Heartbreaking. That’s the word that sums up this episode of Glee. Heartbreaking.
There were two major stories – Kurt and Rachel’s NYADA audition, and Coach Bieste’s domestic violence plot – and a third subplot – Puck’s struggle to graduate.
Let’s take Coach Bieste first. She turned up at McKinley sporting a bruise, which she said was when a punching bag flew back at her after she hit it too hard. Something certainly punched her, but it wasn’t the bag – it was husband Cooter Menkins, but Coach Bieste didn’t let on for a while.
Meanwhile, seeing Coach Bieste with a bruise on her face made Santana make some “humourous” remarks regarding domestic violence. Because when you see someone with a bruise it’s funny to make jokes about men hitting women (or vice versa). For once, someone in authority was properly outraged about Santana’s behaviour, and of her friends’ behaviour, since they smirked at the joke.
Coach Ros Washington – “Black Sue” – and Sue Sylvester – “original recipe Sue” – decided they would teach the girls how serious domestic violence really is…through song. Cue a really, really horrible scene where the gang of girls (Troubletones plus Tina) do Cell Block Tango. I love Cell Block Tango, but it is not a song about women empowering themselves in a responsible way. In fact, it’s actually a song about women murdering their partners, so it’s hardly appropriate for a lesson on domestic violence. Less so when it’s performed in underwear/nightwear.
Thankfully, Ros and Sue have sustained their responsible streak (usually by this time it’s disappeared in Glee) and tell the girls off, before heading to find Coach Bieste, who left half way through the performance. And that’s when the story comes out – Cooter hit Coach Bieste, because she didn’t do the washing up.
I liked the way Coach Bieste’s experience was revealed – through flashbacks intercut with the girls singing Cell Block Tango. It was clever and subtle, and we got to see flashes of the situation become worse, all with a feeling of dread in the pit of our stomachs. The teenagers might not have known what happened, but we certainly saw it coming.
This plot did come from nowhere, and was neatly wrapped up in one episode, with Coach Bieste leaving Cooter after a pep talk by Ros and Sue.
Unfortunately, while TV Land can do things like this, in real life victims of domestic violence have a much harder time getting away from bad situations. As a journalist I’ve covered plenty of court cases where a woman has been hit by a man, and despite it not being the first time it’s happened, the woman is often there in court supporting her partner, and the charges are often dropped. There was some allusion to this in Ros’s story about her aunt, who had a much harder time getting away, but perhaps not enough of the emphasis was on how domestic violence is often a long term situation for a lot of people, and has long term effects.
Still, for something that only took place during one episode, it wasn’t handled too badly. Of course, it ended with a song as the girls who had previously made a joke of domestic violence ended up singing to Coach Bieste, and making her feel a bit better. That’s not entirely realistic, but it was touching.
Props to Dot Marie Jones this episode, who really acted her socks off as Coach Bieste. I felt for her every step of the way – shock at seeing the bruise, dread and horror and that feeling of sickness when you know something is coming, anger at what had happened, relief that she got away, sadness for her – I felt them all and that’s a real testament to Jones’s acting skills.
And so to the other major storyline in this episode – the NYADA auditions. Kurt got through his just fine, impressing the judge (guest star Whoopi Goldberg) with his rendition of Not the Boy Next Door. I’m glad he chose to take a risk and do that song, instead of his version of The Music of the Night from Phantom of the Opera. I love Phantom, and I love Kurt, but Kurt’s rendition of one of the musical’s best known songs was just plain funny – especially with Tina playing a drugged looking Christine. For a while during this episode I thought Rachel was just trying to sabotage Kurt’s audition by persuading him to do The Music of the Night, but it turns out she wasn’t at all. I just have a suspicious mind.
And to Rachel. Poor Rachel. Her audition was horrible to watch. Here is a girl who, the whole time we as viewers have known her, has been working towards being a star. She’s been working hard and honing her craft for years, and when it comes to the biggest moment of her life so far, she just breaks. Seeing Rachel on stage beg and plead with the judge wasn’t fun, and I really felt for her.
It’s interesting that Glee has taken a chance and made Rachel fail. Sure, she’s bossy and annoying and self-centred, but there’s always been something admirable about her sense of self, her confidence and her determination. I’ve always liked that in Rachel, so for Glee to wipe that out in one fell swoop is intriguing, and I’m waiting in anticipation to see how Rachel puts herself back together again.
As a final plot we saw Puck coming to the realisation that school does matter. It took a visit from his downbeat dad to make him see, but perhaps it’s too little, too late, since he still failed his geography exam. As a sidenote, are the questions asked on geography exams for 18-year-olds really that easy?!
Choke was an interesting name for this episode. At its most basic it referred to Rachel not being able to complete her audition, choking on her own words. As a second layer, it referred to Puck, choked by what he sees as his future self (his father) but unable to move forward. Could it also refer to Coach Bieste’s situation in a more literal way? After all, choking is not just something we do when we swallow the wrong way, or a word we use to mean getting stuck. It’s also a violent action that one person can inflict on another. If domestic violence starts as a slap or a punch, it can easily migrate to a few more punches or a violent shove down the stairs, to something altogether more sinister. Perhaps I’m looking too deep, but the name Choke certainly added an extra dimension to this week’s episode.
A mixed bag musically.
There were the showy pieces – Cell Block Tango and Not the Boy Next Door – which showed the characters’ at their most fabulous (especially Kurt).
The Rain in Spain was a weird number. I can’t say I enjoyed it.
I loved the girls’ version of Shake It Out.
But it was Rachel who stole the show with an emotional rendition of Cry. Oh, whatever you say about Rachel Berry’s character, Lea Michele really knows how to get you to feel for her when she sings.
What Glee did well
Despite being rushed, Glee again showed it can deal with tough issues, like domestic violence. Sure, they have to be condensed down to an episode, but Glee elicits all the right feelings and emotions from its characters, and from its audience.