I can’t remember where I was when I saw One Tree Hill’s school shooting episode (“With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls We Slept” [abbreviated in this post to “With Tired Eyes”]). I can’t even really remember how old I was, though going by Wikipedia’s date of March 2006, I would have been a junior in high school, so basically I would have been home.
I don’t remember where I was, or how old I was, but I do remember the episode. I remember it quite clearly, in fact.
I remember how quiet I was after the episode. At first glance it seems almost trivial and maybe a little meaningless to confess that - I am, after all, a quiet person by nature. That I was not particularly talkative after the episode was not something that was completely out of character for me. I was - and still am - a quiet person.
But I was quiet, too, because it affected me, because Lucas Scott’s final monologue was deep, philosophical, and a little troubling. It posed a hypothetical question not many of us would want to know the answer to: “is darkness a part of us, or is it bestowed upon us by others?”
Everyone will have their own opinion of what was the most moving part of that episode. Was it Brooke Davis’ “you should be ashamed of yourself” to the journalist, or was it when she broke down outside when she realized that she didn’t know her classmate’s name? Was it when we discovered that the shooter, Jimmy Edwards, was in the room with the students, or was it when his mother discovered her son was the shooter? Was it the juxtaposition with how happy and carefree the students were at the beginning of the episode, and how shaken and “tainted”, for lack of a better word, they were at the end?
The characters were changed as the result of what happened. Every character who was in the episode was affected in some shape or form, and we saw how it affected them, and why. We saw how they grew from it, both in that moment and for the rest of the show - it is worth mentioning that this was a plot line that extended beyond season 3. It was constantly referenced throughout the show.
It was a moving, powerful episode. But “With Tired Eyes” wasn’t a perfect episode, either.
Carina McKenzie from zap2it was trying to defend Glee’s “Shooting Star” by saying that “With Tired Eyes” had a lot of flaws, arguing that in “With Tired Eyes”, the main point of the shooting was to set up the love triangle between Keith Scott, Dan Scott, and Karen.
To be fair, she is not entirely wrong. The final scene of the episode shows Dan Scott shooting his brother, Keith Scott, presumably so he would no longer be competition for Karen’s affections.
I’m not saying she’s wrong.
What I would say is that I am pretty sure if you would ask the average person what they remember the most about that episode, their answer wouldn’t be “Dan shot Keith so he [Dan] could have Karen for himself”.
The love triangle wasn’t really the point of the episode, because the emotional impact wasn’t really about Dan or Karen or Keith or even love triangles at all. It was about a group of high school students who trapped in the high school with a shooter, and were just trying to find a way to deal with it.
The shooter, Jimmy Edwards, wasn’t a “bad kid”. It was something that was repeatedly stressed on the show beforehand and was also stressed in “With Tired Eyes”. He was incredibly unhappy, so much so that his unhappiness drove him to the point of bringing a gun to school.
“It wasn’t to hurt anybody,” Edwards argued in the episode, “I just wanted [the bullying] to stop.”
By accident, he shot at the door and the glass ended up splintering Peyton Sawyer’s leg, and found himself taking hostages in a classroom.
It was horrifying, traumatic, but we understood him. We felt for him, because the episode was about what had driven him to this darkness, this ability to use a weapon whose purpose is to hurt, and what could or should have been done to prevent it. It was an episode which opened the possibility for dialogue, without explicitly dictating what the conversation should be.
One Tree Hill didn’t claim to have all the solutions. The show didn’t even claim to have a solution. It just suggested there was something worth talking about, and went on from there.
One Tree Hill is not alone in this regard. Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” went about things in a similar way in season 3’s “Earshot”.
Part of the interesting thing about “Earshot” - and in a way, this is related to “Shooting Star” is the concept of timing. “Earshot” was originally slated to air late April 1999 - in fact, it was originally supposed to air the week after the tragedy of Columbine High School.
Executive producer Joss Whedon, and executives at the then WB, pulled the episode and rescheduled the episode for September. The show’s runners also changed the ending for the episode in light of the Columbine tragedy. For those who are somewhat reluctant to do the calculations in their head, there was a total of five months between Columbine and “Earshot” airing; it is worth noting, too, that the episode was pre-empted due to “school violence concerns.”
As we pointed out in our statement regarding the spoilers for “Shooting Star”, there was a considerable time lapse between events. “Earshot” aired five months after Columbine happened, and had been rewritten in light of the tragedy. “With Tired Eyes” aired in March 2006, seven years after Columbine, and a little over a year before the tragedy of Virginia Tech, which occurred in April 2007.
But Buffy the Vampire Slayer and One Tree Hill are not the only ones who dealt with mass shootings, and now our attention turns to Shonda Rhimes’ Grey’s Anatomy.
