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Glee: Learning to listen in a city of giants

28 Sep

Does anyone remember what happened the last time Kurt didn’t pick up his phone?

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way (and I’ll confess, I was tempted to make tonight’s post that single sentence, but that seemed excessively cruel), I want to talk about the new adults on Glee, Cassandra and Isabelle. They are both powerful, magical, and, potentially, very frightening.

Cassandra is, in many ways, obvious, and we don’t need, necessarily, to devote a lot of time to analysis here; after all, her name tell us she is the mad woman who knows the truth and sees the future. Because she sees the future, she has no future herself. She is without second chances and her words, no matter how widely broadcast, are only listened to by the select few.

Isabelle, on the other hand, is slightly less obvious. Her name means “My god is a vow,” and in some ways this positions her similarly to Cassandra — spiritual, knowing, and, for that, alone. She is also a maker of things (and makers are also always unmakers — they cut the fabric; they kill the animal), as the last name Wright indicates.

While both character types — the harsh taskmaster who secretly wants you to succeed and the fairy godmother who appears to show you the road previous unnoticed — are staples of New York City success fantasies, Kurt Hummel’s current existence at the intersection of their narrative functions is particularly fascinating and speaks to his youth, to his magic, and to the troublesome nature of being an acolyte.

As the person who tells Rachel Cassandra’s back story (and why didn’t Rachel just Google her?), Kurt shows an awareness of the professional world Rachel has entered and he has been at least temporarily barred from without understanding that world at all. Kurt knows who Cassandra is, which puts him a step ahead of Rachel, but he provides the information only to scoff and to reassure Rachel that her difficulties in the course don’t matter, because Cassandra is simply someone who can disregarded regardless of the institution she represents.

Somewhat similarly, Kurt also knows who Isabelle is, but in this case views her as an inspiration. He is familiar with her in a way that leads to surprising familiarity; Kurt rarely reaches out to others physically first, even when he knows them, but here launches himself at Isabelle, in part, I suspect, because of how familiar she is to him in his own mind.

This familiarity however, doesn’t mean that Kurt is any more able to heed her warnings than he is able to heed (or encourage Rachel to heed) the cautionary tale of Cassandra. When Isabelle speaks to Kurt of never losing his wide-eyed Lima, Ohio innocence, you can see his discomfort; this innocence — at least as associated with Ohio — is what he’s come to New York to shed the last vestiges of (the first layer of it was shed with his NYADA rejection).

So Kurt doesn’t really listen to what Isabelle is saying, even if the audience does. As the worlds of childhood and adulthood uncouple on Glee, that innocence is lost is obvious.

But Kurt’s innocence isn’t just a concept, it’s also a person. Blaine, who opened the season forcing himself into a more childlike role first to help Kurt move on and then to keep himself from having to accept his own adult pain at the feeling of that transition, is the personification of Kurt’s wide-eyed Ohio innocence.

Blaine fills this role not just because he’s younger, but because he’s the one that shows Kurt the innocence he gives up on time and again. He does it when he texts Kurt courage; he does it when he gives Kurt a first kiss that really counts; he does it when he dances with him at the prom, when he holds his hand in the hall, when they sleep together for the first time and it isn’t, presumably, like the things that had horrified Kurt about porn the year before.

Because Blaine keeps breathing Kurt’s innocence back into him, Kurt is now an untrained magician newly arrived in a city full of magical creatures and demigods. And he’s not just visiting this time, relying on serendipity to take a piece of stolen magic back to Ohio with him. This is the real deal now, and you can’t learn to conjure the same way you read a magazine — by starting at the back and flipping through, only stopping to read what’s of the most interest.

Yet, despite having all the tools and information it takes to realize these things, and being apprenticed to someone who has already taken her own vows and lives with the price of them, Kurt doesn’t understand this yet. Because nothing’s been taken from him yet, there’s been no price of admission (the Ferryman’s bill is still in the mail), Kurt has not yet (to mangle Sei Shonagon) knelt on the book of his life until his knees bled.

But he will, soon. And the agony won’t be what happens, but that he didn’t see it coming when he was surrounded, finally, with people just like him — uncanny, wounded, and Other — showing him the way.

Finally, because I only think it fair to explain myself after an opener like the one at the top of this post: I don’t actually think Blaine will canonically experience suicidal ideation in the wake of whatever happens between him and Kurt in “The Breakup,” but I am certain we as audience members are supposed to see the parallel between this series of missed phone calls and the ones from Karofsky. As viewers, we need to, in order to empathize with the horror Kurt’s going to experience when he realizes the significance of his own — natural, reasonable, inevitable, age- and situation-appropriate — inability to listen to the very powers he, knowingly or not, has spent his life seeking out.

