I Still Can’t Believe They Did Marley Rose So Dirty on Glee

I Still Can’t Believe is a TV Team series where we remember the things happened on television that baffle us — in good and bad ways — to this very day.


We all know that Glee had an endless multitude of problems, on and off screen. From Mr. Schuester being the worst adult ever to be in charge of teenagers, to the show’s on-screen recognition that it doesn’t treat its female characters well without any meaningful change, to the behind-the-scenes racism and general awfulness that we learn more and more about as we drift further from the show’s end, there is plenty to complain about. I could write a doctoral thesis on all the things Glee did wrong, but I’m here to bitch about the one thing I feel like not enough people speak up about when listing things, like how they continued to let Matthew Morrison rap or how Finn outed Santana: The way they treated Sweet Marley Rose.

Now, the New New Directions weren’t given a very steady stage to stand on from the get-go, and by and large they were considered a failed experiment for the show to keep going past when the original class graduated. And for some reason, it seemed like the majority of Twitter, even within the safe space of the #GaySharks hashtag, which is where I usually played, hated Marley. They made fun of her hats, they rolled their eyes at her sweetness and her wide-eyed innocence. Though no one could deny her talent.

Sweet Marley Rose smiles wearing sunshine yellow against a clear teal background.

HOW COULD YOU EVER INSULT THIS PERFECT CREATURE

But for some reason, I loved her. Maybe it’s because I saw a bit of my high school self in Marley Rose; sweet, shy, a little awkward, hiding her pain behind a friendly smile. “You Have More Friends Than You Know” is exactly the kind of cheesy, saccharine song I would have written if I were in a Glee club/had any songwriting talent at all in high school. Hell, it’s the kind of cheesy, saccharine song I’d write NOW if I had any songwriting talent. (I was also always in a New York State of Mind.)

But one of Marley’s storylines was BEYOND atrocious — I think one of the worst in Glee’s sordid past — and even though it has been almost a full decade since it aired, I still get VERY riled up when I talk about it… which is possibly more often than is healthy.

In the first half of Season 4, poor Marley becomes the target of Kitty Wilde, the New New Directions’ resident mean girl. Of course, it’s because of some average high school boy and internalized misogyny taking the form of jealousy, but regardless of the cause, Kitty narrows in on Marley’s insecurities and really goes to town. And once she finds the one that strikes a nerve the most, which is weight-related, Kitty really leans in.

On a smarter, kinder, more thoughtful show, a teenager having an overweight mom who works in the school could have been a compelling story. Being self-conscious overhearing them tease the overweight lunch lady (which teenagers would absolutely do) and because moms and their daughters are too often inextricably linked in people’s mind’s eye. Also, I can say from experience, that sometimes overweight moms pass some of their own weight/food hang-ups onto their daughters, intentionally or not. (Though don’t worry, that DOES also happen amidst all the other horrors.) It could have been an exploration on one of the many reasons a teenager might develop an eating disorder, how it affected their day-to-day, and how they got help. However, this is not the path Glee chose to take. No, of course not. That’s too smart and potentially helpful for this show!

Instead, they chose to have Kitty GIVE MARLEY AN EATING DISORDER. This poor girl was already at risk for developing one, and Kitty GASLIT HER. Constantly commenting on her non-existent weight gain, encouraging her to starve herself and purge any food she did eat, even going so far as to SECRETLY SEW MARLEY’S COSTUMES so they would be tighter and Marley would think she was gaining weight. It’s diabolical, psychotic, and possibly even criminal. It’s unfathomably cruel, in a way I doubt any real teenager would ever concoct. It makes it all the more upsetting to know these episodes were written by grown men, led of course by Ryan Murphy. It’s meaner than actual mean girl Santana ever was, and in fact, it’s Santana that ultimately puts a stop to it.

If you’ve gone too far for Santana “razorblades all up in there” Lopez, you’ve gone way too far.

And you know what, I could have forgiven the insanity of someone PURPOSEFULLY GIVING someone else an eating disorder, if there was any kind of satisfying resolution or consequences.

