After last night’s Glee, I have two theories: First, I’m pretty sure Ryan Murphy is very, very opposed to long-distance relationships, and second, I’m becoming convinced that the way fans respond to Glee has become just as interesting as the show itself. We’ll get to that, but first, a rundown of the evening’s four major breakups.
Brittany and Santana
Santana’s been coming back to Lima every few weeks to do her laundry, which both is and is not a euphemism, since she’s both washing her clothes and making out with Brittany. At a Bible study with a fake Rapture (which is both an excuse to bring in Marley, Jake, and Kitty and a way to easily roll out a “left behind” metaphor), Brittany ends up in tears and tells Santana how hurt she’s been since Santana left for school. Santana’s response is to sing “Mine” to her in the choir room, and it’s one of her best-ever performances, but — I’m sorry — if you’re trying to appease your girlfriend, who feels left out ever since you went to college, out of the literally millions of love songs in the world, maybe don’t choose one that begins, “You were in college.” The song isn’t enough. None of the songs in the episode are, and that’s part of what makes this episode so wrenching. Singing has always fixed everything on Glee; it doesn’t anymore. Santana tells Brittany that it’s not a “real breakup,” but with the way they’re both crying (it’s great acting from both girls), it sure seems that way.
Will and Emma
Will’s lifelong (read: two-episode-long) dream of being named to a blue-ribbon commission for arts education has come true, and he can’t wait for Emma to move to D.C. with him. Emma calmly says that she’d rather not, and it’s the best thing I’ve seen her do on the show, period. Will spends so much time inflicting his agenda on other people and did so in a way that was borderline or not-so-borderline abusive toward the end of last season. Emma’s assertiveness felt very adult, and on Glee, that’s a rarity.
Finn and Rachel
This is the first time we’ve seen Finn all season, and what’s awkward about that is that he looks like a man in his thirties now. Note that that isn’t an insult to Cory Monteith, as he is an actual man in his thirties, but seriously, he looks older than Matthew Morrison at some angles. Finn’s been away, but not in the Army — he shot himself in the leg in his barracks, and I’m pretty sure that was the moment at which I stopped expecting Glee to ever be plausible again. He tells Rachel that now he doesn’t know what to do with himself, and Rachel enthuses that they’ll find him a new dream now. Step one: Follow Rachel around for a full week! The novelty of that wears off quickly and ends in a fight about Rachel’s kiss with Brody, which Rachel eventually wins by pointing out that she was allowed to kiss other people given that Finn hadn’t spoken to her in four months, and she didn’t know whether they were actually broken up. Logic! Their breakup leaves Finn back at McKinley, where he’s already sorting through sheet music in the auditorium, so I think it’s safe to say Mr. Shue’s found his temporary replacement.
Kurt and Blaine
Hurt by Kurt’s inattentiveness, Blaine “hooks up with” a guy named Eli C. and then flies to New York. Before he fesses up, he sings an acoustic arrangement of “Teenage Dream” to Kurt in a piano bar as Rachel, Finn, and Brody look on, and it’s easily one of the most affecting moments in Glee history, in part because it’s sung/sobbed live. Kurt and Blaine don’t fight much — Blaine confesses the infidelity, they bicker, they sing “Don’t Speak,” and Blaine flies home without talking to Kurt. The song is their history, and it’s Blaine’s failed apology; it’s a breakup all on its own. Blaine sends flowers to Kurt, and he throws the card away but keeps the flowers; still, with Kurt angry in New York and Blaine stuck in Ohio, I don’t see a reconciliation coming anytime soon, if only because of the prohibitive cost of airfare (although I’ve always just assumed that Blaine’s family is rich, but maybe that’s just because of the slicked-back hair).
The episode ends with all eight characters onstage at the McKinley auditorium, dressed in funeral-style black, singing “The Scientist” over flashbacks to their relationships’ earliest, happiest days. It’s bleak and simple and what Glee does best: big group numbers with lots of feelings. And I’m assuming this was a massive coincidence (I will send Murphy and company an Edible Arrangement of congratulations if not), but Kurt singing “pulling the puzzles apart” in “The Scientist” after Blaine’s line about his missing puzzle piece in “Teenage Dream”? Devastating.
I say devastating, but I mean devastating in the “sad thing happening on a television show I like” sense of the word. For a not-at-all insignificant portion of the Glee fan base, devastating has a much stronger meaning. The Glee community is known for its particularly ardent shippers; for the uninitiated, a “shipper” is a fan of a particular relationship on a television show or in a movie or, sometimes, horrifyingly, in real life — there’s a group of people out there who desperately hope (and theorize about, and write fan fiction about) Darren Criss and Chris Colfer, the real-life humans, will someday get together.
The Klaine, Brittana, and Finchel shippers took to the Internet in force last night, and while some simply complained that the actions of their favorite characters seemed unrealistic (welcome to Glee, guys), others took it harder and posted pictures of themselves mid-sob or unironically worried about how Blaine (who’s fictional) was faring mental-health-wise or added up the number of screen minutes each couple got or treated the entire episode as something that was being done to them, directly. I should say that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with shipping fictional characters and that I’m aware not all shippers post all-caps commentary on the Internet. All shipping is shipping — even the silent kind — and what interests me is why many (myself included) do it. And it’s tempting to say that everyone has strong feelings on the Internet (that’s true) or that all the hysterical Glee shippers are hysterical teens (they’re not) — it’s ultimately way more complicated than that.
There’s a David Foster Wallace essay from the late-eighties (this is related, I promise) that talks about how his generation had become so saturated in television that they’d seen all the kinds of characters there were to see. The visual aspect of television wasn’t as important anymore; how the characters felt was. I wonder if now, almost 30 years after Wallace wrote that essay, we’ve become so oversaturated with the feelings of the characters on our televisions that the only way for us to make television feel novel is to make it about how we feel about those characters. Maybe that’s why shipping is so appealing; if we’re able to personalize television, it feels more special.
At any rate, we’ve got a month to speculate! See you back here in November after Glee’s fall mini-hiatus.