‘Glee’ Has Finally Reached Its Series Finale, And Even Fans Are Kind Of Glad To See It Go
Six seasons in and Glee's still maknig the same mistakes as always.
This story contains spoilers up to the final episode of Glee.
When Glee debuted in 2009, I was slow to jump on the bandwagon, but after bingewatching the first season, I was hooked — as we so often are after watching anything in quick succession. As its second season aired in 2010, I mined it for weekly blog posts about body image, religion, bullying, and sex and sexuality. The show may have had increasing problems with storyline continuity and the portrayal of pretty much every minority, but it was good for one thing: inspiring me with story ideas.
But as the students of William McKinley High School kept repeating their mistakes—a wider allegory for Glee’s writers stumbling over the same tired stereotypes and plot points — I found myself counting down the seasons until its inevitable demise, which comes to Australian screens tonight on Channel 11 (having aired in the States in March). I’m surprised it lasted this long, after many of the show’s former champions had long jumped ship to other, better shows (both critically and in the ratings) like Empire and Glee creator Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story.
So as we say goodbye to New Directions for good, here are some of the show’s intrinsic problems to remind us what a fond farewell it is.
Racism (And Other–Isms)
Where Glee often ran into one of its biggest problems was in its portrayal of minorities. On the surface, the cast’s inclusion of a kid in a wheelchair (although let’s remember that the actor who plays Artie, Kevin McKale, is not disabled) and many different races, sexualities and genders should be applauded. However, minorities are often tokenised for a special “issues”-based storyline, and then shoved back into the shadows to let the main, white cast shine. Season one’s ‘Wheels’, and again in season three’s ‘Big Brother’ with Quinn facing (temporary, duh!) paraplegia, offered an example of “disability-as-inspiration,” while Mercedes dealt with body image issues that were solved by a granola bar in ‘Home’.
It’s great to see more actors with Down Syndrome on TV, but Glee fetishises its character with the condition, Becky (Lauren Potter), giving her the inner voice of Helen Mirren (I think you would be hard pressed to find any able-bodied characters with this gimmick), and using her as the school shooting scapegoat in season four’s Very Special Episode, ‘Shooting Star’. (A more nuanced portrayal of people with Down Syndrome and other disabilities exists over on Murphy’s other show, American Horror Story.)
And with the constant pointing out of Tina Cohen-Chang and Mike Chang’s (seriously, they couldn’t give the “Other Asian” a different surname?) ethnicity, Glee talks a good game about diversity and inclusivity — but there is a huge difference between satirising -isms and simply laughing at them. And Glee is far too good at the latter.
No Substitute For Character Development
My other big gripe with Glee is that there is no storyline continuity whatsoever. For example, the aforementioned school shooting at the hands of Becky was allegedly going to open up a dialogue about mental health and disability, in which viewers would “see a little more of [Becky’s] background,” according to Potter’s mother. And unless they’re planning on pulling a Hail Mary tonight, it has never been mentioned again.
Quinn is a glee clubber whose motivations oscillated from episode to episode in an apparent attempt at character development. Her pregnancy to a man that wasn’t her boyfriend and subsequent ostracism from the cheer squad in season one expanded her character, but in season two she regressed back to pining to be crowned prom queen, and for a nuclear family with Finn. After Finn breaks up with her in the season’s penultimate episode, Quinn tells him she has “big plans” for their trip to New York City for the nationals. That plot was seemingly dropped like it was hot, as the only thing Quinn did in the Big Apple was cut her hair.
In this, Glee’s final season, the plotline deals with the fallout from Rachel self-sabotaging her Broadway dreams, and finding herself back in Ohio coaching the glee club. Her fellow New Directions appear to have all done the same; Kurt joins Rachel as co-captain, Blaine mentors rival club the Warblers, and Sam is the football coach. It really makes you wonder if the past five seasons of Rachel and Kurt yearning to get out of their small-minded town and make it in New York were all for nothing.
Glee ostensibly touches on its history of repeating itself in a rare moment of self-awareness in the third-to-last episode, ‘We Built This Glee Club’, when Kurt asks Rachel, “How many people get the opportunity to go back to the crossroads they were at a year ago and choose the other path?”.
So What’s The Point?
Which leads perfectly into Glee’s calling card: seemingly random, eleventh-hour plot points.
Rachel’s abandonment of her Broadway dreams is one obvious example, but Glee’s final season has been particularly rife with them. Sue Sylvester swung wildly between befriending Mr. Schuester and the glee club to being their nemesis (which isn’t that different to every other season, really, proving Glee has been a moot point all along), while Becky betrayed perhaps the only person who believed in her — only to return to Sue’s side in the finale. Dalton Academy, home of Blaine’s Warblers, burnt down, forcing them to collaborate with the skeletal New Directions in order to qualify for sectionals, which never seemed to be a problem before. This begs the question: why bother introducing new glee clubbers this season if some of them (Jane Hayward comes to mind) don’t get character development, let alone speaking roles and solos? What a waste of talent.
But perhaps the least successful development came with Coach Beiste’s transition. Props for effort, but like so many of Glee’s surface gestures at inclusivity, it felt like a superficial grab for ratings at a time when the “transgender tipping point” and trans people of colour such as Laverne Cox and Janet Mock were making headlines. Unique, a trans student in seasons three through five, can probably attest to such tokenism, when she was wheeled out to give weight to the new transition on the block. (It should also be noted that neither Beiste nor Unique are played by trans actors.)
On the surface, Glee’s lip service to minorities has helped change the television landscape and gotten audiences talking about gay, trans, racial and disability acceptance, amongst other issues. Upon its gleeful goodbye tonight, though, what’s left of its audience is saying loud and clear that we won’t accept tokenised, fetishised and insensitive portrayals of those minorities, and the characters and real people that belong to them any longer. It’s a shame it took us six seasons to get there.
Glee’s final episode airs tonight at 9:30 on 11.