Glee Club: What a Journey

June 10, 2010
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Tuesday’s episode (aptly titled “Journey”) marked the end of Glee‘s hugely successful first season. It also marks the end of our weekly Glee Club columns here on Antenna. In  the spirit of fostering discussion and multiple points of view, this last Glee Club column is a roundtable of sorts that incorporates brief takes on the finale (and the season) from our Glee Club contributors: Kelly Kessler, Amanda Ann Klein, Sharon Ross, LeiLani Nishime, Ben Aslinger, and Mary Beltrán.

With some incredible musical numbers, including a touching rendition of “To Sir with Love” and a return to Journey songs that helped launch the show’s initial success last fall, the finale included some of Glee‘s signature (if uneasy) aspects of spectacle, emotional appeal, and snarky self-awareness. But like many good television shows, the reactions and take-aways vary dramatically.

Kelly Kessler: “OH NO THEY DIDN’T!”  Oh yes they did.  Oh yes!  They totally went there.  I just want to say that I can name that tune in 2 notes.  I believe Lulu’s “To Sir with Love” officially trumped “Jessie’s Girl” as making my season through fabulous song choice.  The hyper-emotion connected to the musical genre came full force in the total cheesiness of this number.  So much crying!  Kurt’s voice was oh so high.  Everyone was saved by Shu (and “black guy” and “other Asian” even got to talk).  As I sit here crying during my second viewing of that number, I contemplate my inadvertent Antenna role as the defender of the powers that Glee.  Well, I’m okay with that, and I swear I’m not on the take.  Was it ridiculous?  Hell yes it was ridiculous.  Am I annoyed by that or do I feel led astray?  Hmm…no.  I really found this season finale to be the best of what Glee and the musical do (even if those things are at times ridiculous).  It gave me drama, fabulous (and at times forgotten) music, love, redemption, and dance, dance, dance.  I’ll forgive it for continuing to marginalize its secondary players, and I will continue to look forward to how it develops from here.  Season 2, I wait for you with bated breath.

Amanda Ann Klein: Much like Lost, the Glee finale left me with many questions: Have “the black kid” and “Other Asian” really made it through an entire season without names? How can Rachel claim that Jesse has “no soul” after hearing his kickass rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody”? How were the Glee kids able to stay for the duration of Quinn’s labor and delivery and still make it to the awards ceremony? Why did Quinn give birth to a 5-month-old baby? And should I be happy that Shelby Corcoran doesn’t want a relationship with her biological daughter but does want a relationship with someone else’s biological daughter? Am I to believe that Finn loves Rachel? Puck loves Quinn? Quinn loves Mercedes? Santana loves Glee club? And why did this nonsensical finale make me cry three different times–when New Directions performed their Journey medley, when Quinn first held her baby, and when Will and Puck performed “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”?

Sharon Ross: Like almost every episode, last night’s finale featured great one-liners and touching moments riddled with an equal amount of drawbacks.  Sue came through with the snappy zinger, saying to Will after discovering he parked his car near hers:  “I don’t want to catch poor.”  The entire “To Sir, With Love” scene was touching and full of heart, while the worst moment in regards emotional realism was certainly Shelby adopting Quinn’s baby (read: adoption is easy!). Accordingly, the worst moment of the episode in regards to physical realism was Quinn’s return (read: you can go back to classes right after giving birth!). However, giving birth really is a lot like listening to/singing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” over and over AND OVER again (especially if one has had an epidural). Overall, it was a solid finale with good setup for next season, despite the fact that the duet-heavy medley was a tiresome return to Finn and Rachel (and honestly a bit of a yawn compared to past episodes’ performances).

LeiLani Nishime: The season finale encapsulated many of the things I enjoy about Glee and many of the reasons why I often walk away from the show feeling like I ate an entire bag of over-processed Cheetos. I loved the simultaneously campy and moving “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “To Sir with Love” productions, and the way the show completely undercut any lasting belief that competitions are based on a meritocracy. But the last fifteen minutes had me squirming. The showdown that wasn’t and the hideously mawkish final song made it much easier to say good bye to end of the season. And I hate to be too one-note about this, but minority representation, once again, came up short.

Ben Aslinger: Next Tuesday, my dentist will replace the permanent crowns on two of my front teeth because someone in the eighth grade pushed me into a chain-length fence for being different, unleashing a cycle of oral surgeries and braces as well as the root canals and crown replacements that I will have (and have to pay for) for the rest of my life.  While I recognize how Glee creatively uses music and encourages fan appropriations, I can’t stomach Glee, perhaps because the brutality and humiliations of the show hit too close to home.  Near the beginning of Paradise, Toni Morrison refers to high school as cruelty “decked out in juvenile glee,” and it is precisely this cruelty in Glee that makes this viewer’s attitude less gleeful.  The question then emerges as to whether (and why) those of us who experienced such cruelty would want to watch it represented on television in such a depoliticized and fantastical way.

Mary Beltrán: It dawned on me in the first minutes of the episode that New Directions of course could not win at regionals.  Because, post-PC humor aside, that¹s not what the narrative is about.  In my opinion it’s about losing, and doing it with heart (mentioned many times in the last few episodes) and scrappy style.  And what a better metaphor for these things than song and dance? One of my chief pleasures in watching Glee‘s last episodes also has been seeing the cast demonstrating more of their talent as their glee club counterparts are believably catching up to them, which has me looking forward, glee-fully, to next season. On another note, it was notable that much of the non-white characters’ development of the last half of the season was cast aside in the return to the Rachel and Finn subplot and duet emphasis in the competition.   Are the non-white characters destined always to be pushed back to the background when the going gets rough?

Ranging from sheer joy to exhausted disappointment, reactions to the season finale bring forth some of the issues that make Glee so complex and contentious.  How do we navigate the simultaneous pleasures and limitations of such post-modern performance, reinvention and representation?


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One Response to “ Glee Club: What a Journey ”

  1. Kristina Busse on June 10, 2010 at 5:35 PM

    Ben, what a brilliant articulation of my own issues that make the show to me borderline squick even as I sing along with the music and LOL at the one-liners. I’ve long been trying to get to the bottom of it, because I know I was taken aback by the show emotionally long before the racial/ablist/sexist issues came to the fore, and while those add to my concerns, there’s something visceral in my response that means it hits me somewhere more personally.

    And what you’re describing is what I think I’ve been trying to get at in my genre whiplash description, namely the glee of the musical Kelly so beautifully explains and defends and the nastiness of Sue that so many viewers plain out love, and yet all of that gets juxtaposed with a quasi-realism of high school and social issues that nevertheless never get dealt with appropriately.

    We don’t need after school specials, but I for one can only take one generic approach to high school at a time. Be it Breakfast Club or Election or Clueless (or Gossip Girls for crying out loud :)…but the sense that music can overcome high school student assaults? Like you remind us, I can recall my own school days too vividly; moreover, I see my own kids’ bullying issues every day….

    How *do* we navigate these contradictions? And are we fooling ourselves as academics by letting our critical take allow us to watch out show by spouting our critical position at the same time? [In fact, I fear that approach in other places, i.e., as if teaching Achebe alongside Heart of Darkness somehow exculpates my assigning Conrad!]