'Glee' Proves It Can Still Pack Emotional Wallops

What a long, strange trip “Glee” is turning out to be. I can’t think of another show anywhere else on television that can so deeply engage me in one moment and so thoroughly exasperate me in the next.

In recent weeks I had all but given up on the tuneful trials and tribulations of the students and teachers at William McKinley High. I’d had enough of “Glee’s” signature snark. I was over its perpetual preaching. I was sick to death of Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), an eccentric character that was once the show’s clever comic center but had deteriorated into a cruel fool. In fact, I thought all the characters had suffered in one way or another, often behaving in ways that were necessary for whatever the show’s writers had in mind that week without regard for their personal histories.

All that said, I wasn’t prepared to be knocked sideways by the titanic emotional overload of this week’s episode, in which one character attempted suicide, one suffered a catastrophic accident and the kids movingly triumphed in the annual regional competition. Indeed, I only watched because I knew it was this troubled show’s final episode before a two-month break and I wanted to see if “Glee’”s creative team was going to do anything to ensure that viewers would come back when it returns in mid-April.

I understand that many people feel “Glee” packed too much story into one episode, and I agree that any of the major plot developments therein could have been thoughtfully expanded to fill a full hour. But I’m going to flag it as one of the most powerful and potentially important hours of broadcast television this season. It began with a gripping sequence in which former bully Karofsky (well-played by Max Adler) -- the jock who tormented Kurt (Chris Colfer) last season -- was himself tormented by his classmates after they learned he is gay and, unable to handle the ugliness of it all, came home from school and attempted suicide. In an unforgettable moment of shattering helplessness, his father, having found him hanging and cut him down, could only hold his son and scream for help. Karofsky survived and was beginning to understand by episode’s end that his life will likely get better.

The final sequence in the hour was devastating in an entirely different way. Quinn (Dianna Agron) -- rushing to make it to the wedding of Rachel (Lea Michele) and Finn (Cory Montieth) – did something entirely too many people do today, especially kids: She took her eyes off the road to read text messages on her phone, only to be broadsided by another vehicle. At the very least Quinn is going to be grievously injured. At worst… well, I think the show will be doing its young viewers a service if we learn upon its return that Quinn was killed. Shock value can be very effective, and there is no understating the dangers of texting while driving. Local papers are filled with stories about such terrible accidents. They are often fatal, and they very often involve teens. “Glee” could save lives here if it chooses not to pull its punches.

There was so much going on in between Karofsky’s suicide attempt and Quinn’s deadly accident that it’s dizzying to recall it all in any detail. Wicked Warbler Sebastian (Grant Gustin) softened up after hearing about Karofsky and sought to make amends with Blaine (Darren Criss) and Finn; Sue softened up while breaking the news of her pregnancy; Mr. Shue (Matthew Morrison) softened the kids up when he told them about a moment of deep despair in his youth and reminded them that many different pressures can drive people to contemplate suicide; New Directions and the Warblers competed in the annual regionals (and New Directions emerged victorious); Finn’s mother and stepfather and Rachel’s dads conspired to stop their kids from getting married; Quinn was reinstated in the Cheerios. Some of these plotlines (Sue with child, the parents’ plotting) were right in sync with the unfortunately all too familiar “Glee” weirdness. But others illustrated the unique power this show has to explore issues kids face every day.

I was particularly impressed with a scene in which a distraught Kurt crashed a meeting of the school’s new Christian club, the God Squad. (That’s another nice touch on this aggressively inclusive show. How often are Christians represented anywhere on series television without being made the butt of silly jokes? That subject will be in play once the ABC comedy “GCB” makes its debut March 4.) In a telling exchange between Kurt and Quinn (who was pregnant in “Glee’s” first season), Kurt asserted that the pressures gay kids can face in high school are across-the-board worse than those faced by pregnant teen girls. Kurt, often the sensitive center of the show, came off as seriously self-absorbed. “Glee” can be accused of many things, but a reluctance to highlight flaws in each of its characters isn’t one of them.   

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