Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Santana Lopez and What Lies Beneath: Part 2


For the majority of her time on Glee, Santana Lopez has been a Cheerio.   In fact, it took us thirty-two episodes to see Santana out of her uniform, and in plainclothes.  But despite this, we don’t really have a clear picture of what Santana feels towards the Cheerios and her place among them. 

The Cheerios Uniform means something.  It is not just any old school uniform.  Sue Sylvester’s cheerleaders wear their uniforms every day, as a symbol of their status, broadcasting to the plebeians of McKinley that they indeed have the power bestowed to them by success and popularity and Sue herself.  And Santana is introduced to us as one of them, as someone who values that.  She is a sycophant of both Quinn Fabray and Sue Sylvester, hiding comfortably behind three layers of protection from even being called a loser, let alone actually being one.

But as time has worn on, it’s become clear that Santana Lopez is no one’s minion.  Her relationships with both Sue and Quinn have turned rather antagonistic, perhaps at the hand of Santana rebelling against what it means to be second-in-command.

For as much as Santana behaves as a Top Dog, it’s amongst the Cheerios where she is never quite the top of the pyramid.  Sue is God, Quinn is Queen, and Santana is still the Jester.  She is nothing more than a Boob Joke to Sue now, and Quinn ratted her out, betraying her trust and sending her to the bottom of the pyramid.  Santana is on the outs with her erstwhile leaders, and we’re left wondering how exactly she feels about it.  (More on Santana and Quinn in a future part, fear not.)

From Day 1, we were to assume that Quinn, Santana, and Brittany operated as something of a unit.  They were packaged up and delivered to us as a maligned trinity, three mean girls who had something to gain from destroying the Glee Club.  But since then, the contingent has splintered, and we’re left mostly in the dark about the real relationship between the three girls, having never really known their true opinions about being a Cheerio in the first place.

In “The Sue Sylvester Bowl Shuffle,” all three Glee Cheerios gave up Glee Club by the end of the episode - but they were denied, by the writers, the opportunity to make their own decisions.  They were instead convinced by Finn, which weakens their choices and leaves us wondering about their uninfluenced emotions.  In the bathroom scene, Quinn says she’s torn, and then Santana says she’s not.  That’s all we got, and the fact of the matter is that’s not terribly indicative of any clear-cut feelings about Glee vs. Cheerios.  The writers behaved as though the girls would inherently choose Cheerios in the frame that they are malignant and that the Cheerio Squad is dominant in its villainy - not because cheerleading could provide the trio with security and success, or the possibility of university scholarships, or even that it could maybe - gasp! - make them happy.

It has become painfully clear that Glee’s writers give little respect to the Cheerios as a valid extracurricular at McKinley High, largely because they’re too busy bogging down Sue Sylvester and her teenage associates with the veneer of malefaction.  What’s worse about this is that the show has deliberately made an effort to humanize Sue, Santana, and Quinn (Brittany was never terribly nefarious to begin with) and yet they often forget those instances and continue to frequently and ignorantly paint the girls in a single, two-dimensional layer of bitch and villainy.

“The Sue Sylvester Bowl Shuffle” presented the notion that the Cheerio Gleeks had to choose between their two extracurriculars, and simultaneously had a built-in opportunity to therefore let us understand the Cheerios’ feelings about their participation on the squad.  We actually have enough reason to believe that all three, including Santana, would have just cause for choosing Glee Club on their own - the first time around.  But instead, the show denied them this opportunity, operating solely on the assumption that Quinn might be torn, but Santana wouldn’t be (clearly forgetting that Glee Club is the best part of Santana’s day) and Brittany is always just Brittany.  And then in the end they made their decision because Mr. Quarterback breezed through with his Ethos and inspired them to Do The Right Thing.  Oh, missed opportunities and ignored potential - not to mention the faintest, stomach-turning whiff of sexism.

Of course, the result of that plotline is what is perhaps most interesting about Santana’s relationship to the Cheerios: examining how Santana behaves now that she is not a Cheerio.  That definition, the one label that gave her power in the halls of McKinley High, is gone.  Santana no longer wears the impervious red and white uniform, and we are finally afforded the opportunity to see who she really is: how she dresses, how she fixes her hair, how she interacts with her peers, what her bedroom looks like - it’s no accident that by having Santana shed that external armor, the writers are now allowing the audience to see a glimpse of her true self.

At the same time, Santana’s post-Cheerio existence lends itself to the interpretation that she is having something of an identity crisis.  The show is frankly not quite connecting this concept to Santana’s status as an ex-Cheerio, but I think the evidence and timing is strong enough to draw the conclusion that perhaps Santana is re-evaluating her identity and sense of self without that uniform.

