Glee: The costume department weighs in

Today, Rae Votta has an article, ““Fan Fashion of TV, from ‘Glee’ to ‘Gossip Girl’” on on Tumblr’s editorial site, Storyboard. Super tickling is that she got to ask the costume department about some of the things we talk about here.

Short version: the hanky code was not intentional, the death and transformation thing is, and sometimes a sweater vest is just a sweater vest. Additionally, the excellent color theory and character stuff some people have been blogging about is right on.

If you’re keeping score, I think that means we can call it a draw, because I’ve certainly always been clear that the sweater vest was likely meaningless from a Doylist standpoint point; from a Watsonian one everything is fair game. Also, let’s remember, analysis isn’t about what we’re told, but what we take in.

Meanwhile, I will also note, because someone has to, that while I am no fan of conspiracy theories and happy (and grateful) to take Glee’s costume team at its word, if the hanky code were a costuming in-joke in a show about teens that I had any involvement in, I wouldn’t cop to that either. So I think we can keep having plenty of unofficial amusement there.

Of course, the real excitement in the piece though (other than some fabulous art that gives a not just to Klaine but to fan favorite non-pairing Faberry), is the costume department admitting there are some in jokes in their choices, but not telling us what they are.

My top guesses? Kurt’s equestrian outfit (echoing the polo-related art and trophies in Blaine’s room) and that disaster of a Sunset Boulevard thing with the leather head wrap, both of which got mentioned here back in all the frenzy around “The First Time” when I was talking about Kurt and feminine modesty.

What are yours?

Glee: Passing and the ongoing disappearance of Blaine Anderson

Over the last couple of days, I’ve dug through all the Glee related entries I’ve posted here for mentions of passing. There are a lot of them, and they’re mostly related to Blaine around sexuality, gender, and race. They’re also mostly about my hope that Glee would deliver an actual plot line around passing.

Of course, hindsight is 20-20 and in fandom’s mad and excellent scramble to figure out what Blaine’s choices in “The Break Up” were about, it’s become clear, of course, that Blaine’s passing wasn’t just a bit of seasoning or a tease at a story that could be told. Rather, the narrative was — intentionally or not — unfurling all along.

In a show that’s ostensibly about underdogs, Blaine Anderson has always been a bit of a conundrum. Doesn’t he have too much going for him for us to really care about his problems? Certainly he’s been easy for a lot of viewers to resent, whether it’s been the “too nice, too boring” charge of my friend Shanna over at Don’t Turn It Off or just a general distaste for his prep school manners and privilege.

Blaine’s not, as far as I can tell, a character people have ambivalence about, because if Glee is about the triumph of underdogs, why does this dude, who really seems to have fewer obstacles than most of his WMHS peers get, among other things, all the solos?

But the fact that Blaine seems to have so many fewer problems than most of the other WMHS kids, is something that’s embedded in the character not just in the Doylist sense, but in a Watsonian sense as well. Blaine’s fine. Why worry about Blaine?

But Blaine isn’t fine; he just passes for fine.

Just like he’s gay, but can pass for straight at WMHS. We can argue (as a few enthusiastic people in my Ask on Tumblr often do) that Blaine can’t possibly he choosing to pass with those ridiculously short trousers and the bowties. Yet the fact remains that his outfits are based on classic menswear style, and he is seen being accorded masculine status (usually in opposition to Kurt) on repeated occasions.

From Bieste’s reaction to Blaine during the auditions for West Side Story to the choir room guys (particularly Puck and Artie) treating him like a “bro,” to Sam’s inaccurate insistence that Blaine isn’t into “gay” things that, canonically, we’ve seen that he’s absolutely in to — Blaine is, whether he wants to be or not, viewed as at least an honorary straight guy. We even see it when Kitty and her bullying friends pick on a group of New Directions members and Blaine’s sexuality doesn’t even merit a remark. WMHS hasn’t become suddenly not-homophobic; rather, Blaine just doesn’t ping their anxieties because he doesn’t visibly step out of boxes regarding gender and desire that trigger their discomfort.

