Sunday night’s super-sized Super Bowl episode of “Glee” has been hyped for months. The football-themed episode hit a whole lot of high notes: an ambitious “Thriller” mash-up with “Heads Will Roll” was pulled off beautifully and Puck and Rachel’s “I Need You Now” duet has already become one of our favorite songs to listen to in the car.
It also wrapped up a season-long story line about homophobic bullying, which has obviously been a hot topic in the media over the last few months, in response to the tragic suicides of several bullied teenagers.
I should say that I’m not exactly a true-blue “Glee” fan. About half the fun of watching it, for me, is making fun of every last melodramatic overwrought ballad (I’m looking at you, Lea Michele) and embarrassingly awkward dance move (I’m looking at you, Cory Monteith). I won’t even get into the epic discomfort of everything Mr. Schuester does.
The gay bullying story line, however, is not a laughing matter, and never has been. It’s obviously a plot that carries a significant weight in today’s climate. In case you’ve missed it, gay high school student Kurt (Chris Colfer in a Golden Globe award-winning role), who came out last season, was tormented so brutally by closeted homophobic football player Karofsky (Max Adler) that he was forced to leave McKinley High School and the Glee club he so loves to go to Dalton Academy, a private school two hours away.
It’s important to note that when we met Kurt in the pilot episode, he was being tossed into a dumpster by a pack of jocks. He’s used to being bullied, and throughout the first season responded to the trouble with cool dignity. He even made peace with those who used to bully him, like Puck, after Puck apologized and became a protective figure for Kurt. It wasn’t until the situation escalated, becoming extremely physically violent, in Season 2, that the wear on Kurt’s psyche became apparent.
In short, Karofsky is a fictional representation of the kind of incessant bullying that led to a near epidemic of teen suicides this fall.
Karofsky is also a closeted gay teenager, who kissed Kurt in a locker room against Kurt’s will.
In the Super Bowl episode, Karofsky was forced to join Glee in order to play in the big football game, because of his coach’s attempt to ease tensions between the two groups. He objected fiercely, mostly because he sees the Glee club as gay. When a hockey player suggested as much, Karofsky lost it, lashing out violently yet again.
But by the end of the episode, the Glee club — Kurt’s only friends at McKinley — were welcoming Karofsky onto the field to perform the “Thriller” number with them. He was commended for his performance and the Glee teacher, Mr. Schuester, even expressed his hope that Karofsky would join the club full-time. Finn, Kurt’s step-brother who recently redeemed himself for alienating Kurt, was particularly warm-and-fuzzy toward Karofsky.
Forgive me, but I don’t get it.
Karofsky hasn’t expressed remorse or faced consequences for running a terrified kid out of his high school and away from his friends. There hasn’t been so much as a slap on the wrist for his behavior, and now Kurt’s supposed friends are dancing with the bully on the football field?
All while Kurt watches from the stands.
Are we supposed to assume that because Karofsky is a closet case himself, his physical violence is justified? He’s clearly a tormented human being, but until we see him get some help for his self-hate, he hasn’t been redeemed and shouldn’t be forgiven.
That’s not to say that the character has no hope. A TV writer I admire once told me that a good writer can make any storyline work with enough time. The problem is that there has been no time spent redeeming Karofsky. The fact that the Glee club is so quick to forgive him for terrorizing Kurt — before Kurt himself has forgiven him — is terribly wrong, and reverses so much of the progress that Finn made when he called Kurt his brother in the “Furt” episode.
Creator Ryan Murphy has made it very clear that he’s aware that the bullying story line is sending a message to America. “I think the stuff that we’re doing with the story line is clearly about a character, and I think it has social significance, I think it has weight,” he told the New York Times.
By choosing to tackle this story, the show took on a social responsibility… but it’s now dropped the ball, especially considering that this post-game episode was specifically tailored to appeal to a straight male audience according to co-creator Ian Brennan. Not a good time to let the homophobic bully off the hook.
When Colfer accepted his Golden Globe award for the role of Kurt, he dedicated it to the bullied kids he was representing on screen. “Most importantly to all the amazing kids who watch our show and the kids
that our show celebrates,” he said, “Who are constantly told ‘no’ by the people in
their environments, by bullies at school, that they can’t be who they
are or have what they want because of who they are. Well, screw that,
Where was that triumphant sentiment in the Super Bowl episode?
If you’re hoping there will be some follow-up on Kurt and Karofsky in Tuesday’s upcoming episode… don’t. I’ve seen the episode, and while Kurt does spend time with his McKinley High friends, there’s no mention of the fact that they spent a week warming up to the guy who sent Kurt fleeing the school district.
What do you think, “Glee” fans? Did you find the Glee club’s actions inappropriate, or did Karofsky deserve their forgiveness? Weigh in below in the comments and let us know how you feel.