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Oh, We’re Half-Way There

OH, WE’RE HALF-WAY THERE, or, A Quick Look to See How Far They’ve Come and Why They Needed to Be Apart for a Time in Order to Be Able to Be Back Together

[Original post with photo-set can be found here.]

The characters of Finn Hudson and Rachel Berry represent two of the main messages of Glee. (For earlier postings on the messages the characters convey, see Finchel as Endgame: Why, When, and How; “I’ve Changed,” or, What’s Going On with Finn in the Second Half of Season Two (Episodes 2x11-2x16; Reclaiming His Voice, or Finn Sings “I’ve Gotta Be Me”.)

Finn’s message

Finn’s character arc is about people learning to be comfortable being themselves, about learning to embrace all that gives them joy, and not to worry about how the world might react to your authentic self.  He starts out the show as the ultimate team player, as a leader who can rally the team together and help them to succeed.  What he needs to learn is how to be comfortable with all of his unique characteristics and passions, to embrace being “born that way,” and to adopt as his motto “I’ve Gotta Be Me” no matter what anyone else thinks.  What gets in Finn’s way is his continuing concern with his reputation, with his status and position and popularity in the school, and with how he is viewed from the outside.  His struggle is to let what is inside him shine through for all to see, all the time.

Rachel’s message

Rachel’s character arc is to learn how to fit in with the team.  She is the character who always live 100% as herself, comfortable with who she is and proud to promote herself, even when that annoys other people.  Rachel is the character who can’t help but live out the way she was born.  Her struggle is that she is often self-centered, centered on herself as THE star, the person who should be in the spotlight all the time, and this gets in the way of her being able to be in genuine relationships with others.  Without ever changing who she is, Rachel needs to learn how to value others as well, and how to relate to them with all of their uniqueness as well as her own.  She clearly wants to be in relationship with others and to have friends—her self-defining statement in the Pilot is that “being a part of something special makes you special”—but, over and over, we’ve seen her let her ego and drive to be first get in the way being a part of the whole. 

At the end of Season One

Season One defined these messages as they are embodied in the two characters, and it ended with the two of them having made some gains toward becoming the person they need to be without giving up who they are.  The season ended with them together, and their paring was a metaphor for some of the lessons they had learned.   Finn’s being with Rachel was a metaphor for him choosing to be with someone because he cared about her, regardless of what others might think of him for that choice.  Rachel’s being with Finn showed that she had learned how to be in a relationship with someone, to be a part of something other than just herself.  While the season finale brought a lovely sense of closure for fans of the Finchel relationship, it was far from the end of their journey; they had travelled part of the way along the road they needed to go to reach full character development, but they hadn’t arrived yet. 

Just learning to be with each other was not enough for them to fulfill the challenges of their characters; they needed to learn how to integrate their character growth into their interactions with the world at large. In order to do this, as painful as it was to “finchel fans,” they really did need to be apart and go through all that the writers have shown so that they could develop themselves independently. As the lyrics of “Firework” say (although, sadly, this part was cut out of what aired in the episode Silly Love Songs), "Maybe the reason why/ All the doors are closed/ So you could open one/ That leads you to/ the perfect road.”  To get to that perfect road, Rachel and Finn first needed to face closed doors and learn how to open them back up on their own.  Season Two, for both of them, has been a continuation of their journey of self-development—development that has come through both success and failure on the part of each of them.

Rachel: First Half of Season Two

As Season Two began, we saw Rachel and Finn continue to struggle with their defining issues.  The mere fact that they had become a couple did not solve all of their problems; Rachel still was driven to be the center of attention and, goaded by this need, started off the season driving away Sunshine Corazon because she feared losing the spotlight.  Her act didn’t push Finn away, but it did alienate her from the larger group of glee kids.  Much of the first half of Season Two showed Rachel continuing to struggle to be a friend, and to have friends, within the New Directions.  Finn was her main point of connection, and much of her interactions within the New Directions in the front half of Season Two mirrored those in Season One, with the exception being that this time she was actually in a relationship with Finn.  He, in addition to her talent and drive, were her primary means of connecting with the group.  While Rachel slowly formed a bond with Kurt that began to grow stronger as the first nine episodes progressed, but she still had trouble fitting in with the full group most of the time. 

