Glee: The ferryman always takes a toll

“These next six [episodes] are designed to be fun, fun, fun. They’re big, glossy, star-studded. Then the last six will be very heartbreaking.” – Ryan Murphy in Entertainment Weekly

I was in the airport when fandom found this and got understandably anxious. Me? I just got excited. Like, tapping my feet, fidgeting, get-me-off-this-plane, I have stuff to write, excited. Not because I like tragedy, but because I like stories, conclusions, and victories that are earned. And it occurred to me, reading Murphy’s rather Persephonean remark and thinking about some of the ongoing discussion of “Yes/No,” that I think we have to expect that no one gets out of William McKinley High School without paying a price. No one gets to have everything they want, especially before this story is over, and it’s probably time to start getting ready to pay.

Sadly, I think, the character many of us would like to be most immune to this debt, is the one most susceptible to it to it: Kurt Hummel, who has the show’s closest relationship with death, and often serves as its mediator.

Kurt still opens the drawers of an old dresser to catch his dead mother’s scent; he worked to call his father back from the dead (and not with the help of any god, it should be noted in the face of Kurt’s atheism, which in no way diminishes the otherworldly themes with which he is surrounded). He’s the boy who got death threats, who arranged Sue’s sister’s funeral, who was able to walk in and back out of the faerie kingdom of Dalton, and the one who has a dead animal trophy motif in his wardrobe from fox tails to hippo heads.

He is also the boy who struggled the most with the idea of sexuality and losing his virginity and then took the most ownership of it (big death, little death, spiritual union, Kurt Hummel has got this death and associated metaphors thing covered). I’ve written about it before: Kurt is a magician and a creature who lives between many worlds, including, but not limited to, two schools, a blended family, his gender presentation.

But in many ways, it’s not that Kurt’s a Persephone, cycling in and out of the realms of Hell, not now that his bullying isn’t so terribly plot central and dangerous. Rather, it’s that he’s an Orpheus who didn’t look back when he left Dalton (remember that when Blaine sang “Somewhere Only We Know”, they had their “I’m never letting you go” moment, but then Blaine looked back while Kurt, surrounded by his friends, did not), and so got to keep his Eurydice.

For now.

If we argue that William McKinley High School is Hell, or a realm of it — and I think that’s a pretty easy argument to make, not just because it’s awful, but because of the heightened reality of Glee, and because of the themes of Ryan Murphy’s work (all his stuff is arguably set in different realms of Hell, sometimes explicitly so) — we sort of also have to assume that Death may be the least inclined to grant favors of escape to his most cherished servants.

Because Death’s been kind to them in a way, and wouldn’t want to see them go. More than anyone, Death’s given Kurt a place, and a very specific function in the world of Glee in which his otherness is less a role and more a symptom of this unique purpose. For that matter, Death gave Kurt Blaine when Pavoratti died; as such, Death might be inclined to have some demands, if Kurt is going to leave.

This suggests to me that if Kurt gets into NYADA and chooses to go (and I believe, deeply, that Kurt will get into NYADA, but that he may possibly choose not to go, sacrificing that dream for Blaine or his father), either he will then break up with Blaine or his father will die. That’s the price to cross the river (Manhattan is, after all, an island): NYADA, romantic life, or family; Kurt can only choose two.

Rachel will also have a price to pay on her graduation journey, but I suspect (and let’s be frank, this is what I would do if I were writing the show) it may be a less obvious, but not less significant, toll. If Rachel gets into NYADA and goes (and I can’t see a way towards a moment where she chooses not to), I believe she will also, as recompense, agree to marry Finn, and take him to a New York where he will not be happy.

Many fans, of course, will yell and scream at the end of season 3 if and when this happens, especially if Kurt and Blaine have broken up (which I suspect they will), but, again, to quote the same Leonard Cohen line twice in a week, love is not a victory march.

What we’ll be seeing won’t be Rachel getting a happy ending and the gay boys getting screwed by network TV homophobia. I promise you. Because Glee loves mirrors. For a pair of friends who are getting out of Lima to both pay the debt to do so with their hearts, in ways that seem to be polar opposites of each other, is the type of elegance that Glee does well, and makes the show worth watching despite all the other places in which it gets lost while trying to play its long game.

