Watching Glee Until It Gets Bad S1E18: Laryngitis

by thethreepennyguignol

Friends, I thought this might have been the end.

Of every episode in this first season, Laryngitis is the one I was most concerned might fill out the “Until It Gets Bad” part of this series’ title. When I watched the show a few years ago with my partner, I swear to God I did this episode through my fingers with the sheer cringe of the central storyline. Add to that my own larynx-related drama last year, and just the thought of Laryngitis was enough to put my teeth on edge.

And, to be straight with you – this plot is as bad as I remember. Rachel gets laryngitis, losing her voice and facing the possibility of major surgery that might permanently alter her singing, and basically (and not terribly unreasonably) has a meltdown about it. In order to make her feel better, Finn brings her to see an old friend of his, who was paralysed from the neck down in a football accident that has left him permanently disabled. You know, just to put things in perspective a bit.

There’s no way around it – this plot is gross. I understand that the show, to an extent, is trying to show how serious this is for Rachel, and how Finn wants to make her feel better in any way he can, but there’s no way around the central exploitative nature of this storyline. Comparing someone who has suffered a life-altering injury at such a young age to Rachel having a throat infection is inescapably horrible; even though I think the show tries to treat Sean, the character at hand, with a decent amount of respect, the fact that this is the only time we really see him and it’s basically to teach Rachel a life lesson before she skates back off into able-bodied existence once more feels ugly as fuck. Look how much worse this guy has it, and now return to a world that completely excludes him while thanking your lucky stars you’re not as badly off.

I know there’s some debate about how Glee treats disability and how it uses disabled actors in it’s run, but I truly, truly think this is one of the lowest lows of the entire show in terms of exploitation. Having this character turn up to make an able-bodied character feel better about themselves by comparison is the kind of galling inspiration porn I despise so much when it comes to people dealing with serious health issues. People have mixed feelings on this plot, and I’d really love to hear what you think about it – does it come off as exploitative to you, or do you think the show earns it?

That aside, though, Laryngitis is actually kind of a brilliant episode. The two other major plots this week are really solid in both concept and execution – Puck tries to romance his way back into social status by dating the newly-popular Mercedes, and Kurt jealously attempts to win back his father’s affection from Burt’s growing relationship with Finn by indulging in a little more of the traditional masculinity his dad loves so much.

I could have given this episode a pass as soon as I remembered that Amber Riley does both The Boy Is Mine and The Lady is a Tramp this week, but there’s so much more to her plot than just those fabulous numbers. I love the reveal that comes about halfway through the episode, when Mercedes explains that she knows Puck is just using her to get what he wants – but that she’s never been popular enough to be used before, so she accepts it. That kind of commentary on the high school social system is sublimely well-nuanced, and it’s a reminder of how interesting (if often back-seated) Mercedes’ plot is this week. Plus, her and Naya Riviera singing together? Heaven. Genuine, actual heaven.

Kurt’s plot earns it’s existence just on the basis of a ten-sentence conversation he has with Sue to start it off (“liking show tunes doesn’t mean you’re gay – it just means you’re awful”), but the episode takes it to some really fun places that strike a strong balance between sweet, hysterically funny, and sad. Kurt’s attempts to play straight and become the manly version of himself he’s sure his dad wants him to be are undeniably goofy coming after Chris Colfer’s small, preening water fowl of a performance so far, but there’s also this melancholy (take a shot every time I say that word in these recaps, honestly) to it I love. Kurt just wants his dad to like him best, even though the two of them don’t share a huge amount in common. Singing John Mellankamp might not be the way to do it, but Burt’s appreciation of Kurt’s Rose’s Turn (and mine, too, fuck) help put a pin in this plot – they might not be the same person, but they’re doing what they can to understand one another, and that’s all that really matters. If Glee is a show about bridging the gap between different kinds of people, I’m not sure anyone does it as convincingly as Chris Colfer and Mike O’Malley.

Plus, this episode has Finn doing Jessie’s Girl, which is probably my favourite solo performance of his from the whole show – I think Cory Monteith was made to perform this kind of fun, all-American soft rock track, and it’s such a joy watching him embody it the way he does. A very underrated turn from him. Here, give it a watch, let me know what you think:

I was prepared for the worst with this episode, but honestly, it’s not nearly as bad as I remembered – I still despise that Rachel plot, but everything else is ticking over really well here. And we’re on to the absolute banger that is Dream On next week! I’m feeling good, listening to Amber Riley’s Glee solos on repeat, and living my best life.

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(header image via Tom + Lorenzon)