In short, when it comes to sexuality and gender concerns, Blaine passes whether he wants to or not, just as Kurt doesn’t, whether he wants to or not.

But the matter of not being seen for what he is doesn’t end there for Blaine. Racial passing is also a theme in his narrative, even if its one that’s been given markedly less attention. However, aside from establishing his background with Rachel’s offhand “vaguely Eurasian babies” remark in Season 2, matters of race (and skin tone) have popped up around Blaine repeatedly. After the topic not having appeared at all this season, it shows up twice in remarks from Brittany during the election process in “Makeover.” In hindsight, that placement seems a critical reminder just before the shock of 4.04 that no one ever seems to see Blaine for what he is.

He’s gay, and passes for straight.

He’s a person of color who passes for white.

He’s gotten seriously physically hurt in canon twice, but there are no visible scars or wounds that force anyone to remember or acknowledge it happened.

These three items, combined with his talent, means he’s offered opportunities to perform, given the benefit of the doubt in social situations, and pursued as a friend and lover in ways that characters who can’t pass — Kurt, Mercedes, Artie, Santana and Becky (just to name a few; I have no idea what the show is doing or intends to do with Unique and the passing issue) — often aren’t.

But the thing is, Blaine’s not straight. He’s not white. And he’s not scar-free.

And those aren’t the only things he passes for. He also passes for responsible, supported, accepted, and just fine. With everyone. Even his boyfriend.

But Blaine’s not, necessarily, responsible (see his relationships with alcohol and sexuality). He certainly seems to be lacking in family support. And he’s not accepted by his peers, because the guy they often give acceptance to isn’t really him.

And he’s not, at the end of the day, fine, and that was clear to a lot of us by the time he performed “Cough Syrup,” if not sooner.

Blaine’s not fine because the passing is killing him.

But the thing about passing is that it’s complicated. It is not innately good nor bad. It’s a thing that some people can choose and some people can’t avoid. It’s a thing that can help some people be safe in some circumstances. It’s also a thing that can put a person at risk or make them feel like they are disappearing.

And disappearing is exactly what Blaine Anderson has been doing. His very existence is (in a marvelous bit of rubbing up against the fourth wall commentary) an exercise in persona. And, despite the people around him seeming to sense that something is wrong, the things they have done to help have either reinforced the disappearing Blaine is experiencing or underscored the futility of outside intervention in the construction and deconstruction of his identity.

One scene I keep lingering on in the wake of 4.04 is the argument Kurt and Blaine have in Emma’s office during the debacle with Chandler at the end of Season 3. One of the weirder and funnier things Blaine snaps at Kurt about is Kurt sneaking bronzer into his hand lotion.

“It looks weird,” Blaine says, “if a person just has tan hands.” Blaine is disappearing, and Kurt senses this, but can’t truly identify it and hasn’t the faintest clue how to actually stop the process. All he can do is hold on by what little he can reach.

The disappearance metaphor is heartbreaking in part because of how it ties into Blaine’s passing problems.

It’s also intriguing, because it reminds us again of the question of how much of the passing story regarding Blaine in Glee is Watsonian (in this case, internal and intrinsic to the story) and how much of it is Doylist (specifically, how convenient is it to a commercial narrative to feature a character who can be perceived as both gay and/or straight as well as PoC and/or white as individual audience members desire based on their own biases and narrative needs)?

Being a cypher, and being able to pass, seems, quite clearly, to be killing Blaine Anderson in the Watsonian sense. But it’s arguably, and unsettlingly, something that may well be being considered as quite useful in the marketing of the character.

Glee: Welcome to the land of the dead

One of the things I, and pretty much everyone else who analyzes Glee a lot, talks about is the idea of WMHS and/or Lima, Ohio as hell, the underworld, the afterlife, or purgatory. It’s not a nice place, and we don’t want to live there. And it must be a physical landscape, a place to be escaped, or else we wouldn’t have just had three seasons about a bunch of kids struggling to be something other than “Lima Losers” and I wouldn’t spend so much time talking about the Ferryman or crossing the river.