This was made pointedly clear in 2x09 Special Education, when we first see Rachel in her last full-fledged rant about how her talent is wasted in the group, and later see the group in the Sectionals green room confirm that they all kept the knowledge of Finn & Santana from her because “they only pretend to like her, anyway.”  This episode is Rachel’s lowest point in the season as far as not being part of the group is concerned.  She loses Finn, her main connection within the group; Kurt, with whom she’d started to bond, is gone to Dalton.  If she isn’t going to face total isolation, Rachel now needs to start really figuring out how to make connections with others on her own, not depending on Finn to be the person who lets her fit in.  Rachel seems to start learning her lesson, and applying its teachings, immediately.  At the very end of the episode she gives up her chance to do a solo (the first time I can think of that she’s ever voluntarily done so) to let Tina and Mercedes take center stage.  The “dog days” of her being on the outside because she can’t put herself aside enough to get inside are on their way to being over.

Rachel: Second Half of Season Two

From 2x11 on, we see Rachel finally finding her place within the group.  In the Super Bowl episode, we see her for the first time with the other kids in a context outside of school or her home—out for coffee with Mercedes, Kurt, and Blaine.  We see her exerting leadership to come up with the idea for the girls to play football so that the Titans can field a team—leadership related not to glee, but to the concerns of her peers.  Silly Love Songs finds her having a sleepover with Kurt and Mercedes; hears her turning her solo assignment into a group anthem for all of the glee girls, affirming that they each have a spark inside them that can light up the night; and, finally, finds her for the first time at Breadstix in the center of the group, not because they are there to perform, but because they are out having fun and being supportive of Kurt.  In Comeback, Rachel manages to have a full-on diva-off with Mercedes that ends not in competition with a winner and a loser, but in mutual admiration.  In Blame It On the Alcohol, the “party’s at her house”; in Sexy, she is a part of the ever expanding Celibacy Club.  In each episode, Rachel is shown being more and more of a part of the group in numerous settings, some related to glee but many not.

The next three episodes are pivotal in showing us just how far Rachel has come in travelling along her character’s journey.  Original Song closes in stark contrast to Special Education.  In Special Education, Rachel had to listen as her peers threw in her face that no one really liked her.  In Original Song, they unanimously named Rachel the team MVP; in an emotional response, Rachel let down her guard, let her tears fall in front of them for the first time ever, and told them how much it meant to her that they had chosen her—how special they had made her feel. 

A Night of Neglect shows Rachel exercising her relationship-building skills all over the place: because it matters so much to the Brainiacs, she puts aside her own feelings and fears and agrees that Sunshine should be a part of the concert—in fact, assigning her the closing, most important spot.  She takes on the thankless task of “talent relations,” working to cater to diva Mercedes’ every whim.  She talks Mercedes into rejoining the group, admitting that Mercedes’ voice is every bit as good as hers and encouraging Mercedes to compete with her and take the spotlight from her.  And finally, Rachel voluntarily concedes the spotlight, telling Mercedes that there’s no way she herself could compete or compare to the performance Mercedes gave—the ultimate Rachel Berry compliment. 

In Born This Way, we see the pay-off of Rachel’s journey as the entire group rallies around her to support her just as she is, in numerous scenes telling her that she shouldn’t do anything to change herself.  The ultimate expression of this is seen in the Barbravention, where the New Directions literally surround Rachel in a circle of song and dance—with them choosing to put her at the center, not because they need her talent, but because they care about her and are surrounding her with their affirmation and friendship.  Rachel has become a part of the team; staying herself throughout, she’s learned to relate, to be a friend, to have relationships with lots of other people.   Rumours begins to show us what life can now be like for Rachel: she goes out with a large group of them to get coffee; her stated desire to sing a duet at Nationals is not even questioned by the group at large as Rachel being pushy or bossy but is just Rachel being Rachel; and, even when she is clearly pursuing her own agenda, the kids don’t turn on her and she doesn’t push them away.  Rachel Berry is no longer only a soloist and only a voice; she has become a full-fledged member of an ensemble, a part of the team, valued by and valuing each member.

