Something to Say about Quinn Fabray (and Emma’s pamphlets)

Last year at the PCA/ACA Conference, I presented a paper about Rachel Berry and Glee‘s portrayal of gifted girls, specifically the way the show reifies the notion that adolescent girls who are high-achievers in academics or other areas have to choose between being socially acceptable or nurturing their abilities. I’m kind of frustrated to see that a full year has gone by and we still see Rachel caught in a false dilemma between Finn and pursuing her dreams. Give me a break! But what I want to talk about here and now is how Quinn has developed.

In a culture that promotes really narrow narratives about good girls and bad girls, purity, victimhood, innocence, and the disturbing popularity of Teen Mom and company, I think the writers of Glee have missed a really great opportunity to explore a narrative about a girl who blurs distinctions in her own way. Quinn was the president of the chastity club when she got pregnant. She lost everything (popularity, cheerleading, her family), but she didn’t give up on everything. She has really wise moments, but also can be a total mean girl. There are, of course, many problems with how the character is written, but my biggest issue is that the show never really gets into the emotional process. For everything she is going through, the writers sideline Quinn into simple “after school special” plots.

My paper was primarily about Rachel, but briefly took up the competitive relationship between Rachel and Quinn.* At that point (I presented the week of “A Night of Neglect”), Quinn was going through the revival of her meanstreak in a die-hard campaign to become Prom Queen, an effort to restore herself to her pre-motherhood popularity. I hoped that was as low as Quinn would sink. The following week, we got the episode about her nose job (“Born This Way”), only slightly complicating Quinn’s apparent vanity. Then, when the show came back this fall (“Audition”), Quinn had transformed

from this:  to this: 

Ohhh the clichés. Did it seem really strange to anyone else when a year went by between Quinn giving birth and Quinn going into full bad-girl mode out of grief from giving up her daughter? Glee isn’t known for its consistency, but it seemed like they had just run out of ideas for what to do with Quinn. In a cast as large and talented as Glee‘s I understand that not everyone will get equal screen time, so the characters seem to go through cycles of focus. The Quinn story that followed, however, was like the stuff of bad Lifetime movies. She tries to get her baby back by making the adoptive mother look bad and faking her own return to “good girlhood.” The white dress she wore when announcing her comeback was almost more than I could take (“Hold on to Sixteen”). I guess it was fake-it-till-you-make it, because in last week’s “Michael,” she announced the good news that her essay about “overcoming adversity by maintaining an A average during a teen pregnancy” wowed the Yale admissions committee and her ticket out of Lima had come in. She also counsels Rachel to let go of her high school loves, because her life is so much bigger than what’s right in front of her.

I think it’s safe to guess this is the end of Quinn’s story and I appreciate that it ends on a reflective note. She maturely thinks about what she has experienced, what still hurts, and how she wants to move forward without “dragging an anchor from the past into the bright lights of [her] future.” Here is what I would have liked to have seen getting Quinn to this point:

  • A less abrupt and disjointed approach to her post-birth emotions.
  • What happened after her dad disowned her and her parents divorced.
  • What is her home life like now after moving back in with her mom?
  • How did she arrive at peace over giving up her daughter? (One lecture from Shelby can’t have done it.)
  • The journey that got her to letting go of her past.
  • How did she maintain that A average? What kept her motivated? What kept her believing she could go to an Ivy League school still?
  • What is her approach to her faith now? To her body?

Instead of taking the time to portray this complicated girl’s pretty impressive journey, the show gave us snippets of the process that leaned heavily on stereotypes of good vs bad girlhood. There are no gradients. No process. Anyone who has made a life change will tell you it’s a process. We don’t see it. We don’t see her relationship with her parents. We barely see her relationships with her friends. We never see her in the classroom. So many teachable moments were missed, moments that could have portrayed a girl–significantly a girl who is the strong, silent type–dealing with hardship and overcoming.

So here’s my proposal: Give Quinn a spin-off of her Yale years. She can serendipitously meet Lorelai Gilmore and together they can really work through all these issues. FOX/CW contact me for a resume. Seriously.

  Now, for just a second, I’d like to talk about the glorious Emma Pillsbury. I loved her storyline on last night’s terrible “Spanish Teacher” episode. First, it was nice to see her being both playful and assertive. But it was wonderful to me that she got tenure because for once someone acknowledged, in a real way, all the work she does with the students.

I detest Will and he was a real jerk last night, but what is more important is the source of the conflict. He’s frustrated, but he’s also being really chauvinistic and dismissive. I’ve been in relationships before when my boyfriends have dismissed my work as trivial or unimportant. I cringed when Will insulted Emma’s pamphlets. I mean, he’s a Spanish teacher who doesn’t speak Spanish, like he has room to judge. But for being that unsupportive of his fiance, I wanted to punch his butt-chin.

So yay Glee for giving the pamphlets a storyline and for portraying Emma as a woman with a lot to offer the school, her family, and athletes. For the first time in a really long time I laughed aloud at the show because of Coach Beiste’s praise, “now their kibbles and bits are as clean as a little angel’s tear.” Just watch the scene. Genius silliness.

And Santana also kicked ass, standing up for her education. So, even in terrible episodes there are great moments.


*Quinn finds that one unwise decision costs her everything she most values—her cheer captainship, her popularity, and her boyfriend. After getting pregnant, Quinn is ostracized by her friends and disowned by her family. In season two, however, after giving her baby up for adoption, Quinn strives to regain her position as the most popular girl in school. Quinn is also mean to Rachel and the relationship between the two girls further reflects the complicated politics of aggression that surround the relationships of teen girls, especially girls under pressure. In the second season, however, the growth Quinn experienced during her first season pregnancy seems to have completely reversed as she once again attacks Rachel and throws herself whole-heartedly into becoming Prom Queen. It is my hope that as this plotline moves forward, the writer’s give Quinn back some of her complexity.

4 thoughts on “Something to Say about Quinn Fabray (and Emma’s pamphlets)

  1. Quinn confuses me. She says she wants popularity but wants true friends. She joined Glee too keep an eye on Finn, but stayed because she loved it. I mean, I get why she wants them both and she has had some of the best of both worlds, but then she thinks she has made up her mind. And only a few episodes later she is back to her original problem. She never can settle for what she has. When she had Finn she wanted Puck. When she had Sam she wanted Finn. She wants her life and her baby. She is always at some crossroads within herself and it sometimes annoys me. I also read that in the Regionals episode she may try and get Finn back (could be a rumour). Like, REALLY? He’s engaged!
    Anyways, what I’m getting at is that I love Quinn. Her crazyness can sometimes be very entertaining and she is a great singer. But sometimes her always-changing wants is annoying. Sorry I ranted 😉
    Check out my glee blog 🙂

    • Yeah, I clearly did not see her car accident coming. What happens next will (hopefully) be pretty interesting. I’m going to be so upset if she doesn’t go to Yale still.

  2. Pingback: Rachel Berry’s Choke and the Importance of Failure | Ph.D.s and Pigtails

  3. Pingback: Nerd vs. Geek: The Power of Naming | Stephanie Dreams of Electric Cats

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