Glee, “Prom Queen”

I don’t really hate spoilers. In today’s internet- and social media-powered landscape, spoilers are bound to happen. During the early seasons of Lost, I used to read spoilers on a regular basis until I realized that I was completely ruining my viewing experience. But Lost is a series that preyed so much on our lack of understanding  of what was happening. For most series, I don’t really have a problem with spoiling myself just a bit. I don’t want to know much about big twists, deaths or things on a similarly large level, but I’m good with the regular spoiler columns that populate the coverage of television on the internet.

Glee is a series that I most certainly have no problem learning things about before they air. Or at least that’s what I thought before tonight’s episode. In case you didn’t know, there was a bit of a skirmish online a few weeks ago when it was revealed that a Glee extra leaked out the major prom-related development of this episode. When I saw the story, I didn’t really think anything of it. In fact, the “big reveal” actually made me shrug because it felt like something Glee would so obviously do. But as I watched tonight’s episode, “Prom Queen,” unfold, I slowly realized that I actually would have preferred not knowing that Karofsky would be McKinley’s Prom King and Kurt would be its Prom Queen. I think this episode still did a nice job of building to that reveal, but my previous knowledge (knowledge that had made me shrug) somewhat prevented me from enjoying it fully. I had spent so much time assuming that Kurt’s coronation would be this overly saccharine, celebratory moment that I was perhaps more shocked that the episode went the exact opposite way. In the moment where the series could have taken another step into disappointing, preachy territory, it actually tried to do something a bit different. For that, I found myself respecting “Prom Queen,” despite the fact that I didn’t especially love it in the way that I’ve enjoyed the last few episodes.

A lot of that malaise stems from the fact that, shockingly, this episode is a bit too busy and not in the best of ways. Jonathan Groff’s Jesse St. James makes his “anticipated” return to the series here, basically so the series has a reason to pull Quinn and Finn apart and put Finn and Rachel back together. I guess it’s believable enough that Rachel would fall victim to Jesse’s charms even after his horrible actions last season, if only because she’s desperate for attention, but I could really not care less about the character or his relationship with her. Groff is fine, but his character is basically being used as a device to bring Rachel and Finn closer to big reconciliation in the finale (one that I’m fine with, mind you). Finn’s bubbling rage seemed a bit out-of-place, even for a guy who isn’t the most intelligent dude in any room. It all felt a bit manufactured when it didn’t really need to be.

Meanwhile, “Queen” was similarly jam-packed with small, mostly satisfying, but innocuous stories that would have been fine had the episode been not trying to develop this big moment. Puck’s desire to win prom anti-king was admirable, but ultimately didn’t go anywhere. The same could be said for the “prom on a budget” bit with Rachel, Sam and Mercedes. I like the idea of Mercedes and Sam together, if only because it hilariously points out how confused the writers are as far as what to do with the two characters. Sue’s interrogation and mock-torture of Artie wasn’t as dumb as it sounds, but it’s probably better off if left unspoken. But in general, none of these stories was wholly awful or problematic. I enjoyed each of them. But they still took some time away from the main story and I believe that even a few more minutes could have given the last 10 minutes of the episode more of an impact.

Despite my slight disappointment, those 10 minutes are still pretty damn great. The last handful of episodes have done a lot of heavy lifting in trying to convince us how important this crown would be to Quinn, Santana (and to a lesser extent, Karofsky) and I like how this effort handled the climax of their journeys towards the royal court of McKinley high. Quinn, dejected that her boyfriend/date/king just swung at another man because of his jealousy over his ex-girlfriend, reacts stupidly and violently. Her whole life is built around her physical appearance and to have it not reaffirmed in the queen voting is a tremendous shock to her. I know it’s a completely shallow development and response, especially in light of the reactions by Santana and Kurt, but I thought Dianna Agron and Lea Michele played that bathroom scene really well. Quinn’s been scarred by her past experiences and this was supposed to be the end of all that. Her ridiculous “transferring” assertion aside, I quite liked how melodramatic and nonsensical her reaction was. It fits with the character, however bad that makes her look.

Santana’s disappointment is clearly more realistic and human because the crown is more than just a justification of her beauty. It’s a mask that she’d be able to hide behind for the next year, whether she wanted to come out or not. Being the Prom Queen would probably stop the rumors started in the previous episode and it would give her some comfortability walking the halls of McKinley. In that respect, not winning puts Santana in a place of flux and confusion. She has no idea what to do and where to go now, which could be dangerous for herself and the school population as a whole.

But of course, this episode is really about Kurt and Karofsky and their big moment in the spotlight. I have gone on record countless times with my thoughts about how the first part of their story was a bit misguided, messy and preachy, but I’ve definitely enjoyed the finesse at which the writers have been working with since Kurt returned to the school. I originally thought that the humanizing of Karofsky (and that he was a closeted gay man himself) was a misfire, but I sort of see the planning now. By the time that he breaks down to Kurt and apologizes for all the terrible stuff he did in the fall, it’s completely believable and tremendously acted by Max Adler.

I was worried that Glee would shy away from some of the terrible realities that exist out there in American high schools and replace them with overly sympathetic renderings of what Ryan Murphy wants high school to be like in the 21st century. Thankfully, in the episode that Dave Karofsky obtains some redemption, the general population of McKinley steps into his role as the bully by jokingly writing in Kurt’s name for queen. It’s a completely terrible thing for a student body to do, but unfortunately, it’s a realistic one. It didn’t get this bad, but similar things have happened at my high school and the schools of some friends of mine. Teenagers are awful and they like to play jokes on people without really recognizing the circumstances and consequences. And it might make me an awful person, but I thought it was really important for Glee to point that out tonight. See, not every high school kid who bullies his gay peers is also secretly gay. Some of them are just terrible, immature individuals who don’t understand that their actions have real impacts on others. Kurt and all the people in the audience need to see that. It’s really bad out there, especially in high schools, and for a series with a lot of influence on that age group, I’m glad that Glee didn’t shy away from those realities.

For Kurt, I think he’s finally learned some of the limits to where he fits in the high school hierarchy. He has the right to be out, loud and proud, but as both his dad and Blaine point out before the  prom, he has to deal with the consequences, both good and bad, of those decisions. I’m not saying that all the kids who voted for Kurt are justified, but Kurt does like to push boundaries (and we in the audience love him for it) and sometimes one can push too far — no matter how “right” they might be. Here, he finally gets to stand up for himself and his choices, but also struggles with the aftermath of the choices he’s made. The character has been so idealized and idolized this season, but I thought Kurt’s journey was nicely handled here.

And in the end, Glee gets to have it both ways. Karofsky gets to have his redemption and Kurt gets to stand up to the misguided student body and have his moment, but the episode still points out some of the reality in our world. I’m not sure if this is the home run of a conclusion that Murphy, Brennan and Falchuk assumed that it would be, but it is a good one.

Other thoughts:

  • The much-anticipated performance of “Friday?” I kind of liked it. I would actually believe that some high school students in 2011 would sing that song.
  • I didn’t mention it above, but Artie’s wooing of Brittany was pretty tremendous. Heather Morris has turned into a really adept emotional performer and I would have never believed that their relationship is the one I’m most invested it. I hope those two kids figure it out.
  • Most of the musical performances were just fine this week and I liked the conceit of having the glee club performing at prom.
  • Where the heck was Will? Didn’t he chaperon this crazy event? I can’t say I really missed him, but it was just sort of odd that he completely disappeared. Poor Matthew Morrison.
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