Finn: First Half of Season Two

Finn spent much of the first half of Season Two continuing to struggle with the need to be popular.  He started off the season losing his spot on the football team, which rocked him totally off center and caused him to set off on a path to regain his place on the team and his status within the school.  I wrote in some detail about Finn’s journey in 2x01-2x16 at the link posted below titled I’ve Changed,” or, What’s Going On with Finn in the Second Half of Season Two; there, I track Finn’s rise back to the top of the social ladder at McKinley as he goes from being “just another glee loser” after being kicked off the football team in 2x01 Audition to leading the football team to its first ever conference championship in 2x11 The Sue Sylvester Super Bowl Shuffle.  As he doggedly works to reclaim his social status, Finn is frequently forced in these episodes to choose between trying to be popular again and embracing his “gleek” identity.  Many times, when he has to make a choice, he turns his back on his “gleekiness” in order to preserve his reputation or his status; a driving concern is to regain and maintain his position on the football team, and he doesn’t want to let anything endanger that.  A minor example of this is when we see him refuse to help Artie again in Britney/Brittany; it was helping Artie in the previous episode that got him kicked out of football, and Finn decides he’s got to look out for himself now rather than help a friend.  This choice to turn his back on Artie is particularly powerful when we remember that Finn’s initial act of courageous choice in the Pilot—the first time he affirmatively took action to be a part of glee—was when he refused to overturn Artie in the port-a-john and instead decided to be a part of both glee and football. 

The major example of Finn putting his reputation and status first comes in Furt when he refuses to take part in Rachel’s plan for the guys to protect Kurt by confronting Karofsky.  Finn’s emotional speech and song at their parents’ wedding expresses his feelings for his step-brother, and it is an admission that he did wrong.  As beautiful as the moment is, though, in one sense it is too little, too late—nothing has been done to stop Karofsky, and Kurt leaves McKinley at the end of the episode.  In the next episode, Special Education, Finn walks away from Rachel, too.  First he tries to maintain the lie about him not sleeping with Santana by telling Rachel to stop confronting the other girl; then, because he can’t deal with the fact that Rachel knows the truth about what he did and about his lie, he emotionally abandons her, leaving her alone and suffering without trying to work things out.  He doesn’t pursue her when she storms out of Emma’s office; he sits in silence when she rails at him in the choir room; he turns on her in anger in the Sectionals green room rather than acknowledging the validity of her anger at learning everyone knew about him and Santana except for her.  And while apparently Finn had no idea of this, he is unwilling to let himself see the similarity between what she is feeling and how he felt the previous year before sectionals when he learned that everyone but him knew about Quinn and Puck.  Finn’s unwillingness to engage Rachel regarding his actions and lie leads Rachel to make the error of turning to Puck , whom she attempts to use as a means of forcing Finn to understand how much she is hurting.  When Finn learns about this, he definitively walks away from her, saying they aren’t a couple any more.

Finn: Second Half of Season Two

With Kurt gone, and without Rachel, Finn is without the two people who most help him be comfortable with being himself; the two people who see more to him than just his identity as a popular athlete; the two people who recognize his full potential.  Without them to round out his sense of self, Finn has to work on his own to be comfortable embracing and showing all of the aspects of his nature.  For a while it seems like he abandons this, instead relishing in the status that has come with his championship stardom, and deciding to milk it for all it’s worth by entering into another contest to “go for” the girl who represents the pinnacle of status and success in the school.   In “I’ve Changed,” I examine Finn’s seeming change of character in 2x12-2x16, noting that he is struggling, now that he has become a star, to figure out how to be one without letting it go to his head and separate himself out from the group and his true nature.  While there are glimmers of the “old” Finn in these episodes—mostly when he shown helping Rachel with her song-writing—for the most part we see a Finn who is concentrating on winning and keeping his place as number one.

Born This Way, however, represents a turning point for Finn.  I speculated before the episode aired about what his singing “I’ve Gotta Be Me” might represent on a symbolic level in his life (see the link below titled Reclaiming His Voice, or, Finn Sings ”I’ve Gotta Be Me”).  In short, this is Finn reclaiming his voice—a voice (the voice of the male lead of the glee club) that we haven’t heard on its own, aside from brief semi-leads in the songs “Sing!” and “Loser Like Me”, since Furt—and expressing that he wants to choose to live his life as the full person Finn Hudson is, whether he’s right or wrong, whether that means he’ll fit in and find his place in the world or will never belong.  The song—Finn’s choice to sing for an assignment he “loves” and is excited about—is a signal that Finn is getting to the point of moving beyond caring what people think about him so long as he can be himself; that, if he has to choose between being who others want him to be and being who he feels he is, he’s going to choose to be himself.  Right after Finn sang the song we saw evidence of development in his character: for the very first time, he spoke up before the entire group to support Rachel and to affirm her.  Asking her not to change herself and telling her she is beautiful was so much more than a sweet statement, or an indication that he still has feelings for her; it was Finn finally being able to stand up in front of his peers and express the truth he was feeling, the truth he couldn’t, for the first time, keep quiet, regardless of what others might think. 

