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GLEE Delves Into Religion With Grilled Cheesus

By Edited Nov 15, 2013 0 0

When I saw that the title for this week's episode of GLEE was Grilled Cheesus, I worried. Surely such a title could only derive from some student seeing the image of Jesus on a grilled cheese sandwich - and sure enough, that's exactly what happened, though not in the school cafeteria as I would have guessed. No, it's just Finn, and nobody turns his fridge into a shrine and treks over to his house to see it. He's the only one in the entire episode who thinks that there's any significance whatsoever to the fact that his George Foreman grill just happened to toast the bread in such a way that the burn marks slightly resembled the traditional image of the face of Christ.

Finn has never been the brightest bulb in the chandelier, so I'm trying not to see his actions in this episode as blasphemous. There's an absolute sincerity in his reaction to this supposed revelation. And yet... he is praying to a grilled cheese sandwich. While he professes his love for Jesus Christ before the Glee club, he addresses his prayers not to Jesus but to Grilled Cheesus, and he only prays in the presence of the sandwich itself. He also prays for incredibly selfish things, especially considering the fact that his potential stepfather, with whom he has forged a fairly deep bond, is lying in a hospital in a coma.

Granted, by the end of the episode, I think he understands that he has taken a pretty narcissistic attitude with this alleged pipeline to God, but is he rejecting idolatry and shallow prayer requests for a more thoughtful approach to religion, or is he just washing his hands of it all? Emma is the one who disavows him of the notion that Grilled Cheesus is some kind of personal genie. In one of her best lines on the series, she says, "I think God works in mysterious ways, but I'm pretty sure He doesn't spend a lot of time trying to speak to us through sandwiches." I'm hoping that once he's recovered from the sudden hollowness in his life, so perfectly encapsulated in his rendition of R. E. M.'s Losing My Religion, Finn might consider stumbling his way toward a more mature faith.

Faith was the dominating theme of this episode, which made for the most fulfilling collection of music I've heard on GLEE in a long time, and possibly ever. I liked every one of the songs that was presented and loved a couple of them. Religion is not a topic that GLEE has delved into much, and when it has, it's usually mocked. Quinn is a conservative Christian, but she comes across as a bit of a hypocrite, and that goes double for her strict parents, particularly her father. Rachel and Puck revel in their Jewish identity, but the connection generally seems more cultural than religious. So it was interesting to lay it all out in the open in this episode and get a better idea of where several of the students are coming from.

Coming down on the side of Christianity are Quinn, Tina and especially Mercedes. Amber Riley's sassy but soft-hearted diva has always been one of my favorite characters on the show, and never have I loved her more than in this episode, in which she so eloquently professes her religious convictions through song - and dang, can that girl sing! - and tries to gently reach out to the best friend separated from her by grief and an ideological divide. I felt for her as she yearned to extend comfort to Kurt but couldn't figure out how to do so without offending him. Her rendition of Whitney Houston's I Look to You is heartfelt and a wonderful showcase for her incredible voice, and of course, I just about fell out of my chair when she stood up, with the choir behind her, to sing my favorite song, Bridge Over Troubled Water. I've always felt that Simon and Garfunkel masterpiece to be both a song of friendship and of spiritual assurance, and so it truly was the perfect fit for this episode as Mercedes assured Finn of the depth of their friendship and tried to simultaneously suggest that, in the words of VeggieTales, "God made you special and He loves you very much."

By the end of the episode, Kurt still isn't buying the God talk, but he does have a renewed appreciation for what his friends have been trying to do for him. Chris Colfer gave a wrenching performance in this episode that just gutted me. Kurt's anguish was palpable in all of his interactions with his classmates and his comatose father, with whom his last conversation had been an argument. He lashes out with ruthless criticisms of Christianity and religion in general, and while I flinched at his cruel words, he comes by his cynicism honestly, having been belittled throughout his life for the way he is and having lost his mother at so young an age.

I do think he could have shown a little tact, especially in the first scene before he realized that his father was critically ill, but then Kurt has always been one to speak his mind. I also thought it a bit unfair of him to be so antagonistic to Finn regarding his affection for Burt when it's Kurt's fault that their parents got together in the first place. I understand his hurt feelings that Finn is moving in on his territory, but he ought to have considered that before he tried to force them into such close quarters. While I did find Kurt hard to take in this episode, I also felt deeply sorry for him, and his performance of I Wanna Hold Your Hand was heartbreaking. I never would have thought of the song that introduced the Beatles to America as anything but an innocuous bubblegum ditty about puppy love, but Kurt turned it into a tender, earnest plea for his father to recover, giving it the flavor of Luther Vandross's elegiac Dance With My Father - though this episode does give us reason to hope that Burt may pull through. The home video-style images that accompanied his song made it all the more poignant.

What I found most puzzling about Kurt in this episode was the fact that he started off the episode by bickering with his father because he planned to skip their weekly family dinner in favor of the singalong of The Sound of Music. As soon as Kurt expressed his feelings on the subject of religion for the first time in GLEE club, I felt like the singalong was a loaded gun that needed to go off by the end - but instead, it just disappeared. Kurt comes across as completely hostile to religion, and especially Christianity, in this episode. So why in the world has he spent all year looking forward to singing along with a show that is more steeped in Christianity than almost any other musical out there? For me, it doesn't add up.

Sue kept the snarky quips to a minimum in this episode. What we mostly got was Sue at her most serious, and even as she strove to penalize Will for his discussion of theology in GLEE club, she was trying to shield Kurt from disillusionment. Any episode that involves Sue's relationship with her sister, who has Downs Syndrome, allows us to see Sue in a much more sympathetic light, and in Grilled Cheesus, I felt for her just as much as I did for Kurt.

It was so touching to hear her speak of her sister Jean as the only hero she had ever had and of her pain when she realized that so many others did not see her in the same way. Her unanswered prayers for Jean to be normal convinced her that no one was listening, but Jean, who seems perfectly contented with her lot, counters with, "God doesn't make mistakes." Their scene together is brief but powerful and enough to cause Sue to reevaluate her own hostility to religion. It also emphasizes the idea that just because a person comes with a unique set of challenges, that doesn't mean that they necessarily need to be "fixed". Jean's warmth and gentle wisdom come across in each of her scenes, and I hope the series one day allows us to see her outside the confines of the nursing home.

Puck starts off the episode in a pretty irreverent fashion, raucously singing Billy Joel's Only the Good Die Young as an expression of his hedonistic approach to life, but Burt's condition sobers him up, even prompting him to go to synagogue with his "nana". Rachel, on the other hand, seems pretty committed to her roots and sincere in her faith from the get-go, particularly in her powerhouse rendition of Barbra Streisand's Papa Can You Hear Me? Meanwhile, the group performance of Joan Osborne's One Of Us that concludes the episode reminds me of Joan of Arcadia, a show that consistently grappled with spiritual issues through the lens of teenagers.

Ultimately, the episode doesn't seem to side with any particular viewpoint, except to suggest that we should try to respect each other's beliefs (or lack thereof) even if we make it clear that we don't agree with them. While I don't expect that religion will suddenly start playing a prominent role in GLEE, I applaud show creator Ryan Murphy for crafting an episode that may get people thinking and talking about these deep topics, just as LOST did week after week. I went into the episode expecting to be offended. Although I occasionally was, I mostly found myself moved.



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