Glee: The magic is gone

Despite the title, and some of the rage viewing that went on while I watched the two episodes that aired last night, this isn’t actually a post about how I’m over Glee. Rather, this is a post about the ways in which magic was absent from last night’s narratives and what that may tell us about what type of show Glee thinks it is.

Because, even with Tina’s weird body swap fantasy head injury — in which everyone is more themselves than when they are actually themselves and the world is a nice enough place that Kurt and Blaine can cuddle everywhere — magic was noticeably absent.

As graduation approaches, Glee‘s all about the real world now. Even songs that segue out of the choir room into what I think we’ve come to understand as a fantasy sequence on the show, do so onto an empty stage with limited effects. Everything is stark; everything is a future that can’t be imagined. Sometimes, everything is a future that you don’t even want to imagine (see: Beiste and Puck, considering knives).

For me, frankly, the de-magicing of these two episodes of Glee was frustrating, but Glee, while explicitly set up to ultimately be a victory story for all its characters, really only knows how to show us victory in relatively naturalistic terms. We can understand Will getting an award, Finn getting the girl, New Directions winning the prize, Quinn getting her dream school.

But when it comes to transformational stories, about being seen and heard (Tina getting a song, Kurt getting a yes), Glee tends to falter, as if if doesn’t know how to use its style to explicate victories that are, even in front of an audience, innately more private.

That so much of the Nationals-related issues in these episodes center early on around Kurt performing in drag was a narrative device with multiple purposes and potentials, including giving Kurt an opportunity to define the type of queer person he is to a WMHS that might actually be listening for a change. It is, of course also framed as an opportunity for him to be a hero (as boys are), while also taking one for the team (as girls do), emphasizing the way that characters that are perceived as inhabiting liminal spaces at WMHS are always framed both as magical and as suffering burdens of those unasked for and supposed gifts.

That Kurt wants nothing to the drag number is spot on and connects with the ways Glee tends to link authenticity and gendered positioning of its characters. But in the fall-out from Kurt’s disinterest, so many narrative opportunities aren’t just lost, but alluded to in a way that makes their absence even more frustrating.

Puck’s appearance in a dress and fight by the dumpsters with Rick the Stick, for example, represents a gorgeous transformation from the kid who once threw Kurt into dumpsters for not being a certain type of man, yet Puck’s speech about the dress missed the point — in ways Puck actually usually doesn’t.

Kurt, too had an opportunity, to be contrasted with Rachel. They’re both characters who have expressed at times a desire to do anything for fame (and in a way this was underscored by Kurt and Blaine’s reality TV obsession and Halloween costumes), but Kurt has a line regarding his own truth that Rachel has not personally encountered her own version of yet. But he is willing to be a spy (again), indicating a willingness to perhaps compromise his honor his Self. In a set of episodes about the intensity, nature and appropriateness of Rachel’s ambitions, where was an examination of the motivations of the constant moon to her sun?

And of course, there was everyone being offensive about Unique. And I get it, WMHS and Lima are offensive places, where people don’t know how to deal with folks who aren’t cisgendered, and while I’m a big fan of asking audiences to understand that the things that come out of the mouths of characters on Glee are offensive all by themselves, this is one where large swathes of America just don’t have the tools. Even a line where someone asks about what _is_ appropriate, or a well-meaning but painfully awkward PSA from Blaine (he’s good at that, and I felt like the script crept there once and then didn’t deliver) would go a long way.

But that doesn’t happen, and in the end, Unique’s threat to New Directions is more Rachel Berry (powerhouse voice and star power) than Kurt Hummel (liminal magics). I, frankly, love this as a choice, as last night’s script framed Unique more as her true self, than as a performative identity of Wade (which is what we got in the character’s introduction), since Glee’s always run a little bit of a risk around the idea of magical queers (it’s not why Kurt is magical, but as last night’s episode shows, it’s exactly the mistake everyone around WMHS tends to make).

For me, so much of last night’s episode felt like the people with magical roles on the show had checked out or had their own distractions, and it was, to say the least, frustrating. But often, when I write these things, I find my own answers.

Just as Rachel tells us Tina has no idea what it’s like to be her (even as the audience is supposed to identify with her every step of the way), we really have no idea what it’s like to be Kurt who tends death, makes people love him with a song, and is constantly expected to make everything better by becoming — for good or for ill — something other than the mass of shifting colors he often is.

While the New Directions victory is huge for all the characters, and for us as viewers who surely had to have expected this moment, most of the characters are actually more worried about other battles right now, and are waiting — as in all the numbers that took to the WMHS stage in this pair of episodes — in the dark.

This shift to other battles even as the obligatory one dragged on, means that the real question left for the finale is whether graduation means an end to the magical world of Glee and the otherness and liminality that often drives it, as practical, logistical concerns take over for those who depart, or whether our magicians are about to face even greater magics then their own — after all, it looks like Rachel and Kurt are off to meet the wizard (and we’ll talk about the danger of that during hiatus, I think), or at least, see Oz.

But while the New York setting of Glee‘s next season remains one type of magical question mark, so does the situation back at WMHS, especially for Blaine and Tina, both of whose narratives increasingly seem to be about the consequences of being rendered powerless.

2 thoughts on “Glee: The magic is gone”

  1. I don’t know. I think Kurt sort of magicked Unique’s push through her fears and inability to transform with the white rose (representing girlhood). And Sue wearing the top hat after she’d engineered the big presentation for Will.

    I think the magic is still there. I mean, something transformed the slushies thrown by the hockey team into the props New Directions used in “Loser Like Me”.

  2. I think the overarching magic was that if they won Nationals, it would make them popular, acceptable, etc. And we see this happen, when instead of slushies they get confetti-ed, and Kurt gets hugged instead of shoved by a jock. Rachel gets approval from the popular girls (some resolution to the bullying we saw in the pilot), and so on.

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