So I suspect Rachel will get to New York without having really escaped; and Kurt will arrive as less than what he has always been meant to be by denying his nature — that is, that he is a boy from Lima, and his heart is tied to that place and to Blaine, no matter how far he goes and no matter how true his dreams become. Season 4, in turn, will then be about renegotiating the prices of their escapes.

These inevitable tolls to cross out of WMHS and Lima aren’t limited, of course, to Kurt and Rachel. The other seniors will surely have things dear to them taken too. Quinn, for example, probably won’t get out of Lima, but in exchange, will get to retain a connection to Beth. Santana will likely have a choice that involves Brittany, her family, and possibly a Lima escape. Mercedes, I suspect, may be dancing back and forth between Shane and Sam for the rest of the season, simply because the show hasn’t really given her another dilemma. Finn’s going to have to choose being a big fish in a small pond (and taking over Burt’s garage) or getting over his conception of being a man (Finn’s not leadership material, and you don’t have to be a leader to be a man, but that’s going to be hard leap for him to make).

None of these choices will be easy to make for any of the characters; all of them will hurt, and many of them will be the wrong ones.

My gut tells me Kurt will get into NYADA around episode 3.17 and then break up with Blaine in the second to last episode, although in that final episode they’ll probably have a small moment where there’s a kiss goodbye or some other gutting sign of hope (Note to the powers that be: all I want for early Christmas is Kurt and Blaine singing Mika’s “Happy Ending” to each other as everything falls apart because they are still in love).

Rachel, meanwhile, will commit to going to New York, whether or not she gets into NYADA and will bring an uncertain, plan-free Finn with her. The New York half of season four will likely feature Finn not being able to hack it and going back to Lima for a while (although not necessarily permanently); and Kurt and Blaine dating around miserably (Kurt has dinner with a myriad of boys and can’t stomach more, while Blaine’s probably going to be very busy in the back seat of cars) before he and Blaine get back together towards the end of that season.

It’s hard, of course, to want stuff like this to happen to characters and relationships we love, that keep us, frankly, company in the dark. Kurt’s been through enough, we say. But they have such great chemistry, we remind. We’ve been through so much watching these people, don’t they deserve happily ever after?

Don’t we?

But narrative, of course, thrives on conflict. And fandom and general audiences both thrive on longing. When will they kiss? Doesn’t he realize he still loves him? These are the questions we ask. These are the questions we will be asking.

Because loving fiction that is out of our hands is one of the realms of Hell too. It is a place of shades and ghosts that we can almost, but not quite, touch, and who we strive to make tangible through our desire and our grief.

But the ferryman always takes a toll, and he’ll take it at the end of this season of Glee not just from Kurt and Rachel and Finn and all the other WMHS high school seniors, but from us. That’s the price for all the love and yearning these stories give us.

The secret, of course, is that it feels good to pay that price, and to drink from the river, and forget.

24 thoughts on “Glee: The ferryman always takes a toll”

  1. The part about Rachel is already coming true. Brad Falchuk just tweeted a candid of Lea Michele on set today in which she is wearing Finn’s engagement ring.

    1. I saw that, but I’m not convinced it’s the same ring, although it’s hard to tell. I wonder if she’s negotiated him down to a promise ring? I don’t know. I’m sure she’ll change her mind a few times before we’re done with this season.

  2. OMG stop it. Stop being so brilliant all the time.

    (I mean that in a totally kind flaily holy-crap-you’re-probably-right sort of way)

  3. …I should be stapling class resources against the clock, but I had to stop and comment, because I love this and it makes so much sense. No, nobody will get out of McKinley without paying a price of some sort (that’s why none of the adult characters have – they weren’t willing to pay the price, eg Sue leaving Jean behind, Will giving up his secure stage etc). And yes, Orpheus and Eurydice is so apposite!