Since “The Sue Sylvester Bowl Shuffle,” Santana has had her guard down and demonstrated a full range of emotions in a multitude of fairly surprising scenarios - sure, she schemes easily as usual, but she’s also flown into hysterics at the drop of a hat (or alcohol), struck up a partnership with Sam, seemed to twice fangirl a performing Rachel Berry, penned a jazz number (with Tina!) about her boyfriend’s fish face, and dropped her heart in the middle of the McKinley Hallway in hopes that Brittany would catch it. 

Of course, the last of those examples is perhaps the headlining reason to believe that Santana, without her Cheerios uniform defining her, would be re-examining herself and her identity.  It’s no coincidence that the show has Santana jump-starting hers and Brittany’s Real Feelings Love Story when they’re off the Cheerios, allowed to dress how they want to and be who they want to within the freeing safe space that is Glee Club - but it’s also not clearly demonstrated onscreen.  And to those crying foul about Santana’s sudden qualms about her sexual identity: perhaps if the writers connected the idea that she feels vulnerable without her Cheerios uniform to the notion that she’s scared of confronting her sexuality, the development wouldn’t seem so jarringly uncharacteristic.

Regardless, it’s unclear what Santana’s future with the Cheerios will be - she currently shows no signs towards returning to the club, especially not while Sue continues to barrage her with boob jokes, and with the prospect of a sexuality-centered storyline on the horizon.  But even with a cheerleading-free future, the fact of the matter is that we don’t quite know exactly what Santana previously felt about that sphere of her life, in any real and tangible way, for those thirty-two episodes where cheerleading was omnipresent in Santana’s existence.




  1. I agree with much of what you've said but I read the bathroom scene a bit differently. Santana said that she knew what she was going to do but before she can say what that is, Quinn admits she's torn (but leaning toward Cheerios I believe - I haven't seen the episode in a while). I think it's entirely possible Santana wanted to choose Glee. Like you said, it's the best part of her day and also at the end of the episode she showed absolutely no qualms about leaving the Cheerios. Additionally, Quinn's leaving the squad should have given Santana even more reason to stay on if Cheerios was her original choice because it opened up the head cheerleader position.

    But because Santana can't go up against Sue herself, regardless of what she wanted to do, the choice for all three of them became Quinn's. I know the assumption is that Santana wanted to stay on the Cheerios but I think there's evidence to suggest she didn't but felt like she had to do whatever Quinn did.

    Like you've said, we'll never really know and that's a shame. I thought the whole bit with Finn showing up was so ridiculous.

  2. "For as much as Santana behaves as a Top Dog, it’s amongst the Cheerios where she is never quite the top of the pyramid.  Sue is God, Quinn is Queen, and Santana is still the Jester.  She is nothing more than a Boob Joke to Sue now"

    I started watching Glee during season 2 and most of my Santana canon was informed by fanon it was interesting to see the fanon inverted or made canon. And, the first one to go from what I've observed was that within the Cheerios, as you observed, she wasn't the Top Dog. In fact, even in season 1 when she was made Captain… she still looked like she deferred to Sue entirely too much.

    Contrast to Quinn who seem able to communicate with Sue as something approaching equals, even Brittany, I've observed, is more willing to speak up to Sue. For someone quick to fight back she's very subdued when it comes to Sue. I find that very interesting since it went against what I thought about Santana.

    Re: Finn 'inspired' quitting: It didn't annoy me during the episode but after the episode and then thinking about how they quit the Cheerios it began to annoy me. Their agency and motivations were put on hold just so Finn could have his shining moment. We didn't get to see the Unholy Trinity choose for themselves and they had really legitimate reasons for quitting too.

    More than anything this episode showed the Cheerios were nothing more than a plot point for the writers. The potential for expanding on the Cheerios and deepen the world building would have been fascinating. How many towns can boast being a Cheerleading Town? Honestly they are more fascinating than the football team and the dead in the water QB fight between Finn and Sam.

    It would have been more fascinating if the writers went ahead with the Santana-Quinn rivalry, that would be one power struggle I would love to see. I would love to see if Santana gained any loyalty from the Cheerios in season 1 for leading them to Nationals last year. I wanted to see what Santana did to have Quinn say she had to watch her back with Santana. There's a whole storyline there to be mined but they ignored it for what… the shoving contest between Finn and Sam?

  3. Thanks for drawing that connection between both Brittany and Santana not being Cheerios and their budding romance. I wondered why it was so sudden but this makes sense.

    This is how I'd like the writers to explore the backstory of these two (instead of leaving it to fanfiction and marching blindly on). Good writing in the future needs a good precedence.

    We don't even know why Santana joined the Cheerios in the first place - perhaps that would give insight to her character now?

    Plus in Season 3 Santana is back as head Cheerios. She has finally ascended. How does that factor into how she feels about her earlier ambitions?


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