'Glee' School Shooting Episode: Too Soon, Or Well-Handled Gun Control Commentary?

Series creator Ryan Murphy took on another controversial topic, receiving praise and criticism for the storyline

Leave it to Glee creator Ryan Murphy to creatively weigh in on the current gun control debate. The guy hasn't met a controversial topic he didn't love. Homophobia? Check. Teen pregnancy? Check. Class discrimination? Check. Trying to pass Gwyneth Paltow off as some weird substitute teacher? Check. 

So why not gun control? Well, maybe a few reasons. Thursday's school shooting-themed episode has understandably upset many around Newtown, Conn., where elementary school parents are still reeling from the effects of an actual mass-shooting four months ago. In an interview with The Newtown Bee, a parent complained that Glee's fictional depiction was coming too soon. “I think it’s terrible that the writers and producers of that show didn’t think to contact someone in Newtown to let us know this was coming,” he said. “A lot of people watch that show. They shouldn’t be upset by it.”  

Ironically, the episode began production a few months before the Connecticut shootings, according to FoxThat 20 schoolchildren were actually murdered by the time the Glee episode aired -- thus bringing more attention to it -- was a coincidence. 

Then again, Murphy might not agree. “The safety net of the public mental health system is gone,” cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) said to the high school's principal during the episode. “Parents with troubled kids are too busy working three jobs to look after them, and the gun yahoos have everyone so worked up about Obama taking away their guns that every house has a readily available arsenal." If Sue's comments represent Murphy's own thoughts on the subject, then he would say it was just a matter of time before another shooting took place.

Wherever Glee fans come down on the issue, the episode certainly got them talking -- or Tweeting. "The problem with this ep of glee is that it felt like a stunt, not an attempt to deal with a real issue," tweeted @hanellison. "You don't make a stunt out of a violent trend that is an actual issue in US schools, it's unseemly." 

"I'm glad they made this episode though," tweeted @LopezRichterArmy. "That's what I love about Glee. They cover actual events that could happen to anyone." 

It says a lot about the fractured gun control debate that, for all the publicity the episode received, [spoiler ahead] it didn't even feature a shooting. Though many critics, like TV Line's Michael Slezak, found the episode to be "gut-wrenching," the unfolding narrative was more of a comment on our psychological response to the threat of gun violence. (While no one actually died during the hour, teachers barricaded doors, kids hid behind furniture, and beloved characters wept.) Every time another massacre occurs, and gun control advocates try to enact reforms, the news cycle ramps up the frightening discussion. In the aftermath of Newtown, we happen to be in that heightened state right now, and the psychological effect on students is palpable. 

Fortunately, the Glee kids didn't break into song and dance to express their terror. Murphy was deadly serious in portraying the life-and-death stakes of this debate. As a TV provocateur who's not known for subtlety, he at least got that right.

Watch the full episode below and decide for yourself.

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