    I think Kurt will definitely have to give something up to go to New York, and if he does it will probably be Blaine. I don’t think Burt will die as that would anchor Finn to Lima and the garage (unless the space left for him is what Finn will come back to after it all goes pear-shaped with Rachel). But I doubt it will be a permanent break, as you say. Because the story isn’t over, and Kurt is one of its heroes (interestingly, the season’s heroic characters are explicitly not the ones wrangling with the ‘being a MAN’ question…).

    Now I’m wondering what Mike’s price might be. Not his relationship with Tina or his father, I think – but with him being a dancer, injury is always on the cards…

  4. I should NOT have read this. Because I think what you’re saying makes exceptional sense and I’m not sure that in the realms of my own personal Hell that I can actually stomach this.

    Then again, if the price of getting out of my own Hell is having my one happy place, my happy Glee bubble, burst beyond recognition, then maybe that’s ok. I just hope the first comes before the second if that’s the case.

    1. Ditto.

      And I kind of hope this is the way it does happen. Because it makes sense to give CC and DC more screentime. They’re not going to give them more screentime to be all happy, balanced and mature, so they’re going to have to create drama.

      And oh, my little Glee heart will break, but I’ll be more addicted than ever.

  5. I am torn between hoping you’re right, because it makes so much narrative sense and it would be true to the characters and their situations, and hoping you’re wrong because oh, it will be gut wrenching. Either way though, I’m ready for the ride.

  6. If this all happens, I may punch you. Mostly because you’d be totally right that, narratively, this would be an incredibly interesting direction for the show to take but one that I’m afraid to trust the show to do.

    Also, WMHS may be hell, but this post, with all its beautiful mythological parallels, is a little slice of heaven.

  7. As inevitably happens when thinking about Glee this makes me wonder – what does that mean for Blaine? I like to think they each get their own stories. I know I’m mixing my mythology, but if hell is hell than does this make Blaine Inanna? Shedding his Dalton uniform at the first gate and spending all season losing his “royal garments” only to have Kurt kill him and hang his rotting corpse from the choir room wall? That makes for a rough summer hiatus, but ultimately it requires Blaine to make his escape by his own devices while Kurt reconciles the price he paid. Thus leaving them ready to be together at the end of season four.

    1. If only I were as eloquent as you both. I agree that there really has to be a break up. It seems that ever since Blaine transferred he’s been losing more and more of himself – not that we’ve ever been given that much back story as we all know, and as Darren himself acknowledged when he introduced himself at the Starkid gig as ‘Kurt’s boyfriend from Glee’. Blaine came to McKinley to be with the person he loves, but, perhaps unsurprisingly with such a move, has not found happiness or it seems any kind of contenment (even if that’s not because of overt resentment, as Kurt feared at the time). It’s partly to do with the strangeness of him being older/now younger than Kurt, but the confidence is gone and the way out of this seems to be that he will indeed have to escape Lima by his own devices before he can possibly (hopefully) come back to Kurt as an equal. The ‘I was so proud to be with you’ ‘I want you to be’ moment was, for me, filled with such desperation on Blaine’s part, specifically in terms of Kurt being called upon to carry the weight of Blaine’s dreams as well as his own. It’s too much for anyone to bear.

  8. Don’t forget Pavarotti, in telling the tale of Kurt and death… Left under his care, P died, but in exchange for that death, he got Blaine’s love at last. Trade-offs in hell, indeed.

    Of course I want Klaine drama and break up — and not just because I’ve never been into the relationship and don’t love Blaine. But, as you state, no one’s getting screen time for being loving and mature and stable. Also, for the actors, SO MUCH MORE FUN to play breakup and drama and choices than goo-goo eyes.

    Honestly, a break-up may be just the thing to get me to root for Klaine, in the end.

    Wonderful post. Clever and eloquent.

