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I’ve been watching Glee since the very first episode. After last night’s excellent “Asian F” episode, two things occurred to me. The first, is that there is still a lot of life and a lot of story left in this show. The second is that while many characters in the series have grown and progressed, Rachel Berry seems to be regressing, or at the very least, she’s made no real personal growth over the course of the last two seasons by comparison to the strides some of the other characters have made.
When we were first introduced to Lea Michele’s character Rachel Berry, she announced that she puts a gold star next to her name so that people would know she was a star. It was quirky and charming habit and it made us love her even though it also explained why she wasn’t exactly the most popular girl in school. After all, trying really hard to be a super-star only ever really looks cool if you’re one of the star athletes at the school. Everyone else is branded a nerd for their ambition (science-nerd, band-nerd, drama-nerd, etc).
Watching Rachel during last-night’s episode, one thing became startlingly clear to me. It is more important for her to be better than other people than it is to be good at something or the best she can be. She has dreams and she wants to go on to do big things, but judging by her reaction to Mercedes’ performances, it pains her to see that other people might be as good as or better than she is. She can't appreciate other people's talent if she perceives it as a threat to her own success, and she can't appreciate her own talent if it's not enough to get her the top prize.
When Finn complimented her on her performance, her response was to huff and say Mercedes was better. It’s like she has no sense of the value of her own talent if it isn’t measured above other people’s. Being outstanding as a singer isn’t good enough if someone is better. What does this say about her character and is this something that will eventually be resolved? If it were Season 1, I’d say yes, however it’s the beginning of the third season and it seems like she’s running on a treadmill of ambition, while every other character is growing past her.
As of last night, Brittany is channeling her inner-unicorn by trying to win the school election. Mercedes is realizing she deserves star-treatment (thanks in part to having a supportive boyfriend) and has left New Directions to be the star of Shelby’s other glee club. Mike Chang is coming out as the talented dancer (and budding singer) he’s always been, despite his father’s discouragement. These are examples of character growth. It’s progress and it makes us want to see them succeed. I’m sure there will be setbacks. I can’t picture Mike’s father deciding overnight that he’s ok with his son pursuing the arts instead of academics, but that’s part of the story. But where is all of this going for Rachel?
Ambition isn't a flaw, but blind ambition does hold her back as a character. Will Rachel Berry ever see that being good at something or achieving her own personal best holds as much (if not more) value to beating everyone at everything? Right now, her inability to do that and graciously accept defeat makes it hard to support her as a character. One of the best things about Glee from the start was that we felt like we were watching underdogs rise up. But Rachel really isn’t an underdog. She’s beautiful and talented and will likely go on to make something of herself doing what she loves. It might be easier to be happy for her as she pursues those goals if it felt like she was doing it because it made her happy, rather than because it makes her happy to win.
I want to like Rachel Berry, but it feels like the show has her stuck in this rut where the only thing that matters to her is winning. Achieving and being successful are admirable goals, and she certainly has a head-start in life by knowing what she wants and readying herself to go after it, but will we ever see her truly understanding the value of friendship and the ability to see herself as the beautiful, talented person she is without having to measure herself up against other people? Or is that simply not the path her character is meant to take?
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