Welcome to the Convo, where ACG Blog contributors get together for discussion and analysis. Today’s topic is last night’s episode of “Glee,” “Grilled Cheesus.”
After the previous two episodes’ twin mediocrity, “Glee” last night was a breath of fresh air and reestablished not only the breadth of talent on the cast but also how powerful its thematic explorations can be. The kids looked at religion in a way more adult than most Americans are generally willing to approach the subject — and we were treated to a number of compelling songs that affirmed the show’s deft ability to apply music to life.
It all began how it usually does: Finn acting dumb. He makes a grilled cheese sandwich that bears a burn mark of striking resemblance to Jesus. This small, seemingly insignificant event, of course, must subsume the glee club’s entire week, preempting whatever lesson Schue had planned out. Puck then launches into a shockingly catchy cover of Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young.” Sure, there wasn’t much explanation other than that it’s religion-adjacent and Puck seems drawn to Jewish artists. Sure, the direction, otherwise flawless in this episode, relied almost exclusively on nauseating zoom-in/zoom-out shots. Sure, the choreography was both choppy and sloppy. But this is one tune I’ll be playing on repeat this week.
Soon the true central event of the episode occurs: Burt, Kurt’s father, has a heart attack and lies comatose in the hospital. Schue and Emma subtly hold hands while waiting with Kurt at the hospital, a fleeting gesture that will probably unravel with more importance later. A lesser show would have Kurt immediately connect his refusal to attend a family dinner with his father’s infarction, but “Glee” is too smart for such magical thinking; instead, it forces him to take the long way around. Kurt returns to school to face the myriad friends offering up condolences and prayers, but he is a die-hard atheist, even in the face of paternal tragedy, and he coldly rejects their proffered benedictions. Finn even erupts in anger that he found out through the grapevine rather than from Kurt because Burt is the closest Finn has had to a father. Fortunately, he quickly realizes how monstrously selfish such indignation seems and becomes more quietly supportive.
For someone whose father figure is lying hooked up to a heart monitor, however, Finn shows surprisingly little emotion over the matter. Perhaps it has to do with his emotional detachment — as he noted to Emma, he yawned while Rachel was discussing her feelings. Perhaps detachment is only Finn’s response to the overly emotional and self-involved Rachel (“Let’s discuss your newfound love for Jesus and how it’s affecting me.”). As per his prayers to the grilled cheese idol, Rachel allows him to get to second base; fortunately for the censors, Finn didn’t pray for a slide into home. It also leads to a beautiful if puzzling rendition of “Papa Can You Hear Me?” Why was Rachel singing that song about Burt? Sure, she was understandably concerned, but that was taking it a little far. In any event, the direction for the “Yentl” song masterfully portrays Kurt’s isolation from his father, a connection the more religious glee clubbers seem able to make.
In fact, Kurt’s morose mood leads to some confrontation at school with those who believe. They argue that one cannot prove God does not exist; Kurt responds with a detailed analogy about a space dwarf with laser tits, leaving Brittany to wonder if God is an angry dwarf. Schue warns everyone to lay off Kurt, and Mercedes apologizes and invites him to church with her. It takes some convincing, but finally Kurt relents when she points out the rare fashion opportunities. “You had me at fabulous hat,” he says, smiling through a puffy face and dried tears.
Like Kurt himself, his Sunday best was indeed fabulous. Ensconced in the congregation, however, Kurt finds himself humanizing the anti-homosexual, anti-women religion he had been railing against earlier in the episode. Mercedes, backed up by a choir worthy of her diva voice, belts out “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” a song that relies not on church doctrine but rather on the power of a supportive community. Kurt, for the approximately thirty-fifth time, tears up watching her rally the troops around him.
Mercedes inspires Kurt to finally express his emotion through song — quite possibly the greatest cover “Glee” has produced to date. His choice, the Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” is unusual at first, but quickly becomes clear; Kurt has slowed down the vocals and upped the emotion, adapting the pop hit to his own situation. The song is clinched by flashbacks of Kurt’s tea-and-cake afternoons with his father, and coming together as a family in the aftermath of his mother’s death. Therein lies the greatest achievement of “Glee” — not the ability to spit out shot-for-shot remakes of Madonna videos and Broadway hits but rather to take universal music and transform it into something personal and poignant and unique.
Even more importantly, “Glee” didn’t fall prey to the obvious melodrama offered by such deep spiritual introspection; there were no inadvertent conversions, no believer-to-sinner transformations and no depictions of atheism as necessarily inferior. Instead, the kids all learned more about their own faiths and ultimately were able to respect that of others’ and even treat the conversation civilly and seriously. Kurt’s father’s recovery was not instantaneous, his emergence from the coma slow and excruciating; he likely faces a long road to recovery. And Jane Lynch once again proved that her Emmy win was not for the poison-tipped barbs she lobs at Schue and the weaker kids week after week. Rather, her highly nuanced character develops through heartbreaking revelations about her relationship with her sister, one I suspect is going to prove crucial to her failures as a person.
“Glee”’s “religion episode,” as the latest outing is sure to be known, appeared as a welcome change from the total ridiculousness of last week’s Spears homage. Kurt Hummel, so wonderfully played by Chris Colfer, proves once again to be the most well-rounded and relatable character on the show.
Every interaction between Kurt and his father Burt seems natural and realistic, and Colfer acts his heart out as Kurt struggles to deal with seeing his father in a coma as the result of a heart attack. Even his monologue and melancholy performance of “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” which could have easily taken a turn toward overwrought, achieved something else by delivering a sincere emotional punch. The scenes of a younger Kurt endeared him to me even more (bejeweled bicycle spokes! bowties!). And thankfully the episode ended on a hopeful note. Though we’re far from sure that Burt will make it through this totally well, it seems this is not to be his end. (And good on you, “Glee” writers, for not completely wrapping this storyline in one episode!)
