Friday, April 26, 2013

The RBI Report: "Lights Out"

"Lights Out" turned out to be a poorly organized hour of nonsense featuring unexpected reality bombs of tonal dissonance and characters doing and saying whatever necessary to prop up the Glee episode checklist.  Talk of dreams?  Check!  The pain of being different?  Check!  Top-heavy emotional design and sudden reveals about character backstory?  Check!  Oh, and let's not forget the super-serious, potentially triggering social issue.  Check, and check.

"Lights Out," written by Ryan Murphy, directed by Paris Barclay

I guess, if many a Glee episode has been written with these criteria fulfilled, it would make sense that a conglomeration of them would add up to a successful endeavor.  In the case of "Lights Out" -- it really didn't.  Instead, the episode felt carelessly assembled, with awkward commercial breaks, and horrible scene transitions.  Who on earth is ready for a jam session to "We Will Rock You" right after two characters confess that they were molested as pre-teens?  Why were we meant to feel the suspense of Becky possibly revealing the truth to Figgins, only for the very next scene to feature Figgins delivering monotone announcements about electricity over the loudspeaker?  And why on earth would a high school still attempt to function as usual for a whole week without power?  

But not much about "Lights Out" made sense, from the design, to the theme, to the character work.  Every storyline had its writing issues.

Ryder, Katie, and Kitty

So, Ryder is stubbornly (and stupidly) hung up on Mystery Girl, aka Katie, aka Someone Who's Lying to Him, aka Possible Glee Club Member.  Even though he knows she's lied and he has no clue who she is, he's still communicating with her, and wants to meet.  I can't tell if it's intentional, but there's something really unsettling - almost sinister - about this storyline, and Ryder's commitment to a completely unknown entity.  I'm guessing this level of seriousness was devised to set the table for his Big Confession this episode, which was that he was molested by his teenaged babysitter at the age of 11.  But it didn't quite work.  I definitely wasn't ready for that.  The route still felt too serious for Glee to do, and of course, they stepped on their own feet with a few poor execution choices in the wake of the reveal.  The first of which was Sam and Artie's complete and utter dismissal of Ryder's experience as a traumatic event - and they never came around!  Glee is a big fan of throwing somebody under the bus so another character can preach the moral of the story and erase their ignorance, so I thought this was another example of Sam and Artie learning a heavyhanded lesson.  But apparently Tina and Marley's defense of Ryder did nothing to reverse Sam and Artie's points of view, and Ryder thus withdrew, the opinion of Sam and Artie left to reign.  Must be a bro thing.  Masculinity definitely won that round, no comment made.

Let's get to actual writing issues.  The idea was that Ryder wanted to "unplug his feelings" for the week's theme, and once I had stopped laughing long enough to press play again, he dedicated his next number to... the glee club.  Wha-huh?  What followed was a song about feeling bullied, complete with cutaways to Tina, Jake, and Marley getting hit with slushies.  I'm sorry, this was supposed to be a song about Ryder's unplugged feelings, and it instead involved moments for other characters.  So that didn't do much to get us in Ryder's head - not helped by the fact that we've never seen Ryder get slushied anyways.  They've avoided the whole cool kid devolution arc with Ryder, and while I'm certainly not unhappy about that, it also means he's not really the best voice for the downtrodden at McKinley.  And there he was, singing about how everybody hurts, especially the glee club when they get freezing cold ice thrown in their face.  Oh, and also Ryder when he's molested at age 11.  Swerve!  Tonally-speaking, it did actually feel a little like getting hit with a slushie.  But that's not a great thing.

What's worse about this moment is that it's later devalued, spun away from anything genuine.  Ryder tells Katie he only told his secret so he could watch the glee kids' faces for any hint that they already knew, thereby revealing the Real Katie to Ryder.  Oh.  So... you just told that story as a sneaky way to find out the identity of your crush/soulmate/cyberkiller?  Guess we're not paying off Jake's "you tell secrets to people you actually know" line from earlier.  Even more cringeworthy is the fact that this confession from Ryder prompted Kitty to open up to him as well, in perhaps the only genuine moment Kitty's had when not faced with possible death by school shooting.  Kitty took Ryder out to Breadstix, and shared that she was molested at age 12, by a friend's older brother.  We also got the reminder that she dated Puck - an older, sexually-confident dude - which now feels even more disconcerting.  And while Ryder's babysitter eventually faced repercussions for her actions, Kitty's story was ignored by her friend's parents, she was socially ostracized, and ultimately she had to switch schools.  Yikes.  Suddenly Kitty was all about bonding with Ryder, but he's still glued to the ideal of Katie, and whatever he's decided about her in his head.