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7 Responses to “Glee: Learning to listen in a city of giants”

  1. springbay September 28, 2012 at 3:28 am #

    I confess I was looking forward to what you had to say about tonights episode 🙂 Some solid, reasoned, insight before wading into the crazy that fandom will become after everyone sees the 4.04 promo.

    Your observation that Blaine is the “personification of Kurt’s wide-eyed Ohio innocence” is inspired. That Kurt doesn’t heed Isabelle’s words about not losing said innocence becomes completely apparent the minute he hits “decline” on Blaine’s phone calls.**

    It was lovely to see Blaine initially doing well on his own. But it was painful watching him come to the realization that Kurt was pulling away and uninterested in Blaine’s life back in Ohio. Blaine’s epiphany at Breadstix at what should have been a celebratory occasion was just heartbreaking. We all knew he only came to Mckinley for Kurt no matter what he told himself in 3.01.

    Glee has a habit of editing their promos differently than the corresponding episode. So I’m holding out hope, as minute as it may be, that we don’t have to see Kurt “paying the price of admission” quite yet.

    In writing this comment, I’ve re-read your post a few times and find I kind of love it a little bit. I’ve followed your journal for some time now and while I don’t comment often, and sometimes feel differently, I always appreciate your perception and intelligence.

    ** And the fact that the phone picture is K&B in episode 4’s exact “break-up” outfits doesnt’ take away from this point (even if it is distracting and you can’t unsee it).

    • RM September 28, 2012 at 8:11 am #

      Thank you!

      Regarding the promo, I think the couple everyone needs to really worry about is Brittana. They aren’t in the promo at all, and when it’s not A Very Special Episode Glee tends to hide it’s big/sad stories.

      • springbay September 28, 2012 at 9:33 pm #

        You know, I thought about that as Brittany was snuggling up to Sam in the booth at Breadstix. Ryan has said Santana comes back and surprises Brittany in ep 4. I know Britanna has as passionate a following as any other couple, so it could be a the big shocker.

        I also wonder that since there’s been so much Klaine stuff shown since the NYC public filming in August (add in today’s Sneak Peek) if they aren’t the ones NOT breaking up. Just a big distraction, if you will. Is this too clever for Glee?

  2. "I believe in you and I believe in us" September 28, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    I think it can go further back than the missed phone calls, but also Kurt blowing off those family dinners back in “Grilled Cheesus” and the aftermath of that. Perhaps more apropos due the parallels between Burt and Blaine and Kurt’s relationships with them. The two most important people in Kurt’s life. In which case, it wouldn’t have to lead to suicide ideation, but Death may still be knocking anyway. Though not that I think Kurt or Blaine are on the verge of a heart attack, but maybe more in the figurative sense this time? Something dying or near it?

  3. Sarah September 28, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    I think your thoughts on Cassandra and Isabelle are really interesting. They are both figures of inspiration to Rachel and Kurt, in their own not always pleasant ways, but like many of Glee’s adult characters, I find there’s something about them that is inherently more immature than the teenage characters they are supposed to be mentoring/inspiring/looking after.

  4. dontturnitoff September 28, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

    I have to say, as I’m seasons-deep in a Buffy & Angel binge — and all I keep thinking is “Continuity: Joss Whedon does it right” — that I would like to think that Glee’s writers remember that Kurt has blown off phone calls with dire consequences before. But I don’t think they do. Or at least they won’t remember it out loud.

    I’m also very skeptical about the Isabelle situation: I can’t help but think that the “Fairy Godmother” is going to become the “Evil/Not Quite Evil Stepmother” by the end of this story arc. Something has to get Kurt back to the song-and-dance side of things in order for that character to remain a part of the show that makes sense. I don’t know how: will Isabelle through Kurt under the bus in order to save her career after some mistake? Will Isabelle take credit for a brilliant idea of Kurt’s and Kurt will be heartbroken, disillusioned, a bit wiser? Will Kurt choose to take the fall for Isabelle at some point because she needs it and he knows he has to get back to his first dream? Not sure, but I think something will go very wrong there and Kurt will land with both feet firmly in the performing arts…

  5. mslb89 October 24, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

    I’m catching up on these entries, and have only recently caught up on Glee as well. The two articles about Kurt’s innocence and then the one right before that discussing the two mentors and how Isabelle is described as “kind of a mess” makes me think that Kurt can either “lend” Isabelle his “innocence” and help her be a success, or make his relationship with Blaine a success (I mean I know that seems obvious in a time-management sort of way…but I think it’s more than just his “time” and hard work he’s giving Isabelle, especially to go along with the idea of his “magic”…Isabelle hired him despite no experience because he has that “innocence” that she presumably no longer has…but maybe she can “steal” his and use it to her advantage?) She seems to be profiting a great deal very quickly from having Kurt as an intern. I’m reading and writing this in the middle of lunch and a caffeine-high though, so my thoughts may be as incoherent as my writing at the moment.

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