Glee Recap: A Farewell to Finn [Updated]

Glee Cory Monteith Tribute EpisodeOne of Glee‘s greatest gifts over the past five seasons has been its ability to convey deep emotions and advance its storylines through its musical numbers.

Who can forget the dissolution of three central romances set to “The Scientist”? Or Kurt’s vigil for his ailing dad, as he sang the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand”? And then, of course, there was Rachel’s sectionals triumph, a soaring, seminal moment thanks to Lea Michele’s spectacular “Don’t Rain on My Parade.”

RELATED | Glee‘s Lea Michele Breaks Her Silence: ‘I’ve Lost Two People — Cory and Finn’

Tonight, though, Ryan Murphy & Co. faced a two-pronged challenge that, both creatively and emotionally, had to feel almost impossible: Saying goodbye to central character Finn Hudson, the sweet, sometimes insecure, but ultimately steadfast boy whose participation in New Directions was crucial in the show choir’s transformation from downtrodden underdog to beloved champions. At the same time, Fox’s high-school musical had to give fans a chance to mourn the tragic loss of series star Cory Monteith, who died this past July at the age of 31.

PHOTOS | Cory Monteith’s 10 Best Glee Moments

Thankfully, though, in the midst of navigating their private grief, the show’s cast and crew somehow managed to bid a respectful, heartbreaking, and yes, even beautiful farewell to both Finn and Cory. Not surprisingly, the centerpiece of the aptly titled “The Quarterback” could be found — in true Glee tradition — in the music.

PHOTOS | How 22 TV Shows Handled an Actor’s Death

Let’s recap “The Quarterback,” then, in the same spirit…with a quick rundown of the plot, followed by a focus on its songs:

Glee Cory Monteith Tribute Episode The action opens with the New Directions kids (new and old) giving a solemn and lovely rendition of “Seasons of Love,” ending with all of them turning to face a screen with Finn’s McKinley football portrait. I don’t know about all of you, but it was at this point I realized I’d be crying for a full hour straight.

We then cut to Kurt, who explains it’s been three weeks since Finn’s passing — and that frankly, he’s tired of folks asking how Finn passed, since it doesn’t matter anyway. (Side note: I’ve got to say, I’m incredibly happy the show didn’t give us a cause of death, or have Finn die in the same sad way as Cory himself. Kurt’s explanation that the cause wasn’t at the heart of the matter rang so so so so resoundingly true, no?)

After that, we get snippets of our central characters going through the difficult period of mourning when life is supposed to be getting back to normal, when — to those for whom the loss stings most — normal itself has been altered in a way that’s still incomprehensible.

* In perhaps the toughest scene of all, Finn’s mom Carol (Romy Rosemont, jaw-droppingly incredible), stepdad Burt and brother Kurt separate the late quarterback’s items into boxes. Kurt quickly grabs Finn’s letterman jacket, Burt laments how he “should’ve hugged him more” and Carol breaks completely, explaining the brutal process of waking every morning and realizing she’s still a mother — just one without her son. Uttering the word “Emmy” seems almost ghoulish in the face of such tremendous grief, and yet it percolates in my brain all the same.

* Coach Beiste confronts a drunken Puck and forces him to realize he needs to be his own quarterback. “See yourself how he saw you,” she cries. “You’ve gotta make it good enough, because that’s all we have left.” Puck ultimately decides to enlist in the Air Force, after replanting the memorial tree he’d torn out with his motorcycle.

* Santana struggles with the mourning process — not wanting to share her fond memories of Finn for fear that her vulnerability will be seen as shameful. She assaults Sue in her office — Sue’s shock didn’t really register, given how many folks she’s assaulted through the years — but there’s resolution to come. Kurt tells Santana that “shame is a wasted emotion,” and leaves her with a generous parting gesture: Draping Finn’s letterman jacket around her shoulders, like a hug. Later, Sue (who’d been determined not to “make a self-serving spectacle of [her] own sadness”) and Santana make peace, but the Cheerios coach laments that, “there’s no lesson here. There’s no happy ending.” And then, “It’s just so pointless. All that potential…”

* Rachel arrives in the final act, not able to stay away from the memorial to her fallen love. “Nobody treat me with kid gloves, ok?” she implores, before breaking into a cover of “Make You Feel My Love” — the first song she and Finn would sing together in the car. Anyone doubting the emotional power of music alone — without any dialogue whatsoever — has never heard Lea Michele at her best, as she was on this number. Absolutely heartbreaking — but also cathartic. Rachel then brings a plaque to the rehearsal room with a photo of Finn and one of his quotes — “The show must go…all over the place…or something.”

