Glee: Connecting the dots on the Warblers’ fall

While I feel like I’ve spent most of the summer making lists of shows I wish I could keep up with and write about (The Newsroom, Political Animals, and a cut of the Olympic Opening Ceremonies not edited for US TV. Since that spectacle was about the importance of storytelling in forming identity — whether for children or for nations — I really had wanted to write about it), Ryan Murphy’s gone and got himself on Twitter and has released a spate of deleted Glee scenes.

These have included the infamous box scene (in which Blaine gives Kurt a promise ring), the bridesmaids scene that leads up to Rachel and Finn not getting married due to Quinn’s car accident, and an amazing first season moment between Rachel and Jesse set to “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love” from A Chorus Line. That Rachel and Jesse scene, in particular, merits a significant amount of time an attention all to itself, because it focuses on Rachel’s relationship to sexuality as both tool and reward, which are ideas very much in play when she loses her virginity to Finn in the third season, also present around the evolution of Emma and Will’s relationship, and nearly completely absent from the Kurt and Blaine narrative.

But, since there’s also a long lost Dalton scene that’s just been released, Rachel and Jesse are going to have to wait.

“I Want You Back” was originally slated for the “Michael” episode, and it’s another moment where the fallen Warblers under Sebastian Smythe come off as sexually menacing. If the performance had appeared where it was supposed to, between “Uptown Girl” which just hints at some darkness having contaminated the Warblers, and “Smooth Criminal,” in which it becomes clear just how much of the “Michael” episode is at least metaphorically about rape and response to rape, we wouldn’t have had to connect the dots on the Internet, because Sebastian’s escalation from coveting something, to pressing for something, to taking/ruining what he can’t have, would have happened far more clearly on our screens.

The flip side of that narrative would have also been clearer from Blaine’s initial sense of being flattered and uncomfortably interested in Sebastian to Blaine being annoyed and feeling like he can’t say no to him. Kurt’s complete unwillingness to leave Blaine’s side in “I Want You Back” is telling, because it doesn’t read like jealousy or possessiveness, it reads like fear for another person who’s already vulnerable.

Of course, Blaine is not the only target or illustration of Sebastian and the fallen Warblers. That Artie’s chair has to be carried in and out of the room where the confrontation takes place is extremely telling. In Blaine’s era, Dalton was a place for everyone, and while we didn’t see anyone who used a wheelchair at Dalton during that time period, I feel sure were supposed to assume that Dalton was enthusiastically ADA compliant given how Blaine spoke of the school.

But there’s no room for someone like Artie there now, and it speaks volumes both that New Directions cooperates to get him into and out of that scene, and that it’s through Blaine’s ongoing need to deal with the Warblers that Dalton is only able to become vaguely and inadequately accessible to Artie once again.

Santana and Rachel also get targeted in this scene. With Rachel, that menace is brief, and sexual, and it almost seems like Sebastian loses interest in trying to intimidate her when it seems like she’s not even entirely clear on what she should be afraid of from him. Santana, however, is another story — there are too many ways for Sebastian to target her: sex, race, and class are all weapons he uses against her, in this scene and others, with abandon.

Class, in particular, becomes an explicit, if unexplained, issue in a way it usually doesn’t on Glee at the end of this scene, because Blaine — whose family wealth and social class is a matter of intense debate on Tumblr and in fanfiction circles — tells Sebastian he was proud to be a Warbler because, in part, they were “classy,” and this display wasn’t.

This rather ineffective and uncomfortably delivered attempt at a put down implies two really fascinating things about Blaine.

The first is that while he is relatively good at ingratiating himself into a given environment, Blaine is terrible at code switching. He certainly fit into Dalton when he was there, but when he tries in this scene to insult the Warblers on their terms after he’s left, he can’t quite pull it off. When you’re a person who lives in and between multiple worlds (which is an ongoing issue for Blaine on several fronts because of his school history and the passing issues he encounters related to race, gender, and sexuality) and you’re bad at code switching, one of the things it can mean is that while you usually seem to almost fit in if no one looks too closely, you actually never do — not with the people you’re like, and not with the people others think you’re like.

