Prom Trauma: The Glee Prom Episode
The "Prom Queen" episode of Glee was everything that a musical dramedy should be, and more.
The episode opens with, no surprise, the news that the Glee club will have to provide the musical entertainment for prom. Almost immediately, we segue to a fabulous duet- “Rolling in the Deep,” sung by Rachel, and, well, you won’t believe this but . . . Jesse is back.
Sadly, this first musical number was also the best of the show.
Jesse apologizes to Rachel, and joins her, Mercedes and Sam on a low-budget prom date. He is egotistical and pushy, and all about Rachel, who eats it up. The other kids aren’t so sure, especially Finn, who ends up getting both himself and Jesse kicked out of prom for fighting.
Quinn has put all her energy into campaigning for prom queen. Having her king, Finn, kicked out before the crowning is bad. That he was fighting Jesse for coming on too strong with Rachel is worse.
As in real life, prom trauma promotes both insecurity and growth. Karofsky tearfully apologizes to Kurt, and we believe his sincerity. Artie makes a play to get Brittany back, and she shoots him down, kindly but firmly. Mercedes admits that, as much as she is an independent woman, she is sad no one has asked her to prom. Lauren, usually proud to be a woman of size, bemoans the difficulty of finding a great plus-size dress. Quinn confesses her fear that once age takes her beauty, she will have, and be, nothing.
The juxtaposition of the Glee characters is thought provoking. Kurt and Blaine have the courage to do what Karofsky and Santana cannot do. Hefty Lauren has the self-esteem that beautiful Quinn does not.
There is a lot of great dialogue. Some of the best is between Kurt and Blaine. It is nice, if predictable, that the healthiest relationship in the Glee club is the gay one.
There is also a lot of fun fashion in this episode. Prom dresses range from Quinn’s traditional blue gown to Brittany’s outrageous orange and green 1950’s style cocktail dress, worn with a tiny steampunk hat. Kurt’s prom outfit includes a kilt. Mercedes and Rachel’s thrift store finds are beautiful, but off enough that we can still believe they came from Good Will.
Gay acceptance is the most important theme of this episode. When Kurt asks Blaine to prom, Blaine relates that he has been the victim of a violent hate crime. While Karofsky is able to speak frankly with Kurt, he is not able to envision a time when he would be ready to come out. Santana, lovely in a sexy one-shoulder prom dress, is still caught in her own tragic dilemma.
The success of prom is jeopardized when, in a Carrie-esque practical joke, Kurt and Karofsky are crowned Queen and King, respectively. Kurt reacts, and then bravely decides to own the moment. He accepts the crown, quipping, “Kate Middleton, eat your heart out” and dances with Blaine. He turns what was meant to be a humiliation into a stellar victory. The crowd shows their support with applause, joining him and Blaine on the dance floor. It is a well-acted feel-good moment for everyone but Karofsky, who isn’t ready to take the opportunity to come out in front of his peers.
Glee receives a lot of criticism from conservative groups for compassionately depicting gay teens and their struggles. These groups foolishly suggest that Glee is promoting gay activity that wouldn’t otherwise be an issue.
In an odd personal synchronicity, right before watching Glee on Hulu, I checked Facebook. There, a friend’s post revealed that he has just been the victim of gay bashing. Luckily, it was only verbal abuse. A stranger yelled at him “I hope you die of AIDS.” He had the quick wit to shoot back with “I hope you die too. It would be terrible to outlive all your friends.”
With that reminder of the xenophobia that threatens anyone who does not conform to a specific norm, I was particularly ready to appreciate Glee for its deft ability to handle these issues on mainstream television. Arguably, a Glee episode may save someone’s life one day.
I wasn’t thrilled with some of the song choices, although they were all beautifully performed. “Dancing Queen” was an unlikely choice for a coronation song in 2011. Rachel’s “Jar of Hearts” was better than the original artist’s version, but odd for a prom song. “Friday’s,” considered by on-line critics to be the worst song ever, was the best prom number.
For a middle-aged woman, I attend many proms. I entertain at proms, semi-formals, and sweet sixteen parties. The Glee prom felt very real to me, even if the plot twists didn’t always. It was as joyous, angst-ridden and fashionable as these events usually are.
The return of Jesse has me chomping at the bit for next week. Is he spying for Vocal Adrenaline? Is he sincere in his feelings for Rachel? Will he rejoin New Directions, improving their chances in New York? What will happen now that Finn has disappointed Quinn, and demonstrated that he still has feelings for Rachel? A good serial always ends with a cliffhanger.
There were a couple of folks missing from prom. I would have liked to see Mike Chan and Tina have a great dance together. It also would have made sense to have Will and Emma chaperone, and share a poignantly romantic dance. And while solo Brittany was busy dancing the entire night, I would have loved to see her share a dance with Santana, and with Artie.
Overall, the Prom episode was funny, exciting, entertaining and meaningful. And that’s why we watch Glee, isn’t it?