Self-sabotage, hard work and success “Asian F”

So, for the last couple of years, we’ve watched a glee club that chose its competition numbers (or wrote them) right before the big competitions and still managed to finish either 1st or respectably anyway.

And in “Asian F” we’re seeing a lot of storylines (continue) about hard work and success. Glee is growing up, but some of the characters aren’t.

Amber Riley has an incredible voice. It’s different from Lea Michele’s, but there’s no reason their two characters don’t compete on equal footing. Except there is. Rachel Berry works her ass off. She always has. From the pilot episode, we are aware of how hard she works to keep herself motivated and focused. Mercedes has no such drive. She’s a great singer, and while she occasionally complains about not getting all the attention, we never ever see her work for it.

Hate to say it, but it’s possible Jesse St James was Jesse St Right when he insisted that Mercedes just doesn’t give it her all. If I was going to be casting between the two of them, I’d cast Rachel before Mercedes in a heartbeat. Mercedes self-sabotages. And if one thing is going to ruin a production, it’s a lead who thinks she doesn’t have to do any work. Or is so fucked up in her head that she can’t give it her all because she’s so afraid it’s not enough.

This is the first time since the first few episodes of the first season where we’ve seen actual practice happen. And now Mike’s in a practice room and the New Directions are working hard at learning their moves. Mike is learning to sing. Sugar, of course, refuses to work hard too.

This is the second time Mercedes has tried to demand attention and success. It’s the bazillionth time that Rachel Berry has worked hard. In “Night of Neglect” it’s made very clear that Rachel wants fame and recognition more than anything else. Mercedes doesn’t. Mercedes would have to be a lot more talented than Rachel to compete with that attitude. Think back to “Original Song” (yes, that was a whole episode, not just a kiss) and Hell to the No. Mercedes creates a persona out of doing the wrong thing everytime, with pride.

I can’t say I found either character particularly charming in this episode. Both were selfish, beligerent and unpleasant. But, at the end of the day, I’ve worked with people who make excuses and I’ve worked with people who make the effort. And to be honest, when they’re as equally matched as these two, it’s very obvious who you want to work with.

Mercedes was also given the lead — for an entire week’s run. And she turned it down. Was her pride hurt? Sure. Was she upset that even when she believes in herself that she still can’t win? Sure. Was she terrified that she didn’t have what it took to either precede or follow Rachel Berry’s Maria? Almost certainly. Self-sabotage.

Kurt, too, believes (however briefly) that he can succeed without doing any real work. Brittany, of course, has been doing all the work from the beginning of the campaign, first for Kurt’s campaign and then for her own.

Rachel is so sure she wants success that she is willing to risk her friends and boyfriend. Mike risks the disappointment of his parents to follow his dream. Mercedes is willing to risk absolutely nothing.

Big rant over, little notes to follow.

  • Kurt’s tail is back. Also, can we talk about the genius of his sequined suit in that Dreamgirls number? Canon is placing Kurt “in between”.
  • Beiste wins every single time. Chicken for lunch? No, gigantic bowl of pasta. Also, why is Shelby such an asshole? Who describes someone else’s lunch as disgusting while they are eating it? I want to create a parallel world where Quinn does get Beth back from Shelby.
  • Will and Emma are going to make it. Of everyone working in this show, they are doing the hardest work of all.
  • I’m really excited about the casting for West Side Story. Rachel and Blaine opposite each other? Yes. Blaine and Mike as Tony and Riff… oh God yes! Santana as Anita… genius fuckery. And, well, Kurt as Krupke. What is there to say?
  • Magical poop-stealing waterchair. That is all.
  • Kurt and Blaine and affection and risk. That scene was absolutely stunning. So honest and briefly tense. I feel like sending the writers a muffin basket.
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12 thoughts on “Self-sabotage, hard work and success “Asian F”

  1. I’m curious what you think of the idea of the writers being offensive in characterization of Mercedes. I’ve seen a lot of comments about how they are basically saddling her with every offensive stereotype for an overweight black woman — and criticizing her for it. While part of me sees the point there, part of me blames the acting. Every character on this show is a stereotype. I think that one of the only reasons that Kurt and Rachel are even likeable is the subtlety and the true mastery in acting that Lea Michel and Chris Colfer bring to those roles.

    So I guess I’m not convinced that Mercedes’ writing is really that much more offensive than anyone else’s, because Glee walks a fine line with everyone; more that the writers don’t know how to write for her so that it works with Amber’s acting ability. And I do not think that Shane is good for her. (Right now is seriously the most that I have wished the Chord Overstreet did not leave the show).

    I am curious about where the writers are going with this.

