Glee and Lost, Paralyzed by Paralysis

First things first—credit where credit’s due. I gave up on Glee shortly before it went on hiatus, and I wouldn’t know anything about last night’s episode if TVDoneWright’s Adam Wright hadn’t written his thought-provoking post, Artie of Glee, Why the Pitiful Victim?. As a person with a physical disability, Wright approaches the episode from a unique perspective. And while he says he wasn’t offended, he points to Artie’s sudden obsession with finding a “cure” for his paralysis, and the scenes in which we’re supposed to feel sorry for Artie because he can’t dance. “Lying there, helpless, the victim,” Wright says. “Seriously? After all the struggles, all the things he’s been through, he’s just going to lay there?”

Well, no. He’s going to get a wacky dream sequence in which he gets out of his chair and does “The Safety Dance” at the mall. Characterization on Glee is rarely consistent—that’s always been my biggest issue with the show—but this new development is particularly troublesome. Sure, it makes sense that a high school kid who remembers life before his disability would long for the chance to walk again. But didn’t Glee already establish that Artie has, in many ways, adapted to his chair? More to the point, is it too much to ask for a disabled character who embraces his talents and accepts his limitations? Speaking from personal experience, Wright notes, “One of the first things we learn is to know one’s limits.”

Let’s contrast Artie with John Locke in last night’s episode of Lost, a show I actually do watch religiously. I was troubled by the fixation on Locke’s paralysis in the alternate universe. Not because this is anything new—Locke’s need to walk on his own two legs has been well established since Season 1’s “Walkabout.” Don’t tell him what he can’t do, including being bipedal. What troubled me was the way alternate universe Locke is told to “let go” and let Jack “fix” him. The implication is that freeing Locke from his paralysis will somehow set things right. (I think. You’re asking me to understand Lost? Come on.)

I don’t want to appear oversensitive or—perhaps even worse—like I’m missing the point entirely. Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have a plan for >Lost, and I think it’s unlikely that Jack undoing Locke’s spinal damage is the be-all, end-all of the series. It just seemed strange, as though the inevitable surgery is what the alternate universe has been working toward all along. Locke letting go of the past, particularly his relationship with Anthony Cooper—that, I can get behind. But Locke letting go of his wheelchair—why? It seems even more irrelevant in the alternate universe, where Locke got to go on the walkabout despite his physical limitations. Take that, jerky Season 1 Australians!

Here’s the thing: I’m not going to boycott Lost, and I haven’t changed my opinion on Glee. But considering the current (embarrassing) dearth of characters with disabilities, it’s disconcerting that TV’s most notable wheelchair users spent last night fixated on a “cure.” It might not be worth an angry letter campaign, but it’s something to think about nonetheless.

Follow writer Louis Peitzman on Twitter: @LouisAtTVDotCom

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