As is my habit on Tuesday night, I caught the latest episode of Glee.
I’ve been struggling with the show lately. When I first caught promos for the show, my snap impression was, “Wha? Meh.” And then I happened upon it, and fell for the punchy dialogue, the story lines with surprising heart and truth to them, and, of course, the music. (Thank goodness I never ended up in theatre — ain’t got the voice, and way too shy — but I love musicals. Love. Love. Love.)
I still have my beefs, though. Sometimes they (appear) to drop story lines, even compelling ones. And sometimes it gets silly for the sake of it, which sometimes works and other times doesn’t. (Tumblr will often erupt with Glee bashing as much as Glee love, sometimes legitimately and sometimes not.) It means that I don’t yet fully trust the creators. I watch with a more detached, critical eye, when I would rather be swept up.
I think of it as the Whedon/Abrams continuum. I trust Whedon implicitly when it comes to television, or anything he does. Something may appear to be out of place or just plain googly, but I know that Whedon has a reason for it and he’ll tell me. And then on the other end of the spectrum, we have Abrams and a team that confessed they didn’t have a real plan for Lost. When there is no trust, I end up picking apart the show and keeping score of what’s lefty dangling or makes no sense. Any new show has to put me on layaway — each week it makes a small payment and so long as it doesn’t miss too many, I’m bought and paid for.
With Glee, I’m about 70% of the way purchased. They had appeared to drop a storyline and character from the beginning of Season 3 whole cloth, the way a show might in response to corporate pressure. But then the storyline came back last night, which I’m quite pleased with.
But my favorite moment last night had nothing to do with that returning subplot. Nope, the most interesting moment for me came right after the winners of Sectionals had been announced. We need our heroes, the New Directions, to win at Sectionals because they have to take the story arc all the way to Nationals, and they have to win. Because of that, there was no real tension in scene for me as we waited to hear the winners.
As our heroes are announced the winners, and the crowd goes wild and fists are pumped and awards are lifted rapturously in the air, the camera moves over to the stone-faced rivals, the Trouble Tones, who have lost after being absolutely sure they would win. As the camera pans around and behind them, we look over their shoulders to look into the stands. The crowd, the other people on stage, all vanish. They stand alone, and one by one the banks of lights go out until they stand in darkness.
Glee just made a sizable downpayment.
I loved that shot. And why? Because it’s unapologetically symbolic. You don’t see that in television. TV is always about what’s real — visually, anyways and regardless of whether it makes a damn lick of sense. It might have space ships, it might have magic, it might have cops in high heels¹, but what you see is what is happening. Television doesn’t do metaphor. It typically doesn’t know how.
But fiction does. Metaphor and imagery are standard issue in the fiction tool kit, making for a deeper, more true experience. You could have had the Trouble Tones stand there a moment and then dejectedly walk off the stage, but they made a truer moment by going for the symbolic scene. It’s a strategy well-suited and well-employed by theatre, and perhaps Glee gets that free pass to borrow from theatre’s toolkit because it is a musical.
Of course, theatre, because of how it began, had to rely on symbol and metaphor in the hundreds of years before special effects. (That begs the question of whether we would have even developed the concept of metaphor and symbols if we had begun telling stories with cameras instead of people. Hmm. Anyway…)
Reality and truth are not always the same. Sometimes truth can be conveyed more economically and more powerfully by metaphor and symbol, and that’s why I read. And why I write.
¹ Edited to link the mighty fine blog entry over on Book View Cafe that called to mind that particular TV trope. My sentiments exactly.