* And then there’s the story of Santana going on the warpath — demanding the return of the letterman jacket that was stolen while she was in the nurse’s office taking a “grief siesta.” (Confession: Somehow, in the midst of all my sobbing, Naya Rivera’s “no me gusta” managed to make me howl.) Of course, it turns out to be Schue who can’t let go of the coat in question. The episode closes with the show-choir advisor — who Emma worried hadn’t shed a tear since Finn’s death — going home, clutching the jacket and sobbing. Then Emma walks in and consoles him.

Set List (I’ll be back shortly to update with some thoughts on each number)
“Seasons of Love,” from Rent (New Directions) | The number began with the newbies in black — and my heart dropped, worried about the core players who’d worked with Cory the longest. But my fear was fleeting and unfounded, as Jenna Ushkowitz, Kevin McHale, Darren Criss and Chord Overstreet — then Amber Riley, Chris Colfer, Naya Rivera, Mark Salling and Harry Shum, Jr. quickly joined in — and the waterworks began. Beautiful song. Beautiful performance. And Amber Riley’s ad-libs hit me somewhere about three inches beneath the ribcage.

The Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand By You” (Mercedes) | Mercedes shares with the New Directions grads and present class that Finn was “the first cool kid to be nice to any of us” — which is why she can’t wait another second to share her emotions through song. Amber Riley is a stellar vocalist, but this was perhaps her most genuine, deeply felt performance on the show ever. When she hit “nothing you confess, could make me love you less” — which felt as directed at Cory as it did at Finn — I had my first ugly-cry of the hour.

James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” (New Directions) | But I always thought that I’d see you again… Not to be all hokey and heavy, but that’s a sentiment no one can really afford in this life, is it?

The Band Perry’s “If I Die Young” (Santana) | That a capella intro by Naya Rivera was as mesmerizing as her psychotic-esque break before the final chorus was riveting. Here, we got a portrait of a character crumbling with the inability to express her grief. And that followup moment of Kurt getting Santana to read her list of Finn’s kindnesses felt completely authentic.

Bruce Springsteen’s “No Surrender” (Puck) | I was really struck by the stripped-down quality of this number, and the way Mark Salling kept his eyes off to the corner of the room, almost as if making contact with any of his cohorts would’ve been more than he could bear. Pass the Kleenex, bro.

Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” (Rachel) | This musical moment, perhaps more than any other, made palpable the mourning of the actors on the set, and served as much as a tribute to Cory as it did to Finn. Every one of Lea Michele’s/Rachel’s tears felt achingly real — I honestly can’t even fathom how she made it to the set, let alone shot this scene. But as a fan of Glee and of Cory Monteith, all I can say to her is “thank you.”

What did you think of “The Quarterback”? How many tissues did you go through? (Current count for me: Four Five and rising.) Take our poll below, then sound off in the comments with your thoughts on the episode — and on Cory Monteith in general.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Myboys says:

    Thank-you, cast and crew of Glee. That was tough, but beautiful. Beautiful.

  2. Trouty Mouth says:

    Some scenes were very hard to watch. I was really touched by the auditorium scene. Kurt lost a brother, and he didn’t get to be Finn’s brother for very long, but the way he reached out to Santana was very sweet and fraternal. I definitely appreciated how they left the cause of Finn’s death vague and were more focused on what he did in his life. Everything felt very real, and I take my hat off to the cast and crew knowing how incredibly difficult dealing with the loss of a friend has been for them.

  3. SaraK says:

    Sobbed throughout the episode and sobbed some more while reading this recap. No words…

  4. Taylor says:

    Awesome episode, I do wish that they included Rory, Quinn, Joe, Brittany, and Sugar in the episode (even though most probably couldn’t make it).

  5. Me says:

    Besides Seasons of Love & the scene with Burt, Carol, & Kurt, this episode was a flop. They had a platform to ensure others wouldn’t make the same mistakes as Cory, but instead of using it, they made up an excuse so they wouldn’t have to talk about it. It was such a cop-out. So selfish. How he died is important, and their showing it, & talking about it could have saved lives.

    Satana screaming like she was being murdered was beyond ridiculous.

    The music (for the most part) was so terrible, I was too busy being bored to be upset.

    Overall, I was sincerely disappointed.

    • Kristy21 says:

      I beg to differ. Everyone grieves differently. Given Santana’s penchant over the seasons to hold a lot of anger and upset inside and then explode, her “screaming like she was being murdered” when everyone tried to comfort her as she started breaking down was spot on.

      The episode *shouldn’t* have been about the perils of substance addiction, because the CHARACTER, for which the episode was a tribute to/memorial for, wasn’t into drugs or alcohol. The PSA at the end of the show as well as showing all the different forms of grief the various characters were going through (in the case of Rachel, the line between character and actor was very blurred, which is quite understandable) were pointed enough. The episode wasn’t about the whys or hows… it was about the fall-out for those that were left behind and remembering someone they all loved.