  2. I am not sure how I’ve grown into the role of Shelby apologist, but here it is: how could she NOT have been disgusted and horrified by Bieste’s pasta? To be fair, I think the horror was more for Bieste than the pasta itself. Is there a reason anyone should eat the way Bieste was eating? I’m not “offended” that they’re making this large woman eat like a — well, a beast — but it’s not particularly funny (to watch, anyway. I bet the actors were peeing themselves shooting those scenes). Shoving impossible amounts of food into her mouth and then talking as fettucini flies was repulsive — Shelby was within her rights to be repulsed. I first assumed Bieste was doing it on purpose, to be rude to Shelby, but then she did it when talking to Will, so no, she’s just kind of appalling in her eating habits.

    I don’t know where TPTB are going with this, either. I thought the whole point of Bieste was that a woman can be large and loud and aggressive and not conform to gender stereotypes and still be awesome. Tearing chickens apart with your bear hands, talking with a quarter pound of pasta hanging from your lips? Not awesome. So is she eating compulsively because she’s sad (as was Mercedes in Season 2’s “tot rights” episode?)? Is she eating in a manners-free way because she doesn’t know any better? Are they suggesting that society has become overly-concerned with niceties and we need to loosen up? What is going on here that I don’t see, because it seems gratuitous.

    I prefer Shelby’s up front, honest gross-out to Schue’s passive-aggressive, seemingly-just-curious-but-I’m-actually-judging-you comments (“Do you eat a whole chicken for lunch every day?”).

  3. Shane is horrible for Mercedes. And this is her first real storyline, so it’s really hard to judge right now. But yeah, there are certainly some stereotype-inspired characteristics being invoked — and as you said, they do that with everyone. What we’re waiting for now is for her to take those characteristics and make them real and human until we forget they’re anything but her.

    The thing about Glee characters is that they all make terrible choices. Mercedes is not immune. Shane, so far, is a terrible choice. He doesn’t make her better; he makes her worse. And we see Kurt growing into a better person with Blaine to contrast.

    Sam would have been so much smarter about supporting Mercedes’ bid for the lead role, or recognition at least.

    As for the racist claims — i think we have to wait a while.

  4. It’s also interesting that they seem to have dropped the Kurt/Mercedes BFFs thing (I’m suppressing my crazy fangirl who is thinking about CC and how he’s BFFs with Ashley Fink now and Amber Riley disappeared from his life the way Mercedes has disappeared from Kurt’s).

    I have the same concerns about AR’s acting ability not being able to carry the role as well as LM and CC can carry theirs. The Diva-off was such a joke, too, because Rachel totally won: she wasn’t just singing, she was ACTING; Mercedes just sings. The “Park and Bark” is not who you want for a musical theater role, particularly one with dialogue; I simply cannot imagine Mercedes being able to pull off the acting needed for Maria. She could rock the soundtrack, but she doesn’t belong on stage.

  5. I do have a hard time with people who talk with their mouths full, so I giggle and watch through my fingers when Beiste does it, but it’s not really *so* awful, is it? Like, it’s a bit gross, but Beiste is meant to be rough around the edges. I never want to see Beiste use the right fork… know what I mean?

    But Shelby’s behaviour was completely out of order. And Will? He asked — he didn’t pass judgement. I’ve certainly asked my coworkers questions about their lunches, and I don’t think I was being judgy. I certainly wouldn’t have called what they were eating disgusting (even when I think it is!). Someone had a curry the other day. Stunk the whole place up.Still, you don’t call their lunch disgusting.

    And yeah, I think she’s totally awesome. Almost everything she does. Of all the characters in Glee, I want to be Beiste’s drinking buddy.

  6. Different things push people’s buttons, I know. For me, I could barely watch that scene because I was so grossed out and irritated. “Fat” is not one of the issues the show has gotten right, yet.

    Also, if you look at that tiny tray of microwave diet lunch that Shelby’s eating, I think we’re also supposed to understand she’s jealous that Bieste EATS. It was a giant bowl of “disgusting creamy pasta” and I think the subtext behind her comment was “I can’t believe you get to eat all that and I haven’t allowed a white sauce to pass these lips since I was 13!”

    (And I think Will was passing judgement — he just didn’t do it out loud.)

  7. IMO, the key difference between Shelby’s approach and Will’s approach was that Will is actually friends with Beiste. Because of that, I think it was less rude of him to ask Beiste about eating the chicken. I’m also not so sure he was passing judgment so much as he was just expressing surprise, and I can’t blame him for that.

  8. With Will, I think the judgement isn’t negative, but I do think he’s CONCERNED. In Asian F, when he comes into the lunch room, he asks, ‘What’s with the pasta?” and there is a look not so much of curiosity as concern as he pats her on the shoulder.

    So I don’t mean he’s judging her as a bad person, or a pig, or a fat person without self control. Just that he thinks that what/how much she is eating is about more than food and hunger.

    Whereas yes, with Shelby, there’s anger and disgust (and I think jealousy that she is too ruled by body image to indulge and Bieste is not) behind it.

