November 23rd, 2010
In what was generally considered to be the “end” of the series’ bullying arc, Glee becomes self-aware. Its characters realize that they are in an after school special about bullying, and that they need to do something about it. More than the two episodes which preceded it, “Furt” is about the reality of bullying, about the ways in which something serious and important can be undone by bureaucracy or the social structure that creates bullying in the first place.
At the same time, of course, the episode is a celebration of the wonders of wedded bliss, and the relationship between children and their parents. The congruity of these ideas is more than a bit suspect, but in defense of “Furt” I think this is part of the point. The problem with bullying is that it is chalked up to the realities of life, to the chaos that Glee often embodies to a fault, and the episode’s serious tone offers some introspective character moments that resist the simple morals we might have expected.
It becomes an episode about chain reactions, about the ways that one decision can inspire others to do something more about this; it is also an episode about how even every single character on a series banding together around someone being bullied isn’t enough to change the culture of high school bullying.
Which keeps even a character marrying themselves from upending the role of reality in this universe.
Sue’s wedding is the most problematic part of this episode, which shouldn’t really shock me: the storyline was ridiculous from the moment I heard about it, and nothing within the episode changed that fact. While I like Carol Burnett (I’m human), and while I thought “Ohio” was a nice moment, that the series continues to take the Nazi Hunter thing seriously and that Sue actually married herself seems too absurd. While the broader moments in the episode would suggest that the show is just as fantastical as it has been in the past, there are moments where things “get real” in ways that are actually quite effective. Sue’s relationship with her mother has the same beats, but they seem like the most blatant statements of the episode’s morals. Sue’s bullying speech to her mother, re-contextualizing bullying as a sense of intimidation and pressure, is simply too “on the nose” to really deliver.
Even Sue’s softening in her role as principal, the moments where she reflects on her own past in order to offer true advice and action in Kurt’s case with Karofsky, seem like the closest the show gets to an After School special. The character’s emotional side is brought out so seldom that its prevalence here actually felt more unnatural, making her sudden turn towards seriousness (especially compared with her efforts to take over the school as principal last week) too consciously deployed within this episode. This is not to say that the rest of the episode felt wholly organic, but that even Sue becomes serious and concerned by this scenario is like the ultimate sign that this is something real and serious.
Mind you, Rachel’s meeting to solve the problem is similarly blatant in shifting this from Kurt’s problem to everyone’s problem, but the group never quite wholly bands together. It becomes about how each of the young men in Glee club respond to the problem, with Finn and Sam in particular taking certain steps that indicate their sense of identity. Finn, afraid of what losing his right guard would mean to his football career (and what the loss of that career might mean to his popularity), does nothing while Sam, wanting to prove himself to Quinn and working from a lower social position, defends Kurt’s honor.
I always have concerns when the characters become slaves to the series’ themes, but here these positions do sort of make sense: yes, Finn’s hesitation seems a bit damning to the character, and Sam’s sudden romanticism here is oddly incongruous with the douchebag we’ve seen in recent episodes, but I think their actions here are driven by enough sense of history and meaning that I’ll accept the lack of true history. To Murphy’s credit, he brings in Sue’s relationship with the anchor from “Mash-Up,” and even pulls in the various sexual couplings from the “Like a Virgin” number in “The Power of Madonna.” And while I still felt that there was more to be done with the fallout from “Theatricality,” I’m willing to accept that Burt’s discussion with Kurt a few episode’s ago has changed that nature of their relationship.
That the episode becomes an investigation of Finn’s masculinity does tread on “Theatricality,” where he had similar concerns about what living with Kurt meant and ended the episode in a Lady Gaga dress. This episode follows a similar pattern, in that Finn makes a grand gesture which proves his dedication to his would-be brother, but something about the circumstances surrounding the wedding works. Perhaps it’s that Burt and Carol’s vows were legitimately emotional, or that the whole wedding dance situation (set to “Marry Me”) was infectious enough to avoid seeming too redundant in the wake of “Forever” and its numerous parodies, but it seemed like a more intimate and personal display. This wasn’t Finn trying to prove to the school that he was a man (he still bristles, after all, at the idea of dancing with Kurt with the doors open), this was Finn’s concern over not being there for his brother becoming overcome without the same glossing over of a complex situation. Here, Finn probably should have been there for Kurt, and while that lack of ambiguity makes the episode seem a bit choreographed it does allow the emotional conclusion to lack the same complications we saw back in “Theatricality.”
Everything about the Hummel/Hudson wedding was sort of strong, really – New Directions dancing in their seats during “Sway” was charming, everyone looked radiant, and even if it did sort of seem like the glee club was taking over their wedding it ended up working because it was all in a celebratory tone. While those moments were informed by the bullying storyline, they seemed to transcend that setup, the mark of good dramatic television. I thought this was also a more consistent use of emotion than we saw in, say, “Grilled Cheesus”: obviously, celebration is a bit easier to watch than tragedy, but the show simply seems more comfortable in this mode.
And yet, things still got serious in the end. The moral of the story is that people might get married, and brothers may be united, and nicknames may be coined, but nothing will change the fact that bullying is often hearsay and that Karofsky will be back at school the next week. At this point, the morals come back with a vengeance: Dalton Academy’s “zero tolerance policy” (which I will continue to call Tolerance Narnia, TM Todd VanderWerff) emerges as Kurt’s safe haven, and the twist does everything that this episode avoided. It turns bullying into a highly dramatic plot development, something which drives characters to make life-changing decisions instead of simply putting together a dance number. The argument seems to be that even good intentions can’t overcome the reality of life: you can attend a wedding, and your immediate friends can create a human wall around you, but it doesn’t change anything.
Forget the fact that Kurt was explicitly told (by his guardian angel Blaine) not to run away, and forget the fact that we all know Kurt will end up back with New Directions at some point in the near future. There is something meaningful about an entire episode of this show, an episode which brings everyone together in the problem-solving way we’ve seen in the past, which then undercuts all of it. Forget for a moment that some of the bullying rhetoric was too on the nose, and that Dalton’s characterization remains pure fantasy: that they are willing to gutpunch the series’ positivity is still a step in the right direction. This is probably one of Murphy’s strongest hours: while “Wheels” was stronger in terms of avoiding the same moral overview, “Furt” avoids the show’s worst tendencies and delivers something with meaning.
- In terms of the self-awareness, I think the pre-song part of Finn’s toast was the worst offender. The use of relationship nicknames felt theme-y, a purposeful gesture to fans who would likely use such acronyms anyways. Finn just isn’t that hip, as evidenced by the pain I felt when he uttered the words “brother from another mother.”
- Frankly, part of why this episode works is that Will is back to simply reacting to the show around him – I have to presume they’re seeing what we are in regards to Will’s narrative-killing presence, right?
- As noted, the Sue storyline was all over the map for me, but Jane Lynch kills every bit of its inconsistency, and her likes (Extreme Taxidermy, Tantric Yelling, Poking the Elderly with Hidden Pins) on the dating site made me chuckle.
- No, seriously: why the hell didn’t they reveal that Doris Sylvester is not actually a famous Nazi hunter, and that she simply used it as an excuse to abandon her family? I get that that would be the expected result, and that it might be funnier to have Sue’s offhand comment in a previous episode be true, but it’s just so ridiculous I can’t stand it.
- Carol Banker, the series’ script supervisor and director of this episode, is also Kevin Smith’s script supervisor. This…surprises me.