Tonight, Glee says goodbye to Finn Hudson and it’s going to be tough. Really tough. Instead of dwelling on his death, the episode, titled “The Quarterback” will focus on the living friends and family who are left to cope in the wake of his passing.
According to the LA Times, the episode begins a few weeks after Finn’s death. The plot focuses on someone stealing Finn’s letterman jacket. Will Schuster provides a space for everyone to pay tribute by singing songs.
Fans mourn in their own particular way. Tina, hiding her pain behind trivia, complains about having to wear black, despite having left her Goth days behind. Sue plants a tree in a garden, for Finn, but she can’t stop snarking on him. Will keeps busy taking care of his charges, but doesn’t take a minute to deal with his own feelings. Carole, Burt and Kurt come together as a family to mourn, and ultimately bond.
Rachel, played by Cory’s real life girlfriend, Lea Michele, doesn’t appear until near the end of the episode, but she packs a punch, with a touching version of “To Make You Feel My Love.” It’s all the more heartbreaking knowing that Lea picked the song because it had personal meaning for her and Cory. The cast sing “Seasons of Love,” while the McKinley side pay tribute with “Fire and Rain.” Mercedes makes her way to Lima and performs a Finn classic, “I’ll Stand By You.” Finn’s best friend, Puck has his own storyline that involves making a life changing decision. He performs “No Surrender” by Bruce Springsteen.
ALL proceeds of songs from “The Quarterback” go to Corey’s favorite charity, Project Limelight. Click to download the songs from iTunes
The highly-anticipated Cory Monteith tribute hit mostly high notes, with incredible performances all around from the cast. Brad Falchuk, who directed the episode, literally kept his cast in a state of grief for the two weeks it took to shoot the episode. No wonder the cast was given a week off afterwards. The performances are so raw, it was hard to tell where the actors left off and their characters began. The hour played like a meditation on grief. How do we carry on when a loved one dies? There are no easy answers. In the end, all we can do is soldier on the best way we know how, making adjustments we’d rather not make. Death is permanent. There are no do overs. You can only hope that you left your loved one with a kind word, and the knowledge that you loved them.
Finn was not only the quarterback of the McKinley high team, but of those around him. He set an example. Led the way. Taught those around him how to live. Each of the characters struggle with how to move on without him. Sometimes, they’ve got to learn to be their own quarterback.
The episode begins in a darkened auditorium as a piano plays the familiar chords of “Seasons of Love.” The entire cast of kids–Lima and graduates are assembled in their finest black and white, set against a dark background, to sing a tribute to Finn. The vocals are beautiful. Usually, the actors will sing their solos, while generic voices fill in the chorus parts. I could hear individual voices, and it truly sounded like a prayer. Amber Riley’s solo is the standout here. Vocally, she’s simply the most valuable player. Mike Chang and Puck are there too. As the number ends, I steel myself as the group turns around to gaze at the back of the stage. Of course it’s a photo of Finn. And at this point, the tears really begin to flow. Yes. I cried a lot watching this episode.
The graduates head back to Lima for a memorial, set up by Will, that takes place about two weeks after the funeral. It’s presented as one of Will’s lessons, with “Finn” scrawled across the familiar white board. Everyone close to Finn will deal with his death differently. As Kurt gets ready to head back to Lima he says, “Everyone wants to talk about how he died…but who cares. One moment in his whole life. I care more about how he lived.” And indeed, nobody discusses how Finn died, but who he was and the imprint he left on their lives. “This isn’t real. I’m not going home for this. He’s going to be there,” says Kurt in voice over as he leaves the loft, suitcase in hand. “I’m going to spend my entire life missing him.” It’s evident that Kurt and Rachel have been wandering around the loft in haze. Kurt says goodbye and the edges blur. We don’t see Rachel but can imagine her barely acknowledging that Kurt is leaving.
The staff at McKinley work to help the kids through work through the hurt. Emma has offered her services as a grief counselor. Sue is still full of quips–she’s planted a memorial tree where she first busted Finn and Quinn feeling each other up. “I grieve by insulting those closest to me.” She has advice for the rest of the staff. “We honor Finn Hudson by taking care of the people he loved,” she says, “and the way we do that is….by not making a self serving spectacle of our own sadness.” But even Sue will unravel, after a confrontation with a heartsick and angry Santana.
