S3 e18: Choke

Choke was an enjoyable, if all over the place, hour where Glee explodes any concept you might have of “safe” being an actual real thing.

Like the episode, I’m sort of just going to ramble all over the place.

I guess I’d argue that Rachel’s and Kurt’s auditions were the primary plot here, but it’s hard to frame a domestic abuse plotline as a background thing without feeling like something is wrong. But still, the show began and ended and focused on the auditions. It was a good story, with little to discuss, other than how disappointed the Tumblr fangirls/boys will be when they learn how flattering dance belts can be. I was disappointed they put so little effort into Music of the Night — it was an awful performance, and it shouldn’t have been. Somehow, we’re supposed to believe that Kurt was unable to tell with absolute certainty that Music of the Night was terrible –and Rachel didn’t see it either? Anvils make for lazy audiences. It was all very heavy handed (he took off the mask, showed himself, that’s how Kurt always wins) but Kurt’s audition was a victory moment — the tearaway tux was genius and those gold lamé pants, well, sheesh. Mostly? That shirt showed off why it’s ridiculous we never see Kurt in the gym with the boys. It was adorable to see Kurt sort of flail wildly at the end, because he so rarely loses his composure.

Puck’s journey from not caring, and lighting musical instruments on fire (hey, Quinn, it’s an homage) to wanting to not be his dad is terrifying. Because he finishes it up by failing — and that failure is caused by either the inability to focus (like, ADHD, for instance) or self-sabotage (or hey, both). But, whatever it is, Puck’s never been lazy, like his teacher suggests, helpfully. Hey teachers: stupid and lazy are not the only possibilities.

There was an interesting cut, actually, from Puck talking about his dad and someday having to beg his daughter for money and having no dignity — and then it cut very quickly right to the kid who was only recently homeless and working as a stripper. Yup. Ouch. And Sam’s parents should always have been “safe”. He used to go to a boarding school and they moved to Lima for his dad’s job — his dad wasn’t a working class guy, but somehow, it all still fell apart. Finn wants Puck to finish high school “just in case”, but the reminders are everywhere. Nothing in Lima is safe.

Not even marriage, or first love. Beiste’s story was heartbreaking, and real in so many crazy ways, including the way she allows it to all fade into the background. For the story to work, she had to take him back, and I will be shocked if this is not revisited very soon.

I am puzzled, frankly, by the amount of freaking out that is happening on the Internet about the Beiste storyline. Granted, I am often puzzled about a lot of things, being neuroatypical has that effect. But a few things:

  • I am very overweight and very, very focused on this right now as I am on a diet. Still, I did not interpret a single comment directed at Beiste as a “fat joke”. Mostly, because I don’t see her as “fat”. I see her as big. She’s very big, but she’s very freaking strong too. And sure, now that everyone has forced me to look at her in that way, sure she has some fat on her body she could lose if that was her thing, but I really do think that the jokes were about her general shape (and socially unacceptable propensity to eat entire chickens for meals) as opposed to her fatness. And in many cases, I think people were really trying to tell her how they perceived her as strong. And even if they weren’t? None of  Coach Roz, Santana or Sue are given any kind of blessing by canon that their words are good — totally the opposite; they all say awful things, all the time. Kurt had to call Sue out himself on her calling him “Lady”. Coach Roz told Sue her child would come out “all weird looking” with “rabies and wings”. There’s also some gender stuff here that I think people are not noticing — the other characters see Beiste in a male-gendered way and therefore are not judging her size the way they would with a person they perceived to be more feminine.
  • Glee plays a very long game, and this is lost on the majority of the people squawking about it online. Sometimes it’s lost on me too. Conflicts and major storylines are rarely resolved in a single episode, sitcom-style. It’s more of a soap opera, where things happen and continue to echo around the place until they come to a conclusion. 
  • It was really good how they very quickly and neatly addressed the issue of domestic violence in a not traditionally gendered way. Most women will not be asked “Why didn’t you just hit him right back?” Because they are not perceived as powerful enough to hurt a man. But in a situation where a women may be abusing her male partner, or this is happening between to partners of the same gender, this is something that could come up, and Glee (through Beiste) addressed it beautifully. She’s not a violent person. Just because someone hit her, doesn’t make her somehow ready to clobber someone she loves. It’s in stark contrast to the stories from Cell Block Tango, of course, and that’s why that happened like that.

Oh, and Rory and Sugar showed up again. I need to rewatch, but they disappear at the same time and reappear at the same time, don’t they?

Time Travel is canon.

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10 thoughts on “S3 e18: Choke

  1. Yes yes to analysis of Bieste. I really want to write about the Coach Trio–I thought they were so interesting together. And there IS alot of gender identification and presentation stuff around Bieste. Think about how easily everyone accepts her punching bag excuse. She’s perceived as a male, and so is particularly insecure about that relationship with Cooter. It’s no wonder she was quick to elope like that.

    Interesting to see her relationship at home, where she’s apparently expected to cook a meal while Cooter sits on his ass.

