Glee Season 1 Episode 15: The Power of Madonna

Posted on April 21, 2010

We were a bit pleasantly surprised by this episode. Like every stereotypical gay, we were both looking forward to an all-Madge episode of Glee, but we never thought they’d take such a …semiotic approach to it. We should have known that the writers would take it further. This wasn’t just an episode with Madonna songs; it was an exploration of what Madonna means.

Now, we’ll grant you, we have serious doubts that teenagers in 2010 think about Madonna much at all, but then again, anyone thinking this show is representative of anything but the twisted minds of the creators is in for a disappointment. We’ll never stop saying this: if you’re looking for realism on Glee, you’re looking in the wrong place.

Which reminds us, they’ve really gone all in lately on the fantasy aspect of musicals. More and more, we’re seeing our singers off the stage and gallivanting through the school as they sing their lungs out in clearly not-meant-to-be-taken-literally scenes. Personally, we love it. Anything that hammers home the point that this isn’t about realism can only be a good thing, as far as we’re concerned.

Anyway, Madonna: We’re going to be 100% honest about something and we can already sense your disappointment. When we first saw the Vogue video with Sue last week we of course sat there with our mouths open in astonishment at how faithfully they recreated virtually every frame of the original (and impressed with Jane Lynch’s vocals), but the second it ended, our first thought was, “That’s it?” That’s what everyone was making such a big deal over? Sure, it’s a lot of work to recreate those iconic 5 minutes of video so faithfully, but it’s not exactly creative. Additionally, we can’t say the song arrangements in last night’s episode made our bits tingle, again, because they were so literal. “Like a Prayer” sounded great, but the second they added the gospel choir they confirmed what we’d been thinking: they had no interest in interpreting Madge so much as paying respectful homage to her. Results: all the songs were fun, no argument from us, but none of them will be heading to our i-Pod anytime soon.

But then we started thinking about it some more and realized that was okay. It wasn’t about the music this time. It was about the figure of Madonna and what she means. In this case, she means female empowerment, in everything from choosing (or not) to have sex (and with whom) to demanding and receiving respect from everyone around you, a rallying cry for not just the girls, but for anyone who feels the need and the desire to stand up and express themselves. Of course we probably should have just taken the title of the episode at face value instead of devoting so much time to thinking about it, but we never claimed to be efficient.

The fact that the halls of the school were packed with every Madonna look, from “Who’s That Girl” Madonna to “Ray of Light” Madonna, painstakingly recreated as the entire Madge back catalogue played non-stop on the PA system (in a story development that made so little sense that we half-wondered if it was part of the show’s contract with her to get the rights) only further added to the Madonna-as-cultural-figure take.

Okay, there were far too many “Madonnas” in that last sentence.

Plus it was fun to pick them all out and a little surprising how easily we recalled every look and the song or video to which it was associated. In fact, one of the more shocking things about the Vogue recreation wasn’t so much the faithfulness of it but how we knew instantly it was a frame-by-frame recreation because every damn frame of it is imprinted on our brains. Since her entire body of work is seared into our collective memory, we don’t blame them for taking such a literal approach with the music. You don’t fuck around with the work of a legend. You pay it respect.

We have to single out the “Like a Virgin” number, which did a fantastic job of tying together a bunch of characters and illustrating both their similarities and their differences. On the cherry-popping scale, Rachel decided to wait because she’s not sure who she loves, Emma couldn’t go through with it, and Finn went through with it and found it disappointing because it wasn’t with the person he knew he wanted. Also have to single out Kurt and Mercedes on “4 Minutes.” They both looked like they were having a lot of fun with it.

Our only (slight) disappointment: As important as Madonna is to the concept and ideals of female empowerment, she is almost equally as important a figure to gay men. Kurt got a little more time in the spotlight this episode (laughed out loud at his soprano during “Like a Prayer”) but we would have liked to have seen a little more of Kurt in the story. If ever there was a ripe opportunity for a Kurt-centric episode, this was it.

Lest you feel we’re being too critical, let us state plainly: we loved this episode and we’re thinking it’s somewhere near the all time best mark. Let’s hit our favorites:

* The brochure in Emma’s office: “HELP! I’m in Love With My Stepdad!”

* “Lindsay Lohan looks like something out of Lord of the Rings.”

* Santana’s increasingly off-the-charts bitchiness: “Yes, you should move to Israel.” “She’s like a cat in heat. She talked about him yesterday and practically sprayed the choir room.”

* Brittany’s increasingly weird and funny take on the dumb blonde routine. “When I pulled my hamstring, I went to a misogynist.”

* Will going on the offensive in the hair wars, genuinely hurting Sue’s feelings in the process. Somehow, Jane Lynch makes it work and you do feel bad for her. Besides, she still gets the best lines when it comes to hair insults:

“I just lost my train of thought because you have so much margarine in your hair.”

“I thought I smelled cookies wafting from the ovens of the little elves that live in your hair.”

* Rachel’s purple glitter curling iron

* “Would you please stop talking? You’re grossing out my baby. ”

* Emma’s Amish lingerie

* “Hey there, Whoopi. Don Knotts.”

* We’re glad they’re not only spotlighting the B characters more, they’re referring to it. Any time a character who isn’t Rachel or Finn gets to make the point that it shouldn’t be all about Rachel and Finn is a good thing. They just need to follow up on that thought in terms of screentime.

* Jesse St. James is hilariously douchey.

One final note: we like to write up our impressions and offer our opinions in order to spur a convo more than doing a strict recap. So if we didn’t mention your favorite part, well, here’s your opening. Tell us what your favorite part was. We’re not saying we’re perfect, but chances are we didn’t forget to mention it; we just didn’t have anything new to say about it. That’s the beauty of blogs. It’s a two-way conversation between the bloggers and the commenters. You tell us about your favorite parts instead of waiting for us to tell you about them. We all saw the same show, so talk.


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