We’ve all seen them. Friezes, steles, decorations, where sculpted figures rise partially from the stone or plaster, trapped forever between two and three dimensions.
This last episode of Glee was bas-relief.
Last week was the first episode of Glee set entirely in New York City. It felt like a pilot, setting the scene and introducing the characters. Tuesday night’s “Bash,” therefore, was the first regular episode of this new series.
And it’s clear to me that the cartoon changing. The plot is still illogical for the most part, but the consequences feel more real. These young people have to make choices that will affect their lives. Plus things just aren’t so pretty.
There were three plots, oddly of relatively equal weight, considering screentime and emotional impact.
Rachel is finally realizing that she can’t be a Broadway star and a college student at the same time. Not to mention working at the diner.
This is ridiculous in the first place. Rehearsals are a PAID full-time job. In the real world, she would have asked for a leave of absence from her school. Unless she was asked, by either play or school, to leave entirely. And definitely to quit her job. And let’s not even mention that band.
If the musical flopped, she would be back in school next semester with real experience. If it did okay, she’d finish the run and come back, or even take part-time classes once things settle in.
If it smashed, and she gets offers from other producers or movies or TV, as actually happened to the actress… She doesn’t need college anymore.
The choice she made in this episode – Funny Girl or NYADA – would never have happened. As it was, it wasn’t a choice. She couldn’t quit the play and she wasn’t doing well in her classes. And it will affect her life permanently.
Mercedes and Sam had a short-lived romance in the protected space of a high school glee club. Neither faced any difficulty because of their races (as it should be.) But this isn’t high school, as Mercedes’s back-up singers remind her.
Mercedes is making an album, and her singers are worried her very white boyfriend will turn her potential listeners against her. She needs to choose between boyfriend and career.
This feels real, since racism is a very real thing, and could be a problem. But in the real world, for a wonder, the reality is actually better than the musical. There are any number of African-American singers with white boyfriends or husbands, and they haven’t had any backlash from their fans.
But this is presented as a choice Mercedes has to make (without consulting Sam, BTW, who therefore doesn’t get to be the one sacrificing for love, or stubbornly hanging on. It’s all Mercedes.) And she eventually chooses love and career. Unlike Rachel, she can have both. Very cartoon. Just like singing with a carousel out of nowhere.
And then we have the gay bashing plot, and it was something else. Kurt isn’t choosing career vs school or career vs love. He is choosing the man, the person he wants to be.
Does he stay safe, or does he risk his life to help a stranger? And he doesn’t agonize, nor does he change his mind back and forth. He hears a cry for help and he responds.
He doesn’t know if the man is gay or straight, being bashed, robbed or raped. He just runs and helps, to his own cost. Once upon a time, he ran. Ran to a different school, in fact, but he can’t any more.
This isn’t pretty. The fight is ugly and scary and there was a real chance he’d be badly hurt. He ends up bruised and battered, his knuckles broken – not just an artistic black eye. His friends and family are scared for him.
And he has not one second of regret. This is the person he is, the man his father – caught, like everyone else, between fear and pride – taught him to be by his own example. Mercedes and Sam might not last; Rachel might go back to school. Kurt will not let a cry for help go unanswered, although he may be smarter about it in future.
Kurt was sculpted in the sharpest relief, and maybe he’ll break free.