Glee: Mattress

Trigger Warning: This post includes a graphic description of a scene in which domestic violence occurs.

I am somewhat amused at the fact that the only shows I write about these days are the ones that are pissing me off.

This episode continued the theme of depicting the women of Glee as manipulative, blackmailing, selfish, generally mean and awful people. Pretty much across the board, including some slut shaming from Sue Sylvester (but it’s funny because we’re supposed to read her character as bigoted, and wasn’t it hilarious when she said all the uglies and fatties should say home, because of course no one actually thinks that way, so it’s just funny, ha ha ha) and some woman-on-woman hate, courtesy of Emma slagging on both Rachel and Terri. Because nothing says sisterhood like cutting your sisters down, right?

But there’s one thing about this episode. There’s one, central thing which I found hugely upsetting. And that’s the thing that I want to write about today.

“Mattress” marked the Unmasking of the Deceptor; finally, Will learned the truth about Terri’s pregnancy. And what happened? Did we have a touching scene in which she confessed that she was worried Will was going to leave her, and she thought she was pregnant and she panicked when the doctor said she wasn’t? Did we have A Serious Conversation in which they talked about what was happening with their marriage? (Perhaps as a warning and sobering counterpoint to the doomed marriage Emma is about to embark upon.)

No, we did not.

We learned why Terri is so frightened of Will. We learned, in fact, that Terri had good reason to be terrified of Will, and to be afraid of the consequences of confessing the truth about her pregnancy.

We had domestic violence. We had Terri in the kitchen, cooking (of course, that’s where women should be, right?) and Will stormed in. There was screaming. Things were thrown. Terri was backed in the counter, trapped, physically overpowered by Will. He grabbed her wrist, quite harshly. And screamed some more.

“You’re scaring me,” she said, and Will kept right up with the violence.

The scene ends with Will, Righteous Deceived Will, storming out of the house.

“Come back,” Terri sobs.

This is a scene that plays out every day in households all over America.

And we’re supposed to view Will as a sympathetic character?

Evidently we are, because the rest of the episode featured him. We never saw Terri again. And everyone made sure to sympathize with poor Will and his tough family life, because of course Will didn’t mention the fact that he physically and verbally assaulted his wife.

I have no doubt that some Glee viewers glossed over that scene and had no problem with it, and that others may¬† have thought that it was perfectly acceptable because Terri was a manipulative liar. That Terri, in fact, deserved what she got, because Will’s such a good guy. A stand up, all-round, Nice Guy and how could his wife be so mean and evil and not appreciative?

Glee, you have just crossed a line you cannot come back from. I thought that line had already been crossed, but I was wrong. The minute you depicted domestic violence and cast the abuser as the hero of the piece, you went irrevocably to a Dark Place. There is no redemption from here; I don’t care how Will’s character is being set up and how he is supposed to be read, in this episode, he was a Wronged Man and a Tragic Hero who assaulted his wife. And the way in which it was framed did not, in any way shape or form, suggest that what Will did was wrong, or that he’s a slimy skeezeball. Nope. He was lily white and innocent.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Patrick Stewart’s amazing piece in the Guardian:

She did not provoke my father, and even if she had, violence is an unacceptable way of dealing with conflict. Violence is a choice a man makes and he alone is responsible for it.

ETA: I’m closing comments on this post, because they are getting completely unproductive. Sorry to folks who actually wanted to engage with the conversation! Maybe I will reopen them at some point. (Note to trolls: Comments here are moderated. So, really, spare yourself the effort of finding another post to troll on because you’re all riled up that you can’t comment here, because your comments won’t be published there either.)

Kathleen at MySistahs also wrote about this episode, and kindly sent me a link when she realized that comments were closed.

24 Replies to “Glee: Mattress”

  1. Oh god, thank you for this. I remember, right up until that scene, how I thought this week’s episode was going to be annoying but not make me rage.

    Well, I was right, it didn’t make me rage, it scared me instead.

  2. Glee watchers are reading it, and telling us to stop taking the show so seriously, shut up, and it’s satire, and no one thinks this way and we’re evil and should never speak again.

    It’s awesome, if by awesome you mean exhausting.

