then have her decide they can’t have a relantionship?
Your commentary says everything I tried to said in mine, but better! =D
Idina and Lea were so full of affection, in both “Theatricality” and “Dream On”, that I found hard to believe they would just walk away for each other. It just seemed forced.
I’ve read a recap on the AV Club where the writer talks a little bit about the history and how good he though it was. The guy is adopted and had a similar experience with their biological parents. It’s an interesting view, which helped me seen the history a little differently, but still didn’t change my dissatisfaction with the plot’s conclusion.
Correction: Your commentary says everything I tried to say in mine, but better!
A little late to the party as this episode has only just aired in the UK, but I have to say I pretty much agree with everything you’ve put Myles.
The whole Finn/Kurt situation annoyed me considerably. I’d feel better about it if I thought it was actually going to be addressed in future episodes but I’m not sure if I have faith in the show anymore to be that complex. I do think eventually Kurt will grow out of his crush on Finn, or some big event will make him realise it’s never going to happen. But what I doubt I’ll see is someone acknowledging Finn’s feelings about the situation, it feels like this was supposed to put them to bed.
While I still enjoy parts of the show I feel so sad that that early quirky/edgy humour is almost completely lost.
Pingback: Glee – “Funk” « Cultural Learnings
Late to the party but I wanted to say how relieved I am to find this review and read all the comments. I felt exactly as you do after this episode aired. I even went on to defend Finn, saying his use of that word was inexcusable, but his reaction was justified. I got crickets. I got a lecture on tolerance and subltly accused of being a bigot. This is the danger of the message the show imparted. That final scene which seemed to completely exonerate Kurt and make Finn the only one who had done anything wrong disturbs me. This could have been such an amazing story. The idea of both of these characters being flawed and wrong and dealing with the consequences of that. Instead we got preached to and Kurt gets a pass for any and all transgressions he has commited.
I was actually wondering if I perhaps I was mistaken. Was I wrong for feeling that Finn had every right to feel uncomfortable and awkward in his new forced living conditions. I am relieved to find that there are others who have the same reaction to the episode. Yes, Finn was wrong for using that term. For all those who justify Kurt as being a young boy with a crush, I think you can equally justify Finn for being a young boy who didn’t fully understand the hatred and power behind a word. The problem with the episode is that only Finn learns anything and in fact Kurt doesn’t even seem to realize the danger of his actions. Instead he takes his father’s speech to make him feel as if he hasn’t done anything wrong and the show goes on to back this up. Stalkers everywhere rejoice, its all good to stalk and manipulate as long as you don’t use slur words.
On top of all these issues I am still trying to wrap my head around a house that has two and a half baths, a master bedroom and a basement converted into a bedroom. No other bedrooms? I think the Hummels got conned when they purchased their home and if in fact the home is bigger then the one Finn and his mother previously resided in I have to assume they lived in a one bedroom shack.
Eh, I don’t really want to defend anything in the Finn moving in with the Kurts storyline, but maybe they have a big house where the rooms that would have been bedrooms in a bigger family have been converted to some other purpose. And Kurt’s basement bedroom is huge, maybe that’s why they converted it instead of using one of the extra rooms upstairs.
This theory makes for a house that’s much bigger than I imagine a two-person family living in though. Unless it came with the garage ?
Pingback: Glee – “Duets” « Cultural Learnings