5 min

The slap heard ’round the world

BY ROB SALERNO – If you're gay, odds are you were watching Glee last night, when an amazing Adele mashup abruptly segued into what I'm calling the slap heard 'round the world. Spoilers ahead; you've been warned.

Glee has always been an uneven show that really stops working once you try to find consistency in its plots, or even tone, from episode to episode, or even scene to scene. Just look at how the characters ages change to serve the needs of the plot (Finn was explicitly established as a senior in the pilot episode, and much of the first season was about him applying to college; logically, Puck and Quinn were also seniors then, and last season certainly implied that Blaine was older than Kurt), or how the rules of show choir competitions change every season (how many competing teams there are, what defines their section/region, and how many singers are needed for a team, which was a major plot point in both Season 1 and 2 but has gone out the window this season).

The one plot element that the show's creators seemed to stick to pretty consistently over the past few seasons was its treatment of gay issues and bullying. Once they realized they'd hit a sweet spot with Kurt's coming out, gay stories became a well they kept tapping. And they got some genuinely good stories there, from Kurt's father's evident discomfort with talking about homosexuality despite his general love and acceptance of his son, to Kurt's awkwardness at courting his first boyfriend, to Kurt learning the boundaries of other people's comfort and carving out his own identity (don't whitewash Kurt's creepy obsession with his new brother, Finn).

There was also last week's hugely promoted "THE FIRST TIME TWO GAY TEENAGERS HAVE SEX ON TV" episode, which was also remarkable for being the first time, ever, that two gay teenagers had sex by lying together fully clothed and staring deeply into each other's eyes.

I once tried to have sex with that many clothes on and got a denim burn.

That episode was hugely controversial, so this week they were back to safe topics like hot female teachers having sex with their curiously 30-year-old-looking male students.

Of course, the other lie behind that episode was that gay teens had been having sex on Glee since season one: Brittany and Santana. Sure, it was originally just a throwaway joke, but it eventually, brilliantly, became Santana's major storyline. Heck, last season even had a sleepover where the girls talked about all the times they'd had sex together. 

This week's episode brought it all to a head. With Santana finally getting closer to Brittany now that she's lured her into the New Directions' rival group the Troubletones, Santana cranks up her bitchy cover, hurling her usual insults at everyone in her path. Santana's evolved into a mini Sue Sylvester, minus the illogical wackiness that's been grafted onto Sylvester since the writers realized they'd exhausted every logical thing they could do with her.

It's always been clear that Santana tears down everyone around her because she's so insecure about herself, and after an incredibly mean-spirited string of fat jokes directed at Finn, he unloads back at her that everyone knows she's a lesbian and everyone knows she's such a bitch because she actually hates herself more than anyone else and is scared that Brittany doesn't love her back.

The barely concealed homophobia in Finn's rant is more-or-less consistent with Finn's previous fights dealing with homosexuality, including the Season 2 freak-out he had when Kurt redecorated their bedroom. I don't think Finn is a bigot but was instead pushed really hard and found the one clear chink in Santana's armour. 

Shouting "You're a lesbian" down a crowded school corridor until Santana cries isn't the most subtle way he could've handled the situation, but arguably, Santana deserved her lumps. And boy did they come, when one of the students who overheard the conversation passes it along until eventually Santana ends up in a Congressional campaign television ad that identifies her as a lesbian for the sake of smearing coach and rival candidate Sue Sylvester's morals. 

It's an effective scene, undercut only by how ridiculous the entire "Sue's running for Congress" story has been to this point (earlier in the episode, Sue ran ads that claimed one of her rivals is married to a donkey and has a baboon heart). The rival ad is equally ridiculous, accusing Sue of corrupting children by promoting a lesbian (Santana) to head cheerleader and because she's never been married herself.

Sue seems to have learned a lesson about how her bullying has poisoned the tone of the entire campaign because it hurt someone she cared about (just forget the part where last season Sue actually wanted to fire Santana out of a cannon). She should also be realizing that her encouragement of Santana's bullying also, ultimately, led to her confrontation with Finn, which precipitated the crisis.

But before we can actually see the fallout of that scene, we cut to a fantastic mashup of Adele's "Rumour Has It" with "Someone Like You." It's a stunning performance from Naya Rivera, who's gradually revealed herself to be one of the show's best performers:

At the end of the song, Santana slaps Finn, saying that because of him everyone's going to know she's gay. We won't see the fallout until next week, unfortunately.

This episode presented a much more nuanced take on bullying than we typically get on television, particularly from this series, which tends to portray bullies as cartoon villains who stalk the halls to throw slushies at people and demand that the Irish exchange student admit that U2 is overrated. 

To be fair, those 15-year-old bullies were born the year Pop came out. Commence feeling old . . . now.

Instead, what we saw were several examples of school bullying and the motivations behind them. Whether it's desire for personal gain (both campaign ads), overzealous competition (the ads, as well as the entire dodgeball scene), xenophobia (when the Troubletones pummel the Irish kid), modelling after adults (Santana), insecurity (Santana), or self-defence (Finn).

There's a rich vein of drama to be mined here. I hope the show doesn't come back next week with the moral that bullying is bad because eventually it makes bullies feel bad. I also hope they can find a new direction for Santana rather than having her turn her bitchiness up to 11 in order to protect herself while hate-singing "I Kissed a Girl" at the male members of New Directions. Or not:

Katy Perry songs are clearly Blaine's territory.

What do you think about how Glee deals with bullying?