The second thing the “classy” remark brings up is Blaine’s relationship with sex. Because while Blaine might be criticizing the cruel and threatening way he and his friends were just treated, he may also just be criticizing the ridiculous and over accentuated hip action of the choreography. After all, let’s not forget Blaine’s “not for sale.” Blaine’s narrative bounces between sex-positivity, slut-shaming, and what eventually seems to become real fear in the face of Sebastian’s aggressively sexual advances, and that doesn’t get any less unsettling just because this scene happens to fill in some blanks. This moment is very much in line with things about Blaine’s past on which I’ve speculated before, and the way Kurt keeps close to him really underscores that for me.

Finally, there’s one other sort of delightful yet horrifying nod to class issues in this scene, that I have no way of integrating into the rest of this article, but is too amazingly weird not to mention: Kurt Hummel is wearing white shoes. To Dalton. I don’t know how commonly known this slang is any more or if it is used much outside of my region, but a “white shoe” firm historically refers to old, moneyed, and highly successful banking, law, or consulting firms that serve blue chip corporations and are known for their discretion, conservatism, and, to be frank, WASPishness. Many of those Dalton boys surely have fathers at white shoe firms and will one day be bound for them themselves.

For Kurt “one day you’ll all be working for me” Hummel, who is the son of a proudly successful blue collar man, to wear actual white shoes to Dalton, is that character’s personal and peculiar viciousness (and the Glee costume department) at its very finest. Because that type of trivia is exactly the sort of thing Kurt collects and uses all the time, even when no one else in the room is likely to notice; Kurt Hummel is a writhing ball of cultural references, and it’s one of the reasons this show is so much fun for me to write about.

At any rate, in many ways, we did not need “I Want You Back” placed into “Michael” as it ultimately aired — after all, we were able to do the math that this cut now, in some cases confirms, or at least supports. But its release is incredibly valuable not just in forming arguments about what’s really going on in Glee and the faerieland at its borders, but for asserting that there is an actual point to indulging in all this analysis. “I Want You Back” fills in holes in a way that makes it much easier to say to those who disagree that the show clearly does plan arcs and engages in argumentation, even if it, quite literally, has a tendency to replace too many of its numbers with variables.

Hopefully Ryan Murphy will keep treating us to these delicious goodies from the vaults.

21 thoughts on “Glee: Connecting the dots on the Warblers’ fall”

  1. The thing that fascinates me about ‘I Want You Back’ (well, one of the things) is that after three previous encounters in all of which Sebastian attacks Kurt, here he completely and utterly ignores Kurt. No eye contact, no attempt at intimidation, no acknowledgment whatsoever. He might as well not be in the room. It’s fascinating because as this scene and previous ones have shown, Kurt is someone Sebastian can’t intimidate; he always has a comeback to Sebastian’s attacks – comebacks that step confidently onto Sebastian’s territory of the sexual, such as the infamous ‘You smell like Craigslist’ moment – and he is never not hostile. I’m not sure whether Sebastian is ignoring him here for the same reason as he ignores Artie (thinking/trying to imply that he’s negligible), for tactical reasons (he wants the Warblers to forget that Kurt was one of them too) or because he knows it’s a fight he won’t/can’t win, at least without taking serious damage in the form of being forced to expose himself before his supporters – but I suspect it’s a bit of all three, with the third being the strongest reason but the one Sebastian would be least likely to admit to.

    And then when Sebastian attacks ND again after this, he again doesn’t attack Kurt, who in ‘Black or White’ did expose him for what he is and humiliate him in front of his supporters*, directly; he attacks around him, targetting Kurt’s stepbrother’s known-to-be-touchy heteronormative dignity via the one person in this scene who flinches away from him here but doesn’t face back up to him at another point (as Artie and Blaine do during ‘Bad’ and Santana does a second time in ‘Smooth Criminal’).

    Kurt is the person in the equation who isn’t afraid of Sebastian for his own sake, though I completely agree that he’s afraid of what Sebastian could do to Blaine here – and Sebastian, I think, feeds off that specific, personalised, sexualised fear. If a person’s not afraid of him, he can’t harm them.

    *The reason I am most annoyed at this scene being cut is that it makes the reasons behind Kurt’s decision at the end of the episode much clearer. It’s about saving the Warblers from Sebastian, and in doing so cutting him off from the sources of his power (fear and support).

