Glee: Of turkeys, drag queens and who is family

Note: I wrote this over several days, and it ended up as this forward-rewind thing through the dinner/kiki scenes at the Hummelberry household that wasn’t written from beginning to end but by jumping up and down through the text. Since that’s exactly how I’ve re-watched the scenes while I thought about them, I’ll leave this process as obvious as it is instead of tidying everything up into a smooth piece of writing that flows chronologically through the scene.

Glee‘s most recent episode “Thanksgiving” (4×08) had a scene where Kurt and Rachel’s small and fairly melancholic Thanksgiving dinner with Rachel’s new love interest Brody as the cook/guest turns into a party when a bunch of drag queens, gay men, and assorted other guests of several genders arrive via an invitation Kurt made to his boss at Vogue.com, Isabelle.

We’ve done an analysis of the “Let’s Have A Kiki” lyrics as they were used in the episode over on Tumblr already (and don’t miss this gem of pre-episode speculation), so I’m going to focus on the rest of the scene here, which means mostly the visuals and what happened before everyone launched into song.

01-significant otherLet me give you some context first. Earlier in the episode we learn that Rachel has talked a reluctant Kurt into staying in New York for Thanksgiving instead of going back to Lima. She has framed that decision as a strategy to avoid feeling sad and to focus on their dreams and ambitions instead of their ex-relationships. She has also declared that Kurt is “the only signficant other [she] need[s] in [her] life” while physically clinging to him in a way that looks very couple-y in an way that has been uncomfortable to some of us. After that, Brody has invited himself to their dinner by way of offering to cook for them (since Rachel isn’t too great a cook – and he also doesn’t have the money to go home). And then Kurt has invited Isabelle because she said she’d be alone otherwise (the friend she used to visit for the holiday has passed away), and agreed when she asked if she could bring some friends.

The actual Thanksgiving dinner starts out with Brody, Kurt and Rachel preparing the food. Kurt doesn’t seem too pleased about the way Brody has taken over the reign over the of dinner preparations (because Kurt actually is a good cook, and it’s his kitchen that Brody is trying to rule here), and he may even be a little angry at Rachel for handing over that task/power to Brody in the first place. Rachel tries to smooth things over (or maybe she’s just not getting the problem) but she sides with Kurt and his incredulity when Brody declares that “no one breaks out into song.” Next, Brody demands that Rachel come and help him butter the turkey, and they proceed to “use that turkey as a courtship device,” as Kurt so snarkily comments. (Yes, Tumblr has also done some turkey meta.)

The next time we see them, Rachel and Kurt sit at the dinner table, the camera is very close and there’s a candle between them, and Rachel talks about the holiday medleys she used to sing with her dads. Kurt assures her that “as long as [they]’re part of each other’s lives, holiday medleys will never be over.” At that point, the frame becomes a lot bigger and we see that Brody is actually still there and now bringing the turkey to the table. Just as he asks Kurt if he wants to do the honor of cutting the turkey, it knocks on the door. Kurt refuses not just the honor but the turkey altogether and goes to open the door to a group of people (including some drag queens, who apparently still work as visual shorthand for “gay culture”) he doesn’t know, who tell him that “Isabelle Wright invited [them] to an orphan’s party here.”

11-we were invited 10-can i help you

Since these strangers don’t wait until they’re actually invited in before they crowd the apartment and sample the greens, Kurt just tells Rachel (and Brody) that “apparently, we’re having a party.” Rachel is surprised but quickly adjusts to the new situation and she welcomes everybody somewhat after the fact. Kurt has apparently been trying to call Isabelle earlier, and she’s calling him back right that moment, which launches us into “Let’s Have A Kiki” (again, full lyrics and analysis here).