But glee is also a feeling you carry with you. Brittany, perhaps, knows this most clearly. Yes, earlier in the season, she draws Rachel and Kurt “in Heaven,” but she’s also a member of the Left Behind club, carrying a portable, practice run at The Rapture (and let’s pause to take in all the meanings of the world “rapture”) in her backpack. You can’t escape hell without carrying things from there with you — that’s like the most basic premise of any horror movie.

And a horror movie is, on some level, explicitly what the show becomes in “The Breakup,” not because the episode was filled with so many things we didn’t want to have happen (the anguish on Tumblr is palpable, heartrending in its own way, and also at times frustrating), but because it was, like a horror film, filled with so many inevitabilities. You can shout at the screen all you want for people to not ignore the warnings (Kurt), go into the basement (Finn), open a door (Rachel), or have sex (Blaine), but they’re still going to do those things with their expected consequences.

Death, the little and the large, is all over the episode — in the song lyrics (Rachel has a particularly memorable moment on this, and the eternal youth discussed in “Teenage Dream” is a death too in a live fast, die young, leave a beautiful corpse sort of way); in the story of Finn’s gun; in the profound and constant way Blaine is untouched; and in Kurt’s remark, delivered almost casually over a cup of coffee, that he feels like he’s dying. That is what it feels like, of course, when these things happen, but it was eerie for me to see the boy so narratively associated with death say that so casually.

There’s a lot to untangle in the wake of “The Breakup,” from the many possible implications of the name “Eli” to the obvious necessity to revisit “What’s wrong with Blaine Anderson?” to speculation about what happens next. Even without trying to figure that out, confirmed spoilers for future episodes hint at some deeply rich symbolism.

Blaine as “Teen Angel” in Grease is just one amazing detail when reflected against his role as Tony in “West Side Story” and the function sexual activity has played in the narrative around both casting and performance moments. While likely (and appropriately) exiled to permanent subtext, the metaphors embedded here around a young gay male about sex as life and sex as death are significant, harrowing, and appropriate, at least if you are in the part of the Glee viewership that recognizes and remembers Kurt Hummel and Blaine Anderson as having the preoccupations and fashion sense of gay teens circa 1987.

Also potentially on the table? Kurt finally getting that gay mentor that Blaine turned out not to be once the writers realized what they had on their hands with Darren Criss and “Teenage Dream.” Chase Madison, who Tumblr is already considering as having a possible interest in Kurt, I’m looking at you.

Glee: What if Dalton has always been in darkness?

The function of Dalton as faerie land in Glee has been one of the most popular topics on this blog, but in light of a series of new spoilers related today, I am starting to suspect that our ongoing analysis of it here (and it truly has been a collective effort) has actually been nearly completely wrong.

That’s not to say that Dalton hasn’t been, and doesn’t continue to be, faerie land. It’s just that we all ran with the premise that when Kurt first visited it, it was a pure and good place, that only fell into corruption after Blaine’s departure. But what if Blaine was the aberration, and Dalton was always a dark place, only taking on a different form during his own presence there because in sheltering him, Dalton also hid its own wound?

Today Ryan Murphy tweeted an in-costume photo of the actor playing this season’s head Warbler, a character named Hunter. After we all stopped making Dr. Evil jokes because of the cat, I realized that we really, really need to talk about that cat. Because when Kurt arrived at the Dalton Blaine attended, he was given a song bird to care for and told it was a tradition that dated back nearly 100 years.

While we don’t know if that tradition continued under Sebastian, it’s certainly notable that now the bird has been replaced with a cat (that possible ate Pav’s successor) under the leadership of a character named Hunter whose narrative function is apparently to recruit Blaine back to the Warblers.

That’s unsettling enough, but it also gives us more critical data points about Dalton. It was a dark place under Sebastian; it seems as if it’s still a dark place under Hunter; and considering Kurt’s objection to Blaine’s many solos and the stifling conformity of Dalton that riled so many Kurt fans, perhaps it was even a dark place under Blaine as well, lightened only by his optimism, naivete, or general happiness at all the flattery he received there. Perhaps that flattery was the bribe against noticing.