    1. What’s interesting to me is that the people Sebastian ignores are also the people most tied to masculinity of that group:

      – Kurt, who despite the digs he gets constantly from people is clearly, and explicitly, someone who positions himself as male, and is, of that group, the only one physically of a size with him (and in fact he’s broader than him)

      – Artie, who is central in Glee’s ongoing “what does it mean to be a man” thing and the only person who consistently succeeds at that in a relatively non-toxic way. Hell, Artie’s even the guy who told Rachel and Blaine to get laid. If Sebastian were paying attention, Artie’s someone who understands masculinity in the same way he does — just less gross.

      – Rachel “man hands” Berry.

      It’s Blaine and Santana that all that creepy, rapey stuff gets directed at.

      What’s fascinating about Kurt’s fear for Blaine in this scene is — legitimately, what’s going to happen, right? There are a lot of people in that room, no matter how much they are colluding with Sebastian. What does Kurt know to be so afraid for Blaine?

      What’s also fascinating here is we know Blaine knows how to fight… the fencing, the boxing. Except other than pushing someone and stepping back, we never actually see him fight. One of the hardest things for many people in martial arts is getting past the inhibition of striking someone. We talk about Blaine’s tempter and him removing himself from situations so he doesn’t hit someone. But what if he just can’t?

      Because looking like you can fight and not being able to, can be really, really dangerous. And I wonder if that’s something Kurt knows too.

      1. Blaine knows how to fight under circumstances where fighting isn’t for real. Boxing and fencing, in the modes he knows them, are sports. I think they make him feel under control, and safe, but – yes, although he looks like he could handle a fight I doubt if he could actually, intentionally hit someone even to save himself. And that does put him in a dangerous position.

        I think Kurt does know that, which is one reason why Kurt fights his battles with words. He knows he can.

        Some more reasons why Blaine and Santana might get the creepy rapey stuff directed at them (and why he doesn’t stop the way he does with Rachel after one attempt)? First of all, they don’t cringe away; they try to face him down but can’t hide that they’re creeped out. Rachel just ducks away; she doesn’t give him anything to fight and conquer, so she’s not worth his shot. Also, Sebastian is a racist, and Blaine and Santana aren’t white.

        1. I am fascinated by the idea of Blaine being unable to intentionally hit someone —- and wonder if this ties into the storyline of Coach Bieste being unwilling to hit back at her abusive spouse???

          1. For me, I feel like this line of thought goes a few places — one is to the .gif-set going around Tumblr of the look on Kurt’s face during IWYB, and people saying “look at Kurt realizing the exact moment he could kill Sebastian” and then all of us talking about how Kurt is very careful to be non-violent with people — physically or verbally, because he knows how vicious he’s capable of being.

            With Blaine (and with Bieste — and I think we should parallel them a lot in conversation, because they are both perceived to be way more traditionally masculine than either of them is) there’s two arguments to make. One is, he knows he has a bad temper, and so, like Kurt (and like Bieste who also has an unfortunate discovery in terms of what she is capable of), he holds himself back. We have evidence that this is possible in that “I’m not for sale” moment with Sam and in one of his interactions with Karofsky.

            The other option though is that, as I’m sure most women who have studied martial arts are sick of hearing, that it’s really hard for someone to intentionally hit another person if they don’t feel they have a right to that type of violence in their identity. I.e., “it’s hard for girls to learn to punch people.” But we also see him freeze when threatened, and it’s really interesting. I mean, here’s a fan exercise, put Blaine in the “Smooth Criminal” scene instead of Santana; what does he do and why? Bieste also freezes in her circumstances before she does leave, so that duality is definitely floating around for her too.

            I don’t think we know what the answer is in terms of what Blaine is able and not able to take into his life from his boxing and fencing training, but I think you are EXACTLY right to ping on Bieste in discussing it.

      2. I am so super curious about that Santana thing. My guess is it has to do with both her race and gender (tied up with class too, what with all of Sebastian’s bigoted “ghetto” cracks) that marks her as the most obvious outsider in the old boy’s club world that is Dalton.