Grey’s Anatomy’s two-part season 6 finale is arguably one of the most powerful finales the show has ever done, if not the most powerful. At a time where Grey’s Anatomy was struggling to rekindle its days of former glory, the season 6 finale served as a distinct reminder that the writers of the show are extraordinarily good at emotional devastation.
There were so many powerful moments in the episode. There was Miranda Bailey’s meltdown where she realized the elevators were turned off, made even more heartbreaking as Andrew Belle’s “In My Veins” starts playing. There was the moment where April Kepner, not exactly a fan favorite on the show, was pleading for her life as the shooter pointed a gun at her head. There was the standoff in the OR between the surgeons and the shooter.
The consequences of the season 6 finale for the characters was felt throughout the show. It was brought up repeatedly in season 7, and is still referenced all the way in season 9. This is a show that remembers what happened, and believes that characters could and should grow from traumatic events.
Grey’s Anatomy also didn’t pretend to have the solution for gun control. It did not believe that it was advancing the cause for stricter gun regulation, or promoting the debate on mental health issues, because the show does not have any beliefs of grandeur. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and One Tree Hill are similar in that regard: they did not save the world, and they did not pretend they could.
Perhaps that is the worse part about Glee’s episode.
“Shooting Star” fueled the belief that Glee is victim to its own narcissism. Not content with stealing from the headlines with a meteorite coming close to Earth - as if that somehow was supposed to excuse the morally reprehensible “Shooting Star” title - Glee also decided to tackle the Manti T’eo “catfish” hoax. And school shooting. Oh, and mental health issues. And I guess school safety procedures as well?
And 42 minutes later the episode was over.
42 minutes to go through all of those issues.
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the episode, and none of it was without cause. As we’ve said repeatedly in the past, Glee has proven itself incapable of handling sensitive issues (c.f. “I Kissed a Girl”, “Choke”, even “Guilty Pleasures”) precisely because it think it can handle these issues. Glee believes it can do no wrong, and as a parallel, believes it can do no harm as well.
If only that were the case.
One of the positive aspects of how Glee used to portray Becky is she wasn’t really treated as a Special Character because she has Down’s Syndrome. Instead she was just a character who had Down’s Syndrome. They didn’t really touch on the mental health aspect of it - and for the record, Glee, Down’s Syndrome is not a mental illness no matter how many times you allude to the contrary - unless “Shooting Star”. Suddenly, it was implied that Becky had the gun precisely because she had Down’s Syndrome.
Yes, she was “scared of the world” and what would happen - and these fears were directly linked to the fact she has Down’s Syndrome. It felt like a cheap excuse to bring a gun to school, and a way she wouldn’t be portrayed as a villain. Okay. But the flip side of the argument - and really, what Glee was saying between the lines - was that people with Down’s Syndrome are likely to bring guns to school!
It was harmful, and it was insensitive, and perhaps the worst part of it is Glee genuinely refuses to believe the show was wrong to have even approached gun safety at all.
But that’s just our point of view. The media’s approach was actually quite interesting, and worth taking a look at.
There were some positive reviews. TV Guide Damian Holbrook argued that Glee should have approached school shooting on the premise that what other high school show right now could/would/should do this story? He also dismissed the claims it was “too soon” claiming that it is an important topic “now”.
Carina McKenzie from Zap2it originally expressed some concern over the title of the episode and questioned whether the episode should have been made at all, only to handwave away concerns it was “too soon” as well.
Others were not as generous. Emily Nussbaum, the TV critic for the New Yorker, stated that the damage done in “Shooting Star” would erase any good episodes it had in the past. The attack on the show continued, with Nussbaum calling out Glee’s treatment of Coach Beiste and then calling out the equally morally reprehensible “Choke”.
Emily Yahr with the Washington Post wrote: “Since that type of dialogue is prime for debate, “Glee” isn’t shying away from riling people up — and at this point, it seems all there is to gain is headlines.”
In the same article, she writes:
“Meanwhile, The Newtown Bee reported that residents of Sandy Hook are angry with Fox for not providing a warning in advance of the upsetting episode. “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,” a Sandy Hook residents is quoted as saying. “A lot of people watch that show. They shouldn’t be upset by it.”
CNN Public Relations ran with the headline “Newtown Families Slam ‘Glee’” and again questioned the timing of the episode.
Done right, this could have been a decent episode. But the timing of it makes it hard to believe it was anything other than a ratings ploy, designed solely to capitalize on news headlines. They got their wish. People are discussing their show, but the predominant question is whether the episode should have been made at all.
Original date: April 12th, 2013