For a show often comprised of caricatures instead of characters, Glee sure knows how to flip the tone from silly to serious with the snap of a finger.
Or the shooting of a gun as the case was on tonight's return episode, "Shooting Star."
In the shadow of real-world issues with guns and violence and school shootings, television shows have to tread carefully to pay respect to the severity of the issues while also staying true to their characters and storytelling. In that regard, tonight's episode of Glee was spot-on. Bravo, Glee.
I came into tonight's episode with baited breath. From the synopsis, I guessed that the main story would feature a school shooting. As a former high school teacher, I was nervous to see which direction the writers would take. Would they employ a bullying storyline? Tackle another suicide attempt? Would there be a crazed gunman on the loose but apprehended before doing harm to anyone at McKinley?
And then Brittany S. Pearce proclaimed there was an asteroid, Lord Tubbingtonbob, headed straight for Earth and they should all make peace with it and with each other and I was confused.
Was that it? Was that the direction they were going? Another hare-brained idea of Brittany's like the Mayan apocalypse?
I have to admit it was kind of the perfect Glee-esque misdirect. Information about the episode had been so controlled prior to tonight's airing that I was really kind of deflated thinking that the asteroid that turned out to be a ladybug in a telescope made from a Pringles can was the "shooting star."
Not that I wanted an episode about a school shooting, but, you know.
As everyone prepared for Lord Tubbingtonbob to come crashing into the planet, some of them took this as their chance to say what they needed to say to those they love.
Ryder saw the girl he'd been chatting with in the hall and introduced himself and then sang a great version of "Your Song." If the world was ending, it wasn't going to end without him telling her how he felt. But she didn't feel the same because she didn't know him. As it turned out he'd been Catfished.
Another person who took the opportunity to share her secret was Coach Beiste.
After decorating the locker room and boiling spaghetti in the athletic hot tub, she confessed to Will that she doesn't just love him like a friend. She's IN love with him. (Wondering why she wasn't at the wedding? Dot Marie Jones says this is why!)
He was the first man to make her feel like a woman by treating her like a woman. And she wants him to be the last man to do the same. She's crushed to find out that he and Emma are back together as of a week ago. The mention of Ken Tanaka, Beiste's predecessor, as someone on an online dating site with whom she might have common interests was a nice little throwback to the mostly forgotten character. While some might have found it intrusive, it was also an awkwardly sweet thing for Will to do to continue to support his friend despite her romantic revelation.
To celebrate the fact that the world isn't ending, Will invited Beiste to a rehearsal, which is how they all come to be trapped inside the choir room when shots ring out in the halls of McKinley high school. And this is where things on Glee went from campy to courageous and kind of like something else entirely.
From the minute the shots rang out, the show changed. It wasn't just about happy songs and dancing around. The characters became people who were scared, hurting, and faced with their own mortality, even if no one was physically hurt.
The scenes with the glee club in the choir room, sans Brittany and Tina, were so emotionally charged I almost couldn't breathe. There was no background noise or music, no sounds besides the eerie ticking of the metronome. Just panicked, pregnant silence. All of the fear and anxiety that comes with not knowing exactly what's taking place outside the room you're in but imagining the possibilities was very real in that fictional choir room.
Kitty confessing to the costume alterations that sent Marley to therapy for bulimia, Marley being unable to get in touch with her mom and her mom staring longingly at her phone but afraid to move, and Artie's decision to video record the glee clubbers saying what might be their final goodbyes and Blaine's despondent hand-wave, and Tina's panic because she was outside while all her friends were inside were all punch-in-the-gut moments.
But the award for most emotionally moving character goes to Sam.
Sam's had kind of a rough season. Much of this season's characterization hasn't jived with how the character was written in previous seasons. But none of that unevenness really mattered after watching him try to fight his way to Brittany and being restrained by Will and Beiste. He had no idea what was happening outside the doors of that choir room, but he would have risked it all to try to save the girl he loves whom he knows is terrified and all alone.
Heather Morris' performance was nothing short of amazing. She said so much without saying anything at all while she was perched on the toilet in the girl's bathroom, tears streaming down her cheeks. There was such a mix of bravery and fear on her face and in her posture. I really wanted to give the girl a giant hug.
Sam gave her a hug and a cat. Lady Tubbington, the fattest cat he could find at the shelter. It was sweet and perfect for the pair.
The revelation that Becky Jackson was the one with the gun was a turn I didn't see coming until Sue said the shooter wasn't a student.
Becky was afraid of what life after McKinley would be like, of how she would protect herself without the familiar halls of her high school to keep her safe. Sue's humanity has always shone through where Becky is concerned and she couldn't let the girl take the fall for what was a moment of fear. Watching the scene between the two of them while Sue cleared out her office and gave Will no explanation was touching.
Sue's monologue listing all of her accomplishments but saying that the only thing she would be remembered for was this was kind of poignant, particularly since she was actually giving up her career and reputation to save one student, a pretty selfless act, if you ask me. She can't be gone forever, can she?
Clearly not since previews for upcoming episodes have NeNe Leakes reprising her role as Roz Washington and going head to head with Sue. But a Sue-less Glee was kind of sad to think about.
In the end, all were safe from physical harm if not emotional damage. It will be interesting to see what Glee does with this story in coming weeks, or if they mention it at all and how.
Addressing issues of school violence is a relevant topic for a show about high school. I think Glee did this particular topic a great deal of in-the-moment justice in a way that brought levity to the situation without physical harm to any of its characters. Kudos to Glee for that.
What did you think of "Shooting Star?" Do you think Glee did the topic of school violence justice while still staying true to itself and its style? Be sure to check out the Glee quotes page and come back for our exclusive interview with Dot Marie Jones as she discusses tonight's episode!
Miranda Wicker is a Staff Writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.