Shortly after this scene comes Kurt’s return to McKinley, and we are shown Finn first promising his step-father that he is going to be looking out for Kurt and then, outside in the courtyard in front of the entire school (whose eyes are all turned on them due to the sudden appearance of blue coated Warblers warbling on the school steps), he wraps Kurt up in a huge embrace, not caring what anyone else might think about it.  The affirmation he gave Kurt in the protected location of their parents’ wedding reception, when only friends and family were present to see, was now publically affirmed.  Beyond merely being a sign of brotherly affection, this again shows Finn having the courage to express himself, to be himself, forgetting status and reputation.  It only takes a minute of thinking back to Finn’s public interactions with Kurt in the first season—most pointedly in Home and Theatricality—to see how far Finn has come.   The promo shots of Prom Queen drive this point home even further; this episode will be number 20 of season two, paralleling in sequence Theatricality in season one.  Where a year ago in 1x20 Finn spent almost the entire episode in distress because of Kurt’s atypical outfits and the resultant flack he was getting from the jocks because of the association between him and Kurt, the 2x20 promo shows Finn happily sitting in their living room, Blaine next to him, holding a glass of warm milk and totally admiring the twirl of the kilt Kurt is wearing to the prom.  In a year, he has come far; what once made him uneasy because of what it might cause others to think is now not even an issue in Finn’s mind.

Rumours showed us Finn acting on some of the confidence he now has in being himself.  Although he is acting from incorrect and mistaken motives, in his duet confrontation with Quinn we see Finn publically expressing his feelings about a relationship and letting not just his girlfriend but everyone know how he is feeling—it’s all out there, plain to see.  In the past, Finn has generally gone along to get along, letting both Quinn and Rachel largely control things; now, Finn is starting to stand up for himself without caring what others think about it.  He is starting to show who he is without worrying about how this might impact his reputation or standing in the sight of others.  While I do not feel like Finn has yet travelled as far along his character journey as Rachel has, he has made significant progress and, I expect, will grow and develop even more in the remaining episodes of the season.

Heading into the End of Season Two

Rachel, the onetime outsider hogging the spotlight, is now able to be both herself and a part of the group, sharing the spotlight with others without ever questioning her own value and worth.  Finn, still a leader of the group, is now learning to express his true self in front them and to them, ceasing to worry about what effect this might have on his reputation or standing.  As the second season draws to a close, we see just how far their characters have grown and come, travelling on journeys that are moving them to the places they need to be in order to finally function well and strongly as a couple.  They could not have come this far if they had been together the entire time; they’d have continued to rely on the other to cover for their own weaknesses and, thus, would have retained their crippling flaws.  During the time Rachel and Finn have been apart, however, they have ceased to depend on the other to supply the part of them that was lacking and have learned to do it for themselves: Rachel, no longer relying on her connection with Finn to be the way she relates to the group, has learned to relate to them all on her own; Finn, no longer relying on Rachel to tell him to do the right thing and not worry about his reputation, is learning that if he is true to himself, he doesn’t need to worry about what others think because his own self-confidence will create a place for him.  We know that their journey still won’t be complete at the end of this season—there’s still senior year to go—so the final three episodes should bring us to the place where we get to look forward to the fall in anticipation of what their next lessons and steps will be.  When they do get back together, it will be as stronger and more complete individuals who have a better chance at being a stronger, long-lasting couple who are able to go the distance and take on the world. 

While we know, as Will said at the end of Season One, that life really only has one beginning and one end, and the rest is a whole lot of middle, the writers are making that middle part of the journey count as they pack it full of the progress, regress, and growth of not just Rachel and Finn, but of all the glee characters.

For previous postings on these topics, see:

Posted on Saturday, May 7 2011. Tagged with: FinnxRachelfinchelfinn hudsongleeglee season twooverly long titles to postings that are overly longrachel berrywhat has happened is all a part of the plan—the writers know what they are doing even if you might not like it some of the time