My friend Katie recently had a few things to say about Glee. Well, I say ‘recently,’ and I say ‘a few things,’ but I mean ‘three distinct posts over the course of as many months,’ so here, I’ll just link them all. Glee happens to be one of the many interests we share: we were both seriously into it at the start, and we both started to loathe it at around the same time. And good Lord in Heaven, is there a lot to loathe. But, for me, it comes down to this:
In the last season, Glee has come to embody the concept of too little, too late.
Let’s be honest: this show was always a guilty pleasure. I had plenty of friends who rather justifiably proclaimed it terrible from the start. I thought it was cute and quirky and interesting, and I’ve always been a sucker for musicals. I knew it wasn’t without its problems, but I was willing to overlook those problems for a while. And the first season had a lot going for it. The show was basically a live-action cartoon, with outrageous plotlines and no real consequences for anyone’s actions, but at the same time, it tackled real teen problems in an emotionally authentic way. Sexuality. Teen pregnancy. Bullying. It wasn’t always perfect, particularly when it came to racial diversity and actual inclusion. There were plenty of genuinely idiotic moments. But at least they were trying. And the show was suffused with a sense of good cheer, good humor, and sheer joy that made up for a lot.
I don’t really know when that sense of joy started to fade away. I don’t know when I officially became sick of Glee’s bullshit. But I do know that this past season has been a long, joyless slog, and unless the writers pull a damned miracle out of their asses and truly, deeply impress me, I’m done. When this season is over, I’m saying goodbye to Glee.
Frankly, I’m not holding out much hope. The writers have had at least two golden opportunities to impress me this season, and they haven’t done it yet. I sincerely doubt they ever will.
Case in point: the recent episode on bullying and suicide among gay teens. This has been a huge issue in the last year, and rightly so. Too many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens and college students are taking their own lives, unable to bear the grief they face day after day. I have struggled with depression my whole life. I have been in that place more times than I care to admit. I could have been one of those kids.
So it made me incredibly furious to see Glee tackle the issue in their all-too-typical hamfisted manner.
I can’t point to any one specific part of the episode and say ‘There. That. That’s where they fucked up!’ To be honest, it all felt wrong. The teen who actually attempted suicide – Dave Karofsky – was a fairly unsympathetic character who had been rather awkwardly reinserted into the show an episode or two before. We didn’t see enough of his story to know exactly what he was going through. The actual suicide attempt, and his father’s discovery of his unconscious body, were certainly difficult scenes to watch. But they weren’t as powerful as they could have been. And they were diminished further simply by being on this damn show. I spent the whole five minutes or so wondering how they were going to fuck things up this time. And boy howdy, they did not disappoint.
In the moments that followed, we had a tired old story from Mr. Schue about how he was once caught cheating on a test and thought about jumping off a roof, as well as a half-assed redemption on the part of a recurring character who had actually committed assault against one of the regulars not too long before and should have been in jail. (He didn’t go to jail because Glee is stupid and everyone on the show is carrying the idiot ball at this point. Also there was something about Michael Jackson in there. It’s all kind of blurred together into an enormous pile of awful.) We had a heavy-handed scene in the hospital with Kurt and Karofsky, I guess. To be honest, I’ve blocked that out too. And then we forgot all about it and moved on to the most boring Regionals competition ever shown on the program and the culmination of one of the most idiotic plotlines of the season (which is saying a lot): Finn and Rachel‘s wedding.
I don’t even know where to start. I really don’t. This episode could have been good. It should have been good. Most of the cast is incredibly talented, and they brought real, raw emotion to their reactions to Karofsky’s suicide attempt. But you know what? For one thing, you don’t take a subject like this and turn it into the B-plot in a three-ring circus clusterfuck of an episode. For another, no, Mr. Schue, your stupid teenage overreaction to getting caught cheating does not compare to what GLBT teens face every goddamned day in any way, shape or form. We couldn’t have heard from Kurt on this? Or Santana? Or one of Rachel’s dads, maybe? Someone who might actually have a story relevant to this plotline? Maybe an anecdote that wouldn’t break the emotional tension of these events like a safety pin stuck in a damned balloon?
But when it comes to ‘too little, too late,’ this last week’s episode takes the damn cake.
In the last episode of Glee, we were introduced to Wade, a.k.a. Unique, a young trans woman on the verge of coming out, just about to come into her own. She also happened to be a member of Vocal Adrenaline – the chief rivals of Glee’s New Directions. When she came onto the campus to speak with Kurt and Mercedes, it looked like there was yet another confrontation between the rival glee clubs in the offing. Instead, she confessed her true identity and told them that she wanted to perform as a woman at Vocal Adrenaline’s next show. Kurt and Mercedes, sympathetic but fearing that she might be ridiculed, advised against it. Not the way I would have gone, but fine.
