The TV Room: Glee Season 6
When we discussed the Glee finale on Hey, Watch This!, we mostly stuck to those last two episodes. The show’s attempt to quickly frame what it decided it was about and then resolve itself according to those brand new rules emphasized the worst traits of Glee and then failed to cross even that low bar by being what it rarely was in its uneven six years: boring. But that was only the finale of a season that consistently fumbled its way through baffling and ineffable character motivations, plot turns and generally poor decisions by the writing staff, while simultaneously making a decent case for the series’ lasting impact.
Season six began with Rachel Berry’s (Lea Michele) new sitcom failing as grandiosely as it was destined to. Disgraced, Rachel returned to Lima, Ohio and used her shameful TV money to refund her old high school glee club, had been abolished by new principal Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch). The writers also contrived Blaine (Darren Criss) into a college dropout and invented a work-study program that allowed Kurt (Chris Colfer) to spend an entire year away from school. So the students (or at least three of them) become the teachers, instilled with a desire to restore their alma mater to a state championship. And there we have our plot.
Except then the show immediately began gumming things up with unnecessarily bizarre choices. Blaine and Will (Matthew Morrison) are teaching at different high schools, a potential source of conflict that gets resolved with a couple of preposterous afterthought conceits. The other major first season alums keep coming and going so freely, you wonder why the show went to such great lengths to explain Rachel, Kurt and Blaine’s relocations in the first place. And, worst of all, the younger generation we knew from the last two seasons is completely written out (with the exception of Becca Tobin’s Kitty) and replaced with a new batch that the series tried and failed to both introduce and make sympathetic with paltry screen time. During all of this, the writers were throwing in so many meta-jokes about their own documented laziness, it began to feel like a confession.
Perhaps the worst offense of bewildering storylines, though, was the ponderously large amount of runtime focused on Sue. The character was a breakout in the first season but her origin as a network-encouraged addition in order to have a clear villain began to show early. Sue’s stated goal was to destroy the glee club and once or twice a season she would either succeed or fail and then simply reset and begin again. Her ceaseless repetition recalls Prometheus’s punishment except that we the audience were the ones suffering. So the preponderance of Sue material in this season was more than egregious, especially since her storyline was far from clear. Was this her shot at redemption or a final push to eliminate the club once and for all? Well, kind of both and kind of neither.
That lack of an impetus may have been most pronounced with Sue but the malaise had sunk into the whole show. This was clear by the finale’s half-assed resolutions. In sending Rachel back to her origins in the premiere, it seemed that her story represented the show’s endgame. By the time we flashed forward five years, though, hers was just one of many generically happy endings.
So what was Glee all about? What motivations brought it into existence and sustained it for six years? If we look to Sue’s final speech, commemorating the newly rechristened Finn Hudson auditorium, we see what the show strived for and often reached – a message of inclusion and acceptance. If there’s one area, though, where this final season actually rose above the previous ones, it was in superseding this sometimes Pollyannaish mission statement and becoming a show that didn’t plead for tolerance but demanded equality. The stories that featured gay weddings and gender transitions were not exercises in hand-holding and gently guiding the audience. They were polemical, sometimes strident, maybe even militant. But they were uncompromising and unapologetic. Glee was bad far more often than it was good. But if its legacy ends up being an insistence on normalizing marginalized Americans, perhaps it will have been worth it.