Probably the four biggest complaints I heard about Glee last night were: 1) This is a comedy; how dare they do something so dramatic? 2) It’s way too soon after Newtown to show something like this on TV. 3) I can’t believe how emotionally manipulative that was. 4) It was pointless.
Look, I’m no champion of Glee. I’ve written way more harsh stuff about the show than I have nice stuff about the show, but all of those arguments are a little confusing to me. I didn’t see a single gay person complaining about Glee doing drama when Kurt and Santana were grappling with their sexuality and trying to summon the courage to come out. Or when Karofsky’s self-loathing homophobia nearly killed him. Or when Unique was trying to embrace her gender identity. Pretty much all of us applauded that drama, right? We said it was important. That’s why we get so angry at this show so much. Because when it tells important stories well, it tells them better than anybody.
And it’s always going to be too soon after a school shooting if we don’t do something to stop school shootings. Sandy Hook wasn’t the first. And it won’t be the last. If you wait three months to tell this story, or six months, or a year, who’s to say how many more school shootings will happen between now and then? No, the time to open a dialogue about a horrific thing is when there’s momentum to change the horrific thing. That time is right now.
As for emotional manipulation, I think one of the greatest things a story can strive to do is make you feel a thing you’ve never felt before, and would never feel otherwise. Again, we applaud this show when it does that for gay folks. We count on this show to do that for gay folks. We want it to show the world what it’s like to be gay, to be in a same-sex relationship. Is it emotionally manipulative to make straight people feel that? To feel what it’s like to be gay, to be a friend to someone who’s gay, to root for someone who’s gay? No, man. That’s just the power of story. And this episode put us right in the middle of a school shooting. The directing, the acting, the whole thing, it made us feel like we were trapped in that choir room with New Directions, or trapped in that bathroom stall with Brittany, or crying on the floor of the school kitchen like Marley’s mother. It was scary as hell, it was traumatic, and it was gut-stompingly sad. We were there with them, not breathing with them, crying with them. We were transported inside of a story and made to feel things we’d never felt before. That’s what story does.
And yeah, in the moment when Sue confesses to being the one with the gun, it does feel pointless. But that’s not the end of the story, is it? It was Becky who had the gun, Becky who was just trying to take Brittany’s advice and prepare herself for the outside world. The point is that anyone can get his or her hands on a gun and most teenagers can just walk right into their high schools with guns in their backpacks. No, not everyone who has a gun wants to kill someone, but every gun has the potential to kill someone. Guns are everywhere in America and if someone wanted to walk into a school today in suburban Ohio and murder a whole classroom full of kindergarteners, they could do it. Gun violence in this country is out of fucking control. That’s the point. “Shooting Star” put us right in the middle of that point: “You feel how fucking terrible this is? Yeah, it’s a real thing. A real thing we need to address. Like now.”
And, frankly, the fact that it came right in the middle of an otherwise ludicrous episode of Glee, that’s also kind of the point. No one’s ever sitting around waiting for their school to get shot up. They’re planning what they’re going to wear to prom and strategizing about their basketball games in the afternoon and worrying about their term papers and living and laughing and loving and singing, and then their innocence is shattered with a single shot.
Anyway, Artie gets out his camera to record messages from the glee kids, in case they don’t make it out of the room. Of course it’s Artie because Artie is a director in his heart. The kids tell their parents they love them, tell them they’re sorry for not showing it all the time, tell them where to find the secret things they were scared to share with the rest of the world. Kitty crawls into Unique’s lap and cries. Sam has to be physically restrained by Beiste and Shue when he tries to bust out of the room to find Brittany. It is Mr. Schue who finds her locked in her bathroom stall. Heather Morris is transcendent. Tina is trapped outside the whole time, no idea if her family is OK, no idea how to get back inside and help them.
When it’s all over they all hug. And I drink a whole bottle of whiskey.