What with Ryder specifically identifying that his traumatic experience left him with girl-related trust issues, you could perhaps argue that his relationship with Katie, in that he was protected by the inherent disconnect of faceless contact, makes sense completely.  At first I thought it was a bit odd to give a kid with trust issues the complete faith in this online communication, without any question.  It's even more odd that Ryder is still obsessed with her, even after she betrayed his trust by lying.  So even if we give the first round of blind trust a free pass, the fact that Ryder's barreling past a breach of trust is a bit concerning for someone who claims to have trust issues.  Add that to the reason he has trust issues (childhood sexual abuse) and this shakes out to be one of the most disturbing storylines Glee has ever assembled.  Take it to American Horror Story, Murphy!  All signs point to Ryder being murdered after some really weird sex stuff, and then giving a calm voiceover at the end about what he learned in his tragically short life.

Santana, at the ballet

"Lights Out" endeavored to provide Santana with an emotional backstory and pivotal character moment on her journey forward in New York.  It did not quite achieve that.  What resulted from this intention was just a randomly-selected character backstory that didn't seem like a Big Deal, until suddenly Santana's standing in a spotlight hugging her child self and telling her she won't forget her again.  Whoa, whoa, whoa.  Where did this come from?  Why are there melodramatic character histories all of a sudden?  And why don't they quite make sense?

I still don't understand why Santana's ballet backstory was necessary.  Yes, Santana needs something to do in New York, but I kind of like the idea that she's cage dancing and working as a bouncer at a lesbian bar.  She doesn't need to have everything planned for her life yet, a concept Glee, taking note of Kurt Hummel and Rachel Berry, loves to put forth as abnormal and even troubling.  But for a few brief moments, the episode allowed Santana to be okay with not knowing.  She defended her right to take time to "figure things out," and fairy godmother Isabelle encouraged her with the same advice.  Not everyone is a Broadway-seeking missile like Berry and Hummel, and Santana shouldn't feel badly about not knowing exactly what she wants right now, or even wanting something different.

But then... Santana kind of wanted the exact thing Rachel and Kurt wanted.  Because deep down, apparently, every little girl starts off wanting to be a ballerina?  Which, I can assure you, is patently untrue.  If my parents had tried to unilaterally enroll me in ballet class, I would have had a major conniption.  (Actually, I probably would have just cried a lot.)  Casting this swooping ballet net over all little girls and little gay boys felt a bit frustrating, especially considering how Santana was roped into it.  She was a tomboy, and there against her will, but it was an escape, and she didn't feel different?  Even though she was a tomboy?  I didn't follow.  Furthermore, this identity is truly who she is?  Or at least, that's what the poignant moment at episode's end told me: Santana abandoned her dancer's identity long ago (why, and when exactly?) and won't let it go ever again.

Since when was this a thing...?  We've had a fair share of exploring Santana's identity on this show, and they can't seem to get their story straight.  (If you'll pardon the choice of words.)  "I really like dancing," Santana says in "Lights Out," after standing ramrod still and singing for six minutes.  Add this to the fact that Santana talking about ballet class sounded an awful lot like Season 1 Santana talking about glee club, and one has to wonder if dance really is the best choice for Santana's character.  Glee club changed Santana as a person, perhaps more drastically than anyone else on the show.  She did it against her will, but it turned out to be an escape.  She felt safe there, and part of something beautiful.  Why on earth were these exact same identifiers outsourced to some abrupt backstory we have no level of emotional investment in?  And do the writers realize they've actually squandered an opportunity to praise the glee club's magical powers in earnest?  Instead, Ryder Lynn is singing songs about them when the club's done comparatively little for him in his 15-episode history.  Way to know where to put your emotional weight, Glee.