17-kiki

But let’s rewind the scene a tiny bit before we proceed any further because I want to examine Kurt’s perspective some more. When Rachel invited Brody, she turned what originally was a dinner for two roommates and friends into a dinner she has with her roommate/friend and with a guy she’s erotically/romantically interested in. In other words, she created a social triangle with herself at the center. I would not be surprised if Kurt had been a bit miffed about that at first, especially since Rachel had just told him he was “the only signficant other [she] need[s] in [her] life”(I don’t think he actually believed her, but she still said it). And now Brody has taken over his kitchen, desecrating everything that’s holy about cooking for Kurt. And make no mistake, cooking has a special significance for him, because it’s one way how he takes care of people. It’s also something he and Burt used as a bonding activity, and Burt is family, and family is sacred for Kurt. Besides, who do you think cooked the Thanksgiving dinners in the Hummel household before Carole appeared? Well, and now Brody wants to put the turkey into a plastic bag. And he sexualizes it. And while Kurt Hummel certainly is no baby penguin anymore, he still seems to be rather private about his actual sexual activities and would prefer others to be equally private. I believe the “courtship device” comment speaks volumes here with its hint at Victorian romance – more so since what Brody and Rachel did was not quite the Kurt version of “a touch of the fingertips”… So can I just say that I’m baffled at how many people read this Kurt/Brody interaction as friendship when it looks to me like a pretty open fight over whose rules – Kurt’s or Brody’s – apply in the Hummelberry household?

06-cooking

Anyhow, when Kurt lights the candle, Brody is neither in his nor in Rachel’s frame of attention (nor does the camera include him). Rachel is nostalgic about the holiday medleys she and her dads used to sing, and Kurt, not Brody, seems to be the one to share that with. This could be because Brody is busy with the cooking, or because Brody is not (yet?) someone she trusts with her more vulnerable moments. Or maybe Kurt really is her go-to person for that kind of thing. At least that’s what he seems to understand because he calls her “sweetie” and promises her that “as long as [they]’re in each other’s lives, holiday medleys will never be over.” And no matter how cringe-y I get at the idea of a romantic Hummelberry friendship, I still have to acknowledge that there is genuine affection between the two, from both sides.

08-sweetie 07-holiday medleys

But now Brody and the sexualized turkey re-enter the picture. Rachel switches back into her cheerful voice, and the intimate moment between her and Kurt is over. Brody continues to appropriate a role that isn’t his to have when he offers Kurt the honor of cutting the turkey – an honor that only the head of the house can offer (which Kurt Hummel most likely is aware of). There’s also an element of gender at play here, because the head of the house is traditionally male, and by way of assuming that role, Brody has apparently cast himself as the most masculine person in the house. He also tries to reinstall the Thanksgiving dinner he thinks they should be having, with Rachel and himself as the main couple and Kurt as their guest. However, that plan is thwarted when Kurt refuses to accept the role Brody has cast him in. He won’t cut the turkey, and he won’t even eat any of it. In other words, he doesn’t want to have anything to do with that version of a Thanksgiving dinner. Which I would extrapolate to that version of family. (His use of the word “manhandled” also echoes the masculinity theme for me.)

And right on cue, Kurt‘s family arrives, even though he doesn’t quite know yet how much this actually is his family. While he’s talking to Isabelle on the phone during the intro to “Let’s Have A Kiki,” Kurt walks around his newly-arrived guests, looking as if he can’t quite believe that this unexpected assembly of queer strangers is actually happening in his own home, on Thanksgiving, no less. He also looks as if he can’t quite decide whether to be horrified or delighted.

14-uh 15-uh

So by the time Isabelle arrives, he’s happy to let her take over the reigns for the time being. At first, he keeps to the edge, guarding the door (that is not locked, by the way), but after Isabelle has answered to his call “mother” by assuring him, that she’s “gonna let you have it,” he’s apparently come round and decided that delight is the dominant feeling he has. And delightful it is, to be queer in a queer context, not hidden or fearful or illegal (like Scandals when you’re underage) but right in the middle of his living room that has suddenly turned into a center for queer community – and family. So Kurt can take action now, prance flamboyantly along the wall and grab Brody’s hand and make him submit to the new set of rules that has just been declared by sheer majority.19-explain

Brody, however, isn’t quite getting with the program yet and interrupts the song to ask “Wait, wh- what is a kiki?” By then, Kurt has maneuvered him over into a corner of the room where Brody plunks down into an armchair (is Kurt telling him to “take a seat”?). Kurt then proceeds to explain what a kiki is, with an expression that half-helpful and half-exasperated with Brody’s cluelessness, while Rachel throws smoldering glances over Kurt’s shoulder at Brody, as if to soften the blow of that onslaught of queerness and attitude.

Rachel is actually rather good at code-switching from the quiet and very heterosexual (except for that melancholic moment where she thinks of her gay dads and their showtunes and turns her attention over to Kurt again) dinner to the thoroughly queer party that has invaded their space. She seems to know what a kiki is, she joins the singing and dancing, while Brody remains seated and an onlooker at the edge of the room who still doesn’t understand what’s happened to his nice dinner with Rachel (and her roommate). 20-tendingShe also tries to attend to Brody in the midst of all this but can’t really get through to him due to the degree of his disconnect from the new queer world order that has happened to him. Basically, her role as heterosexual semi-date to Brody relegates her to the edge of what’s going on, while Isabelle has assumed a central role both in the physical space and in the song/party as such.