    But I like your approach to the “tent” comments. I don’t think Sue has ever made a fat joke to Bieste–her jabs do seem to have more to do with her as a kind of “Hulk” figure.

  2. The first thing I said to my friend when this episode ended was, “I knew Bieste would go back to him. Glee better address this later…” Part of me wonders if the writers will remember to revisit it. A bigger part of me thinks that they will do so unsatisfactorily. I hope they prove me wrong!

    Another thing: WHY weren’t the boys included in the discussion of domestic violence? Why did the girls have to be scolded and then taught a lesson? This episode was a whole lot of “Protect yourself!” and not enough “Prevent it!” (Which is not to say that only men are perpetrators of DV, or that the Glee boys are.) But didn’t Roz and Sue frame it in such a way that girls should be wary of their boyfriends? What about Santana and Brittany, then? Shouldn’t everyone be included in such an important conversation?

  3. Oh, I found the Sam close-up super interesting. There’s a lot going on in that conversation, and Puck’s reasons for not wanting to be his father probably go deeper than most of the boys realize. Sam doesn’t know Puck’s particular circumstances, though, but he knows his. He knows how society treats the unemployed, strippers, and accepting help, so he responds mostly to the stuff about dignity. I can’t help but wonder how he felt during all of this.

  4. “But didn’t Roz and Sue frame it in such a way that girls should be wary of their boyfriends? What about Santana and Brittany, then? Shouldn’t everyone be included in such an important conversation?”

    I’ve been thinking about that too. I definitely agree that everyone should have been included, but if I’m not mistaken, the lesson was only for the people Roz specifically heard joking about domestic violence, hence, no Rachel. The fact that they were all girls was a poor choice, I think, for a lot of reasons: the gendered implications you mention, the exclusion of other members, and that there’s just no reason for all the Glee kids in the hallway at that moment to have been girls. And yeah, the “I know you think your boyfriends wouldn’t do this” statement was problematic, and just weird given that only one or two of the five girls there had a boyfriend, anyway.

  5. The gendered nature of the lesson also really bothered me, both in that the show ended up framing domestic violence as a “woman’s issue”, and also in the gendered split of the episode at large, where the girls’ plot was about romantic relationships and, you know, the domestic realm, and the boys’ plot was about academic success. It really would have helped if some boys had been involved in the domestic violence class, and some girls in helping to tutor Puck. (Admittedly the girls’ biggest academic heavy hitter, Quinn, wasn’t around this week, but it’s not like Finn is an academic success story, either.)

  6. Pretty much the whole set-up of the plotline was based on Bieste’s gender presentation, I think. Santana pretty much said that she only made that joke because she thought Bieste was untouchable: “Obviously no one would hit her. She’s built like a wall!” I do like that they approached the topic of domestic violence from a “Don’t assume it could never happen to a given person” angle. And the fact that her husband beat her over NOT DOING DISHES?! Holy fucking crap. Punishment for perceived gender transgressions much?

    This episode demolished me, though, because of that same story. Puck can take summer school; Rachel will find another route; that stuff is SO not in the same league as domestic violence anyway. This has the potential to be a powerful story, albeit upsetting, but they had BETTER follow up on it.

    As for the size jokes, I agree that they were about her frame rather than her fat, but they still weren’t okay. Body shaming=not okay, and it’s rarely challenged on Glee. I’ve had problems with most of Bieste’s storylines for this same reason. Yes, Sue is generally terrible, but I don’t think it would have seemed outlandish for her to lay off the cruel jokes to ONE PERSON while discussing how said person was BEING ABUSED. Sue does have a heart and has taken moral stands on numerous occasions. So while I’m not upset with Glee for doing this story, I am upset about those jokes (and a number of others, eg., Rachel’s parents sitting shivah because she blew a performance. Get it, they’re stereotypically gay and Jewish! Yuck.)

  7. Yeah, that’s another thing–where was Quinn?! Why aren’t they paying more attention to the fact that one of their main characters got hit by a truck, instead of giving a very serious story line to a minor character?

  8. //Because he finishes it up by failing — and that failure is caused by either the inability to focus (like, ADHD, for instance) or self-sabotage (or hey, both). But, whatever it is, Puck’s never been lazy, like his teacher suggests, helpfully. Hey teachers: stupid and lazy are not the only possibilities.//

    I don’t think there’s any evidence that Puck’s failure was caused by an inability to focus–he was certainly able to apply himself in math class when he felt there was a reason for it. Hell, he was certainly able to *show up* to math class when he felt there was a reason for it, when for four years he didn’t even bother. I think you’re right, to a certain extent, about the self-sabotage: Puck thinks he’s too stupid to study, so he doesn’t even bother. But that’s the other part of it–he doesn’t even bother, and it doesn’t seem to be wholly about thinking he’s too stupid. He managed to push himself in math class when he saw himself getting a material benefit out of it (impressing Shelby), and he’s doing well in his three trade classes (which are about learning skills instead of abstract knowledge), but when it comes to geography, it’s boring and it’s not applicable to his life, so he doesn’t *want* to study it.