And if Dalton was never this better, brighter, loftier place of safety and tolerance at no price at all, and if it’s magic wasn’t innately good, that fact implies a great deal about Glee‘s worldview on class.

In a world where Sebastian is the norm for Dalton — regardless of the no bullying policy within its walls, it’s easily argued that Dalton students, told they are exceptional, well-educated, and decent in a sea of filth (such as the abusive environment of one local public school), evolve to eventually treat others — outsiders — as if they aren’t even human; look at what Sebastian does to Artie, to Santana, to Rachel, to Kurt, and to Blaine. Blaine becomes a discarded toy to break; Artie, Santana, Rachel, and Kurt become objects sometimes literally beneath his notice.

WMHS students, in contrast, while constantly demonstrated to be mean, selfish, bigoted, and generally appalling in their actions, at least consistently grasp the humanity of others, even the others they vilify. They attack based on feelings rather than status. They run on instinct instead of strategy. And they forgive and forgive and forgive, sometimes even foolishly. Their targets are always human; that’s what makes them targets.

If this structure, on Glee, there is no such thing as a benevolent nobility. It turns out it’s possible that we’ve been taken in by Dalton, in a way we can recognize, but Blaine still can’t, and that fits with the show’s purported theme of celebrating the underdog; if you’re looking down, you’re going to be cruel. In a world structured like that, anyone loyal to Dalton can’t, actually, be one of the good guys, regardless of whether the place has a no tolerance policy, regardless of whether the place saved Kurt’s life (and quite possible, Blaine’s before him).

Ultimately though Kurt saves Blaine again (and that’s why he’s falling about now) by teaching him how to fall from the faerie kingdom (of Dalton and into the depths both of love and of WMHS’s heart-based vs. status-based environment. How very gnostic. On the long list of otherworldly affiliations Kurt has, I think it’s time we add Sophia to the list.

Of course, in a few weeks we may find out the cat isn’t even in the show and just wandered on set. Until then, I’m going to wonder if Dalton was always corrupted, make a bunch of Doctor Evil jokes, and ship the hell out of him with Lord Tubbington.

Meanwhile, on a programming note (which is half the reason I let myself make a spoiler-focused speculation post), Thursday night is my 40th birthday, which means I will not be glued to my television and blogging about “The Break Up” (thanks for that particular birthday gift, Ryan Murphy, really). So when you don’t see any immediate content from me on the episode please don’t assume I’m crying into my Cheerios. I promise to catch up with it, and this blog, sometime on Friday.

Glee: Learning to listen in a city of giants

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.

Glee: scrutiny, control, and consequence

Since about a week after the last episode of Glee‘s third season, I’ve been getting people asking me what I thought would be the main themes and events of this season, despite the fact that if you read back through my predictive posts about season 3, other than nailing the events of “On My Way,” I made the wrong calls on some pretty big narrative elements, even if I did manage to see most of the clues. In short, I understood that the Ferryman always takes a toll, but completely missed who would have to pay, with what, and when.

But that, obviously, hasn’t stopped me from wanting to engage in conjecture about this season. I was just hesitant to do it in the data-free zone of the recently ended hiatus. And, while I hadn’t thought that I’d put out a thematic theory of the season (or at least its front half) until after episode 4.03 or 4.04, I think this episode — which largely focused on the parts of the narrative I don’t spend a lot of time with — actually made Glee’s upcoming themes astoundingly clear.

Because what this episode was about, not just in Brittany’s fall, but also in the reactions to that fall, as well as in the narratives taking place in New York was life in public, and whether you self-injure in the name of making yourself more or making yourself less. It’s why this episode, which I think most of us expected to be bubblegum, was so hard to watch.

The scrutiny and control narrative is everywhere. Brittany, in the episode’s most unsettling moment, is under both general scrutiny and is accosted by WMHS’s one-man media machine, Jacob ben Israel. Her violent freak out in response, felt, at least to me, like watching a panic attack. Despite the way it was meant to refer to and send up actual events (remember the “leave Britney alone” video?), it didn’t, actually, feel like satire.

