To be really honest, I was dreading last night’s episode of Glee, not just because it looked terrible, but because I thought there wouldn’t be much in it that I felt qualified to talk about. But, instead of getting an episode that I anticipated would be both poorly structured and really offensive, we got some fairly high-quality knitting.
The knitting is all that stuff that happens that isn’t an event (prom, someone coming out, a proposal, a fight), that makes sure we get from point A in the past to point Z in the future without being totally confused. Yup, it’s that magic stuff called continuity that so many people argue Glee doesn’t have. Me? I think Glee has tons of continuity, but plays such a long-game that it doesn’t always execute on that continuity or prioritize the right bits of that aforementioned knitting.
But in the case of “The Spanish Teacher” I’m almost sure that even if we don’t have a lot to say about this episode now, it will be the episode we go back and revisit both at the end of 3.14 and at the end of the season, when we try to figure out just what it is that Glee‘s been trying to tell us. And what Glee is trying to tell us is a whole lot of stuff about life, death, growing up, and what you can and can’t leave behind.
In “The Spanish Teacher,” the key moments on this theme came from Emma, Sue, and Kurt, all three of whom have consistently been the only people able to act as guides in the underworld that is both WMHS and Lima, Ohio. But in this episode they also each point, not just to the now well-known to us signposts of this hell, but to the paths, long obscured, out. In each case those paths are explicitly about alchemy and about union with the self. This isn’t a new theme for any of the trio, but it’s the first time it’s been highlighted for each of them in the same episode during which they function, oddly, as Maiden, Mother, and Crone.
Let’s start with the Maiden. That’s Emma. She’s a virgin, and no one takes her seriously. The kids are generally boggled by her pamphlets (Mercedes is not a two-timing ho), and Will consistently condescends to her. Yet, not only is she the teacher to receive tenure at the end of the episode (and whose teaching is shown to be effective thanks to that hilariously uncomfortable scene in the locker room), she makes a critical pronouncement to Will mid-episode: “I don’t need you to take care of me.”
The things that make Emma arguably different — her OCD and its connection to her virginity — do not make her a child, and, in fact, give her power. There is power in what she says to Will, not just in the force of her voice, but in the transformative decision (Will’s surrendering of the Spanish teacher position) it sets into motion.
Emma, as Maiden, also has a critical talk with Sue, as would-be Mother. Motherhood and Sue aren’t new topics — she’s often talked about how she is like a mother to her Cheerios and her somewhat maternal interactions with Becky, Jean, Santana have been on display before. But after several scenes of comedy in which Sue ferociously goes after people she feels are putting her not-yet-existent family at risk, Emma confronts her about her desire to use Will as a sperm donor.
This leads us to perhaps one of the most affecting speeches ever performed on Glee, and one I am still unsettled by — Sue Sylvester is not someone I ever want to have cause to identify with. But when she talks, seemingly with enthusiasm at first, about how she walks around day-in and day-out, every hour of every day vibrating with rage, and then explains she never wants her child to experience that feeling, I shattered.
Sue knows exactly who she is, and what of her nature she cannot leave behind; she can, it seems, only seek to contain it, by moving into a new future, in which, as mother, she must protect the imagined child from the truth of herself.
All of which brings us to Kurt, that boy without a mother, who Sue calls out early in the episode when she doesn’t want his sperm saying, “Let the weird end with you.” It’s hardly a reference to Kurt’s homosexuality.
Rather it’s a reference to Kurt’s voice, face, clothes and affect. He is a witch, one of the three weird sisters — not just in the triumverate formed with Emma and Sue, but in his later interaction with Rachel and Mercedes, wherein the three of them pass bowls (cauldrons) back and forth. Kurt mentions that their behavior is “weird” (witchy) before deadpanning about all three of their periods not being due until the end of the month.
Sue, for all her cruelty, has always identified Kurt for exactly what he is. And, like Emma’s awkward but real connection to Sue, Sue has an awkward but real connection to Kurt.
Declared a witch early on, it is Kurt who goes to Finn in the wake of finding out about the engagement to Rachel and says at the end of a long speech, “Your time isn’t up, Finn. It’s just beginning.” Only Kurt, who has always been a master of death, as Crone, could make this declaration to Finn about the nature and duration of his life, at least conceptually. Although, if I’m right, Kurt is far from done mediating others’ relationship with death this season; keep an eye on 3.14.
Ultimately, “The Spanish Teacher” is an episode that tells us Emma is not too innocent to take care of herself; that Sue is not to cruel to mother; and that Kurt is not too removed from the world to fight the passing of things out of it. Each character displays self-knowledge, duality and personal acceptance, while many of those they interact with have not yet made that journey into the magic of union.
The real power of this episode, and these characters, won’t, I think, be clear until we’ve reached the end of both this block (through 3.14) and of this season. However, when we look back to define the themes of this year and the arcs of these characters, “The Spanish Teacher” will be the pivot point from which we should have guessed everything Glee‘s trying to say about power, surrender and the way forward.