    I think the main point of the episode was that Puck slacked off through all of high school–because he thought he was stupid, because he found abstract knowledge boring, because caring about school isn’t cool, but ultimately because he didn’t think about the consequences, both in the short term (failing a class) and in the long term (not gaining his diploma). In “Sexy,” Puck told Lauren, “I do a lot of stupid things… I don’t think about consequences.” In “Choke”, Finn told Puck that he had to think ahead and consider the benefits that a high school diploma could gain him. It wasn’t until Puck got an object lesson in the form of his dad that he really thought about the long-term consequences of not graduating. And I think his refusal to think seriously about his future has a lot to do with his fears–that he’ll end up dead or in jail, that he’ll just be a Lima loser–but according to the show, it’s also a character flaw, and a fairly consistent one. He didn’t think about the consequences of unprotected sex and he got Quinn pregnant; he has impulse control issues (“I go to school and I say ‘Be cool, Puck, be nice’. But by second period I’ve got a fire extinguisher in my hands and I’m spraying some dweeb with it, and I don’t know how I got there”); he didn’t think about the effects of his bullying on other kids until he was bullied himself; he didn’t think about the effects of helping Rachel cheat on Finn until he was already making out with her. He doesn’t think ahead, and it tends to fuck him over.

    So, lazy is an oversimplification, but it’s not like he failed through no fault of his own, or because he just didn’t think highly enough of himself. It’s possible that what they were trying to do with his storyline is show that one night of cramming can’t fix four years of slacking off, in the same way that Glee’s Nationals loss (according to Word of God, at least, if not explicated in the episode itself) was supposed to show that you shouldn’t write your songs the night before a competition.

  9. //None of Coach Roz, Santana or Sue are given any kind of blessing by canon that their words are good — totally the opposite; they all say awful things, all the time. //

    I think the show actually attempted to handle that in this episode. They just did it sloppily:

    Sugar: Coach Sylvester, I hardly think you’re one to preach on what we can and cannot joke about.
    Santana: Yeah, you make fun of us all the time.
    Sue: Sandbags, I admit I can be a bit abrasive. And yes, I have fantasized about slapping each and every one of you across the face with a sturdy wet fish. But that doesn’t mean you deserve it. No one deserves to get hit.

    Of course, none of the girls said anything about Bieste deserving to get hit, so that’s not even relevant; the girls made a joke about Bieste *getting* hit, and then Sue made a joke about hitting them, so her behavior wasn’t actually different than theirs and yet she was put in the position of authority and moral superiority on the topic; and narrowing the issue to Sue “making fun” of the kids (and putting a taunt about Santana’s boob job at the forefront) really ignores the larger issue of her homophobia, racism, and ableism and the way that those things aren’t just “abrasive” but actively hurtful, and can lead to dismissive attitudes about those topics in the same way that joking about domestic violence can trivialize it.

    When the writers actually lampshade Sue’s general offensiveness in order to excuse and deflect it (while also lampshading their own preachiness), I think it’s fair for people to be bothered that her offensiveness towards Bieste wasn’t problematized. I mean, as you say, Sue continued calling Kurt Lady for a portion of the bullying storyline, but the narrative did actually frame that as problematic, and Kurt called it out as bullying in dialogue. Nothing like that actually happened in this episode.

    //Glee plays a very long game, and this is lost on the majority of the people squawking about it online.//

    Yes, but it’s also an episodic television show. It’s created to be reacted to episode-by-episode, with a week’s pause in between each for the audience to marinate. I think it’s fair for the audience to react to it in the way that it’s designed to be reacted to. Your yourself respond to Glee on an episode-by-episode basis, so I don’t think it’s fair to say that other audience members are wrong in the way they reacted to this episode just because they reacted to it negatively and you reacted to it positively. You’re both reacting in the same way, with no knowledge of how this is actually going to play out in when we all rewatch Glee: The Complete series on dvd.

  10. Hmm… “For the story to work, she had to take him back,”. I don’t agree. Like with most things I feel like Glee try to bring these great stands on certain life issues and then fall short. There are a lot of things that made me uncomfortable in the episode. I genuinely would have been way happier that IF Bieste took him back she did so on her terms. Like there could have been something where she tells him ‘you will never ever do that to me again.’ and really reads him the fucking riot act. THAT I could have dealt with but I hated how it happened. As a character she deserved more insight on this. I felt there just was no time to really really flesh out what she was really feeling and why. I did like how they specifically talked about how people who seem nice in everyday life can be abusers. That people who are super lovely can beat on their partners and that no matter how big and strong that person is (inside and out) that they too can be victim to it.

    I don’t know, I’m still processing this. I also agree with madelicious about how the boys should have been involved. However I think this episode was a direct response to when loads of girls were tweeting things like ‘Chris brown can beat on me anytime he wants’ etc. a while ago.

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