    I’m just saying, I don’t blame Shelby too much. Bieste had also just finished giving her a very hard time about her presence in the school…

    A little mutual antagonism — it’s not like Bieste isn’t able to defend herself against a full-frontal attack. I imagine the sort of mean that hurts Bieste is the whispery, behind her back kind. It’s why she isn’t bothered or intimidated by Coach Sue but the idea that the boys were laughing at the thought of her in a negligee was devastating. If any of the guys told her to her face she wasn’t sexy, she’d have a great retort and then make them run laps ’til they puked!

  9. I think Beiste just needs to keep up her energy she’s shown to be an extremely fit dame and i’d say she more than works it off with the boys on the football field.
    I wonder why Kurt and Mercedes are no longer a duo, it’s realistic that they would drift apart after he left but it could be another reason for mercedes to compete with Rachel plus a very interesting love triangle later in the season. Because between the two of them Kurt is the most positive male relationship they have ever had.To be honest I was hoping Kurt would be the one to give his former hag the tough love. He’s never resisted with Rachel, he’ll at once tell her she’s out of line then give her his shoulder to cry on.
    One small gripe-Mercedes’ audition song was equally as inappropriate as Kurt;s for the role of Maria. But the panel didn’t say a word-another thing about Rachel, she made an effort to pick a song that fitted and showcased the character. Like Blaine and Mike, another two who work for it. I’m all for reinterpretation but Maria is not a diva role, Anita would be a better fit for her. Again Santana despite her bitchiness (i love her with all my heart) deserves the part not only cause she fits it but when it comes to her performing she’s the ultimate pro, not just in Glee Club but the Cheerios as well.
    Ok that’s my little rant I am loving they dynamics of character and plot this season. the songs were flawless again (3 EPS IN A ROW) It’s over was genius as it comes right before “I’m telling you i’m not going’ which was Mercedes’ big season 1 number in dreamgirls. Will and emma really resonate, I’d love them to sing some ‘Next to Normal’ which focuses on a wife’s mental illness and the effect on her spuse and children. It was heartbreaking to watch the Fix you scene which some just dismissed as emotional manipulation-it didn’t feel like that at all. As far as character goes-Will would try to wipe away her tears and help her but is realizing he can’t, just like he tries to fix the kids. Jayma Mays gave the most subtle and astounding performance; it was heartbreaking to watch. The way the illness has been portrayed (speaking from personal experience) has been pitch perfect in the eyes of someone else you can seem comic almost absurd but then there are moments when you finally break and a person is forced to see just how hard it is. The writers are more in depth than one would realize.

  10. Wow. I’m new to this site and generally find that I agree with a lot of the points of view expressed here but I’ve got to say I vehemently disagree with most of you about the character of Mercedes.

    I loved this episode and thought it was great to finally see Amber shine. She was breathtaking in this episode. All three of her songs gave me chills and I thought she absolutely proved herself worthy of carrying a main storyline on the show. I am crossing my fingers that there are more Mercedes-centric episodes in the future.

    What I find fascinating about this post (and many of the comments) is the over-emphasis on “working hard” and “making an effort.” It’s such an American mindset to believe that hard work trumps all and that if we work hard enough we will all succeed. But let’s get real here. In many professions (and certainly in the performing arts) effort just doesn’t cut it. If you don’t have the skills or the talent it doesn’t matter how hard you “try” –you’re not going to go very far.

    Rachel’s “work ethic” has been shoved down our throat from the beginning of the series to establish the severe “Type A personality” of her character. Just because we haven’t seen other characters practicing on screen doesn’t mean they are lazy.

    Mercedes is every bit as talented as Rachel (and personally I prefer the quality of Amber’s voice to Lea’s). If I were Mercedes I would also be sick of Rachel’s entitlement and the degree to which she expects everything to just be handed to her. In fact, I would rather work with someone like Mercedes than an entitled self-absorbed snob like Rachel any day.

    Mercedes knocked Rachel out of the ballpark in the “Maria-off” and she should have gotten the role. She gave a better audition. She knew it, Rachel knew it, and the directors knew it. They only reason they double cast it was because they didn’t want to upset Rachel who has always been the resident “star.” When Mercedes turned down the role I was like, “You go girl!” Like Mercedes (and Santana), I am sick of the blatant favoritism Mr. Shue has always shown for Rachel.

    Also, why exactly do you think Shane is bad for Mercedes? Because he tells her she is beautiful and talented and boosts her self-esteem instead of criticizing her and bringing her down? I personally don’t feel we’ve learned enough about this character to make a call about that yet but if he is part of what has led to this new, more confident Mercedes than I’m a fan.

  11. This.

    (And all the hard work in the world doesn’t do you any good if the role is always going to go to a white person, and comments about Mercedes being lazy will always have a racial component, even if only in reference to the context her story is told in.)

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