Not Just a Puff Piece
It’s official – 3 episodes in a row, Glee is legitimately awesome again, in no small part because they brought back Kristin Chenoweth. Holy crap, is there anyone on this planet who sings like KC?! She blows my mind. Usually I would refuse to even acknowledge something as stupid as an all-white cast version of The Wiz, but as she said it I found myself wanting to book a flight to NYC to watch her reprise Diana Ross’ Dorothy. And April was back, as she said, as ‘full time fancy,’ finding a way to cash in on a dead dude, announce inappropriate sex dreams to a room of roller skaters, be the loudest house-guest ever, and finally go 45 minutes without a drink. Perhaps her most poignant scene occurred in the bed with Shu, though. I’m not sure if that was intended to reference last week’s tri-fantasy bedroom scene, but thinking of it in relation to those images gave us a glimpse at what each bedroom scene really sought but failed to gain: intimacy and connection in the midst of desperate situations. Strangely, sweetly and a little awkwardly, Shu and April got that intimacy in bed tonight simply through the presence of a warm body on the pillow next door rather than through the sex every character on this show thinks they want.
Because of course this episode was all about home, the most interesting revelation being that Shu does miss Terri. And as I’m the only one in existence who actually loves Terri’s character (in a love to hate her kind of way) and wants to see her come back, I loved this revelation. But we also had some moving scenes between Fin and Kurt’s own attempts to deal with their parents moving on – and moving on after fully appropriate time periods of mourning. These scenes were genuinely emotional – Fin’s mother’s speech about searching each night to hear her dead husband’s laugh misted me up a little and Kurt’s dad…well I just love Kurt’s dad! He loves Kurt so much and genuinely does his best to be with him. And even in his blossoming relationship with Fin, he’s doing the right thing. And that’s why the scenario – Kurt, Fin and Kurt’s dad and Fin’s mum – is so heartbreaking, because no one is being a jerk! Both parents are trying to do what’s best for themselves while also caring for their kids. And both kids are trying to move beyond their grief and be kind to the opposite parent (recall that Kurt did get Fin’s mom out of her mom-jeans). It’s simply the case that these types of situations just involve pain, even when everyone is doing their best to alleviate that pain. This new narrative might just be the most honestly told story on the show.
But perhaps what we all want to talk about most is the story of finding home within one’s own body. I still don’t know how I feel about Mercedes’ plotline. It just so happens that I read a comparison today of two books written for African American girls – in one, which was wildly popular, the little girl is ridiculed throughout for her hair, but in the end she prevails and accepts herself despite her hair. Written by an African American woman, the book nevertheless internalizes racism as it fails to imagine that anyone would find the girl’s hair beautiful from the get go. The second book celebrates the little girl’s hair from page one and she too in the end feels beautiful, but this time because of her hair. And so what the second book refuses to do is accept a racially constructed vision of what acceptable or beautiful hair should be. It’s a broader vision of beauty.
That Mercedes is the sassy plump black girl stereotype has been much commented on, an image which in itself might not even be such a problem if all the minority characters on Glee weren’t functioning in such tokenist ways: off at the sidelines brought in to wail on the final notes of a song. So as Mercedes faced forced weight loss tonight, I was curious to see which of these two kids’ books I’d been reading the story would fall into. And I was sad to see that one by one, even as they accepted her, Mercedes’ friends responded to her in ways that demonstrated they bought into her supposed unattractiveness. Kurt yells at her to lose the weight, and Artie and Tina comment that they love her no matter what she looks like…as if they way she looks is something that needs to be overcome for love. And in this way it seems that Glee followed in the footsteps of the first book – the one that accepted narrow definitions of beauty while offering some vision of hope in the midst of and despite those norms. In the end, it’s Quinn who finally tells Mercedes she’s beautiful…and here’s where we get a glimpse of a different view of beauty. Quinn’s compliment is both an affirmation of Mercedes’ looks, while it’s also an affirmation of the fact that Mercedes herself always knew herself to be beautiful – until Sue Sylvester’s wretched influence.
Perhaps in the end this is the more honest portrayal. Those of us who don’t fit in those narrow definitions of beauty are going to have to face some idiots sometimes. But we’re also going to get to be faced by those whose vision is broader and see ourselves anew. But the thing is, Mercedes (Amber Riley) is beautiful – she’s absolutely gorgeous. So to even have an hour where folks seem to be pretending she isn’t is a little hard to swallow for me.
And perhaps the fact that I can’t quite come down on one side or the other is the genius of Glee. What Mercedes left me pondering tonight was the fact that so many of us have complained about her stereotypical sassiness but, if you think over recent episode arcs, she’s been no more sassy than any other character. Even with limited screen time (a problem they’re fixing), Mercedes’ character is becoming more emotionally complex, finding a greater range in her personality facets. What I’m starting to wonder is if each time I can only see Mercedes as a sassy, plump black girl, I’m the one who is actually performing implicit racism, not the show itself, who is offering me much more to see if I’m willing to see it.
On a lighter note – favourite Brittney line of the night: “I think my cat’s been reading my diary”. Gosh, I love her!
And in reference to my title: really, a guy who was short-listed for a Pulitzer couldn’t see that what had just happened in the gym was out of the ordinary and a total shock to Sue?! Really?! Dude needs to work on his investigative skills!
What do you guys think? How did you encounter the Mercedes plotline? Do you feel worse for Kurt or for Fin? Do you want to see Terri come back? Are you, like me, wondering if we’re ever going to get a Puck-full episode again?