Yeah, I’m back on Glee. I do have one more vacation post to write, but it needs pictures that are still on my phone, and once again, a Glee thought is ascendant in my mind and I won’t get anything done until I put it out there, so brace yourself: here it comes.
From the moment Ryan Murphy met Chris Colfer, Kurt was the main character of Glee. I know the intention was to have the series revolve around Rachel, but whether because Ryan Murphy chose to put a lot of himself into Kurt, because we were all ready to root for a gay kid, or because Chris Colfer is so damned charming, Kurt was the most compelling character, and Kurt should have been the focus.
The fact is, Rachel is not a very appealing character. By her own admission, she is selfish, blinded by ambition, has difficulty making friends, and will do anything to succeed. Over the six seasons, she attempts to seduce another girl’s boyfriend, uses boys to enhance her own reputation without their knowledge, cheats on Finn, throws regular tantrums when she feels slighted, usually by someone else’s success, quits the Glee club when she is not the star of everything (how many times?), and (again by her own admission) generally only does nice things for others when there’s something in it for herself. It is her relationships with the other Glee members that make us like her: first Finn, later Kurt, Quinn, and Blaine, and in the final years, Sam, Santana, Brittney, Mercedes, and Artie. But even in the later years, she is an unreliable employee who quits NYADA, Funny Girl, the diner, and Glee Club without ceremony and is fired from her TV job.
Kurt is not without flaws. In the early years, he is dishonest about his sexual orientation, lies to his father to stay in the closet, sexually harasses Finn, manipulates Sam, and quits the Glee club right before Sectionals. Later, he neglects Blaine, ends their relationship over a stupid fight, ghosts Adam (apparently), is manipulative in his pursuit of Blaine (in Season 6) and throughout the series, he is judgmental of most everyone and throws a few tantrums of his own.
However, we seem to always feel that Kurt has grown from his mistakes. We are understanding of his unreadiness to be out of the closet and the lies he tells to protect that. (Also, he comes out in episode 5, I think, which didn’t give us a lot of time to hold that against him.) Once Finn and Burt confront him in Season 2 about his harassment, Kurt stops chasing straight guys altogether and is never seen to so much as look twice at a straight guy. He is even uncomfortable when Brody is inappropriately naked in front of him. And of course we understand that Kurt has to leave McKinley when his life is threatened. Kurt learns from his neglect of Blaine and doesn’t repeat it. He regrets breaking off the engagement, and holding his manipulative actions in Season 6 against him would be a gross misunderstanding of the romantic comedy format. But fundamentally, Kurt takes care of his father, embraces Carole, is friends with everyone, and is primarily a supportive and nourishing person in his relationship with Blaine.
Overall, Kurt is kind, while Rachel is selfish. Kurt is vulnerable while Rachel is privileged. From the beginning, we know that Rachel will be fine once she escapes the hierarchy of high school and enters a world where she will be judged on her own talent and hard work. And she is, except where she causes her own havoc. We worry about Kurt. Kurt will be vulnerable as long as gay people do not have the same rights as straight people, as is made clear in “Bash.” Rachel has two loving parents; Kurt starts out with a rough relationship with his only surviving parent. Rachel’s driving force is to be seen as special; Kurt’s is a desire to be loved and accepted. Rachel will do anything for her ambition. Kurt is also ambitious, but even when he is the most jealous, he supports his friends, especially Blaine, in their careers. He runs Burt’s campaign. He even helps Burt out in the shop when he needs it, which is about as far from Kurt’s natural affinity as you can get.
And so we see that when Kurt is the focus of the main story-arc, as in Season 2, the writing is good, the story progresses smoothly, and we find the show satisfying. And the fans cheer. But it is very hard for the writers to square Rachel’s life goals with their idea of keeping the show about a Glee club. Up through graduation, Rachel’s pursuit of as many solos as possible and being Finn’s girlfriend makes sense. It’s still not that appealing, but it makes sense. But once she graduates, Rachel’s number one desire is to get out of Lima. Even in Season 6, when she has lost everything, I found myself wondering why Rachel was in Lima. I can’t say I really understood why Blaine was there, either, but given that he was, and Kurt found a way to be in Lima and still meet his school obligations, I never questioned Kurt’s desire to be there.
Had Ryan Murphy and the other writers realized what they had done, the show may not have devolved quite as badly as it did. Particularly after Corey Monteith’s death, their insistence on focusing on Rachel did nothing for the plot. Once Rachel leaves Lima, it is inconceivable that she will move back for any length of time. The idea that she would give up everything for Finn is as laughable as it is sad, and for some reason, Finn won’t even move to New York for Rachel. On the other hand, it is easy to picture Kurt or Blaine giving up stardom or the comfort of living within a gay community in New York for the other. And at the same time, we know that they want the same things, so that will not be necessary. Unless Burt has another health crisis, in which case they’ll both show up, surround him with love, and make things work, because that’s the kind of guys they are.
The only reason the show moved to New York was Rachel. Had they given up on Rachel, they could easily have written Kurt going to an excellent Musical Theater program in or near Lima (while you’re making up colleges, why not?) a la Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Kurt could’ve volunteered to help the Glee club or they could’ve started a new story with a college a cappella group like they did when Kurt was at Dalton, or they could’ve pulled a Boy Meets World and moved Mr. Schue and Sue to the college. Or they could have just allowed Kurt to be in college while remaining Blaine’s boyfriend and Artie, Tina, and Sam’s friend who spends a lot of time with his high school friends. They could have developed Kurt’s relationship with Finn again, as the two of them struggled with being graduates who are still deeply tied to high school, and townies at college. Or as they struggled as brothers with their respective obligations to Burt as Finn took over the shop and Kurt moved away from his dad’s way of life, and how those roles played out. Imagine the episode where it’s finals week and all the high school kids are too busy studying to go out and Kurt has nobody to hang out with except Finn and Puck!
The point is, any of those options would have been real, character-driven, believable story lines. As most of Kurt’s story lines were. You know, as much as a musical soap opera about teenagers where none of the actors is a teenager is ever believable. But the insistence on keeping Rachel at the center of the story despite her unpleasantness, despite her desires being at odds with the defining characteristics of the show once she graduates, and despite the untimely death of her love interest, which destroyed the story arc they were planning for her, led the show in a direction that was not sustainable or believable. It’s unfortunate.
And also I got cheated out of a fabulous gay wedding, the best duet of all time (the Klaine wedding duet that wasn’t) and a few Chris Colfer solos (he had exactly zero in Season 6, and four duets. Rachel has three solos and six duets. Blaine has one solo (well, one verse with the Warblers) and four duets. Kurt and Blaine sing no love duets unless you count “Somebody Loves You.” Rachel and Sam sing four. That’s four duets for a couple they just drop like a hot rock to get to the finale, vs. zero (or one, maybe) for the couple we’re supposed to believe is forever. Likewise, Brittany and Santana have one duet in the season, neither has a solo.) It’s weird, disjointed, and all the characters are betrayed by it. Why does Brittany want Kurt and Blaine married all of a sudden? Dunno. Why does Rachel date Sam? Why does Rachel kiss Jesse when she’s dating Sam? I won’t get into Kurt and Blaine because I already did. But shows almost never work when you violate the characters.
I realize the fantasy above was not possible in 2009, and may never have been possible if not for social media allowing the fans to talk directly to the show runners. Also, the episode “2009” is more or less what the show should have been all along. Much more ensemble, much less Rachel. And even though they totally screwed up Blaine’s timeline, it’s nice to think he was out there somewhere while Kurt was going through all the stuff he went through in season 1.