But scrutiny, control, and consequence in this episode isn’t just about Brittany. Jake is also under scrutiny — from the popular kids, from Marley, and from Will Schuester. And it’s arguably that scrutiny that drives him, in part, into the fight he gets into in the cafeteria in the defense of Marley’s mom. That narrative, about whether Marley should keep her mother a secret (Marley can’t manage to, but her mother thinks she should try) is also central to this theme.

Additionally, scrutiny, control, and consequence are also on display in Cassandra July’s back-story, in Rachel’s yelling at her, and in their eventual detente. The world of second chances is one Rachel won’t be in much longer, Cassandra points out, and, like Brittany says at the opening of the episode, “Sometimes tough love just feels mean.” Brittany’s not wrong, but then again, neither is Cassandra July.

Scrutiny, control, and consequence are also littered throughout the episode in smaller, yet critical ways as well. Blaine, whose very tight self-control displayed some pretty impressive (and inevitable) cracks in Season 3, is the person who closes the curtain on Brittany’s lip-synced performance and the one who takes verbal responsibility during Schuester’s scolding even if it really wasn’t his fault (After all, Artie gave him the role of the new Rachel, not any sort of actual captaincy like the one pretended to by Finn; the situation isn’t Blaine’s responsibility, but his own sense of being scrutinized, needing control and duty-bound response to the spectre of consequence makes it so).

Meanwhile, Unique and Tina also scold Marley for not being able to control (and suppress) her interest in Jake, and let’s not forget that Unique was a subject of the scrutiny, control, and consequence theme about her gender presentation in 4.01. I think we can now be 100% certain that topic will definitely be back.

Puck also shows up in this episode to remind us all of what a disaster he was. It’s a strange scene (what’s he doing out in California that he had enough money to fly out to Lima just to deal with this?) that I think is supposed to be funny, but contains one of those throwaway data points that returns us to Glee’s many narratives around sexuality and consent when he says he had his first threesome at seven, highlighting just how much Tina, Sam and Joe’s performance of “3” was very much clever children playing at what they don’t understand; they’re not in the real world of consequences yet, no one’s looking too hard. But they will be soon.

Also in the department of scrutiny, control and consequence was a throwaway line from Kurt that likely contains some significant foreshadowing that may well underscore just how this theme will continue as the season moves forward. Kurt’s remark to Rachel to appreciate the gift of freedom Finn has given her can only bode poorly for episode 4.04, which anyone who follows Glee spoilers now knows is called “The Breakup” and features not only surprise visits from Blaine and Finn, but some ugly couples moments and No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak.”

That Kurt later turns over his shoulder to watch as Rachel — after she musters her self-control and strength — paints over Finn’s name in a heart is made even more jarring by the deconstructed sweater Kurt is wearing; his world is unraveling, and he doesn’t even know it yet. It makes me strongly suspect that whatever transpires between Kurt and Blaine in 4.04 is at least some of will be driven by the idea of a breakup as, like the situation between Rachel and Finn, an act of generosity.

Each of show’s characters currently face situations in which they have the option to hurt themselves. Sometimes, those acts of self-injury may be to the good — if Rachel practices for Cassandra July’s class until her toes bleed, that’s a very different choice of self-injury than the one where Cassandra July downs a drink everyone time one of her students shows up to tell her they’re going to be on Broadway when she’ll never be so again.

Even characters who haven’t shown up yet seem to fit this narrative bill: Isabelle, Kurt’s soon to be boss at has been described as “kind of a mess” and as someone Kurt mentors as much as she mentors him. That sounds like high profile and not in control and dealing with the consequences all over to me.

One of Glee‘s many functions, on- and off-screen has been to make a certain type of ambition to performance, fame, and success seem cool — and possible — to people who might have previously thought otherwise. The Glee Project, one of the whole property’s weirdest interactions with the fourth wall, only underscores this particularly in its use of Chris Colfer’s real life journey to fame story as something of a template.

But if you’re going to make people dream, and if you want to tell the whole story, you also have to warn: your toes will bleed; your heart will hurt; you will be criticized body and soul; and, if you make it, you may feel like you are in a cage.

Glee asks if, knowing that, you still want to dance.

