“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.
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?
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.