So let's say, for a moment, that we want to keep all this Santana-as-tiny-dancer content.  Would this storyline not work better as an opportunity to connect Kurt, Rachel, and Santana?  After all, even though they had individual ballet experiences, we saw them, all three, in the same shot, watching their tiny counterparts, all three, dancing together in the same timespace.  This device inadvertently connected Kurt, Rachel, and Santana in a way unexpected (since it was introduced literally just this episode).  Why not make that work for yourself, and design the point around the idea that they have more in common than they think?  The episode came so close to creating that feeling, but flitted away from it so Santana could discover her "big dreams" and "true self."  Rachel and Kurt didn't understand Santana's NYC gameplan; the setup was there.  Kurt and Rachel pressuring Santana into doing very "Kurt and Rachel" things should have led to Santana revealing later, with her ballet history, that she was more like them than they thought.  It doesn't require Santana to be married to dance forever, or drop a life path in her lap after reassuring her she didn't need to rush it.  It just tells us she's not so different from Kurt and Rachel in some ways, and helps cement their NYC bond.  It also makes clear that in other ways, Santana is different from them, and she needs them to let her be.  It's so like Kurt and Rachel to think they know best for other people, and so like Santana to resist that.  "Lights Out" could have been an exploration of that dynamic, and an opportunity to reveal a tidbit about Santana that wouldn't tip over much of what we know about the character, and force her into the same tutu as Kurt and Rachel.

Sue, Blaine, and Becky

In the wake of her firing, Sue is now a personal trainer and loving it.  Blaine tells her the Cheerios are lost without her, and she needs to come back.  (Sounds like something for Kitty to do instead of Blaine, but unfortunately "Lights Out" had other plans for her.)  Becky feels guilty for Sue leaving, and is miserable with Coach Roz.  She tries to persuade Sue to return, only to have Sue sing about how much she hated her Cheerios (presumably lying... hopefully) and Becky goes to Figgins to spill the truth and get Sue her job back.  I'm assuming.

This story arc is built on garbage, so I'm not really enjoying the continuation of Becky as accidental school shooter, or Blaine as the noble male savior of the Cheerios, questing for a truth I'd rather forget.  I'm not entirely sure why he's so suspicious either.  "Something went down at that school.  No one feels safe."  Yes, Blaine, a gun went off and people huddled in terror to the endless ticking of a metronome and it frayed everyone's nerves.  You were there.  (I'm growing more and more convinced that hair gel causes memory loss.)

Ultimately, very little about "Lights Out" made any sense whatsoever, from the song motivations to the character choices, to the theme, frame, larger story arcs, structure, emotional pace, and payoff.  To borrow a phrase from suddenly-wise Kitty: it was just a projection of what Glee thinks defines its show.  But there was no real intimacy.  So why are we still staring at the screen?

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: C
Dance Numbers: D
Dialogue: D
Plot: F
Characterization: F
Episode MVP: Isabelle, as this may be the last time we have her

Friday, April 19, 2013

The RBI Report: "Sweet Dreams"

With its half-baked, oft-repeated theme, "Sweet Dreams" felt as though it may have been designed in reverse.  The episode wanted to show Rachel's Broadway audition, Finn partying his way through his newfound college career, and Marley gracing the world with her songwriting prowess.  What better way to tether those concepts together than with a bland attempt at Glee's catch-all theme?  Dreams, y'all.  Everybody's got 'em.  And by God, those special glee kids make 'em come true.

"Sweet Dreams," written by Ross Maxwell, directed by Elodie Keene

Yes, "Sweet Dreams" was a watered-down, messily-constructed, confused hour of television.  But at this point in Glee's season, it has precious few other options.  Fixing the sloppy setups and unrealistic payoffs, the unmotivated character choices and expository dialogue, believably balancing the graduates and the McKinley students -- at this point it requires a restructuring of Glee's fourth season as a whole.  Want to believably sell Marley as a songwriter?  Why not have made that an identifying trait when she joined glee club, to shake up the dynamics and give her something to do?  Want to give Rachel an important audition at the end of the season?  Why not give her consistent storylines in which she works towards that goal, so we're more organically invested in her pursuit and don't require a hurried narration reminding us how obsessed she is with Barbra Streisand right before she's meant to move forward in the arc?  And, if you wanted to give a touching moment with Marley's songs about being outcasts, maybe show the kids having been alienated from their peers instead of subjecting them to in-episode bullying by their teacher.