After Will announces the assignment, Mercedes is ready to take center stage, hoping to find some closure in song. She sings “I’ll Stand By You” and the chorus is unrelenting, sung like a pained howl. Before she moves the class to tears, she relates the story Finn told her of singing the song to his baby’s (or what he thought was his baby) sonogram. Puck looks pained. He can’t see the point of singing songs and says so. He’s so bereft, that he throws a chain around a memorial tree Sue planted and drags it behind him on his motorcycle to keep in his room. He’s completely lost without the guy he looked up to. When Kurt wonders aloud why anybody would steal the tree, Sue opines, “Grief can bring out the irrational in all of us. It makes people do some very strange things. Sometimes when people die, we want to hold on to what’s left of them, to get us through the hard times.”
The most gut wrenching, heart stomping, ugly-cry-inducing scene came only 10 minutes into the broadcast. Finn’s family, Carole, Burt and Kurt, gather in his room to sort through his possessions. Kurt, ever the organized one, has marked boxes to make it easier to separate things. As they sort, they begin to reminisce. Kurt picks up the ball he kicked to a field goal victory for the McKinley High Football team. It must feel like a lifetime ago. He does a little single ladies hand wave remembering the dance that saved the game. That’s the night Kurt came out to his dad. He suggests Burt keep it. Kurt points out the “faggy lamp” that got Finn kicked out of the house after Burt overheard him use the word. Carole thinks Finn kept it in his bedroom to prove a point to Burt. He wants the lamp. When Carole balks, he decides the car shop could use some more light. This was the lamp that nearly split the family apart. And with that, Burt loses it– guilt ridden that he tore into Finn about the lamp. “I was right in principal, but the kid didn’t have a prejudiced bone in his body.” Burt’s tearful regret that he didn’t hug Finn more, encourage him more, is the regret of a good father who still feels he could have done more and grieves that he’ll never have the opportunity. It’s heartbreaking. Kurt grabs Finn’s letterman jacket as Carole attempts to pack it away. He’s tearful. “I want it,” he says, “Seeing him in the hallway wearing this. It was like Superman had arrived.” Kurt puts on the jacket. He wraps it around his body like a comforter and cries into the fabric. “How do parents go on when they lose a child?” asks Carole. “How do they wake up every day? How do they breath?” Completely losing herself to grief, she speaks of that moment of forgetting. It’s waking up in the morning and not remembering the terrible thing that’s happened. And then–the grief just comes rushing back. “It’s like getting that call again, and again every time. You don’t get to stop waking up. You have to keep on being a parent, even if you don’t have a child anymore.” She dissolves into heartrending sobs as the family pulls close. This was the rawest scene in the episode. The actors went there and then some. Mike O’Malley, Romy Rosemont and Chris Colfer deserve every accolade the industry can muster for the stellar work they did here.
There are no flashbacks except one: The shot of Puck and the football players throwing Kurt into the dumpster, from the pilot. Finn stood by and watched but it was clear he wasn’t like the others. He at least allowed Kurt to remove his expensive Alexander McQueen sweater. Puck and Kurt watch students paint memorials on the dumpster. “When Finn joined the Glee club, being a loser, an outcast and a misfit–it all became OK,” says Kurt, who is still wrapped in Finn’s letterman jacket. Puck wants that jacket, but Kurt ain’t giving it up. They argue like old times. Puck says the jacket is for those who’ve earned it. He’s not going to let Kurt bedazzle it like some Project Runway project. Kurt dares him to beat him up for it. “You can’t have it.”
The kids gather in the auditorium, where Sam and Artie sing “Fire and Rain.” It’s a beautiful acoustic rendition, and at the end, Santana bolts, overcome. In the hallway, kids are gathered at a makeshift memorial at Finn’s old locker. The messages are clearly written by Glee production and crew members –the one moment the 4th wall is broken. Principal Figgins, stands by in his janitor garb, wiping away tears. The stupid Cheerios mean girls come by to take down the memorial, as ordered by Sue. Santana storms into her office. Sue is a cold-hearted bitch, says Santana, who spent the last three years making the students’ lives miserable. No longer under Sue’s thumb, Santana lets her have it, screaming that she has hated Sue from the minute she met her. She accuses Sue of being a horrible person whose concern is phony, because she NEVER had a nice thing to say about Finn Hudson. Voices are raised. Sue threatens to call the police. Santana shoves her violently into a cabinet and storms out of the office.
