S3E14: Approaching the latest episode of Glee is a bit difficult. On one hand, the plot really tugs at your heart strings, but on the other hand, the way it’s presented is so ham-fisted, it almost doesn’t do the story justice. The topic at hand is bullying and its devastating effects – though the promos tried hard to convince us it was teen matrimony – and while the epicenter of the storyline is admittedly poignant, the pieces around it, like Sue turning over a new leaf and Sebastian blackmailing New Directions with a photoshopped nude picture of Finn, degrade it. Rather than finding stories that feel natural and appropriate, we find many of the episode’s events as seemingly outlandish offshoots of the existing plots – none more than the closing wedding scene.
I’ve accused the musical series of playing “after school special” time and again, but considering the weight of this week’s events, the writers would be hard-pressed to find another way around it. They’re too conditioned to make sure the lesson saunters out and clubs us over the head a few dozen times. The result is a conclusion that not only seems to ignore the episode’s first major shocker, but callously uses it as a catalyst for teen melodrama. It relinquishes the respect that should be allotted to all of the episode's events – including the oft joked-about and seemingly insignificant Regionals.
Glee knows how to touch our hearts with storylines that highlight the struggles of LGBTQ teens, and for the most part, Kurt’s plots have continually been some of the best parts of the series and an overwhelming reason to keep watching despite its faults. However, no storyline – no matter how great – can withstand being buried under overdrawn side plots and uninspired dialogue. And for that reason, this episode only almost won me over.
“I just can’t imagine things getting so rough that you would consider taking your own life.” –Quinn
“That is so harsh and reductive. Show some compassion.” -Kurt
Sebastian kicks off the bullying theme by blackmailing Rachel into pulling out of Regionals on pain of him posting a fake photo of Finn naked in heels. The kids all weigh in on how to deal with this bully, who wasn’t even slightly punished for maiming Blaine a few weeks back, but it’s only moments until the real bullying and its dire consequences take shape. As Blaine sings Young The Giant’s “Cough Syrup,” images of Karofsky’s horrible return to his school after his teammate caught him with Kurt at the Sugar Shack are interspersed with the emotional performance. His teammates torture him, writing derogatory comments on his Facebook wall and painting “Fag” on his locker. As the song progresses, he falls deeper into depression before finally making the decision to end it all. It’s a heartbreaking truth that has become alarmingly prevalent among struggling teens – evidenced by the Trevor Project ads Fox aired during the episode. Luckily, Karovsky lives, his dad finds him, and he's recovering at the hospital.
But that's only the beginning. Quinn condemns Karofsky’s decision as selfish – which is consistent with the Catholic viewpoint of the act – and Schue takes it as an opportunity to teach the kids a lesson about making it through hopeless times. Though, I wish they would have given Schue a story that seemed a little more hopeless, perhaps I’m just being obtuse, but getting caught cheating and struggling with your community’s denial of the person you were born to be are just slightly incongruent issues. This single moment is the biggest culprit of the “After School Special” feel. It would be one thing for Schue to make sure the kids understood Karofksy’s decision and do something to make sure they understand how much promise they have, but the flashback involving an issue that really can’t compare to the pain and suffering Karofsky must have been feeling seems a bit overreaching.
Kurt brings it home, as usual, when he breaks down because he could have done something. After Karofsky opened up to him at Breadstix (or Sugar Shack – who knows if that was a one-episode joke), the love-sick teen called Kurt again and again. Kurt ignored every call, but when he finds out just how badly Karofsky was hurting he’s over whelmed with guilt. When Kurt finally visits the steadily recovering linebacker in the hospital, they both open up and Kurt helps Karofsky to imagine his future with a husband and a son, telling him to ignore those who spread hate. It would have been a more powerful scene without the visual demonstration, but the message still had an impact. In the end, Kurt promises to be exactly what Karofsky needs now more than ever: a real friend. And ultimately, this is the strongest message the series has delivered in a long time. This touching conclusion should have been the episode-ender, but unfortunately, the inspiring message of friendship as a beacon of hope is brushed under the rug once it's "solved" in order to make room for Rachel's nuptials.
