Class Discussion: 4×13 “Diva” Reaction

Editors’ Note: episode reactions at Deconstructing Glee will now be coming from a rotating panel of contributors from all around the globe. Let us know if you’d like to help, here.
tina singing hung upThe stated theme of this week’s Glee episode was “Diva,” and we got lots of amazing performances out of it and people behaving badly.  Tina finally won a contest over on the Lima side, using anger fueled by a painful and even horrifying series of events.  Meanwhile, in New York, Kurt also won his first contest, but did not act like a ‘diva’ at all.

tina holding vaporubEveryone’s been saying for the past two weeks, since Tina started staring at Blaine with hearts in her eyes, that ‘Tina is fandom.’  And now she’s embodied the worst boundary-violating behavior of fandom, but that doesn’t mean she’s not a real girl too.  So how do we even talk about the scene where Tina unbuttons Blaine’s shirt and puts the vaporub on his chest?  If it is assault, then saying it’s not is trivializing; but if it’s not, then calling it one is horribly unfair.  And if it’s a gray area, that might be easier to say, but what does it even mean?  A good intent makes actions more sympathetic, but not less horrifying.  And if some of us were horrified (I was) and some of us weren’t, is that relevant at all?  Because it seems to me that the only person whose reaction should matter here is Blaine, but he doesn’t even know what happened.  And since this topic is so fraught and emotional, how can we even go on with discussing it without tearing each other apart?

(On to happier things)

santana talking to samIn Swan Song, Sam said that Santana had always had it in for him because he’d always liked Brittany, and the confused viewers said, what?  In this episode Santana repeats that Sam is the one person she least wants brittany to date – but why?  I’m wondering if the reason isn’t that Sam’s the last boy she dated when she was just starting to realize her own sexuality.  ‘Welcome back, trouty mouth’ in Season Three when she was securely dating Brittany may have been affectionate, but the original ‘Trouty Mouth’ song sure wasn’t.  Thoughts, anyone?

emma and finn in the choir roomEmma is a celebrity judge in a boys-vs-girls mashup again – just like she was back in Season One – and Finn really is the new Will.  And so he responds to Emma’s panic by kissing her to shut her up, repeating a move of Will’s from Dance With Somebody (and possibly other episodes too).  So is Finn winning, because he’s a better Will than Will?  Or is he losing, because he’s stuck in McKinley after all, and Will from the beginning of the show was not an aspirational figure but a cautionary tale?  How does one balance these two questions, or are they the wrong things to be looking at entirely?

kurt and rachel at fight clubRachel and Kurt seem to be in competition, but by the end of the episode they’re really really not.  Kurt beats Rachel in the NYADA ‘fight club’ by the smallest margin ever, because just like the original fight club, it’s about the ability to fight and not the ability to win.  (A distinction that might seem small, but is not.)  Kurt’s win isn’t about Rachel but about proving himself by winning the acclaim of his peers.  And Rachel’s loss isn’t about Kurt, either, but about not being the best in the room.  In both cases, the identity of the other competitor is immaterial.  In the end Kurt makes this explicit for Rachel (and us) by saying, effectively, you can play Elphaba, and I can play Jean Valjean; there are plenty of roles for us both.  So if being a diva is something immortal, iconic, is this the secret to it – not to beat everyone else, but to find the role that only you can play?

So – what do you think of any of these themes?  How about the numerous references to queer culture Blaine’s costumes and performances this week?  Thoughts on the evolving world that we see at NYADA?  Or anything else, from cool details to sneaky continuity and more?  Chime in with anything you might have to say below!

– Multicorn, Prom Committee

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6 thoughts on “Class Discussion: 4×13 “Diva” Reaction

  1. I wondered the same thing about Santana/Sam but didn’t even come up with an idea that would explain why he as Brittany’s boyfriend was particularly upsetting to her. Your thoughts are a good start to get us thinking about this one.

    I really like what you said about the competition between Kurt and Rachel that really isn’t between them at all — it’s so true!

  2. ” . . .it’s about the ability to fight and not the ability to win.” This is really, really compelling, and helps me think about Rachel more, because I think she’s often focused on the latter and not the former? And that’s why she deflates so easily once she loses. That’s not to say she hasn’t fought before . . . but I think Kurt has always had to fight. But yeah, I like what you’re saying about their competition, and it’s even in the filming, because they intercut that song. You don’t, as a viewer, have a clear sense of which person’s performance is better—so it has the feeling of them singing together. Or at the very least, it muddies the sense of who the winner is. Or maybe it’s intercut to highlight how close they were, how narrowly Kurt bested Rachel.

  3. I’m sad about Kurt’s comment about playing Jean Valjean, because I think it means more than “we could play these parts on a stage”.

    And Jean Valjean, while super entertaining to watch, is a character who always has to leave, to escape, from people who persecute him unjustly. And he’s twice had to steal.

    Also Emma keeps being silenced by Will/Finn, and that sucks. Will quiets her hands — Finn quiets her mouth, both using gestures that are supposed to be caring.

    Oh, and Blaine singing “If you want to have a good time, just give me a call” reminds me too much of bathroom graffiti.

  4. The Tina/Blaine storyline in this episode felt somewhat like a bizarre retread of the Will/Terri storyline in “The Substitute”. Here, Tina *offers* caretaking in the form of VapoRub and soup, presumably because she’s assuming a girlfriend role with him and feels that’s what a girlfriend should do, but feels Blaine is acting entitled to/not grateful enough for her care–Blaine invites her over so that he can help her, but she instead decides, unasked, to “help” him via her caretaking, which she then sexualizes by stripping, straddling, and rubbing him without his consent. When she blows up at him later, Blaine calls her “crazy”.