An episode as heavy as this could use a few moments of humor as a respite. But some of those moments, just plopped into the story out of nowhere, fell flat. I will ask the question I always ask in these recaps: What the heck did Jenna Ushkowitz do to piss off Ryan Murphy? Once again, he craps all over her character, Tina. Soliciting Emma for some grief counseling, Tina confesses that she doesn’t know how much longer she can wear black, because it’s so Tina two years ago, and she worked so hard to shed the Goth image. She’s clearly upset, but Emma sends her off with pamphlets that say “It’s not all about you” and “Wait, am I callous?” If Emma had, instead, helped Tina realize she was hiding her grief behind something trivial, the moment could have been humorous and powerful. What a wasted opportunity. Poor Tina.
In the meantime, Emma schedules an appointment for Will to talk about his own grief, which he’s avoiding order to stay strong for his kids. He becomes agitated at even the prospect of feeling something. Emma promises to be there when the flood gates finally open, as they eventually do.
Coach Beiste gives Puck hell when he saunters into the locker room, drunk. “You don’t have to be scared to have feelings,” she says. Puck is refusing to move on. He’s afraid. “If I start crying. I don’t think I’ll ever stop,” he says, before he knocks over a cart full of towels. When Puck sits, he finally breaks down. “What chance do I have of not being an idiot and hurting people, without him around to remind me of who I really am?” There’s no easy answer. “You’ve got to do that for yourself now,” says Beiste. “And see yourself how he saw you.” Puck says it’s not good enough. Beiste says it has to be good enough, because it’s all they have left. “He’s dead,” cries Beiste, “And all we have is his voice in our head.” It’s not fair. Life sucks. But Puck has to be his own quarterback. Puck suggests Beiste retire his number, frame his jacket. She says she can get that done. She makes him promise to put the tree back. Yeah, Beiste figured that out. “It was a garbage tree. It wasn’t big enough.” says Puck. “They grow you know,” Beiste says.
Back in the choir room, Santana introduces “If I Die Young” with a litany of hilarious insults (squishy teets is one). This is for you, Hudson, she says. The song is the perfect sentiment, a young person musing on her own death, imagining friends and family in mourning, imagining herself a beacon of light. It’s unbearably sad. As Santana sings, emotion slowly overtakes her, until she’s crying. She doesn’t finish the song. She screams, literally, as Will and Mike Chang approach to comfort her. Later, sitting alone in the auditorium, Kurt comes out to comfort her. She confesses that she had written something sweet and kind to memorialize Finn, but couldn’t go through with it. She chickened out, retreated to snark. “When you’re on your deathbed,” Kurt says, “Will you say, ‘Oh good, nobody knew I was kind?” Kurt convinces her to share some of her kind rememberances. When she slept with Finn, he kept asking her if she was alright, and he meant it. And once, when she sat on some chocolate cake Becky left on a chair, and it looked like she pooped herself, he walked behind her until she could leave the building. They both laugh. Santana admits Finn was a better person than her. Kurt agrees, but believes he really cared about her. She begins crying again and asks Kurt to leave. He does, but not before taking off Finn’s jacket and wrapping it around her shoulders.
Puck, now sufficiently in touch with his feelings, strums an affecting rendition of “No Surrender.” He glances at an empty chair as he sings the story of two best friends who vowed to stick together. “We made a promise. We swore we’d always remember. No retreat, baby, No Surrender.” It’s perfect. As the club gathers for a group hug, Santana storms into the room, demanding the jacket. It was stolen during a nap in the nurses’ office. The consensus in the room is that yeah, Puck took it. He insists that he didn’t . Will hollers ENOUGH as the bell rings. Puck swears to Will that he didn’t take the jacket. “If you did,” says Will, “Remember all of us want something of Finn to keep close to us.”
Santana visits Sue in her office to apologize. But before she can get a word out, Sue admits,”I was horrible to that kid, and I’m utterly destroyed that he died thinking I didn’t like him.” You may remember Sue trying extra hard to destroy the Glee club while Finn was in charge–all over his use of the word ‘retard’ in her presence. She’s super-sensitive about that, with a Down’s Syndrome baby, and all. Sue never forgets. But now, she wishes she’d been more forgiving. He was a good guy, and she’ll never get to tell him. She anticipated teaching beside him some day. “There’s no lesson here,” says Sue, “There’s no happy ending. He’s just gone. ” And then Sue says a thing that transcends Glee, straight into the heart of the tragedy of Cory’s death. “It’s just so pointless,” Sue says as she wipes away tears, “All that potential…”
As the kids leave red drumsticks wrapped in black ribbon at Finn’s memorial, Rachel strolls up on Kurt’s arm. “It’s beautiful,” she says, “I just had to see it.”
