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.