    In “The Substitute”, Terri is taking care of a sick Will, presumably because he asked her to come over and take care of him. Will leans on the caretaking dynamic and what was presumably a (sexualized?) intimate dynamic between them during their relationship by calling himself “Baby” in relation to her, and then Terri introduces the VapoRub (or rather, rubbing menthol–I guess they got some product placement money between then and now) and convinces him to take off his shirt and lay on his stomach. She straddles him, rubs his back, then takes off her own shirt and kisses him without his consent. He says “don’t” a couple of times but eventually gives in, and they have sex. The scene begins with them discussing the medications Terri is on (because she’s “crazy”).

    Even with Will’s eventual consent, the scene is incredibly coercive and creepy, given that it involves Terri deliberately using Will’s vulnerability as a chance to seduce him, disrobing without his consent, ignoring him saying “don’t”. It’s also complicated by the fact that Will clearly *is* taking advantage of her feelings for him to encourage her to take care of him in a wifely/motherly way when he wants her to, while disavowing her when he doesn’t need her care anymore. Basically all the things Tina *thinks* are going on in this episode actually were during “The Substitute”.

  5. This is a really close and interesting parallel, but I don’t know what to make of it at all. I just went and rewatched that plotline, and there’s actually a Will/Terri scene earlier in the episode where she talks to him in baby talk, saying “roll over and pull your pants down because we’re gonna take baby’s temperature,” and he says “I don’t want to play sick baby with you.” But then he initiates it later, with the soup.

    And although she does takes off her shirt and lie on his back without asking him (but they have a history, and this looks like it might have been part of it, but they’re not together anymore…), when she kisses him and he says, “don’t, don’t,” the rest of that sentence is “I don’t want to get you sick.” So – I guess I read it as more questionable and less actually coercive than you do?

    There’s all sorts of parallels here. Will and Terri aren’t really together anymore but they’re still filling in part of that role for each other at the moment – the caregiver part of it – and that leads into sex briefly. And in the same episode, it’s highlighted that Kurt and Mercedes *had* been using each other as kind of substitute romantic partners, socially, but now that Kurt’s met Blaine Mercedes is left alone and she’s understandably unhappy. And since they joined the Cheerios together we’ve all been talking about Blaine and Tina as the new Kurtcedes too. Although Mercedes was never creepy about her crush on Kurt, just sad. But again, I’m not sure where to actually *go* with any of this…

    The vaporub thing is so specific, really, that it doesn’t seem like a parallel that would be accidental. Unless someone in the writing room is just really intrigued by that image, who knows.

    I don’t know! I love your comment and I think it’s pretty much spot-on but okay, so this parallel exists why, is it just because we’re taking Season Two plots and making them *worse* and more serious now? Because that’s all I’m getting, this is the ‘no this is definitely really not okay’ remix version.

  6. //when she kisses him and he says, “don’t, don’t,” the rest of that sentence is “I don’t want to get you sick.” So – I guess I read it as more questionable and less actually coercive than you do?//

    What makes it coercive for me is the “Don’t” – full stop, “Don’t” with more emphasis – full stop, “I don’t want to get you sick” – providing an explanation when he realizes she won’t stop just because he said no, and an explanation that is about protecting her rather than rejecting her. She pushes and he gives in, which, coercion. I did totally forget about that other scene, which reveals that Will didn’t call her originally, his neighbor did. And he tries to kick her out, but she won’t leave, so her presence there at all is a result of him giving in to her pushing boundaries.

    In the Kurt/Mercedes plotline, I think it’s portrayed as more one-sided than that. There’s no reveal or admission that Kurt has been using Mercedes as a boyfriend substitute–it’s entirely Mercedes who has been using Kurt as a boyfriend substitute. (Although to be honest, I find that entire subplot to be reflective of Glee’s weird ideas about friendship in general, and male/female friendships in particular, more than it is an actual story about a woman using a gay man as a boyfriend substitute.)

    //The vaporub thing is so specific, really, that it doesn’t seem like a parallel that would be accidental. Unless someone in the writing room is just really intrigued by that image, who knows.//

    Well, it’s also just a basic tool of caretaking for a sick person, and in particular one that has to be rubbed on the skin. So if you want to sexualize a sickbed scene, it would seem to be the reference point you’d reach for.

    //but okay, so this parallel exists why, is it just because we’re taking Season Two plots and making them *worse* and more serious now?//

    I think this is the most direct parallel, but I also think it’s just part of the larger pattern of aggressive romantic pursuit by women being framed as wrong and occasionally as delusional. And very often as indirect–in season one Rachel gets a crush on Schue and assumes it’s reciprocal (“Ours is a love for the ages”); when Finn breaks up with Quinn Rachel assumes, without a conversation, that Finn is now her boyfriend; Mercedes uses vague language to ask Kurt out (do you want to hang out) and assumes that his acceptance means that they are now dating. In none of those cases do Rachel or Mercedes directly ask out the object of their affection, they just assume a reciprocal relationship. Tina did directly ask Blaine out before, but in “Diva” she seemed to think they were negotiating relationship terms, despite the fact that he was so unaware of this that he was actually asleep for the bulk of it.

    And of course there’s Will’s line to Terri early in “The Substitute”: “You like me best when I’m weak.” Which would seem to be the through-line both for Tina regarding Blaine in this episode, and in most of the portrayals of “strong” aggressive women on Glee in general–assuming that strength is defined in opposition to someone else’s weakness, and about “kicking down the door and making demands and getting what she wants” rather than reciprocity.

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