Will Schuester really was in fine (read: insufferable) form this episode, to the point where I wanted the kids to stage a coup d'appella.  Presumably suffering from Finn-related separation angst, Will snapped at the kids for "openly defying" him, flopped his ego around, singled out and insulted students in front of their peers, and guilted them into thinking they were less dedicated than he. Worse still, the episode made no effort to associate Will's heinous behavior with some kind of emotional reaction to the trauma of last week - when it made that exact association for the behavior of the kids he yelled at.  According to Marley's voiceover, which is apparently the best place to tell us about other characters' possible PTSD, people have been acting weird ever since the gunfire at McKinley.  Somehow this means that Tina dresses all steampunk now (may also have memory loss), and Unique's taking birth control pills, and Sam's subsuming another personality by pretending to be his sometimes-British twin Evan?  Or is that last one just separation anxiety from Brittany's sudden acceptance to MIT?  Any way you shake it, none of that behavior merited rage-insults from Schue, least of all when the issues were chalked up to post-traumatic stress disorder earlier in the episode.  Was the association just to have something to point to when the show's accused of not having any continuity?  If so, it came with a lot of baggage that the writers just ignored.

Anyways, Will didn't really have a realization about being a total ass, and instead lurked in the shadows of Marley's original song, indicating it was more a realization about not giving her a chance than anything else.  The only apology he gave was for denying the dissenters a voice - when it felt like Unique, Sam, and Blaine deserved at least a brief "I'm sorry" for having their teacher flippantly insult and/or shame them.  I mean, really -- "tone down the boob thing?"  Cringe.  Showing Will distressed in the hallway seemed to point towards wanting the audience to feel bad for the guy, but the moment wasn't specific enough to fully understand why.  

So, the most we have to go on is the problems with Finn, who, I'm beginning to think is Will's true soulmate.  I mean, he spends the episode trying to mend their broken relationship, spiraling into an emotion tornado at work, and by the end they've established themselves in a partnership.  While Will's having his own issues, Finn's partying it up at the fictional University of Lima, charging admission to indoor slip-and-slides in the form of girls' bikini tops.  I guess Finn's desire to delay adulthood makes a certain amount of sense, considering the number of times he's tried to step into some vision of his future only to realize he doesn't fit there.  So, naturally, he finds Puck partying too, they get invited to a frat, and then, when Finn misses a sociology test, Puck berates him into realizing he needs to buckle down and study so they can prove to the world they're as special as they've always known they are.  Or something.  The message is laid on thick, and through dialogue, which basically means it's poorly written.  

It's not surprising, though, that a supporting character on Glee steps in to force epiphany on the main character.  A stronger show would have created a situation in which we would see Finn presented with a choice between his studies and his social life, whereupon we would see Finn make the wrong decision, realize the consequence, and course-correct.  On Glee, however, we're treated to an expository voiceover clearly outlining the scenario, a pointless musical number showing us a college party, and then a morning after when someone's handily nearby to serve as moral-giver.  Thanks, Puck!  Finn couldn't have gotten there without you - well, not with the storyline structured the way it was, anyways.

Of course, since this is Glee, Finn got to play that role in someone else's storyline as well.  Rachel spent the episode struggling with what to sing for her Funny Girl audition, and naturally it's Finn who delivers her moment of clarity (after Shelby nudges her in the different direction).  What's frustrating about this, even aside from the outsourced revelation, is the fact that it's used to tentpole an arc for Rachel that's completely incongruous to her original character design.  At least with Puck's advice to Finn, it aligned with Finn's original arc: be more than mediocre, prove that you're special.  Both boys struggled with others' perceptions of them, how to succeed beyond expectations, and staying true to their true selves.  However clunky, poorly communicated, or random - it at least bears some tiny nugget of truth.  Rachel's "moment" doesn't quite have the same level of accuracy to it, and it's not hard to see through the machinations and understand why.  How else to justify dusting off three characters the narrative hasn't bothered with for two seasons to construct a fantasy sequence glorifying the show's original hit song and the impact it had?