But at the peak of Marley’s pain, when she passes out during the Sectionals performance…everyone TURNS on her. The Glee Club berates her, everyone shuns her, they accept her apologies as if she owed them, and not one person — not ONE SINGLE person — not even SUPPOSED ADULT WILL SCHUESTER tells Sweet Marley Rose that it’s not her fault. That she should not hold onto any guilt for her EATING DISORDER causing her to INVOLUNTARILY PASS OUT during a performance. No one said her health was more important than the national high school competition of nerdy teen singers. No one comforted her, not really.

And then, this whole storyline just…disappears. Kitty isn’t really punished for her actions, no one really apologizes for blaming her for losing Sectionals (which was NOT HER FAULT). They buy her a Christmas tree because her and her mom can’t afford one and then that’s kind of it? All forgiven?? It’s inFURiating. And don’t even get me STARTED on how the show absolutely WASTED the gem of talent they had in Melissa Benoist. I think perhaps, based on some stories we’ve heard since, it’s possible that some of the Rachel/Marley tension that happened on-screen could have been happening off-screen too, or maybe there was something else at play, but while Melissa was given some great songs to really slay, I think they could have done so much more with her. (And this is neither here nor there but I blame Glee for introducing her to the monster she was married to for a few years.)

Luckily just like Marley went from a Wallflower to Woman Fierce, Melissa went from Marley Rose to Supergirl, a show that still occasionally doesn’t use her powers to their full extent, but at least is a role more befitting the wonders of this mega-talented woman.

Kara smiles at the mic, ready to sing

Talk about a glow-up.

But I will never ever ever forgive Ryan Murphy. For so many things across so many shows, but also always for how he treated Sweet Marley Rose.

Just a TV-loving, Twitter-addicted nerd who loves reading, watching, and writing about stories. One part Kara Danvers, two parts Waverly Earp, a dash of Cosima and an extra helping of my own brand of weirdo.

Valerie has written 293 articles for us.

15 Comments

  1. Ryan Murphy and Joss Whedon are two little peas in a rotten pod that I wish Hollywood would throw out already.

    I’m SO tired of these sad men getting to write a bunch of fantastic women characters just to squander them over and over and over again.

    Will I ever be over Faith Lehane? No, no I won’t. And do I have time to talk about the rest? Not even close to enough time, no.

    I basically didn’t watch any parts of seasons 4 – 6 of Glee that didn’t have Santana Lopez in it, so I don’t know Marley from Adam. I do know Ryan Murphy’s show-running and I wish I could be more surprised that he just brushed off an eating disorder like a weird “monster of the week” story line as he is wont to do with literally anything of import in his shows.

  2. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks this! I was so pissed when they blamed her for loosing sectionals when the poor girl passed out and also when shue, suspended her from the Glee club because she felt uncomfortable dressing trashy 🙄. I can’t even stomach the show anymore.

    • Yes! Thank you!! I can’t even watch season 5 because of the suspension, which I’ll never understand because in season 4 when Artie didn’t feel comfortable getting naked or semi undressed for those pictures or whatever it was, the guys changed it up, but they couldn’t at least let a girl with a eating disorder who was still struggling with her body at least wear the Katy Perry outfit. I hated both Mr.Shue and Sam after that. I also feel like once Kitty admitted to Marley which Jake heard her about making Marleys Sandy costume smaller, SOMETHING should’ve came out of it, I was happy when Kitty admitted too it but for nothing to happen after that was disturbing, Kitty should’ve at least done like some kind of apology song, that she, Tina and Artie should’ve of joined in on(Since Tina and Artie were the worst to her about it.) Or for Jake to call Santana and tell her what Kitty admitted, Santana would’ve gone all Lima heights on her.

  3. I recently tried to explain to someone who had never watched Glee why Glee was such a weird/bad show and fully forgot about the “one girl gives another a full-blown eating disorder” plot. I swear, everyone who worked on this show should have gotten some kind of settlement from Ryan Murphy for the pain he caused them.

