Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Gleeks on writing: Episode Three

I’ve figured a couple things out after several months of watching this show. If you think you know what’s going to happen, you don’t. If you think you know what’s really going on, you have no idea. That’s what makes Glee so original. A few weeks ago, I mentioned how I initially didn’t want to watch the show because it seemed too conventional. The pilot proved that wrong, and it seems that if the final nine episodes of the season have done one thing right (they’ve done a lot of things right, but this is probably most important), it’s prove to audiences that Glee isn’t a latter day Grease or a Disney spinoff. And as if we didn’t know this already, last night’s installment should have sealed the deal to viewers. This isn’t a show about a glee club, or about high school drama, or the teen caste system. It’s about a community of families, both biological and not, trying to find joy amidst the dismal background of their day to day lives.

I have never liked this Kurt/Finn plot. When the episode that introduced Kurt’s plot to set up their single mom and dad Parent Trap style aired last month, I found conveniently trite. It’s an awful lot of work for a kid to go through just so he can share a room with his crush. Although I was emotionally affected by Kurt’s jealousy of his father’s conventional male bonding with Finn and thought it was a refreshing way to depict the relationship between a single straight father and his gay son, I have still not been able to shake the idea that this plot really just weighs the whole thing down, character development set aside.

Then came last night’s episode and the scene that provided the emotional center of that character development. In the show’s pivotal moment, Finn and Kurt’s sexual tension reaches an explosive resolution when Kurt redecorates their room in the home they now share with their parents. Caught off guard by the décor of a flamboyant Hollywood hotel set from the 1930’s, Finn’s anger over the changes in his personal life explodes when he lets loose a stream of anti-gay slurs – and Kurt’s father overhears. He tells Finn that he is disappointed by his behavior toward his son, and takes Kurt’s side by kicking Finn out of his house and acknowledging that he is willing to sacrifice his relationship with Finn’s mother for Kurt’s comfort. The scene is brilliantly performed by all involved, a moment where the dramatic undertones of the series viciously rose up and sucked me in.

What this pivotal moment proved to me as a writer was this: we might not always know where a story is headed, but we need to trust the author. Too often, Glee’s seeming digressions and non sequiturs loop back around, connect with something, and surprise us. In this case, a conflict is resolved on two levels – Kurt learns once and for all that Finn isn’t going to happen, and Kurt’s father reaches an emotional threshold in his ability to accept his son’s sexuality and stand up for him. For further evidence of the power of this moment, I submit that “Kurt’s dad” was a trending topic on Twitter for hours after the show ended. Perhaps the episode that introduced the Kurt and Finn parent trap was poorly written and executed. But its payoff was enough for me to forgive the writers for that snoozefest. It’s just another lesson for us to take away from that writing – surprise your readers. Have the tension build and build, until the moment where it all spills out, and leave your readers stunned when the break – be it a break in the page or a commercial – cuts into the action and leaves us hanging.

On the subject of breaking away from conventions, it’s worth mentioning Rachel’s mom yet again. I don’t know what I was expecting from their reunion when I saw the clip on the previews. As I watched Shelby Corcoran sing “Funny Girl” and saw Rachel gradually link the voice on her mother’s tape to what she is hearing in the rehearsal, I knew that there would be no cliché reunion – as Shelby herself even acknowledges, there was no “slow motion,” no “running into each other’s arms.” Instead, as they discuss the ramifications of their reunion, they are sitting several seats apart in the empty auditorium, and their attempt at this confrontation radiates awkwardness. Even when Rachel tries to forge a closer bond by asking Shelby to make her a Lady Gaga costume for the Glee club’s deliciously campy and overproduced cover of “Bad Romance,” that awkwardness remains, as if Shelby decides to attempt being Rachel’s mom and play along with Rachel’s commitment to her. And in the end, the reunion fails. Shelby and Rachel won’t be going to the mall or driving around blasting showtunes from their car. There will be no boy talk or advice on when to have sex. As Shelby says, “We don’t have anything like [the moments Rachel has shared with her dads]. It’s too late for us.” It would have been easy to go the sappy, expected route. Instead, we’re taken to a place that is heartbreaking, leaving Rachel alone with the realization that her dream has not lived up to its expectations. It’s unfortunate for her, but for audiences who delight in Glee’s surprises, it leaves us deeply moved.

Last week, I wrote about the theme of parenting as a thread through the show. Between Kurt’s dad, Rachel’s mom, and even a brief scene where Puck drops his tough guy façade to connect with Quinn over her forthcoming delivery of her baby, this episode gracefully united these plots to make a statement about the decisions adults make, and the way they affect their children. Maybe these plots won’t rear their heads again. But that doesn’t mean the emotional aftershock won’t remain. More than ever, we are left with a clear sense of who these characters are and what they want – and what happens when the things they want are unachievable.

Now to the previews: Will singing a sultry, ass shakin’ version of “Tell Me Something Good”…to Sue? It’s going to be a long, long week.

Other non writing related notes:

Best Sue Sylvester Line: Sue is noticeable absent, so I’ll instead off what was perhaps the most hysterical, intertextual line of the show:
Rachel (on calling the Glee pianist onstage to accompany Shelby and Rachel on their duet): “He’s always just around.
Best Song: Shelby and Rachel’s transformation of “Poker Face” from a fierce pop song into a quiet, moving duet.
Best Gaga Costume: Quinn’s Scarlett O’Hara goes neon pink ensemble.


  1. Best pre-Gaga costume: Tina's goth outfit in the opening sequence.

    Worst Song: Kiss? Really?

  2. I like Tina's vampire look too.

    I agree. "Beth" is a horrific song, though I did kind of like how they worked it into the plot. I love it any time Mark Salling sings :-)