  9. I do agree that Kurt and Blaine aren’t going to last the season, and who knows what is going to happen next year. I just think given everything we don’t know about Blaine, including his home life, that is going to have something to do with it. You speculated in an earlier post that Blaine might have a problem with alcohol, and I can see that getting a little bit more out of control because Blaine is all about the illusion of control and he won’t want to tell Kurt what is going on in his life at home, and what he has to deal with. Kurt, in the end, breaks up with him in part because of this. And it has to be Kurt that breaks up with Blaine because even at this point, Blaine isn’t exactly a fleshed out character and to have him break up with Kurt would require too much character backstory to fill in, to make his motivations believable.

    1. Ooh, I disagree. I do think Blaine would be the one to break it off. Kurt has demonstrated in the past a willingness to sacrifice his personal goal for love of family. I could see that choice being before him again, and him wanting to make the same choice to keep his relationship with Blaine alive. I could easily buy Blaine pushing him away so that Kurt could really pursue his dream. Somehow I see Blaine as not wanting their relationship to be the cause of Kurt *not* succeeding in New York. It would be a painful gesture, but I think he could do it. I can’t see Kurt doing it, but then again, maybe that would be Kurt’s big moment to be selfish (in a good way) in pursuit of what he wants.

  10. Your insights continue to amaze and to break me in all the best of ways.

    Once again, thank you.

    If Blaine and Kurt do break up, your story is becoming my canon. Just so you know. 😉

  11. So, I have seen, I think…three episodes of Glee. Maybe two. Total.

    But I love learning about the world through your speculation. I’m scared to ever actually watch the show, because I enjoy your interpretation so much more.

    1. I watched the first season when it still made sense to me without requiring me to read commentary. Now I just feed off these lovely. lovely essays to understand (and keep up!) with what’s going on. Yum.

    1. I often refer to Lima, or McKinley specifically, as Hotel California, “You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave.” I don’t know if I see McKinley and Lima quite as unsalvageable as a hell metaphor, but I do think the place reads as cursed. Quinn, the one person in ND so far we know has a definite way out (early acceptance to Yale), gets in a car crash. The place is going to do all in it’s power to keep a character there and even if a character physically leaves, I’d bet they’ll be carrying around Lima anyway. Either through emotional or psychological scars, realizations the world out there can sometimes be too similar to unfortunate aspects of Lima, those they left behind (like, for example, an unbreakable tether that transcends death as referred in “Funeral”) or simply growing up a certain way in Lima (maybe with certain types of privilege that made a character too complacent) that doesn’t translate well or doesn’t translate at all trying to survive elsewhere and the character has to humiliatingly go back to Lima, shamed/punished for daring to leave.

      Which is why I always go back and forth whether I think Kurt will actually leave. However, as I don’t see Lima as completely lost (anymore than I do the country as a whole in real life, though it’s certainly got room for some significant improvement), I’ve wondered if it’s Kurt’s destiny to liberate Lima or at least really start the ball rolling with that or help mentor those who’ll have to carry on the fight after he ‘dies’ (figuratively speaking), takes the boat to the West, to Avalon, allowed into Valhalla or whatever. Stand and fight, not only trying to change Lima but save those who can’t leave yet/help them find a way out first (chiefly those who’ve shown limited capacity to cope with Lima, much less join in the fight to try to change it). I’ve wondered if Kurt can at least unconsciously see a ball there that needs to be rolled and he’s one of the few intended & able to roll it, except that role is so gargantuan and intimidating it induces this flight response in him (and thus the desperate desire to escape to Oz-nee-New York City). Campbell would call it Rejecting the Call, except as that’s usually more an initiatory period rather than an actual rejection, Kurt probably will take up that Call eventually. Probably one of the primary characters intended to take up Will’s slack (and that of other largely inept mentor/authority figures), succeed where Will’s failed.

    2. You know, when I wrote this, I just couldn’t figure out what price there was that would seem like a “fair” (in the way Glee is constructed) trade for Quinn to get out. While I would be very surprised if


      her injury is permanent (there have been shooting stills of her in a wheelchair), I have to imagine TPTB will use the severity of the injury to, rightly or wrongly (because there’s a potential for a lot of offensive choices here), derail her exit timetable. Of course, it just makes me more convinced I’m right about the rest of it too, even if at some point Ryan Murphy said there would be no breakups this season.

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