There are a lot of things about last night’s episode of Glee that a person might feel tempted to fixate on.
Personally, I came away from it most profoundly preoccupied with the idea that Jake has a mole that drives him crazy when properly stimulated. Wait, what, because can a mole that exists outside one’s erogenous zones actually drive a person crazy? And if that’s the case, is Jake some sort of medical marvel? Because I, for one, am very, very amenable to the idea of Jake becoming some sort of Discovery Heath Channel staple, and for Glee to continue apace. But that’s clearly not the point of last night’s episode. MOLEGATE.
And that, of course, raises the question: What exactly was the point of last night’s episode? Why revisit Miley and twerking and the inarguably rape-y implications of “Blurred Lines”? Because it’s certainly not like viewers at home have been champing at the bit to see how, exactly, Glee inserts itself into that particular drama. The debate around twerking started months ago and, in my estimation, ended soon after. How in the world does Glee stand to benefit from reigniting that debate?
It seems reasonable to conclude that the entire point of last night’s episode was that viewers should re-engage and get up in arms about “Blurred Lines,” but I’m personally exhausted when it comes to that particular battle and I’m willing to bet that the majority of Glee’s viewers are, too. “Blurred Lines” is a little bit rape-y. Period, full stop. Will’s inability to grasp that, humorous as it may have been, doesn’t negate that reality. What’s tragic is that I think there maybe was a way for Glee to handle that without winking at it or pretending not to notice. Imagine an episode fully built around the idea of, “Hey, I don’t think that song means what you think it means.” That episode could potentially be funny and smart and brave and disarming. (I’m saying this as a person who once thought, “I’m every woman” was a song featuring the lyrics, “Climb every woman.”)
Meanwhile, back in New York City, Kurt and Rachel are looking to rebel. Rachel cuts her hair into a bob for Funny Girl (it’s a wig), which somehow makes the fact that she’s singing a love song to a man who isn’t Finn more palatable. “You Are Woman, I Am Man” is the first thing we’ve heard Rachel sing all season outside the context of Finn, and yet the scaffolding of Funny Girl somehow makes it bearable. (After all, Rachel would be tasked with singing similar songs even if Finn hadn’t passed away.)
What’s intriguing is Rachel’s insistence to Kurt that rebellion is, in some way, desirable and important. Glee has examined rebellion in the past, but never as a virtue that the New Directions members should strive for. (Do I need to resurrect the debacle that was “Run Joey Run” just to prove this point?) Rachel goading Kurt into getting a tattoo is … confusing, to say the least. And while Kurt is able to salvage the initially misprinted text into a tattoo that ultimately does and doesn’t make sense to him — from ”It’s Get Better” to “It’s Bette Midler,” it’s Rachel’s tiny tattoo that ultimately carries the narrative of the show forward. Rachel’s “Finn” tattoo may seem insignificant, but its inclusion means that no matter what, viewers of Glee know that there’s an indelible part of Finn on Rachel’s body going forward. She won’t forget him. She can’t. It’s all right there.
Meanwhile, Marley realizes that Jake has been cheating on her and channels her feelings through Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball.” What’s frustrating is that her interpretation is insanely literal (watch her performance and Miley’s video side-by-side and you’ll see what I mean), and that cheating has, yet again, become the plot twist for couples that Glee doesn’t quite know how to deal with. If that seems like too strong a statement, consider that exactly this time last year, Glee was breaking up every single one of its three core couples. Sure, Marley pulls the song off, but that doesn’t make the cheating more or less acceptable ... or even more interesting.
In the midst of all of that, there’s a lot of twerking.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the debate about whether twerking is or isn’t an acceptable thing for teenagers to do (and it’s probably pretty easy to figure out where I stand on that, given that I’m prone to being weirdly puritanical), but I don’t feel like that’s the primary debate of this episode. The emotional core of the episode comes from the question of whether it’s okay for Unique to use the women’s restroom.
The scene where the jocks snatch the wig from Unique’s head and toss it into the toilet is harrowing without verging into cartoon-ish territory, and the conflict introduces an issue that transgender kids across the country currently face: If I am biologically x gender but identify as y gender, where’s it safe for me to use the restroom?
In the interim period that it takes to address this, there’s even more twerking.
Unique answers that question with a rendition of Beyoncé’s “If I Were a Boy” that’s among the more powerful performances Glee has offered in the past five years. Of course it would be easier if Unique were a biological girl or a biological boy, but she isn’t, and Mr. Schue’s eventual willingness to support her (even if it takes a while for him to come around) proves a pretty strong point. I’ve said in the past that when Glee manages to pay attention to Unique’s story, it’s able to do pretty important work, and this week’s story has the potential to be truly groundbreaking. Here’s hoping that Glee continues to realize how important it is to tell the story of transgender youth; it’s the only network show currently doing so.
Next week, Blaine sings “Piano Man, “ and, obviously, all our dreams start coming true.