        Blaine is an interesting case because he had fit in at Dalton (a lot has been said about him passing as straight, white, etc), but then he left. In effect Blaine marked himself. His deliberate choice to reject Dalton and the social insulation and privilege it generously gifted him may have made him just as much an outsider as someone who would’ve never made it through the door in the first place. In effect Santana and Blaine are Dalton pariahs in different ways, so it makes sense that they are the clearly targeted victims in this episode.

    2. I think Sebastian ignored Kurt because this performance was explicitly orchestrated for Blaine’s benefit. This confrontation is very much about Blaine, and so he gets the dubious privilege if being the “guest of honor” in the scene. Sebastian set it up that way. He sabotaged Blaine’s standing in ND, then manipulated the Warblers so he’d effectively get no support from either group (Kurt keeps close though, bless him).

      I have no doubt that Sebastian’s intention wasn’t simply to slime all over Blaine. Having an audience was important. Sebastian was sending a message: I can do this to you. I can treat you like this, in front of your boyfriend, in front of all your friends, and no one’s going to stop me. I can have you whenever, wherever, and however I want.

      It’s scary as hell, and I actually think Blaine showed a lot of fire and nerve in this, all things considered. In the end he stood his ground and shut that nonsense down on his own. Of course, Sadie Hawkins proves he also has a history of being too brave, too earnest, and then getting in over his head…

  2. Kurt is also wearing the safety pin trousers from BIOTA. Further ramping up the threatening atmosphere, the room just feels so cramped especially compared to Teenage Dream. Most of ND all pressed up against the sides. Scary.

    1. And – importantly – Kurt and Blaine, the former Warblers, are separated from the rest of the ND contingent by the current Warblers.

    2. “Teenage Dream” is such a great comparison. Because that was a gift, and an offer. “I Want You Back” is exactly the opposite and terrifying for it.

  3. Thank you for this post. When I saw the vid last night, I found it so unsettling. From the choreography, to Blaine’s expression, to Artie being carried in, I found the scene to be incredibly dark.

    Taking this scene into consideration, it’s fascinating how many times Sebastian is assaulting others, emotionally and physically (and I remember your analysis of the other singing-assault scene with Santana from the same ep). Too, this scene would’ve led into “Bad” and the slushy meant for Kurt. So I’m wondering about the point A to point B on that. Why does Seb turn so much more aggressive with Blaine? And why does Seb target Kurt–so noticeably silent in this scene? Is it out of frustration with Blaine and not getting him, and losing to Kurt in particular? And how do we get to a Blaine in “On My Way” who can shake hands with Seb and even cheer him and the Warblers on at regionals? Or is that just Blaine’s code-switching again, trying to still fit in with a group that’s already abandoned him?

    1. I think it’s hard to steal things that are tied down. I think Sebastian is absolutely aware that Blaine reacts to him on a sexual level, even if it’s sexual revulsion, and that without an anchor, Blaine’s going to float right over to him. Kurt’s silent presence becomes the clear obstacle here, but I think he’s an object, and one to be eliminated, to Sebastian here, not a competitor.

      As to Blaine being able to shake hands with Sebastian once this whole mess is over, the only answer I have is trauma. First, the one that happened on screen regarding Karofsky, which throws all of them. The second is Blaine has just been through some awful shit at the hands of Sebastian, shit that may evoke the awful past I speculate on. And one way of coping with that is to say it’s fine. He’s safe now, if he just says it’s fine, right?

      Blaine continues to minimize Sebastian throughout the arc that culminates with “Michael” even as he gets more and more dangerous to him and Blaine is clearly freaked out by that. That’s about something.

      1. “Blaine continues to minimize Sebastian throughout the arc that culminates with “Michael” even as he gets more and more dangerous to him and Blaine is clearly freaked out by that. That’s about something.”

        Yes, remember in The First Time even, when they arrive at Scandals and Kurt says, “I don’t like him,” and Blaine says, “He’s harmless.” In some ways Blaine’s actions in the arc help him avoid real confrontation (but as you’ve said before, he does “pretend” confrontation in the “Bad” sequence and through his boxing), but there’s this other element of perhaps his trying to regain some control–by being the one to reach out his hand, for instance.