See, in order to sell (milk?) this "Don't Stop Believing" moment (Glee's third iteration of their first chart-topper), the writers had to lean on the notion that this was an incredibly special moment for Rachel, as well as the audience (and the show itself).  We "fell in love," as Finn reminded us.  Now, I don't disagree with this necessarily.  "Don't Stop Believing" is, after all, the moment where a rag tag group of misfits came together and formed a unit.  First a club, then a family (if you don't mind dating a few of your relatives).  For Rachel, "Don't Stop Believing" is when she first found herself tethered to a collective.  Much of the first season's conflict came from the tension between a character wanting to be in the spotlight having to function as a member of a team.  Rachel with solos, or Rachel with friends?  You cannot have both.  Then, Glee decided to make everyone drink the Rachel Kool-Aid (Berry-flavored, natch) and embed her in a loving context - as long as she remembered to be eternally grateful for them not being douches to her.  (This context also only existed when the writers needed it to.)

The magic moments of "Don't Stop Believing" were specifically called upon for explanation (we'll ignore the part in my notes where I wrote "OH SHUT UP" in response to that suddenly curious member of the casting panel) -- and Rachel replied, "I wouldn't be the person I am today if [my friends] hadn't believed in me."  I'm not sure if Ross Maxwell was trying to draw overt connections to the title of the song, but frankly the sentiment is not quite accurate for Rachel's relationship to "Don't Stop Believing," and, in turn, her friends.  Rachel's dynamic with others' acceptance is not related to her self-confidence on stage.  Her self-confidence on stage is precisely what alienated her from others, at Glee's beginning.  What Rachel's friends gave to her was exactly that - friendship.  For the isolated girl who got slushied daily, having friends meant everything.  And "Don't Stop Believing" gave her a chance to make friends, and to be a part of something... special.  Rachel Berry already believed in herself.  She just wanted someone to sing with her.  So, the line of dialogue should have been more like "I was thinking about my friends.  I would never have been able to do this on my own."  Yes, it's a bit cheesy, but no less than the original line, and it's certainly more accurate to Rachel's arc.  

If you'll allow me to further endorse this line change: if Rachel had said something about not being able to do it on her own, it would have made everyone's thankless backup roles a little more acknowledged.  As it was, Spotlight Girl tried to honor her team by... singing the solo and imagining them all as her backup.  No, there was no way to make that moment into an opportunity for someone else to sing (it was awkward enough for Rachel to "interact" with spectral visions of her past) - but couldn't something have been done to make it work a bit better?  It's more than a little telling that the most amount of episode screentime for Artie, Tina, Kurt, and Mercedes came in Rachel's fantasy sequence.  Thanks for showing up, guys.  I'm glad we did this in Rachel's imagination and not in last year's finale with your actual corporeal selves.  Final plea for the "on my own" line: it subtly contrasts "Don't Stop Believing," Rachel's first group number, with her original solo title, a song sung about loneliness by a very lonely girl.

In sum: this show simultaneously glorifies and craps on their main character, all the while misinterpreting its own creation.  I don't know how the writers manage this - but they do.

Meanwhile, the Second Coming of Rachel (did anyone catch the owl sweater?) has decided to reveal her singer-songwriter talents and try to get original songs in Regionals.  After all, since Rachel wrote "My Headband," maybe Marley can write something like "My Newsie Cap?"  Nah, Marley's legit (just like Rachel was after Quinn yelled at her) and writes about being an outcast.  And apology ditties on behalf of her douchebag teacher.  Naturally, these dazzle and move the glee club members, and Marley's on track to have a song featured in Regionals.  Which is fine.  A bit heavyhanded, already done - but fine.

The last thread of "Sweet Dreams" involved Roz Washington coming to town and belittling everyone's gun violence experience with a poorly-written joke about growing up in the ghetto.  Ah, yes.  Let's just breeze past that.  Roz finds Sue's departure fishy, especially in conjunction with Blaine's sudden appearance on the Cheerios, which naturally means she swears both Blaine and Becky to an oath pledging not to hex Roz Washington into bringing a gun to school.  Blaine finds Becky's behavior about the incident unusual, presses her for questions, and gets a defensive Becky tantrum in return.  Those used to be so absurdly charming before they ruined her character.

In the end, "Sweet Dreams" is a thematically loose, messily-assembled episode that tries its damnedest to maximize emotions with the least amount of effort.  But as we near the end of the season, with a massive tangle of unresolved storylines pressing the show forward, there's not much else Glee can do but limp to the finish boasting whatever unearned payoffs it thinks the audience will enjoy most.  It's too late to refocus.  