Can I stop recapping now? Because Rachel singing “To Make You Feel My Love” in the choir room was hard to get through. Knowing that Lea Michele chose the song because it meant something to her and Cory makes it worse. Lea didn’t exactly break character as she sang, it was more like she and Rachel became one, as they grieved for Cory and his fictional counterpart. With her hair straight and in bangs, wearing her “Finn” necklace, and a pink baby doll collared blouse reminiscent of season 1 Rachel, Lea bravely faces her classmates. “I loved Finn and he loved me. He loved all of you guys. I know he did.” The song was the first they sang together while driving in the car. Before Finn, she sang alone. The tears start immediately. It’s so raw and real. The Glee couples sit together. At one point, Kurt and Blaine hold hands and glance, with a look that says, “If I ever lost you…” Santana cradles Sam’s head in her arms. Yes. She comforts Sam. Remember how mad she was at him when he stole her girl? Artie and Mike clutch Tina’s hands as she sobs. It’s a simple, tender, affecting performance. Lea Michele’s performance here is courageous.
Santana hangs up signs, offering a $10,000 award for the return of Finn’s jacket. She tells Will it’s a bait, to reel in the culprit. She plans on kicking the ass of whoever took it. She wants to grab her jacket and get the hell out of dodge. Maybe forever. It just reminds her of everything she’s lost.
As Puck and Beiste replant the tree, he points to the plaque underneath. “What’s tripping me out is the line between the dates. Everything happens in that line.” Beiste asks what he plans to do with his line, and he reveals that he wants to make a man of himself by enlisting in the air force. “I figure, if I don’t have Finn, I need an army to help me.” Puck takes off on his motorcycle, probably never to be heard from again, because he’s no longer a series regular.
Rachel stops by the choir room bearing a gift. She tells Will that she talks to Finn a lot. She hears his voice and sees his face, and is afraid she will forget it. “I had it all planned out,” Rachel confesses, “I was going to make it big on Broadway, maybe do a Woody Allen movie. Then when we were ready, I would just come back and he’d be teaching here. I’d just walk through those doors and say ‘I’m home.’ And then we would live happily ever after.” She never told Finn her dream, because he already knew. They were soulmates like that. Right now, she can’t imagine moving on without him, “He was my person,” she says with her hand over her heart. She was glad she came back for the memorial. Before it, she wasn’t sure she could sing again. But now she knows that she can. She gives Will a plaque she had made for the choir room. It’s a photo of Finn with a dopey, but endearing quote, “The show must go…all over the place..or something.”
Rachel’s story will probably be focused on her career now. She’ll be driven without romance to distract her. Maybe driven to the point of distraction. Ryan Murphy recently said that Finn will not be forgotten, that his loss will reverberate through the rest of the series. As it should.
Will enters his apartment and sits down on the coach. He opens his briefcase and pulls out….Finn’s letterman jacket. Yep. He’s the culprit who swiped it. Cut to Emma entering the apartment. Will is sobbing, finally, and loudly into the jacket. She wraps her arms around him as he cries…
…and the scene fades to a black and white tribute card. Cory Monteith. 1982-2013. The credits run over a PSA featuring Jane Lynch, Matt Morrison and Kevin McHale, explaining how those who struggle with addiction can get help.
ETA: Like many of you, I think Quinn should have been written into the story. Dianna Agron hinted in an interview that she wanted to be in the episode, but was denied. E News is helping to spin the story that there were scheduling conflicts, but I don’t believe it. There have been rumors of bad blood between Dianna and Ryan Murphy for ages now. Although Naya Rivera played her storyline beautifully, it was Quinn who had the history, and should have been front and center instead. She should have been front and center.
Seasons of Love – McKinley + Graduates
I’ll Stand By You – Mercedes
Fire and Rain – Sam, Artie and New Directions
If I Die Young – Santana
No Surrender – Puck
To Make You Feel My Love – Rachel