        There was a time where I thought it would be interesting to bring Seb on Glee as a regular, but this guy really terrifies me now. He was creepy before, but there’s so much going on just between Blaine and Seb in that scene, the way Seb uses his body near Blaine, and looks at him. What a contrast between this “serenade” and Blaine’s serenade of Kurt in “Never Been Kissed.” Both are charged atmosphere’s, but in absolutely different ways.

      2. I think Blaine’s ability to shake hands with Sebastian is similar to how he was able to put aside Finn’s constant belittling in the first half of the season after a quick apology at Sectionals. Blaine is very much a people pleaser and if it’s for the good of the team, he’ll push aside his issues to deal with it. (See suffering through Cooper’s master class or performing their old Duran Duran mashup with him. His friends wanted it so he did it.) Someone needed to go and shake the hands of the Warblers. At that point Finn wasn’t even pretending to lead the group in any other way except name. Artie (the real leader of ND nine times out of ten) was unlikely to go over there. Kurt wasn’t going to do it. Puck and Mike aren’t interested in being the leader of ND and Rory is too new to be considered a leader. It had to be someone so Blaine did it. After all he’s Artie’s preferred leading man.

    2. About why Sebastian is especially aggressive with Blaine: TFT explains it well, I think. Blaine was “the king” at Dalton, before Sebastian was there. Sebastian admires that (because he admires power), yet he also means to undo that legacy so he can crown himself as the new king. And at the same time he is sexually attracted to Blaine. So it’s a combination of different things… Blaine is a symbol, Blaine is a prize, Blaine is competition, Blaine is a threat. He covets Blaine, while at the same time needing to minimize him. That’s where the power dynamics and sexual aggression and rape metaphors intersect in awful, awful ways.

      As for the reconciliation, I’m a bit worried that perhaps Blaine never really grasped the full implication of Sebastian’s behavior. He had some idea, of course, so he was deeply angry about it, but he was nowhere near fearful enough, I thought. He was hurt, he was betrayed, but if he thought the slushy was the worst of it the I’m not sure Blaine truly appreciated how far Sebastian was really capable of taking things . Hell, none of the ND kids did, except maybe for Santana. Otherwise they would have kept the darn tape.

      1. You’re right–Blaine never seems afraid. I think there are a few things that keep him from seeing the truth: his belief that Dalton is be definition a safe haven, his respect for Dalton and Warbler structured codes of behavior, and his assumption that anyone in the uniform believes in the same things, too . . .

        1. Sorry this is gonna be a long reply :). It’s great that you mentioned the uniform. I’ve been thinking a lot about that too, and how it might connect to Dalton as a safe space for Blaine.

          Remember that old joke about Dalton having no teachers during S2? Nary a one to be seen during, only waves of students in identical

          blazers. If we subscribe to the idea that Dalton in S2 was in part a projection of Blaine and his ideals, then this makes sense. It’s been

          established that Blaine doesn’t place a lot of faith in authority… the administration at his old school failed (and, in part, willfuly refused) to

          protect him. So at Dalton the teachers were invisible; only students were present. This is important when you examine how the Warblers

          functioned. True they were rather stuffy and traditional, with the individual often suffering to the collective, but in principle the uniform being

          a common denominator meant everyone counted. Everyone mattered. Each Warbler acted with honor and was treated with honor, and they

          extended this philosophy even to their competition. Even with the Warbler council acting as a faux authoritarian body (not to mention

          Blaine’s strong charisma), the Warblers remained essentially democratic.

          This might be what the Dalton uniform symbolised for Blaine: egalitarianism. A stark contrast to the McKinley jersey acting as a

          symbol of status, in a school where those with clout and authority (teachers, jocks) can choose to be benevolent or oppressive to those who

          don’t (the “geeks” and “losers”). In Blaine’s fantasy, the Dalton uniform was about equality and mutual empowerment, something he

          passionately believed in. Of course from the outside looking in, and with a bigoted jerk like Sebastian at the helm, this tidy picture looks

          starkly different. Note that the first time we actually see a teacher appear at Dalton is during the “Uptown Girl” sequence in S3 — a clear signal

          that the power dynamic in Dalton has changed since Blaine left, or is about to. (Note also that the teacher’s authority is undermined and

          subverted. Instead her femininity becomes a target for rowdy boys who circle her and intrude her space. What does that say about


