Thursday, May 27, 2010

Glee Provides One of Best Scenes Ever

If anyone was in any doubt that Glee is one of the best shows on television these days, it's because they haven't been paying attention. I got into the show right before their hiatus, and have been impressed (by and large) with the steps they've taken since coming back. It's hard to believe that the show is this huge in such a short period of time.

But what continues to impress me with Glee the most isn't the songs (though they're phenomenal, and averaging about 4 or 5 full-on musical numbers an episode is no easy feat), but the way they handle the characterization. And one of the best character dynamics in the show is between the flamboyantly gay singer Kurt and his ruggedly bewildered father, Burt.

This dynamic has had a lot of back-and-forth, with the father trying to support Kurt's choices of his lifestyle, and Kurt being profoundly hurt that it even takes an effort. Mike O'Malley, who plays Burt Hummel, definitely deserves a Best Supporting Actor Award from somewhere - Emmy's, Golden Globes, People's Choice Awards ... something! Every scene with Burt and Kurt (a rhyme that I only just now realized as I typed it into the computer) makes it clear that they love each other deeply, but just do not know how to really connect with each other.

To make it worse, Burt has been connecting just fine to football-loving Finn, whose mother he has recently begun dating. This has only deepened the tensions between father and son. Kurt, who has a mild crush on Finn, has been conflicted over the whole situation, and its implications for his own relationship with his father.

This week's episode started with the announcement that Finn and his mother were moving in with Burt and Kurt. Kurt offered to redecorate the room that the two of them would be sharing. It culminates in this, one of the best scenes I've ever witnessed on television:

What's so great about this?

On the DVD commentary for Dollhouse: Season One, series creator Joss Whedon (who also directed last week's episode of Glee, featuring Neil Patrick Harris, so this isn't a complete non sequitor) said that he loved having a scene where there are two people, both of whom you agree with, who disagree with each other. That's good television. (This is in episode 6 "Man on the Street," for those who are interested.)

And that's exactly what happened in this scene. There are three characters, and you are in utter sympathy with all three of them, even though the three of them are not in agreement about the outcome they want to see from the situation. It literally had Amber and me holding our breaths.

This is good storytelling at its finest, as opposed to my issue with most shows, such as Avatar, which fail to understand one of the fundamental tenets of storytelling:
Villains are not nearly as interesting as people who you kind of agree with
On Glee, even the vile Sue Silvester (who is a bit like Ann Coulter with a personality disorder) has redeemable qualities, and there are times when her opposition to the existence of the glee club actually seems to be founded on something resembling a valid moral principle. Even as a clear caricature of a wretch of a human being, she has far more depth than Avatar's Sergeant character.

This was one of the ways in which Lost really got things right, because no one - not even the Smoke Monster, really - was completely evil. The bad guys made the occasional moral choice, and the good guys made the occasional immoral one. In fact, there were no "good guys" and "bad guys," really, but just people with different goals, some of which required occasionally shooting a person or having them beaten. In the first season, characters who were portrayed as being "bad" - Sawyer and Jin, for example - were shown to be much more complex than was at first believed. Similarly, characters who seemed fairly moral on the island - Charlie, Kate, & Sayid - were shown to have been the sort of people who cavalierly ruined the lives of others in their pre-island life.

In fact, as I look at the shows that I like these days, I find that this tendency away from clear definitions of good and evil is one of the things that draws me most strongly. In our world there are no boxes of good and evil for people to step into, just individual choices that we have to make time and time again.

In this scene, Finn makes a bad (but understandable) choice out of frustration at a situation he does not want to be in. Burt's reaction is to stand up for his son, and to do so with brazen honesty that adds to the severity of the scene. Burt isn't condemning someone else's sins. He is condemning his own. He's condemning the very flaws that he is trying to work out of himself, which is why he can be so harsh on Finn without seeming unjust.

The episode is worth watching for a number of reasons, and the resolution of the storyline is great, with Finn making a similar moral stand on Kurt's behalf. In a world where there aren't boxes for good and evil, it's great to see a television series making the point - in such a bold fashion - that making moral stands when the time comes is all we can do.
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

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