Musicals can be fun and silly, they can be soul-crushingly depressing, and they can be surprisingly insightful. The best musicals, in my opinion, manage to do all three. Glee tends to land in the fun and silly portion of the spectrum more often than it lands in the other two, but every now and then, it manages to score a hat trick.
“Choke” was a story about failure. It had its funny moments: the guys singing “The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly on the Plain” to help Puck study for his geography test and Rachel’s list of don’ts leading up to her NYADA audition—no milk, no doorknobs, no kissing.
It was insightful. Admittedly, an issue as important as domestic abuse should warrant more time than that of the B- or C-story in an episode that featured three parallel stories, but the decision by the writers to make the troubled couple Coach Beiste and Cooter Menkins was jarring and unexpected and probably the entire point behind the decision. Beiste and Cooter are supposed to be one of those gleefully-ever-after couples. Sue and Roz—and later, the New Directions girls—were shocked by Beiste’s admission that she didn’t get her shiner from a punching bag at the gym, she got it from her husband when he got drunk and angry over dirty dishes. The girls all thought that Cooter was just a big, silly dope and Roz pointedly asked Beiste, “You’re the size of a house. Why didn’t you just turn around and kick his ass?”
“I’m not a violent person.”
Sure, Beiste could probably lay a smackdown on anyone, but she’s not the type of person who would want to. Furthermore, would kicking Cooter’s ass in response to his douchebaggery really solve anything? Typically, meeting violence with violence only leads to escalation, creating a cycle of more and more violence.
And finally, “Choke” was really freaking sad. I hesitate to apply term “soul-crushingly depressing” because I usually save that one for the likes of Miss Saigon or West Side Story or the fifth season of Supernatural, but for Glee, where tying everything up in a neat, glittery bow is the standard operating procedure, this episode may have managed to make me feel feelings that resulted in a sudden need for tissues.
At the beginning of “Choke,” Puck conceded that there was no way he would be able to pass his geography final, and therefore no way that he would graduate with his friends. Since the prospect of graduation seemed hopeless, he decided to ditch the school thing and start concentrating on his pool-cleaning business right away. A run-in with his deadbeat dad had him forking over most of his California seed money to cover Daddy Dearest’s rent and rethinking his stance on the Screw High School mindset—his dad was a dropout. Puck decided that he’d rather follow someone else’s footsteps. Cue the My Fair Lady study session in the locker room.
Puck walked into the exam exuding confidence and despite the fact that two of the answers he wrote down were actually the lyrics to “The Rain in Spain” song, I thought maybe he’d get lucky. Maybe he’d get points for creativity. I had a history teacher in high school who gave points for creativity. They exist. Maybe Puck’s geography teacher was one of those delightful people. This is Glee after all, and it would have been so utterly depressing to have Puck go through the game-changing revelation, work hard to get things back on track, only to fail the freaking test. Right? RIGHT?
Oh. Screw you, Glee.
Then there was Rachel. Rachel has a long history of getting on my nerves because, well, she’s Rachel. She’s the self-proclaimed star, the shiny one, the future Idina Menzel/Barbra Streisand/Broadway Diva of Your Choice. She and Kurt spent a good chunk of “Choke” perfecting their NYADA audition songs and it looked like Kurt would be the one with the shakier performance when he decided to change his song on the spot, ditching tried-and-true “Music of the Night” for the edgier “Not the Boy Next Door.”
Instead, he nailed his performance and basically cemented his spot in NYADA’s freshman class. Congratulations, Kurt. You’re the only one who gets to be happy this week.
Rachel stuck to her guns, decided to sing “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from Funny Girl because she’d been practicing it since she was two and could probably sing it backwards, in Spanish, while standing on her head if she really wanted to show off.
It was a safe call. It’s been assumed from the beginning of series that neurotic, overachieving Rachel was the one who would “make it.”
And then she blew it, forgot the lyrics, restarted the song twice before Whoopi Goldberg as the NYADA judge stopped her and refused to let her continue the audition. Rachel, in her own words, “choked,” and it was the most un-Glee moment of the episode when she just crumbled onto the stage and sobbed. Sometimes Glee's cover song irritate me because they feel watered-down compared to the originals (like last night’s “Cell Block Tango”), but Rachel’s subsequent performance of Kelly Clarkson’s “Cry” took the run-of-the-mill pop schlop to a higher level. If any performance could be plucked from "Choke" to define the episode, it would Lea Michelle’s “Cry.”
However, the New Directions girls' stripped-down “Shake it Out” cover was definitely a close second. It was a little awkward and after school special-y, but then, a lot of the action surrounding Beiste’s storyline bordered on preachy when it came to everyone...except Beiste herself. Despite being tough, intelligent women, Roz and Sue’s response to Beiste’s problem was little more than “YOU NEED TO LEAVE HIM.”
Newsflash: Most women who find themselves in dangerous relationships are aware they are in dangerous relationships. Extricating yourself from an abusive relationship is often more complicated than just packing a suitcase.
And to be fair to Glee, that point was perfectly illustrated by both Beiste’s rationalization of the abuse (however misguided her thought process was) and her decision to give Cooter a second chance. I just expected more from Sue and Roz, but like Beiste herself said, “No one tells you what you’re supposed to do in this situation.”
Next week, Glee goes to prom, though how anyone could possibly feel like dancing after everything that went down in “Choke” is beyond me.
How are you coping with all the trauma? Do you think Rachel will miraculously end up going to NYADA after all? (I kind of do.)