Glee: Somewhere there’s an A-plot, but it’s not, apparently, here

I’d like to say that this week’s Glee update is so far behind because I just didn’t want to write about this episode, but, while that’s not untrue, I was actually just really, really busy. But no amount of scheduling chaos in my life (that included getting to go to World Jazz Day at the UN and seeing a documentary about the history of jazz in India), will make “Choke” go away, so here I am, trying to come up with something.

“Choke” however may say more in what it didn’t do, than it what it did. Despite having three plot lines about which we should really, really care — Rachel and Kurt audition for NYADA; Puck may or may not graduate; and Shannon Beiste deals with domestic violence — the episode struggled to hold my attention, in part because it couldn’t decide on its A-plot.

On some level, this lack of an actual A-plot serves some of the concepts Glee’s been pushing as we get closer to graduation. Everyone’s a star in their own story, and things — some of them terrible — will keep happening to you and everyone around you, no matter how hard you plan and no matter how many milestones you pass. However, while this may work as a philosophical message, it’s hard to make it work as good TV.

Of course, the episode had other problems. The controveries about the domestic violence content in the episode seem endless, and my general sense of most comment on it is that said comment is more nuanced than the money quotes going around the Internet. That said, like the (structurally much more deft) episode in which Dave Karofsky attempts suicide, this is an episode about which its perfectly reasonable for lots of people to have wildly different opinions; remember, none of us are watching the same show.

But, even while that discussion rages (and I’m leaving it to other people because my voice won’t really bring anything new to it), there were still a few tidbits in “Choke” that were relevant to the things I am somewhat useful in talking about.

Glee, of course, has always been about identity: who you are and how that’s defined — by your self and by others. And “Choke” was (or at least attempted to be), about who people really are.

This was, perhaps, most obvious, regarding Kurt, who removes not only the mask of the Phantom but forgoes singing a song about love obsessive and controlling, in order to declare himself “Not the Boy Next Door.” In this number Kurt not only rejects his past loneliness and identification as threatening Other, he takes control of the idea of being different and uses it as his selling point. The remove of the tuxedo into the most ridiculously tight pair of pants ever was also on point — fandom may be joking about it, and I may have been embarrassed to watch that episode with my mother, but the fact remains, Kurt told us pretty convincingly he’s not a girl, not only through the song’s lyrics, but through that costume choice.

What defines Rachel was also on display. The idea of her and her fathers sitting shiva after she bombs her audition could imply mourning for a lost opportunity. But, if the ritual is looked at more literally, it implies Rachel’s death — is she nothing without her future potential stardom? Not to Kurt, because Kurt sees things others don’t (and also, when has death ever scared him off?); and not to Finn, who loves her and hasn’t always known how her ambition impacts him, but to everyone else and Rachel herself? It remains to be seen.

And if Rachel does get into NYADA in the end by being awesome at Nationals is generally suspected? It should be noted that the question will remain critically unanswered and a source of potential drama and danger for her as her career does, or does not, progress.

Identity was also in play with Puck. Can he still be Puck and care about school? And does that identity issue even matter when the whole plot line was just another excuse for Glee to talk about what makes a man (there’s a reason, by the way, that Glee never talks about what makes a woman — it’s because that’s not an ambition in a place like WMHS. Being a man is enough to be a goal. Being a woman never is — a mother, or a wife, sure, but not just a woman).

The domestic violence plot-line also touched on matters of identity, although I can’t help but feel like subtler writing would have told us more (never before have I actually wanted to rewrite an episode scene-by-scene for fun just to figure out what it was actually trying to do). But still, somewhere in that mess of heavy-handedness, there is a message that the fact that someone hit Beiste isn’t the thing that defines her for anyone that knows her. Since we know she and that plot-line will be back before the end of the season, hopefully we’ll see some more positive resolution for her character; and when we get that resolution, I’ll probably be a lot more tempted to write about this entire arc, because Beiste and gender is one of the great gifts Glee has to offer.

Finally, while unrelated to matters of true selves (unless we want to suggest a possible relevance in Mike’s discussion with Blaine about hair gel), I do have to note Puck’s remark that “even Blaine” has helped him become a man over the last four years.