  3. Yes, that, calixti. This episode should have come with a goddamn trigger warning. That scene took me to a Very Dark Place as a viewer and it was mixed with incandescent rage because I knew exactly how it was going to be framed.

  4. Also, Anna, a lot of people are trying to have it both ways. The show is “delving into new ground” and “making trenchant commentary” and etc, but “STOP TAKING IT SO SERIOUSLY.” Which is it?

  5. Thank you for writing this (and all the other stuff). When this happened in the show, I did yell at the screen (as I often do during this show) how lovely is was of them to make Will an abusive husband. My husband disagreed, stating Will had not been abusive yet (because he hadn’t hit her). We paused the show (ah, the magic of TiVO!) and discussed it.

    This show is a fluffy sitcom, with highly unrealistic situations, this fake pregnancy being one of them. What kind of husband does not touch his wife’s pregnant stomach? How can they possibly have gone this long without him touching her AT ALL or seeing her naked or in her underwear? Yeah, yeah, they had that ONE scene where he tried to touch her and she pushed him away. SERIOUSLY??? That’s his (potential) baby in there. Hubby said the second we get a positive on the EPT, his hands are going to be all over my belly, all day every day.

    But I digress… we go from this over-the-top fluffy comedy, with cheerleaders who get their dry-cleaning sent overseas paid on the school budget and husbands think it’s standard procedure to put a curtain between them and the wife during a sonogram (and where teens are told the sex of the fetus at 10 weeks, even though A) teens never asked and B) there isn’t anything to see until 14 weeks — sorry, digressing again…), and suddenly we turn all serious and Will becomes Justified Angry Husband? We all of a sudden drop to that level of gritty reality?

    Yes, he was justified in being angry. You cannot tell him not to be angry. He cannot control his emotions, but he can control his actions. And, since this is a fluffy TV show where much more ridiculous stuff has happened, the writers can control his reaction. Why couldn’t he throw the fake belly to the side, or behind him? Why did he have to throw it toward her? Why did he have to grab her write and hold it, in the tight camera frame (to make sure we saw it)? Why couldn’t he just tell her to lift up her shirt, and when she didn’t, just walk out because he FINALLY figured out she’s liar and a manipulative terrible person?

    OK, I’m going to stop there before my head explodes. There are so many problems with the attempts at a plot in this show… logic and coherence and consistence and plain ol’ common sense would really help these people out.

  6. *splutter*

    I… I have been kind of idly wondering if I should watch Glee to see what all the fuss is about, but you and Anna had kind of convinced me that the fail was too strong for me to enjoy it. THANK YOU FOR YOUR KIND SERVICE. Because I’m pretty sure this would have been the end of my laptop screen.

    I remember too, when Glee premiered, it seemed especially popular among people who were vulnerable in high school, for whatever reason, and found happiness and even safety in the friends they made through music. What a brutal intrusion into something that you thought would just bring you a happy memory.

    Disgusting. Absolutely disgusting.

  7. Something I neglected to mention in this post is that in the scene where Emma and Will are talking, at the end, she casually reinforced the idea that Terri just doesn’t appreciate Will, and she’s a mean bad faker person. “I thought there should be some sort of law,” she says, talking about her response to finding out that Terri was faking the pregnancy. “Her methods [to try and keep Will] were wrong.” And then Emma goes on to say what a great guy Will is. He’s “a lot to lose.”

    Emma, of course, doesn’t know that Will is an abuser. I wonder if she’d still feel that way if she’d seen that ugly scene in the kitchen.

  8. But Emma admit that that’s only what she thought at first. After she thought about it, she said she understood why Terri did what she felt she had to, however misguided.
    And yeah, Emma obviously doesn’t know both sides of the story. She probably would not have called him “a lot to lose” had she known.

  9. Well, right, that’s my point, is that she’s condemning Terri for her actions while simultaneously holding Will up as an example of a good guy; Terri went about things “the wrong way” but Emma sees how Terri would go there, because Will’s just so terrific. I think that’s kind of problematic because it reinforces, for viewers, the idea that Terri was a mean deceptive evil faker lady, while Will, of course, is totally awesome. It doesn’t, for example, suggest that Terri did what she did because she was afraid of Will, although it seems like she would have had good reason to be. And, for me, it sets up the slippery slope to justify Will’s actions (because people have trouble separating “he had a right to be angry” from “but he dealt with it wrong,” as Criss discussed above).

