THE PERFORMER | Lea Michele
THE SHOW | Glee
THE EPISODE | “The Quarterback”
THE AIRDATE | Oct. 10, 2013
THE PERFORMANCE | How did she do it? That was the question the lingered in our minds Thursday night at the end of Glee‘s heartbreaking, complicated and ultimately beautiful farewell to its central character Finn Hudson and tribute to its late star Cory Monteith.
We’re speaking, of course, about Lea Michele’s achingly real performance as Rachel Berry. The actress didn’t appear in the episode till the 42-minute mark, when Rachel arrived from New York City to participate in the week-long musical memorial to 19-year-old Finn, who’d died unexpectedly under circumstances that were not discussed in the episode. “Nobody treat me with kid gloves, ok?” Rachel implored, before breaking into a tear-streaked cover of the first tune she and Finn ever belted out in their car, Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love.”
RELATED | Glee Recap: A Farewell to Finn
As a viewer, it was impossible to separate the emotions directed toward Rachel, a young girl reeling from the sudden loss of her high-school sweetheart, and Michele, a young star reeling from the loss of Monteith, her real-life boyfriend. And in this instance, the blurring of such lines was apt, especially considering that it was Michele herself who, back in July, made the decision to continue with Fox’s high-school musical. As executive producer Ryan Murphy told TVLine at the time, “we made no decisions without consulting Lea,” but the actress felt “it was best for the cast and crew to get back together sooner [rather] than later so that mortgages could be paid and people could take care of their families. Cory was so beloved that she felt people really needed to be together in this time.”
PHOTOS | Cory Monteith’s 10 Best Glee Moments
Still, it’s one thing to go back to work weeks after an unexpected death. It’s quite another to tap into your still-raw emotions and your palpable grief, to put your own loss on display in service to your character and in solidarity with your audience, most of whom were — from a distance — still grappling with their own sadness over Monteith’s tragic passing. As Michele delivered “Make You Feel My Love,” every quaver of her voice, every tear on her face, advanced the grieving process for character and audience; there wasn’t a dry eye among the characters/cast members in that McKinley High rehearsal room, and we suspect there weren’t many in the living rooms of Glee fans, either.
Later, in a followup scene where Rachel visits Mr. Schue — and delivers a plaque in her fallen love’s honor — Michele once again was magnificent. Her monologue about being afraid of forgetting Finn’s face and voice, and trying to come to terms with the fact that her vision of their future would never come true, was a parallel for how so many Gleeks would now have to re-imagine the series’ endgame. “I had it all planned out: I was gonna make it big on Broadway, and maybe do a Woody Allen movie. And then when we were ready I would just come back, and he’d be teaching here, and I’d walk through those doors and I would just say ‘I’m home.’ And then we’d live happily ever after.”
Amazingly, Michele’s tearful guffaw about Finn’s quote on his plaque — “The show must go…all over the place…or something.” — provided a final reminder that even in the face of senseless tragedy, there is comfort to be found in laughter, in music, in our bonds with friends and family. And to that end, we salute Michele’s ability to give us that gift during one of her own darkest hours.
HONORABLE MENTION | Nashville‘s Charles Esten for turning Deacon’s agonizing climb back onto the wagon into a thing of painful beauty. Deke is slowly returning to us – in that scene in Teddy’s office, Esten played promising shades of the man we (and Rayna) fell in love with – but good God, the process just may kill the bandleader. It can’t be a picnic for his portrayer, either, but that didn’t stop Esten from providing hour’s most moving moment: his subtle, gripping delivery as Deacon knuckled away tears during his testimony at the substance abuse-group meeting.
HONORABLE MENTION | Glee‘s Romy Rosemont, for her jaw-dropping work as Finn’s grieving mother in the aforementioned “The Quarterback” episode. As Carol, her husband Burt and their stepson Kurt separated Finn’s possessions into boxes, Rosemont utterly broke our hearts as she explained the horror of waking every morning and realizing she’s still a mother — just one without her son. “For just a second, you forget,” she sadly explained of her morning ritual. Rosemont’s performance, on the other hand, will be etched in our minds forever.