Welcome to my first glee character retrospective everyone!
Yes after promising and alluding to these many times, we are finally going to have them.
And my very first character retrospective will be on one Rachel Barbara Berry.
Why? I think it’s because out of all of the characters on glee, the relationship that fans have with Rachel is the most complex. However, I’m not looking at fans evolving reactions with Rachel. I’m looking at my own. I’m the one who is retroactively looking back at glee. I can say that my relationship as a fan of the show with Rachel is definitely the most complex one I have with any character on television. So I suppose this retrospectives are going to be more of an analysis of my own changing feelings towards the characters of the show.
Rachel seems to be the most logical place to begin because if we can say the show had a main character, then we would say that it would arguably be Rachel. She gets the most songs. She gets the most screen time. Her story and ambitions are what we are supposed to relate to the most.
Now is this really true? I’m not sure.
However, I’ll try to examine it in a multiparter character retrospective focusing on Rachel Berry.
The first part? Season One a.k.a. when I actually liked Rachel as a character.
I feel like I should point out spoilers for season one. However, I think it’s kind of stupid to point that out. Still it’s there now.
Let’s turn back the clock all the way back to season one. We’ve never heard of NYADA. Finchel has never happened. New Directions wasn’t a weird hybrid of popular and not. Rachel did not look like an orange Jersey Shore hooker with too much eye make-up.
It was a simpler time in the show. It was an easier time.
It was season one. Everything (mostly) made sense.
I understood Rachel.
Glee is made up of stereotypes. Then the trick is having to subvert those stereotypes and show the characters underneath them.
Rachel’s core stereotype is the ambitious loser. She has plans. She has dreams. She will do anything to get through those dreams. The subversion she is supposed to go through is realizing that ambition is ambition but ultimately she needs friends. Ambition is great but when it hurts people you care about then you need to step back a bit. Rachel was supposed to grow.
Rachel in season one did show some sort of growth. She became a little less self involved. She cared about her friends. She had real relate-able struggles and issues to the average teenage girl.
I related to Rachel back then. I mean I was hyper ambitious and socially awkward high school student. I wasn’t unpopular but I wasn’t popular. I knew what I wanted from life and people thought that was weird when I told them of my dreams. Mainly because like Rachel they were in a field were I could MAJORLY crash and burn. I think that’s what a lot of girls related to when they watched Rachel in the beginning. She’s the ambitious loser. Yeah life sucks in high school but she’s meant for something bigger.
She HAS to be meant for something bigger than Lima, Ohio right?
In season one, you legitimately want Rachel to succeed, to get the guy and to have her happily ever after.
Now the reason I wanted to write these retrospectives is to analyze my changing feelings toward the characters. The ultimate goal here is that through my own feelings hopefully I study the character evolution and also my evolution as a fan.
Rachel in season one does have a clear evolution for the first half it.
In “Pilot”, she started out as a fame obsessed girl who wanted to ultimately be accepted by the people who mocked her. However, it went at war with herself as trying to become a serious artist. She had to choose between her career as she saw it and being popular and liked. She continually choose her career. She left because she felt like she “wasn’t getting anything” out of glee club in “Preggers”. However, she also learns throw this experience something else. When she gets the lead in “Cabaret” and gets Sandy Ryerson booted off the project she is free to direct this however she wanted. She chooses not to go on with it. Rachel got everything she wanted as a performer. She could direct and star and have the focus be on her. However, she chooses not to because as she puts it “Being a star didn’t make me feel as special as being your friend” (“The Rhodes Not Taken”).
Rachel Berry walked to the beat of her own drum in season one. She had no clue how to interact with people but if it was something that needed to be done than she did it. I am totally fine with her telling Finn about the baby scandal in “Sectionals”. You know why? Because the rest of Finn’s so called “friends” knew about it and didn’t do the decent thing and TELL HIM! At least Rachel had the, for lack of a better term, balls to do so. Even Quinn agreed that she did the right thing.
Rachel was cocky and confident. She was full of herself. She hurt people’s feelings but I didn’t think she meant to do so for the most part. She just knew she was talented and knew the only way to get out of Lima was show that talent constantly. She was clueless as to how people acted because she didn’t spend a lot of time with people. I don’t think she had any real friends before New Directions came along. She was bullied kind of horribly so I mean telling someone to get sterilized? Dude that is really fucking horrible.
Rachel changed between the pilot and “Sectionals”. She grew. In “Sectionals”, she willingly gave up the ballad at Sectionals to Mercedes when she saw that she was the person with the stronger ballad. She even went to Mercedes first when they needed to make a new set list from scratch because it was Mercedes moment. Mercedes earned that moment and Rachel wanted her to have it. It shows character development.
She even learned that she was more than just her voice when Finn took her to meet Shawn in “Laryngitis”. She realized that she couldn’t be dependent on and defined by just one thing. That she was more than her voice.
That’s been retconned to all hell but it made sense for her to learn that. She should have learned that.
Then there is Jesse and Shelby. Now I’ll get into them and their effect on Rachel in final post of this retrospective. However, I will like to point out that they did have, what I believe to be, an impact on her for the rest of the series.
But again we’ll get back to that.
Rachel makes mistakes and she is punished for those mistakes.
Do I need to remind you all of the whole “Run Joey Run” incident in “Bad Reputation” where she tries to bolster her cred by singing with three boys?
Yeah. She got punished big time for it. Ultimately, all three involved in the video (her three love interests for season one) didn’t want anything to do with her after that because they felt used. Again this was somewhat changed. But they were pissed and she was not forgiven by episodes end. Granted it’s also something that she really doesn’t learn from in later seasons. However, it shows her being punished for her actions.
Then in “Funk” well I really felt bad for her. She gets dumped and egged in the parking lot. Ouch. However, it’s kind of like a phoenix. She gets burned but Rachel has to rise from the ashes. They put together the whole funk-out because of this. It was a catalyst. We wanted to see Vocal Adrenaline fail because of how badly they hurt Rachel. She may be socially awkward and kind of annoying but she was still someone that the audience rooted for. She was the ambitious loser. She was the underdog.
Maybe that’s why we wanted her with Finn.
Girls, who related to Rachel, felt that way in high school. They were socially awkward and nervous in their own skin. They had big dreams of making a better life for themselves. However, they also wanted the really popular guy in school to notice them. Not only to notice them but also maybe fall in love with them. It’s a trope as old as high school. When they FINALLY got together in “Journey”, I was thrilled. (This would also change in later seasons.)
So why did once upon a time I liked Rachel Berry?
She was ambitious. She was a loser. She was socially awkward. She also was trying to learn how to have friends. She was talented. She had dreams. She felt like a real person. I related to her and her goals and that ambition within her. It was something that I as having been partly that girl in high school understood. I understood wanting something more. Having a dream, which I needed to do everything and anything to achieve in order for it to happen. I never knew what to say. I said the wrong things at times. I was awkward and weird. I still am awkward and weird but my feelings changed toward Rachel because she didn’t become relatable to me anymore.
However, rewatching season one and specifically watching Rachel, I remembered why I loved her once upon a time. I remembered why I cheered for her. I miss that character. It’s just really sad to me that she changed so much into someone that I really hate when they are on screen.
That part, however, is for the next part of the Rachel Berry Retrospective: How Rachel Went Downhill.
NEXT ON THE GLEE REWATCH PROJECT: Another hiatus song list that glee needs to cover. I promise to have it up before the episode airs guys.
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Credits: Glee Wiki (glee.wikia.com)
Glee season 1 on DVD