Stray Observations:
  • Glad things aren't awkward between Will and Shannon after she confessed her love to him last week, and he in turn set her up with an online dating profile.  Buddies!
  • Don't think I didn't notice the Pilot-inspired shots of Rachel's hand lifted to the ceiling as the camera panned up and away.  It's included three times.  Once clearly wasn't enough.  Let's really hammer this nostalgia in, gang.
  • To this end, I can't believe the shot of the glee club's "all in" hand gesture (what the hell is that thing called?) didn't get an overhead shot like this one in the Pilot.  (Minus the text, of course.)
  • I'm kind of genuinely concerned for Sam's mental health after seeing him completely devoted to being both "Sam" and "Evan."  Like, this doesn't quite play as a comedic thing.  I worry for him.
  • Between Will, Rachel, and Finn, it seems like main characters on this show only make decisions when other people tell them what to do.  It's maybe the easiest way to remove main character qualities from your lead.  
The RBI Report Card...

Musical Numbers: C
Dance Numbers: C
Dialogue: D
Plot: C
Characterization: D
Episode MVP: Literally no one.

Friday, April 12, 2013

A Very Special RBI Report: "Shooting Star"

Over the years, Glee has become more and more shameless in its attempts to capitalize on current events in a bid to retain its perhaps prematurely-appropriated mantle of "revolutionary TV show."  (This posturing was made sometime in Season 1, probably around the time Kurt came out to his understanding father, Artie had a storyline from his own POV, and episodes featured more than a half-hearted miming of emotional authenticity.)  Mostly, these current events have revolved around the inclusion of the Top 40 charts, incorporating Justin Bieber and Katy Perry whenever possible, and drawing up a tribute to Whitney Houston shortly after her death.  (Despite the fact that Amber Riley's touching rendition of "I Will Always Love You" aired the week of Ms. Houston's passing and served coincidentally as a lovely and understated homage to the late music icon.)

Smattered through these relevant but mostly harmless song selections are Glee's more damaging attempts at shining a light on issues affecting teens today.  While its first season stumbled earnestly into adolescent issues of belonging, identity, and self-acceptance, the subsequent seasons rang shrilly with the hum of false emotion and forced parables.  Glee trotted out episodes devoted to exploring religion, teen drinking, texting and driving, struggling with sexuality and gender identity, physical disability, death and grief, suicide, bullying, domestic abuse, adoption, eating disorders, mental illness, race, and sex.  Only a handful of these endeavors were handled with even a modicum of sensitivity, and fewer still made it to our screens without swerving into the territory of after-school special.  Glee has never quite figured out how to balance its crown as History-making Television Program and still keep its original absurdist comedy.  It's a tonal impossibility.  Trying to fuse together comic self-reference with broadly-stroked morality tales is as futile as mixing oil and water.  And yet, for three seasons, Glee has tried, failed, and insisted it worked perfectly all along.

Tonight, they aired their latest in the attempt to remain message television: an episode featuring a possible school shooting, and those terrifying moments ticking endlessly in a darkened classroom suspended in horror and disbelief.  I suspect Glee is trying for an episode to spark a national discussion on gun violence, because they still believe they have the power to engage their audience in a thoughtful discourse on the topics affecting today's youth.  But the truth of the matter is that I've long since distrusted Glee from handling any sensitive issue gracefully - from Santana's coming-out storyline, to Artie's erasure from the narrative unless his storyline deals with his wheelchair, to Mercedes and Tina sidelined and reduced to black and Asian stereotypes, respectively, and the list goes on.  Glee has not proven themselves capable of handling an episode about a school shooting.  Not when the nation is still feeling the shock of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, and holding onto the memories of Columbine, Virginia Tech, and other losses.  And not when Glee is, at best, a poorly-written echo of a show that urges teenagers to accept their differences through song and dance.   Like oil and water: these things do not mix.

This friction between Glee's fantasy world and the rules of reality is something the writers cannot seem to negotiate and neutralize - or even acknowledge.  This has long been a show devolved into its own kind of reality, a world where rules are made up and broken as seen fit.  Characters are accepted to college when their significant others secretly apply on their behalf, as a loving surprise.  Students and teachers' personal lives are entangled and intertwined with little consequence.  College freshmen without jobs live comfortably in Brooklyn, where they will soon audition for Broadway leads.  These same jobless freshmen apparently afford airfare back home to Ohio multiple times a semester.  The rules of reality are bent and jammed as necessary to make the high-gloss fantasy of Glee's story work for the writer's ill-devised purposes, before they wipe away for the next installment.  

