‘Glee’ Has a Down Syndrome Problem

Spoiler alert, if you haven’t watched last night’s episode.

Glee has a lot of problems, but I’ve always thought that the show’s use of people with Down syndrome to punctuate its already wildly inconsistent emotional arcs rather than treating them as actual characters has been among the most troubling things about it. The fact that Sue Sylvester has a sister with Down syndrome and that she’s reasonably kind to a student with the condition have been a way for the writers to be extraordinarily lazy about writing that character: Sue is a cartoon villain, and those two characters pop up as a reminder that we’re supposed to like her sometimes against the mountain of available evidence. Sweeps week is a time when showrunners do all manner of crass things in the name of goosing ratings. But I thought killing Sue’s sister, and retroactively filling in the details of her life and personhood, to set the stage for Sue’s redemption was particularly distasteful. On the other hand (and I have no faith that the writers will remember this plot point beyond this episode) if Sue actually runs for Congress in Ohio on a platform of moderating health care costs, I am going to have to keep watching the show. I wish Glee would do something irredeemable so I could disavow it. But infuriatingly, it keeps clinging to actual ideas.