I feel like someone with better meta brain than I’ve got could write something really solid about the way Glee may well believe in happy endings, but it doesn’t believe in narrative justice. It deliberately subverts it, even—especially—when characters themselves feel they deserve it. See Tina since “Props”, Rachel in “Frenemies”. There’s also Quinn in general, and Kurt (who don’t feel entitled, more resigned). It’s a kind of deeper realism within Glee’s hyperbolic, stylized, satirical world that seems to frustrate a lot of viewers, because with our own histories of watching stories, we can sometimes feel a sense of entitlement on behalf of characters, like, hey, Character X has suffered THIS MUCH, it’s time for the happy! But, for me, with Glee, when a character gets what they want, I wait for the fall, because you know it’s coming.
Ryan Murphy has often said he believes in happy endings. But real life is more complicated than that, and he’s really good at creating realistic characters and even better at bitterly mirroring real life in his unrealistic little world.
These characters want things. That’s what makes them appeal to so many people. They want things, whether it’s fame or to be loved or accepted or merely seen and heard. Sometimes they want things to the point it makes them hurt and sometimes it makes them hurt others. But from the Pilot episode, when Terri Schuester told Will that it’s “not a bad thing to want things,” Glee has made a point of making it ok (celebrated, even) to fight for the things we want, but also never shying away from the consequences of what it can do to us. Glee shows how much it can consume, make us do terrible things, and how bitter want can make people just as quickly as it shows us the more common story of struggle and truimph. It shows just how much we can be punished for wanting things and how close we can come to ruining ourselves for the sake of our own desire.
Glee Happy Endings are often not the ones we or the characters imagine. And why should they be? For one, life doesn’t often sort itself out quite the way we imagine. We may be the heroes of our own stories, come to expect the blaze of glory and truimph—fantasize about being draped in gold, the crowd cheering us, and the world acknowledging our greatness. But life doesn’t happen that way. Because even when we do achieve what we’ve worked towards, when we feel justified by the strife we’ve gone through (or perhaps caused) because that want has driven us to our perceived happy ending…life still goes on. There’s a sense of happiness, of peace, of knowing you’ve achieved what you’ve wanted. But then we are often stunned to find that the lights don’t fade out, the curtain doesn’t drop, and we still must deal with the same ups and downs of day to day life. We don’t continue to exist in a bubble of constant bliss. There’s always more work, more things to want, more triumphs to have, and more hurdles to drag ourselves over. We get the happy ending of one chapter in our lives (or we don’t, and the chapter closes anyway), now on to the next.
Glee is odd in that it shows that ‘after happy ending’, where most stories don’t quite take us there. Glee shows the harder side to that struggle in the first place, so we feel just as entitled for them as we would ourselves; we recognize ourselves in them. We feel for those characters—their wants can mirror our own and their struggles are so close to the ones we know that their truimphs become ours and our mourning matches theirs. So we often feel as if the rug was pulled out from under us when yet another bad thing happens or the world doesn’t continue on the upwards climb. Almost as if we’re angry at Glee for not allowing us the fantasy of everything sliding into place perfectly and staying that way. Glee intimately shows us how life isn’t actually fair, that there isn’t always narrative justice. Sometimes things just go to pieces (we go to pieces), sometimes they don’t. No one ever seems to ‘win’ on Glee, even in their happy ending, and it hurts to see such a realistic take on an unrealistic life.
So, it’s not so much that when a character gets something, gets that One Thing they’ve wanted for so long (their own imagined happy ending), that I wait for the fall. I wait for life to go on.