In my previous entry, I discussed the factors that led me to stop watching Glee. In essence, it became increasingly obvious that the show had lost the sense of direction that made its first season so brilliant. The storytelling had become lazy, and the show was instead relying on the novelty of its concept.
Nevertheless, when one of my coworkers told me that last Tuesday’s (4/17) episode had included a positive portrayal of a transgender character, I had no choice but to watch. First of all, transgender characters are a pretty staggering rarity on television in the first place. To have one included on a show that I not only watched, but genuinely enjoyed, was an opportunity I just couldn’t ignore.
I’m going to get my criticisms out of the way. First of all, the problems I noted in my previous post were still glaringly obvious. Most of the characters didn’t say or do anything for the entire episode. I really don’t like being right about this, but the writers have clearly lost the ability to handle an ensemble cast.
My second criticism is going to sound like a minor gripe, but anyone reading who is transgender or has transgender loved ones will hopefully be nodding their heads: Wade/Unique is never referred to with female pronouns. There is also absolutely no mention of the difference between “drag queens” and transwomen, and the portrayal of Unique could easily lead uneducated viewers to conflate the two. Hopefully future episodes will address this, but the educational angle about the transgender community was severely lacking in this initial portrayal.
All of that being said… thank you, Goddess, Glee has not outlived its usefulness!
Unique approaches Kurt and Mercedes because she wants advice about openly performing as a woman. Kurt and Mercedes initially oppose it, fearing that Ohio just “isn’t ready” for a transgender performer. They are later confronted by Coach Sue, who sees encouraging Unique to perform in heels and a dress as an excellent opportunity to sabotage a rival show choir.
Kurt and Mercedes initially go along with Sue’s plan, but in a fit of remorse they confront Unique and beg her to reconsider her decision for her own safety. Instead, Unique is even more determined to put on a show. Her coach runs to the stage to try to get her offstage, but stops when he realizes that the crowd is going absolutely wild for Unique’s performance.
The thing is, that wasn’t the only exceptional thing about this episode. Although my complaint that many of the characters function merely as background scenery stands, the main plot of the episode is actually quite good. Coach Schuster has grown worried and frustrated about three of his students–Santana, Mercedes, and (shocker) Finn. So, he gives them an assignment to explore and express their dreams.
Mercedes and Santana certainly have mixed results with their assignment, but the most shocking breakthrough comes from Finn. Finn’s frustration about being a “loser” mounts throughout the episode, building to a climax in a verbal confrontation with Schuster. His emotional turmoil is the most “real” thing this show has done in quite some time. The eventual resolution is both satisfying, and completely in character for Finn.
This was, frankly, the best episode of Glee I’ve seen in quite a while. It does appear the show will never achieve the consistency it had in the first season, it might be worth catching back up simply because it is still capable of having a few incredibly good episodes and subplots. And while the lack of educational content about transgender issues was obviously a bit disappointing (there is only one reference to Unique “identifying as female”), hopefully this will be hashed out in later episodes. There is certainly precedence for this on the show, as queer issues were explored in a season two subplot about gay bullying that carried over to season three. If I hear that the show explores this character–and transgender issues–more fully, I will definitely be watching those episodes. I may even have to catch up and resume watching the show in general. In order to do so, though, I will have to give up once and for all my frustration over what the show could have been, and instead appreciate what it is.