      Also, did you ever stop to think that having Finn die the same way Cory did and forcing the actors to “talk about it” is because it would have been too hard psychologically on the actors themselves? The episode took 2 weeks to film and started about 6 or so weeks after Cory died. I don’t know if you’ve ever lost anyone you’ve been extremely close to or not, but frankly, I don’t feel it was a cop-out or selfish at all. You don’t just “get over it” in that short a period of time. IMO, the episode took great care and sensitivity to ensure that the actors could handle their still very raw emotions over this very tragic loss to them and to the fans of the show.

      Interestingly enough, you say you were too busy being bored to be upset… I know for me, at least, when I’m bored, I do something else. If you were *that* bored, why didn’t you just turn off the show and do something else?

  6. Ashley says:

    Anyone notice the absence of drums in the songs — very very impacting and showing the absence being felt by Finn’s absence… Since he was the drummer in most of their numbers. RIP Cory and Finn – I bawled and needed Kleenex from the opening number as well… But I lost every ounce of composure the moment Finn’s mom said we speech… I was a little surprised that Kurt never sang alone for his brother but then again u only have so much time in an episode but I loved his voice over, and puck’s comment about the line representing every moment of his life between birth and death

  7. beth says:

    Purposely watched this episode while studying at the library so I COULDN’T cry…well, at least not cry hard. Pretty much lost it at the hanging of the photo. Great episode.

  8. phillip cole says:

    Cory’s death inspired me to write a series of scene-by-scene stories for what turned out to be 64 days of riveting activity by the whole cast and others. It’s on my Tumblr blog (phillipcole) followed by other comments.
    When it’s over we learn he died after a night of binge drinking with Puck. Puck took him drinking because he was sad. He was sad because he discovered his new girlfriend was really Emma in disguise. Unable to cheat on Will but in love with Finn since that kiss, she used her mental illness to create an alter ego, made a disguise and fooled Finn a few times. Finn loved Emma and saw enough of her inside to be lured, but was shattered when he learned the truth.
    Britney, Artie and 4 MIT scientists send Britney back to four days before Finn’s death. She discovers the secret and saves him so by nine weeks later when the machine was finished they are a couple and Will, Adam and Rachel are performing Sining in the Rain.

  9. D. Passenger says:

    There are no more tears left to cry. Perfection.

  10. Elizabeth Coe says:

    It was handled very well, I thought. And since we know they were really going through these emotions for real, it didn’t feel pushed or contrived. I just wish they would have shown some clips from prior episodes, like a rememberence of times past. It wouldn’t have been hoky, it would have just seemed like they were remembering some specific thing, like Mercades being treated nicely by Finn, or a time that Finn told Puck what a great guy he was. But, I imagine that would have been just too tough for them to do. Those emotions were surely real, and my heart broke from the opening song to the last credits rolling. Well done, and God Bless. Don’t listen to the people that say he didn’t deserve this, because it was a tribute to Finn, more than Corey.That show will seem very strange without him, and they paid due respct to them both, Finn and Corey. Sad it had to happen, but it was handled with grace and tact. Thank-you performers, for a very sad job well done. My heart goes out to you all. God Bless you all. Lisa

  11. Tony Rowan says:

    The music was emotionally charged and, with the reaction of his screen mother and Sue’s response to Santana, I think they gave Cory (Finn) a sensitive, appropriate and touching memorial. Rest in peace Cory Monteith – a life cut too short.

  12. Jenn says:

    I cried and sobbed the entire episode. Im also very glad they didn’t mention how he died, cause the writers completely nailed grief on the head. Santana’s meltdown- Puck drinking- Mr Schue not crying- Tina seemingly oblivious- Rachel, Kurt, and his family on the show. They observed and honored both Cory/Finn by doing all they did. I think I used a whole roll of toilet paper to collect my tears and other sob inducing problems….beautifully done.

  13. Chelsea says:

    Whenever I saw the character of Santana in this episode grieving the way she did, I cannot help but be reminded of the episode where Finn devotes a week of Glee to her and how beautiful and moving his version of “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” is/was. Finn’s mother, Rachel, and Santana in the episode really brought it all home and I really hate that Cory is no longer here and his character will not be able to conquer everything and be happy with the one he loved.

    • phillip cole says:

      Read my Tumblr blog (phillipcole), It takes 64 days, but Artie makesatime machine andsens Britney back nine weeks. She keepshim alive and he gets thewoman he really loves andwho also loves him. Can you guess who?

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