    • THANK YOU!!

      I hated what they did to Marley, who deserved so much better, I refuse to watch season 5 or 6, but when Mr Shue suspends Marley from Glee because she wouldn’t wear a sea shell bikini was disgusting and why I stopped watching. Like really when Artie felt self conscious in season 4 about the glee men doing a photoshoot or something, they changed it so that he’d feel comfortable.

      Marley was still getting over her eating disorder, she shouldn’t have been asked to wear a bikini.

      I also have a theory after hearing the former cast talk about how mean and rude Lea Michele was to the whole cast, I think Lea felt threatened by Melissa Benoist because season 4, Marley got so many solos , she sung the most in season 4 and was the new and improved ‘Rachel ‘ who sings so much better than Rachel/Lea, I honestly think Lea had a hand in the down fall of the Marleys character.

      I mean after what other cast members and crew said about Lea Michele it honestly wouldn’t surprise me, especially because while last year when all the stuff came out about Lea, Melissa didn’t say anything but she did however like everyone’s tweets about Lea being unprofessional.

      Plus not only was Melissa a better singer, she did have quite a few scenes with Finn/Cory. I bet that made Lea jealous.

      If you noticed Marley/Melissa was not even in the series final to sing ‘I lived’ , of course by then the beautiful and talented Melissa Benoist was filming Supergirl but Blake Jenner *Shudders* , Jacob Artist , and so many small characters from previous seasons where there, some just wasn’t right about it.

      I’m happy Melissa moved on to bigger and better things, she became a bigger star on Supergirl , I could not see anyone else play her on the CW show but I’ll never forgive Glee for what they did to Marley Rose. I loved her character, her voice and I loved Marley with Jake.( I also think they screwed Jake Puckerman over, he seemed to have changed only for him to cheat, I feel like by the time they had him cheat it was out of character for Jake and the like Puck never mentions him in season 6)

  4. The clothes altering to convince someone they are gaining/losing weight was not even a new idea. In an episode airing in 1977, M*A*S*H* had Major Charles Emerson Winchester III as a victim.

    “What Winchester doesn’t realize is this is an elaborate practical joke on B.J.’s part – he swapped out Winchester’s pants with those of a fatter man’s, making Winchester think he’s lost weight. Then, after getting him to gorge on food for a month, they swap out the pants again for a skinnier man’s, making Winchester think he’s gained a ton of weight.”

    It worked in that comedy setting. Did not watch Glee after “graduation” but this sounds like a vile use of the idea.

  5. Thank you. What a painful watch that entire thing was. Several punches to anyone in the audience with especially difficult feelings around eating disorders, then no apology, no consequences for Kitty, no real resolution. Just for the sake of the drama. I appreciate that they brushed over how treatment is prohibitively expensive, but it came across as a ham-fisted afterthought. What a fucking horrible arc. Marley deserved so much more.

  6. Way to put attention to something that is unforgivable. They know bullying is wrong and they gave teenagers who watched the show ammunition that bullying is never punished. My daughter was bullied and wanted to kill herself because of it. Really horrid story lines that promote bullying are unacceptable.

  7. I agree, I mean Melissa was on Broadway for God’s sake! I’ve always loved Marley, and although I may be biased due to going to Glee because Melissa was in it. (I watched Supergirl, and decided to watch Glee since she was in it.) I also relate to her extremely. I’m the type of person who does anything for everyone. I write songs and sing. I love my mom. I have insecurities, and have been bullied for them. (No were near as bad as Marley, but still.) So it hit me close to home, and hate how they destroyed the storyline of somebody who had the talent and opportunity to be one of the best characters on Glee if only they had cared enough.

  8. This was actually the storyline that made me give up on Glee!

    I think I came back briefly just to watch Quinn and Santana hook up (or that might have happened before this, I can’t remember), but I never watched it regularly again after this.

  9. Thank you for this. Of all the terrible things glee did… god.

    In my opinion all the terrible things done and shown on this show and happening around this show even, outway any ‘good’ stuff it may have done.

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