This season’s ride through the Land of Glee has been a little bumpy. We’ve had breakups and band shakeups (so long, Pamela Lansbury), the mysterious disappearance of a couple cast members (has anyone heard from Marley?), a death in the clan (rest in peace, Mr. Quarterback), and more than a little anxiety about graduation (Tina’s breakdowns have been entertaining). Another thing that’s been inciting tension this year has been the tumultuous friendship between Rachel and Santana. This issue has been at the forefront of Glee’s past few episodes, and it’s prompted me to ask myself a question I didn’t ever think was possible: has Rachel’s ego gotten even bigger? And, moreover, is it a problem if it has?
Rachel has always had an ego the size of the sun – but guys, that’s only because her star power is a bright as the sun! She’s talented and she knows it, which means she isn’t afraid to advocate on behalf of herself when her voice is involved. She has always fought for solos in Glee Club and battled with the likes of Mercedes and Santana for attention; this is the Rachel we’re used to, and the one who’s fierce competitiveness has given us hours of entertainment. She’s selfish and narcissistic, and there’s probably a feminist argument in there about ambition, but what matters is that this is the Rachel we know and love. She’s always been delightfully awful. So why does it suddenly feel like she’s getting even worse?
The truth is, I don’t think she’s actually getting worse. I think there’s just been a confluence of factors in Rachel’s storyline that makes it seem like her ego has expanded even further. For one, her divadom is even more obvious now that she’s no longer surrounded by a steady group of fellow divas. She doesn’t have Mercedes, Tina, Blaine, or even Cassandra July around for us to compare her to. A single rotten egg smells a lot worse in a basket of roses than it does in a basket of other rotten eggs. What looked like status quo behaviour in Glee Club now looks extra-ordinary when surrounded by people (like Star Child) who won’t engage in Rachel’s passionate, ego-driven battles.
Another thing making Rachel look worse is that while her setting has changed, he star status hasn’t. Unlike in Ohio, where it was stupefyingly obvious that she would be at the head of the pack, it wasn’t quite so expected in New York. She’s in a much bigger pond now, but she’s still a big fish. Being at the top of her game in a top-notch city – and remaining completely unphased by the switch from low-stakes to high-stakes – has made Rachel’s confidence seem like overconfidence, and has made her big ego seem even bigger.
It’s not just Rachel’s city that has changed the way we see her, it’s the opinions of the people around her. She’s not just vying for a pat on the back from Mr. Schue anymore, but rather for the approval of next level directors and fellow Broadway leads. She’s wooing big name employers instead of high school teachers and… she’s still succeeding. And her confidence hasn’t swayed at all in the process. Really, Rachel’s desire and ability to please her superiors hasn’t changed at all this season from years passed, but the higher calibre of her superiors sure makes it look like it has.
So maybe Rachel’s ego hasn’t actually been expanding this season; maybe it just feels like it has. But even if it has – even if her awful self-confidence and narcissism expand to fill the entire universe – is that really a problem? Don’t forget that “Awful Rachel” is synonymous with “Wonderful Rachel”. Awful, Egotistical Rachel is the one who challenged Mercedes to a diva-off, who demanded a second chance at NYADA, who pulled “Don’t Rain On My Parade” out of nowhere to crush Sectionals, and who magically secured her dream job in her first year of college. Awful Rachel is the Rachel we love. Awful Rachel is the feminist symbol of unapologetic, take-no-prisoners ambition. She’s incredibly entertaining, and part of Glee’s crucial core of fun, indulgent fantasy. So if Awful Rachel is getting more awful, doesn’t that just mean that Wonderful Rachel is getting more wonderful?
But hey, maybe I’m just a sucker for a big-headed diva. And maybe Santana will be the one to finally tame Rachel’s ego on the Funny Girl set as this season winds down. But if she doesn’t – if Rachel’s ego continues to rip through the New York musical theatre scene like the juggernaut it is – all that means is that we have more drama and excitement to look forward to that ever. I can’t think of a more indulgent fantasy than that.
Hannah McIlveen is a freelance graphic designer and TV-obsessed writer living in Nova Scotia, Canada. She grew up riding horses and reading Roald Dahl books, got an art degree, and then spent the next several years moving around the country and watching television. Her greatest goals in life are to write good stuff, produce a web series, build a house with her husband, and have six cats at once. Hannah has contributed to BitchMagazine.org and is a staff blogger for the soon-to-launch TeenSized.com. She also writes her own daily blog, Click Watch Write. Hannah can be accosted on Twitter @ClickWatchWrite.