Glee Season 4: Is Rachel’s Pregnancy Plot a Mistake or a Story Worth Telling?

We’re still over a week away from Glee’s return to our screens, but there are certainly some heavy issues to deal with when it does finally come back. Chief among these issues are the results of Rachel’s pregnancy test – a problem we were introduced to without warning in the final moments of ‘I Do’. This event will have split audiences down the middle, no doubt, with half rolling their eyes at the contrivance of making your main character pregnant, and the other viciously eager to know more.

Assuming Rachel is, in fact, preggers, and that we’re in for a dramatic ‘who’s the daddy’ saga over the next few weeks (or months, depending on what happens), one question springs instantly to mind. Is this an example of Glee desperately grasping at straws now that they’re out of high-school milestones, or is it a story worth telling? Those who rolled their eyes will have done so because of the prevalence of teenage pregnancy on television in recent years, but it’s important to note that Rachel isn’t really a high school student any more. She’s a college-age young woman with a live-in boyfriend and dreams bigger than diapers and sleepless nights.

My first reaction was of shock, since I couldn’t imagine the writers really going that far. Rachel is the jewel in their crown, the genuinely inspiring character that also happens to be infuriating and ambitious to a fault. When she appeared on our screens four seasons ago, she was a revelation. How often are we saddled with the bland, good-girl as our heroine on family-friendly shows, only to fall in love with her best friend? Back in the day, we would have seen someone like Quinn occupy center stage, and Rachel would have been the easily-foiled villain of the piece.

She might be the most openly aspirational teenager on television right now, with her brief dalliance in the ideas of marital bliss with Finn passed over and used to fuel her fire even more. Her mistake, like with young girls in reality, was to invest too much in her boyfriend, and she’s rightfully spreading her wings now that he’s out of the picture. It’s too bad that this new-found independence has led to some casual sex, and we know that casual sex on TV almost always equals unwanted pregnancy. Considering how big (and specific) Rachel’s dreams are, having a baby at nineteen could be considered one of the worst things that could happen to her.

If abortion and miscarriage aren’t used to make this go away, then I’d guess that adoption would be the next thing considered. When Quinn got pregnant in season one, I don’t remember abortion even being mentioned as an option, and we were treated instead to a ‘delightful’ baby-swap farce. Elsewhere, the show has been very pro-adoption; since Rachel herself was adopted by her two gay dads after her young biological mother chose her dreams over raising a daughter. If they bring said mother back, then there is at least some potential for a multi-sided conversation about what to do with an unwanted pregnancy in your 20s.

And this is the big difference between Glee and other typical pregnancy storylines. As preachy and intolerable as the fallout is likely to be, it’s still interesting to see a show deal with the issues of having a baby when you’re young, but not in high school. Most of the time, the age of the character doesn’t even matter, since high school shows that last long enough to graduate often have to accelerate time in the search for storylines. 90210, for example, has Silver actually trying to get pregnant at age 20, without anyone really questioning if she’s old enough to handle a baby.

One Tree Hill had one high school pregnancy (aside from the mother of our main protagonist), but she was already married to the father. Once the characters had left high school, it was straight onto marriage and babies and, by the time the show wrapped in its ninth season, every character has at least one child. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had Dawn enter the frame as a ready-made daughter for Buffy once their mother passed away, and, more recently, Underemployed showed us the difficult and harsh reality of hard-up young people attempting to raise a baby. It does happen, but it’s rare, and Glee could be doing something truly worthwhile by discussing it.

Sadly, what’s more likely to happen is that the ‘problem’ will be solved in some other way. If Rachel really did have a baby and choose to raise him or her with Finn in Ohio, then the reality of the character would be compromised. It would be a huge downer for viewers like me, who have seen Rachel’s unique narrow-minded ambition as something to aspire to. If we were suddenly told that family and love were more important than your career, after seeing her struggle and strive for so long, what message would that send to young fans of the series? It’s unlikely, since Glee is still a musical, but I worry that it’s still a possibility.

One thing’s for sure – I didn’t ever see this coming, so am very, very interested in seeing what the writers plan to do with the storyline. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see Rachel auditioning for Broadway gigs with a screaming baby backstage, or make the heartbreaking choice to have an abortion? I just hope they do something different, and something that adds to the discussion.