But Rachel Berry wouldn’t be Rachel Berry if she let herself be pushed to the side like that. So she interrupts the song with some lines from “Turkey Lurkey Time,” presumably one of the (extremely campy) showtunes she has sung with her gay dads. At first, everyone looks at her a bit incredulously, but people soon get into the spirit, especially after Rachel has taken a drag queen by the hand and led her to the middle of the room (effectively using her to reclaim the central space for herself by way of appearing welcoming and accepting). Kurt also joins in with Rachel’s song, following her to the center of the room, and the two of them (re)claim the role of the co-hosts of the party and the “owners” of the apartment (with Rachel still a bit more in the center than Kurt).

25-rachel+drag queen 25a-rachel center

And this is where I need to pause the scene to have a moment of understanding for Rachel’s position in all of this. She’s the diva-esque daughter of two gay men who apparently did some pretty “gay” things as a part of their normal family life. Like, sing showtune holiday medleys at Thanksgiving. Which means that she actually does have “authentic” ties to this part of gay life, that it’s been the culture of her family of origin, even if she’s heterosexual herself. As a heterosexual young woman, however, especially with a sex-centered straight guy like Brody as her current object of erotic and/or romantic interest, she is located very much outside of any kind of gay life. So, when the kiki descends on her, she’s torn between her loyalties to each of these two worlds. With that background in mind, it actually makes a world of sense that she’d try to unite them by introducing a song that is “straight” and “traditional family-oriented” (or at least showtune-y) enough for Brody to relate to, and “gay” enough to not alienate the queer people who are currently partying in her (and Kurt’s!) home. And in exactly that way it even makes sense for her to consider Kurt her “soulmate” and “significant other” because his kind of gayness so far has actually been closer to her dads’ kind (with all his love for showtunes and his nostalgia for gay and gay-influenced or gay-related culture of earlier decades) that it has been to the kind brought over by Isabelle’s friends. No wonder does he feel familiar to her on such a fundamental level! And family is what much of Thanksgiving in general, and this scene in particular is all about, right?

27-rachel table 28-marvellous

At any rate, during her “Turkey Lurkey Time” portion of the song, Rachel eventually climbs on a table and uses it as some kind of stage/pedestal, while Isabelle has climbed another table at the other end of the room. At this point, however, Isabelle steps in and brings everyone back on topic by reminding them that, “This kiki is marvelous!” By now, Brody has at last gotten up from his chair and is now joining the dance as well, a move which Rachel’s attempt at bridging her worlds might indeed have facilitated (and which I will grant her as a success, even if I still don’t want Brody there at all because I neither like nor trust him). In the end, everyone dances together, with Isabelle back at the center.

29-everyone

The scene ends with Rachel grabbing Kurt by the forearms, jumping up and down excitedly, screaming “This is the best thanksgiving ever!” while Brody is forgotten in the background. So it seems that even though she managed to integrate Brody into the dance a little bit, her focus has still shifted towards the “gay” side of things. Maybe that’s just because this is how Rachel makes things all about herself, and if she’ll get attention by emphasizing her ties to gay culture that’s what she’ll do. Or maybe she has really found her own place in the amorphous “queer family” that has come together here and that’s more important than any new guy in her life right now 30-best ever(it’s Thanksgiving, after all, which I understand to be the family holiday in the U.S., much like Christmas is in Germany). I also just realized that Rachel will probably never be happy with just one significant other – unless he (and I’m strongly convinced it will be a “he,” and not just because she’s heterosexual but because she’s not very good at being friends with other girls/women – but that’s another bucket of meta for another day, perhaps) is at home in more or less the same worlds as she is. (No, I have no idea how Finn will ever fit into that picture, just that right now he really doesn’t.)

(And now I’m baffled by the fact that I’ve written myself to empathizing with Rachel more than I ever did before. Writing really takes me on interesting and entirely unexpected trips sometimes.)

One thought on “Glee: Of turkeys, drag queens and who is family

  1. Pingback: Glee: Carmen Tibideaux, Kurt Hummel, and the language of props | Teile des Ganzen

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