Cassandra July says yes. Everyone else is still figuring it out.

Glee: One sweater-vest, five tons of conjecture

Yesterday, updated with a post on the sweater-vest Blaine is wearing in “It’s Time.” Of note? While it’s, as usual, Brooks Brothers, but it’s from the women’s department. I chortled; fandom, quoting Kurt Hummel, said in unison, “fashion has no gender”; and then everyone went back to gawping over the price of the thing.

But, while hardly a significant data point (we’ll get to why in a second) in some of the arguments I’ve advanced about Blaine, it’s a really, really fun one to discuss, and I might as well do it here.

First, why it doesn’t matter: Extradiegetically, it’s irrelevant. As clever and sneaky as Glee‘s costume department often is narratively (see: Kurt and the hanky code), I’m pretty sure this was a case of wardrobe grabbing something that would fit an actor and was consistent with the character’s look. End of discussion.

On the other hand, if we want to be Watsonian about it, there’s a lot of fun to be had.

Kurt, of course, has not only said “fashion has no gender,” but often wears items from the women’s department or items that are not feminine but likely to be perceived as such in Lima, such as the kilt he wore to prom. Kurt does not choose these pieces in order to be perceived as a female, but he makes little effort to hide the femininity of them. Sure, a sweater dress becomes a “form-fitting knee-length sweater,” but clingy and curvy remains clingy and curvy.

Need an example? Think back to the outfit he’s wearing during the masturbation conversation in 3.05 — with that leopard print sweater and the shy, breathy, and deliberate questions about whether Blaine wants to rip his clothes off, Kurt is actually dressed like a sex kitten. And when it’s not about clingy and curvy, there’s the wardrobe phase that seems explicitly built around feminine modesty.

Blaine, on the other hand, wears traditionally masculine clothes. He may wear them with a wink, or a queer twist, but much like the decor of his bedroom, his clothes are all about classic masculinity, even if the current modern reception of them, and his body language and sense of self aren’t necessarily. And Kurt’s feminine clothes, or perceived as feminine clothes, aren’t something Blaine’s naturally comfortable with. Remember prom? That, however, very probably had less to do with gender and more to do with concern over attracting attention that may be hostile.

But all of this leads us to: How did Blaine, who is concerned with fitting in and displaying a masculine sensibility, wind up with that women’s sweater-vest?

Because my gut says that if Kurt was going to buy him a piece from the women’s department as a gift (and I don’t think Kurt would, I think he knows that might be uncomfortable for Blaine), I think he’d probably go for something outrageous. If he’s going to cross that line, which is a more challenging one for his boyfriend, I feel like he’s going to make that worth it, as opposed to another sweater-vest just like so many of Blaine’s other sweater-vests. Which means Blaine bought that thing for himself.

Now, this is where I have to digress and say I shop in Not My Department all the time. And I’m an adult, queer woman in NYC, and it often makes me super tense that I’ll get called out on it or be told I am doing something that is inappropriate in some way, even though I know better. I know this is not everyone’s experience who shops out of their department, but it’s some people’s, mine included. Now, Blaine is a teenager, in Lima, perceived as male (and I do think men are viewed as suspect more for breaking gender boundaries in this way than women are), and may have some gender issues. Leaving aside whether there is a Brooks Brothers in Lima (there is certainly one in proximity to Westerville), I’m pretty sure Blaine didn’t just walk into the store and decide to browse all the sweater-vests regardless of gender.

So maybe it was mis-shelved and Blaine didn’t notice? And no one at the register said anything snide when they noticed? Or if they did say something, perhaps Blaine just blurted about shopping for a sister that doesn’t exist? Or maybe it was mail order and Blaine browses the women’s sweaters because, like stuff in the boys department, he knows he’s slight enough for them to fit? Or maybe Blaine does have some gender identity stuff going on and likes to browse female clothes in relation to that? That sweater would be quite the find for someone trying to serve two sets of gender expectations — one external and one internal — that don’t overlap comfortably at all.

Much like what I had to say about 4.01 as a whole, the matter of this clothing item could mean any one of a dozen things, all of them fairly irrelevant outside of a Watsonian perspective and fanfiction plot bunnies.