Then again, the whole motivation for this exploration of faith stemmed from Finn seeing the image of Jesus burned into his grilled cheese sandwich (giving the world the horrible phrase “grilled cheesus”). He thinks this Jesus image is answering his prayers, including being reinstated as the quarterback — though that only happens when Sam dislocates a shoulder. Which logically leads to Finn doubting his faith. In a grilled cheese sandwich. He finally eats it at the end of the episode.
The show did an admirable job of addressing a variety or religions and spirituality in the broader sense, including portraying Kurt and Sue as atheists and mentioning but not focusing on the conflict between organized religion and homosexuality. The message in the end isn’t about religion, but about faith, love, support and tolerance for everyone’s ideas. Even Kurt finds himself pushing people away because he views them as trying to push their faith on him, but eventually realizes his friends are trying to offer him support in the best way they know.
It was an episode light on laughs, but Kurt’s rebuttal to Mercedes’ statement that “you can’t prove that there’s no god” led to Brittany’s best one-liner of the night: “Is god an evil dwarf?” For a show billed as a musical, most of the performances this week were lackluster. The singing itself was credible, but despite the fact that all of the songs mentioned or referenced religion in some way, I failed to connect with them and to connect them with the week’s theme. For all that it’s called “Losing My Religion,” that particular R.E.M song really has… almost nothing to do with religion.
In the end, “Grilled Cheesus” wasn’t quite a perfect example of a wonderful Glee episode, but it took a lot of steps in the right direction.
As usual, the latest “Glee” is a manic-depressive bundle of nervous energy. What other show could — or at least, would — go straight from a zany episode about dental drug-induced hallucinations of Britney Spears to a heavy look at the possibility of a parent’s death and some heated discussion over whether belief in a higher power is a mistake? For that matter, what other show would feature a young man praying to a sandwich that he’ll be allowed to touch his girlfriend’s breasts — and devote almost equal time to that and the plot about an atheist’s sick father? Whew! That’s what you missed this week on “Glee.”
Thanks to some soulful performances and a stirring plot to place them in, the songs this week seemed exceptionally well-done. The odd one out was Puck’s solo of Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young,” which felt out of place in its tone even before we learned that Kurt’s dad Burt has been taken to the hospital in a coma. Looking back on this first number once Kurt has begun wondering if he will soon be an orphan, its title and mood are even more chilling. Still, it was a very good performance in and of itself, and I look forward to purchasing the track on iTunes. It just didn’t seem to fit the rest of the episode very well.
Emotionally, this episode was a big step forward for “Glee,” which has tended to skirt around any themes of real weight. The setup of Kurt’s story was a bit hackneyed: moody teen doesn’t want to do something with his family that the teen’s dad says is important, teen’s dad falls sick, teen cries that he’d do it all over again if he could, teen’s dad starts to get better. But the premise allowed for all the gang to reach some emotional depths that they haven’t really been pushed to on-screen before, and that was a very welcome occurrence. Kurt was obviously struck the hardest by the news about his dad, but the writers and cast did a good job of showing everyone else’s reactions as well. Rachel’s sobbing performance under the stars and over Burt’s hospital bed felt a tad over-the-top based on how little their characters must know each other and how distant she is with Kurt. But with Rachel everything has to be over-the-top, so I suppose her emotion in “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” wasn’t really that much of a stretch. It felt phony, but it was one of those times when it seemed like Rachel was actually believing her own phoniness.
The bedroom scene between Rachel and Finn was absurd because of the sandwich plot, but it raises an interesting question about how honest Finn and Rachel are being with each other about their past experience. Finn now knows Rachel wants to wait until her mid-twenties to have sex, but unless they’ve had a conversation off-screen this summer, he probably still believes that she slept with Jesse St. James. That’s got to be rough for a guy like Finn, who has known and now dated Rachel for much longer than Jesse did. By the same token, unless they’ve had that talk and corrected their lies, Rachel probably believes Finn didn’t have that one-night-stand with Santana. That sort of information isn’t vital to a healthy relationship, but it certainly has the possibility to blow up at a moment’s notice. For a show like “Glee” that revels in drama, you can bet Finchel’s past is going to come back to bite them.
Speaking of drama, I am getting tired of Kurt, who used to be one of my favorite characters. True, he was dealt a really crummy hand this episode, but I’m not really talking about his reaction to his dad’s hospital stay — anyone could react that poorly to such news, and it’s good for a show to occasionally push its characters to those limits just to see what they’ll do. But I’m talking about Kurt’s bad attitude even before his dad collapsed, when he was refusing to come to family dinner. Seriously, man — what gives? I’m as big a fan of “The Sound of Music” as the next guy, but Kurt’s behavior here just doesn’t make sense. It’s more of the same rude behavior I noticed last episode, when he was talking back to Mr. Schuester over his ban on Britney. Has the writing of this character changed so significantly this season for no reason, or is the show’s new treatment of Kurt building to some sort of point? It’s strange to me that internet rumors have been hinting that Kurt will get a boyfriend this season, since based on his behavior in the past few episodes, he’s never deserved one less.
“Glee” is all about comebacks and power ballads, and I hope this scare with Kurt’s dad will be enough to give him one of both next week. So far this season, the only new directions have been in Kurt’s attitude to life, and I for one am not digging the change.