It is jarring, therefore, that "Shooting Star" attempted to cleanly portray reality without any illusion of a filmmaking hand.  The time spent during the shooting unfolded onscreen almost in real time, as a large chunk of the act was devoted to showing kids crouched in dark corners of the choir room, crying.  The camera was handheld, providing a documentary-style visual to make everything seem even more real, and then went one step further in shock value by actually using "cell phone footage" of the students' tearful messages to loved ones.  As expected, the editing cut quickly and frantically during initial moments of panic, and lingered uncomfortably during the seemingly endless moments of waiting, mimicking the emotions felt.  So Glee told their story.  But I'm not sure why they wanted to.  The fact of the matter is that I can't imagine anyone wanting to see, scripted onscreen to seem as real as possible, those moments of fear.  As a nation, we are already afraid.  We already read eyewitness accounts from Newtown, and put ourselves in those darkened classrooms, and wondered what we would do if we were faced with a moment where our choices and our strength and our love meant nothing to a man with a gun.  

We already know this reality.  We've imagined this reality.  We are living this reality.  We don't need to see it packaged up and presented to us on a television show which usually parades through with a glossy world of bright colors and narrative fluff.  At this stage in Glee's storytelling, the show is best suited for escapist television, and little more.  Not only did "Shooting Star" endeavor to show a beat-by-beat experience of violence in school, but it also put the gun in the hands of a student with Down Syndrome, who until now was one of the few examples of a usually "otherized" character being wielded sensitively as a real person.  She was allowed to be her own character, with her own POV, and while Down Syndrome played a part in her identity, she was also a sometimes-bitchy cheerleading captain who could dish a pretty inspired barb.  Becky existed without being reduced to or defined by her "other" trait.  Unfortunately, she was the easiest figure for Glee's writers to pawn off as an overwhelmed student who brings her dad's gun to school and scares the shit out of everyone.  But with only two scenes where Becky reveals how scared she is of the real world (news to me), it's difficult to dredge up the sympathy - or even understanding - for her when we spent ten minutes cowering with the glee club in fear.  Truthfully, I feel more sympathy for Lauren Potter, the actress portraying Becky, who has been vocal about advocating positive representation and visibility for those with Down Syndrome in popular media.  I fear audience members may assume, because of the shooting, that Down Syndrome is a mental illness and not a genetic condition, and only hope the sudden introduction of Becky's distress helps illuminate the fact that her emotional crisis is unrelated to her "label" as a character with Down Syndrome.  Regardless, it's a sloppy and somewhat disheartening choice for a pretty beloved character.

In another stomach-turning decision, Glee also chose to wield the school shooting situation as an opportunity to resolve a bunch of storylines they didn't care to give closure to anytime sooner.  Much like their (now-repeated) threats of apocalypse, it seems the easiest way to raise the emotional stakes in a Glee script is to loom the threat of death and make all that resolution come swiftly.  The high-pressure scenario dissolved Kitty's meanness towards Marley and Unique, huddled Ryder and Unique together, presumably without the conflict of gender identity, and gave suspense to the storylines quickly minted for Brittany and Sam and Will and Shannon at episode's beginning.  The takeaway, even before the shooting happened, was that with or without a meteor hurdling towards earth, you should live your days as though they are your last.  Knowing that school violence was pending only made this message more awkward as it was hamfisted into the beginning of the episode like an anvil about to drop.

All of this was wrapped up in the title "Shooting Star."  Unfortunately, this episode's existence serves primarily as evidence to a complete lack of respect by the Glee showrunners, and a display of deluded arrogance by a group of people who somehow believe it falls on their shoulders to script and deliver what is essentially a horror story for humanity and a still-bleeding wound in the collective heart of a fearful nation.  To poke at that, even with the best intentions, only reveals an utter lack of self-awareness and humility that, unfortunately, Glee has displayed for years now under the guise of revolutionary television.  Would that any indication otherwise - of reality - fall on listening ears. 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...