That said, as much as I’ve already noted that I don’t think there’s a single, clear, easily supportable theory on just what Blaine’s feelings about Wade/Unique are right now, the fact that Blaine was policing this person’s gender, and telling them not to rock the boat, while wearing a woman’s sweater is deeply interesting and harks back to the many passing themes that always seem to come up around Blaine Anderson, and underscore why, I think, so many fans find him so irksome.

Blaine gets away with a lot, often by, as Kurt would say, just being “handsome and good.” For people that can’t, or don’t wish to pass, regardless of the categories in question, it can be galling.

Glee: The retreat into Neverland

During the airing of “It’s Time” last night the general consensus in my apartment, other than “man, I could not jump rope and lip-synch,” was “Wow, Zach Woodlee was in a weird mood when he choreographed that.” But now that I’ve watched it again, the use of the jump ropes and the cup game make a lot more sense to me, both in terms of where Blaine is now, and the narrative structure the fans have had to install around him to account for his incredible de-aging process.

Just to review, for anyone that missed it, Blaine was originally supposed to be an older mentor to Kurt; then we all assumed they were the same age; and then when he showed up at McKinley he was a year behind Kurt in school. While the problem of characters’ ages (and drivers licenses and college applications) is hardly a new one for Glee or an isolated problem in hot pop-culture properties, the Blaine thing is a particularly extreme example and a subject of a great deal of fandom annoyance (although if you were Ryan Murphy and the reaction to “Teenage Dream” dropped into your lap, what would you do?).

Of course, that annoyance has led to speculation from “Blaine was held back a year due to school missed around the Sadie Hawkins attack and subsequent transfer to Dalton” to “Blaine exhibits some age-inappropriate behavior around sex that may be indicative of other issues.” Even ignoring those two themes, it’s hard not to say that Blaine was anything other than working hard at (clumsily) being a little adult at Dalton — from his not that great advice to Kurt, to his “let’s sing about sex toys” moment at the Gap, to his talk with Burt Hummel about Kurt and sex.

Since those events, and Blaine’s transfer to Dalton, we have in many ways seen him act more the age he is now assigned, even if that’s been shown through his seeming to sink into himself and try too hard in ways that are, often, explicitly transparent. Insecurities around Finn, his brother, and Kurt’s departure, as well as the no longer hidden height difference between Criss and Colfer, have also helped sell us on the idea that Blaine is neither older, nor wiser than Kurt. Serious and adult issues that are often a part of the limminal nature of being a teenager — including suicide and sexuality — also have helped to bring Blaine’s characterization more in line with his narrative age.

But even as the viewing audience has gotten on board with that (or at least been invited to get on board with that), the question has remained whether Blaine has any idea that he’s still a kid. Somehow, in “It’s Time” we realize that he does, in fact, finally know just how young he is and just how much he’s not ready for the big scary world yet.

The choreography of “It’s Time” is suffused to nods at youth — the “cup game,” which I was unfamiliar with and people who watch the show in my house insist is something they played at camp, and the jumping rope are both things associated with childhood. So are the pigtails the girls performing the jump rope tricks are wearing. In “It’s Time” Blaine is suddenly a child amongst children, and the song is less about Kurt needing to spread his wings and fly, and more about a world closing to him, that Blaine is ready, or perhaps even unwilling to leave yet.

The number feels emotional, not because Blaine lets go, but because the worlds he and Kurt inhabit are uncoupling, which will only cause more consternation later. After all, while Kurt will visit Ohio, it’s like his father says — he could come back, but he won’t — not really, not to be a denizen of that time and place. And yes, Kurt and Blaine can Skype, but how do you send an email to Brigadoon? How do you pass letters in and out of a faerie ring that divides two worlds that run on different times?

With the significant filming spoilers fans are aware of regarding episode 4 (and Ryan Murphy’s declaration that he will swim gloriously in a pool of fandom tears), and Murphy also having tweeted last night that Blaine will sing with the Warblers again in episode 7, it’s easy to suspect that once the uncoupling of Kurt and Blaine’s worlds begins it will also accelerate, with Blaine pulling back into the mists and Kurt living in the bright, metallic, and too fast world of New York.