Was that about the fact Puck’s only known Blaine for a year? Was it about Blaine being gay? Or was it about Blaine’s gender identity? As much as Blaine’s always been one of the guys, I thought yesterday’s episode in particularly went out of the way to make that an uneasy fit in body language, conversation, and even the way everyone’s physical size was shown in frame.

If Glee‘s secret plan is to remind us that things fall apart and the center cannot hold, I approve, even if I could have done without “Choke”‘s clumsiness and the return of fandom wars over Marti Noxon’s creative preoccupations (see: Buffy: The Vampire Slayer). But, I hope next week’s will bring some structure to that discussion, because not only was that episode in search of an A-plot, but so is this post.

6 thoughts on “Glee: Somewhere there’s an A-plot, but it’s not, apparently, here”

  1. I figured Puck’s comment was about Blaine being gay. Rory and Joe both came after Blaine did, and besides, if Blaine thought Puck just meant that he had only been there one year, he wouldn’t have answered, “Thanks?” like he thinks he probably ought to feel insulted. I suppose it could have been about Blaine’s gender identity, but I don’t feel like Puck has a grasp on that, even if it was apparent to the viewer. And wasn’t “Drink Till She’s Cute” some kind of comment on Blaine being gay?

    And doesn’t being gay make a guy “less of a man” at WMHS, or is it only gender-nonconformity?

  2. I found Blaine’s “Thanks?” to Puck telling, as well. Puck calls him out specifically, and Blaine, uncomfortable with the attention, makes an awkward-but-polite response.

    I did love his “Oh, God, no; no more candles” comment to Kurt, however. The dichotomy between his comfort with Kurt (clearly last week’s relationship issues are a thing of the past) and Mike (guys talk hair gel in the locker room?) and his discomfort with Puck were maybe the most logical part of the episode for me.

  3. As far as A-plot for this episode I felt that it was supposed to be the Beiste/domestic violence storyline but as Beiste isn’t a main character it didn’t quite work as A-plot. But I have asked the what is the A-plot to a lesser degree with other episodes of glee before, sometimes the lack of definitive A-plot seems sort of intentional almost part of the plot of the episode. Or perhaps glee embracing the – we are an ensemble show not a show centred around one character – thing they talk about in interviews.

    Puck plots and the character himself always confuses me in practically ever episode as to whether he is supposed to be an A, B or C character/story.

    While with that outfit and song choice Kurt very much declared that he is a man, I feel he has been dropping subtle hints for a while that he is a man. His clothing this season has been getting more and more masculine, Sebastian commented at one point on this with his “oh I didn’t recognise you, your wearing boy clothes Kurt” line. There was some reverting to more feminine dress after the first time but that stage seems to have passed. Now that Kurt is leaving WMHS he has the confidence to show his true self, a man who is attracted men, he doesn’t have to give the illusion of being a woman to keep safe as he will be leaving soon (that’s not to say that Kurt doesn’t have a strong feminine side that he very much loves and embraces). Blaine on the other hand is staying, as he pointed out last week and staying alone without the protection of Kurt. So he has to continue hiding his true self. He seems to feel the best way to protect himself is to appear to be one of the guys, Pucks comment about Blaine could be a hint that the guys realise – consciously or subconsciously – that Blaine might not be as much one of the guys as he appears to be in the same way Kurt isn’t as much of a girl as he appeared to be.

    Finns attempt to lead the guys in an intervention for puck where he couldn’t even make plans without puck walking in on it was another interesting hint at Finns desire to be a leader yet not having the ability.

    And what was the hair gel conversation between Mike and Blaine? I always feel with glee when a conversation makes no sense there some subtext or double meaning I’m not getting, is it just me?

    This is a long rambley comment, I apologise.

    1. I found your comment insightful, so I don’t think you should apologize.

      I like your observation about Finn once again trying to be a leader and failing. I’m interested in seeing if he keeps that up next season, since the path he’s apparently chosen isn’t leadership-related.

    2. If the filming spoilers that I read are true, I think the hair gel conversation is supposed to lead into a small plot in the Prom episode. That’s the only real significance I can think of for it.

    3. Just noticed that this is the third 18th episode where Kurt has a big triumphant broadway number, yet it’s the first one that was actually meant to be sung by a man. So I think you’re onto something with Kurt finally being able to show himself as a man now that he’s about to get out of there.

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