  10. god, i was so relieved to see this post, because i was afraid that i was the only one who was terrified by that scene. thanks for writing this.

    Glee really does have a problem with portraying Will as this man with no character flaws whatsoever (or the few character flaws that he has show up for half an episode before he has a wonderful insight and delivers an inspiring speech to the Glee Club)… and that’s basically how they treated him abusing his wife.

    i also think that, even before this scene, their relationship was really unhealthy and abusive. Terri was always portrayed as this intensely controlling woman (e.g., all those times where she was shown as being completely in control of their finances / where they lived / what he did with his spare time / who he was friends with… all of which, btw, are classic signs of an abuser). obviously, none of this negates the abusive things that Will did, but their relationship seemed abusive from the start, and has always been upsetting for me to watch.

  11. Oh yes, definitely, morgan. Their relationship has always been extremely problematic, and one of the most irritating and upsetting things about the show. It’s not like things suddenly turned ugly last night, more that I honestly feared that the show has been leading up to this moment all season, because it seemed almost inevitable.

  12. Jesus christ on a bicycle. That’s horrifying. (I am having way too much occasion to use the word horrifying today. Which is depressing.)

    Never ever never watching glee, if I had been at all unsure from the other fail detailed before. Gods.

    I just… goddamn they portrayed an abuser as sympathetic what the fuck argleblargle!!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!!!!!!!

  13. I am so glad to see this page. Ever since the episode, I have desperately searching for people who felt the same way I did.

  14. Yeah, that episode scared me…no more Glee for me. At least not without downloading it. I’m not giving them any advertising money to portray domestic violence in a positive light.

  15. I’m shaking with rage. I knew Glee was heinous from watching “Wheels,” but I didn’t think it could possibly do something so…so…words escape me. They framed a perpetrator of domestic violence as a hero (and from the one episode I watched, I gathered that “character development” is not something the show values, so I’m guessing this is the final judgement the audience is expected to make on Will). I’m nauseated and in tears because the damn writers of this show think it’s okay to have a scene (or, judging by your commentary, a season) where abusive behaviour is glorified rather than condemned.

  16. I shudder to think how many comments you’ve gotten to the effect that what Will did doesn’t qualify as abusive. It wasn’t violent enough or she provoked him or whatever. There’s always something that justifies the abuser’s actions — not just in the abuser’s perspective but in the abuser’s community as well. Everyone has a spat now and then. We shouldn’t get involved. If ou was really being abused ou would leave / call the police / fight back / we would see the bruises. But the abuser’s so nice! (Of course the abuser is nice — nice is another weapon.)

    All of which is more elaboration on how violence is privileged when it’s used by the strong against the weak. And when the weak react to the violence used against them in unsanctioned ways like the young woman who killed herself after being bullied and shamed and failed utterly by the people who were supposed to protect her they are blamed for that also.

    Thank you for the work you do. Not all of it shows up in text and sometimes it must be especially hard. That you share it with us — and for free! With no ads even — is a gift and I appreciate it a lot.

  17. Thank you for writing this.

    I watch the show with my daughter. We enjoy the silliness and it gives us a light way to discuss life in high school, the role of women, birth control …

    However, this was the most poorly conceived, poorly sung, poorly acted of all of the shows, and the violence of the scene between Will and Terri was entirely unacceptable. The only thing that saved the scene was that Will was so poorly acted. I doubt if I can watch the show again. The only comment I can offer my daughter is that abusive men often seem like saints to those outside the home.

    I don’t know why the moved back from the formula of expressing emotions in song. There are plenty of songs that could have matched his emotions. Trying to pack his reaction into one violent scene was showed very poor judgement on the part of the writers and producers.

    I now hope the show is cancelled.

  18. You know, some really good points have been raised in this thread about how this scene could have played better, allowing Will to express his anger without making it violent. Like walking in, putting the pregnancy pad on the table, and leaving, or having Will sing a song about it. It really makes me wonder what the show’s creators were thinking! This denouement had to happen, but it could have been done in a much classier way. (Or, we could have seen the domestic violence and it could have been followed by actual consequences, rather than lionization of Poor Oppressed Will.)

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