          Blaine failed to see the signs. When Sebastian asked to speak with him “Warbler to Warbler” he was touched, because to him it meant he was

          being engaged respectfully, as an equal (remember this was around the time Finn was bullying him). That’s why he was pissed at the

          Warblers for acting like bullies during the IWYB number. To him “class” referred to a standard of conduct that was about treating people

          fairly, while for Sebastian “class” was a license to exclude, other, and abuse people. Interestingly, this ties in nicely with why Kurt wore those

          white shoes to Dalton, and why he kept close to Blaine even when he knew his boyfriend won’t be physically attacked. Kurt is keenly aware

          of the problematic “old boy’s club” sentiment at Dalton– that’s part of the reason why he never really settled in there. In contrast, I’m not sure

          if Blaine fully came to terms with those problems.That Dalton was never truly a safe space for Kurt could perhaps explain why he was

          so protective of Blaine during IWYB. He realized that “once a Warbler” meant nothing, that Blaine was vulnerable within that space even if

          Blaine himself couldn’t see it. When Blaine said “none of that was classy” he was criticizing the Warblers for forgetting what he earnestly

          believed to be their true, noble ideals. Kurt’s shoes echoed the same insult, but in an ironic way. He was insulting Sebastian and the Warblers

          for “being classy”. Kurt showed them up for what they were.

          Tying this all back to the reconciliation at the end, I suppose seeing Karofsky nearly get bullied to death reminded Blaine what Dalton and

          the Warblers had meant to him when he himself had been at his lowest. Sebastian did a shitty thing, but by the end he appeared to turn over

          a new leaf, and it did look like the Warblers were trying to be good guys by helping out a bullied gay teen. No surprise, that pushed all of

          Blaine’s “Sadie Hawkins”buttons, and I guess it was enough to convince him to be magnanimous. (Crap, now that I typed that out I really

          hope Sebastian’s change of heart isn’t a total fakeout)

          1. Love all of this. I think Blaine’s feeling about the uniform and Dalton do a lot to explain his transition to McKinley, too. You can tell early on that he sort of expects his voice to be heard, just as it would with Roberts Rules at Dalton. But not so at MKHS. Interesting, too, how often the individuality/agency on the part of the glee kids exhibits itself–Blaine is criticized quite often for his appearance, his performing even . . . which is new for him as he’s trying of course to fit in (so easy at Dalton). But I digress.

            In the end Sebastian stages a coup and taints the Warblers, and it’s disappointing to see how easily the Warblers are so easily led. We do see that Sebastian can be charming/say the right things, but he’s diabolical too.

            Gosh, I’m writing this article right now with a deadline looming about Blaine and Quinn and literary doubling, and now after your post I can’t help but see Seb as similar to Quinn in some key ways. They’re both interested in status, and earlier Quinn is very manipulative–but her manipulations happen a bit more off the public radar (she tries to plant incriminating things in Shelby’s apartment, or makes a deal with Sue to spy on ND). Sebastian’s manipulations–like the blackmail with Rachel–are all very public. Perhaps it’s his gender, his class (meaning his parents’ status or agency in society) allow him to do almost whatever he wants, to get whatever he wants . . . and with that I still wonder about his change of heart, but I like your take on what motivates Blaine to accept it, at least publicly.

  4. Thank you for another brilliant essay. I take your insights into Blaine and Kurt’s characters seriously. My writing partner and I have used many of them in the development of our first Glee fanfic. It is a new genre for both of us. We selected Glee fanfic as way to hone our collaborating writing skills before moving on to our first novel. Again thank you for your incredible essays.

  5. There are interesting things, too, in how Blaine is shown as able-bodied in the “I Want You Back” scene and becomes disabled by the end of “Bad.” There’s suspense on whether he’ll regain the use of his eye, more suspense than there necessarily is on whether Quinn will walk again. With both, though, it shows that a disability can happen very quickly.

  6. Thank you for the background on “white shoe firms” — I wasn’t familiar with the term. My original take on Kurt’s white shoes was the old Yankee/New white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day… Dalton being the old fashioned, stiff, formal protocols for dress v Kurt, the fashionnista who is not boxed in by fashion rules, traditions or labels.

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