“I want to get married now.” –Rachel
“But I have gym.” –Finn
“No. Saturday, after we win Regionals.” –Rachel
There are so many things wrong with these quotes. First, we had enough of the child bride storyline last week. Second, it’s a travesty that the one thing Finn and Rachel get out of their former school mate’s tragedy is the resolve to push forward with their selfish, immature plans. Third, Regionals is already such a huge force in the episode, competing with the severity of Karofsky’s story when we should simply be focusing on the near-tragedy, that adding something as flashy as Rachel Berry wedding detracts even further from an issue that really deserves the whole attention of the episode.
In light of the sad events, Sebastian turns over a new leaf and opts to play fair with New Directions. The Warblers perform their weaker set consisting of “Stand” by Lenny Kravitz and “Glad You Came” by Brit Pop Boy Band, The Wanted. Without Darren Criss on their side, The Warblers clearly lack the extra something – other than impeccable song choice. A third, irrelevant competing team takes the stage in the interim, singing haunting religious music. They’re actually good, but this is Ohio show choir, and apparently that means Maroon 5 and cheesy dance moves are the way to succeed. When New Directions takes the stage with a mash-up of Nicki Minaj’s “Fly” and “I Believe I Can Fly” complete with Santana taking on the Nicki part, followed by a Santana and Mercedes leading Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” with the conspicuous help of a string of girls that aren’t Tina, Rachel, and Quinn (did they just slip the Treble Tones in for no apparent reason?), and closing with “Here’s to Us,” which Rachel sings explicitly to Finn. The whole performance treads a bevy of themes, and we land on the one that matters the least in the fabric of the episode: Finn and Rachel.
New Directions wins in the quickest Regionals results episode ever. A man dressed as Dracula (because the episode definitely needs more extraneous factors) hands them the trophy and flutters away like a bat as the club heads into the final piece of the story: the wedding.
“It’s now or never.” –Finn
Before she can be truly happy on her special day, Rachel needs one last thing: Quinn’s approval. That comes in a roundabout way; Sue’s maternity-driven softer side rears its rosy head. She comes to Regionals to cheer on the glee club and later offers to help with Nationals, tells Quinn she admires her and gives her another shot at the Cheerios, and eventually comes to Rachel’s wedding because she’s suddenly a big ol’ softie. Sue’s gesture towards Quinn makes her happy and Quinn decides that Rachel should do what makes her happy – even if that means premature marriage.
At City Hall, The Berrys and the Hummels are trying to figure out a way to stop this wedding seeing as they apparently have no control over their children – though Hiram and Carol do have a point about too much control creating rebellion. While I’d probably watch Jeff Goldblum sell gum, his character is frustrating. Parents should parent, i.e. help their children realize they’re making a huge mistake, instead of just praying it falls apart on its own. As Rachel giddily texts Quinn to hurry back with her bridesmaids dress, everyone is waiting in their Sunday best. Hiram breaks up the tension by joking that he’ll fake an epileptic seizure to stop the wedding, but the damage is already done. We’ve already seen Quinn, driving fast while texting Rachel. We know what’s coming next. And when the last two seconds of the winter finale deliver a truck slamming into Quinn’s car, a regretful utterance of “I knew it” is unavoidable. Though the signs of the episode’s final moments signaled this end, two and a half seasons could never have prepared us for a tonal shift of this nature, especially after the near-fatality due to Karofsky’s depression.
It’s incredibly frustrating because the series dallies with such trivial moments for episodes upon episodes and then suddenly, they throw all the dramatic power they’ve got into a single overwhelming 40 minutes. Creating dynamics is one thing, but Glee doesn’t often accomplish dynamics because no matter what the circumstance, it is always the most important thing that could have ever happened…ever. (But to be fair, the series is about show choir kids, and as a former show choir member I can attest that everything tends to mean more when you’re a stage-dweller.) But from a narrative standpoint, presenting episodes in which a Michael Jackson tribute performance gets the same level of drama as a teen lovers spat, or a fight for equal PDA rights, or Sue getting pregnant, or Quinn getting into Yale, it’s a hard shift to events that are truly, deeply traumatic. Considering the giant hole the series has dug itself, the writers handled the topic fairly well, but we could have saved all the wedding drama for another day.
Do you think the episode tried to tackle too many things? Or do you think they gave the Karofsky story sufficient attention? Will Quinn be alright? Or are we about to lose one of McKinely’s brightest minds? Let us know your thoughts in the comments or get at me on Twitter. @KelseaStahler