Then Sue Sylvester – Glee’s on-again, off-again antagonist – somehow caught wind of this. And that was when I started seeing red.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m pretty sensitive when it comes to trans issues. I get twitchy when otherwise good shows suddenly introduce transgender characters. When it happens on a show like Glee, I get downright pissy. So many shows get the whole thing so horribly wrong, even when they have the best intentions. And I no longer trust the intentions – or the competence – of Glee’s writers or producers.
I’ll put up with a lot of crap. But when you start fucking around with my sisters and my brothers, with our stories and our experiences, when you start exploiting us for tawdry drama or cheap laughs, my fuse gets very, very, very short.
And Sue Sylvester strolled right on in with a lit match. Because her reaction to this latest product of McKinley High’s rumor mill was not to commend Kurt and Mercedes on their kindness and discretion, or to tell them they should have encouraged Unique instead of shutting them down. Well…actually, it was sort of the latter. But for all the wrong reasons. Sue heard the story and thought this was the perfect opportunity to take down Vocal Adrenaline. The audience would see a teenage boy on stage in a dress and heels and the whole club would be humiliated. She even bought some ridiculously high-heeled shoes for them to give to Unique. And Kurt and Mercedes, though obviously reluctant, agreed to pass along the shoes and the message.
Let me tell you all a story. When I was 19 years old, during my freshman year of college, I came out to my friends and family. I finally admitted to everyone I loved that I felt like a woman inside, and I always had. I was supremely lucky: most of them accepted me for who I was. When I went home for the holidays, my parents helped me shop for everything I would need to assume my true identity, to become the person I had always been inside. We set up appointments with therapists and worked to get me on hormones. And then, the following February, I went with my school’s GSA to the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference…and I went out in public as a woman for the very first time. I spent the whole weekend simply being myself. And when I came back, I realized that I couldn’t go back to living a lie. Within a week, I was living as a woman full-time.
I don’t think that would have happened if there’d been a Sue Sylvester waiting in the wings to turn my first experience in public as the person I truly was into some kind of Carrie moment. I’m not sure I’d be alive today if something like that had happened. That first experience at MBLGTACC gave me the strength I needed for everything that came afterward. That strength sometimes faltered, but it did not fail, because it was built on a strong foundation. If that foundation had been undermined from the very beginning…I really don’t know what would have happened.
So when Sue proposed that bullshit, and Kurt and Mercedes went along with them, it truly damned them all in my eyes. No one deserves that kind of treatment. And Sue knows that, damn it! The whole plotline was inconsistent characterization at its worst. Sue’s a bully, but she has shown in the past that there are lines even she won’t cross. The victimization of GLBT youth was supposedly one of them, as evidenced by her decision to resign rather than reverse her decision to expel Karofsky for bullying Kurt and threatening him with assault and murder. Of course, that’s gone out the window before. But she’s never gone this far. It was clumsy writing, clumsy plotting, and unacceptable behavior on the part of several major characters.
If it had ended badly for Unique, I probably would have stopped watching here and there. I would never have forgiven the characters, and to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have forgiven the actors involved for letting their characters go that far. In the end, Kurt and Mercedes did have second thoughts. They ultimately went backstage at the Vocal Adrenaline concert to try and warn Unique about Sue’s plans. And that was when Unique showed us all the kind of person she was – because she refused to abandon her plans. She refused to lie about who she was any longer. She put on her boogie shoes and she went out there in all her glory. And it was glorious. For a moment – just a moment – I saw everything I used to love about Glee come rushing back.
But one good moment doesn’t make up for a season or more of absolute shit. I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t. I have been waiting for this moment since this show came on the air. And now that they finally have a trans character on the show – a strong, confident, talented trans woman of color, at that – I find that this victory, if you can call it that, tastes like ashes. I adore Unique, but she doesn’t redeem Glee. I’m not happy that the show is doing this. I’m furious that they’re doing it now. That one of the best trans characters on television is on a show that has long since become a complete train wreck.
Plenty of organizations like GLAAD are celebrating tonight, overjoyed at seeing a character like Unique on television. But I just can’t join the chorus. I’m just not feeling it. The joy is gone, and it won’t come back. I really do wish the show’s entire cast nothing but the best. Many of them are amazingly talented, and they deserve nothing but the best. But as for the show itself, and all its latest attempts to recapture its former glory?
Too little, too late, Glee. Too little, too late.
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