The question after that inevitability then becomes, what will pull them back together? And will it be something that echoes out of the Kurt’s world or Blaine’s? And if it does originate in Blaine’s sphere, is that a place Kurt can still access? Or no longer lost, and no longer a boy, will be barred from Neverland?

Glee: Setting up the board

Well, Glee is back, which theoretically means this blog is back even though it remains, I swear, not just a Glee blog (I’m waiting for the okay to announce several non-Glee related publications, so really, this is true!). As much as I do write a post after each Glee episode, one of the things I really want to stay away from here is doing a weekly recap vs. a weekly reaction. Recaps are dime a dozen on the Internet, and several of my friends get paid to write then, so there’s no reason to dive into that particular competition.

But, sometimes, there isn’t always a thematic essay that emerges out of each episode. Because while 4.01 is part of patterns established in the previous seasons of Glee, it is also a (re)introduction, meaning it’s also the start of a new data set, and a single point does not a trend make. Which leaves me at a little bit of a loss tonight.

I did, however, enjoy this first episode immensely, and thought it captured the reality of New York and competitive performing arts environments in a way that was truthful while also being completely fanciful and not at all how it actually works. Television is rarely deft about New York, because it’s mostly not for people who live in New York, and it was nice to see Glee selling a fantasy that felt relevant to me as a resident, even when the bulk of it was shot in L.A.

What was particularly of note, however, and feels like the best place to start blogging about the new season is just how much this episode can be used to explicate the “we’re all watching a different show” view of television.

I could, after all, easily write a long piece about Blaine and gender here tonight: about how he gets proclaimed the new Rachel, only feels threatened by Wade/Unique for the role, is repeatedly clearly uncomfortable with Wade/Unique’s gender expression, and clearly values his ability to pass as, if not straight, masculine and “normal” at McKinley, especially now that glee club is sort of accepted. Note, for example, how Blaine falls under the radar of all the cruelty and mocking in this episode — his queerness never comes up, and, to a given extent, that’s a product of how Blaine plays his queerness; it’s conspicuous in how it deviates from the expectations of heteronormativity, but is also expressed through a playful reenactment of a hyper-conservative very good boy look. Blaine’s gay, but beyond that, any queerness falls squarely into the category of plausible deniability. He’s gay, but he’s just like you. Kurt on the other hand….

Of course, there’s a whole argument about Blaine’s interactions with Wade/Unique that completely skips over gender and queerness: Wade/Unique is Blaine’s only real competition to be the new Rachel as the only other current New Directions member that has led a show choir before. That said, while that reading removes the matter of Blaine’s queerness and gender performance as a narrative device, it does once again raise the issue of Rachel “man hands” Berry, her gender presentation, ambition, and her location in the queer world as someone with two dads, a soul-mate in her gay best friend, and her desire to grow up to be, among other things, a queer icon.

But back to Blaine and Wade/Unique. Which story is the true story? Is Blaine uncomfortable with Wade/Unique because of his own queerness and gender identity? Or is Blaine uncomfortable with Wade/Unique because there’s real competition there? Well, that depends on what show you’re watching.

For me, and this blog, we’ll how the rest of the season unfolds — although gender identity and queerness is always on the table in my readings, with the uncertainty not on its presence, but on where those themes are being located by the show. Obviously, I’m tantalized by the possibilities regarding Blaine in light of previous essays I’ve written here, but I also don’t feel like I can jump on it, not quite yet.

Similarly, there were a few other morsels tonight that also felt fun in a following a trail of breadcrumbs way, including a Tumblr-favorite, Artie’s crush on Blaine, and a funny flip on the infamous “not for sale” moment from last season, when Blaine’s first line in “Call Me Maybe” includes “I’d trade my soul for a wish, Pennies and dimes for a kiss.” Someone’s changed his tune!

But right now, these moments are all merely pieces on the board of the pattern recognition game; I can’t wait until we all get to start playing it again in earnest.

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.