With all the drama and trauma of Glee’s spring season, I didn’t think Ryan Murphy and company would fail to deliver a satisfying finishing kick. I wasn’t worried that their seniors’ send-off finale, Goodbye, might blow it.
Rather — and in part based on previewed music — I expected this three-season wrap-up of sorts to be a rousing triumph. I expected it to tap the touchstones of Seasons 1-3, to tie up some threads — while unraveling others — in mixing resolutions with questions for Season 4, and to celebrate what I love most about Glee: its questing heart, its quirky humor, its love and acceptance, and the sheer emotional lift of its music.
A confession: For me, that music is what makes Glee work — what makes it sing, literally and figuratively. It’s not principally the “ships” or the cutting comedy or the heart-tugging, meaningful moments of social commentary and humanistic insight. It’s the characters communicating their feelings through song — a sheer fusillade of songs, in fact, which are so often brilliantly produced and performed yet seem taken for granted, as if it’s routine for a TV show to deliver half an album’s worth of strong material each week.
But it’s not. In fact, Glee is the only show that’s ever done it. And for that alone it’s special.
Was its Season 3 finale also special? Were my conjectures correct?
As we saw, yes and yes. At the finish line, Glee delivered.
Best Glee episode ever? If not, it has to be among a subjective elite. Asking almost as many questions as it answered, sending some kids away while bonding others even more strongly, Goodbye also was galvanized by six songs stitched easily into its narrative about juniors — and teachers — bidding farewell to seniors, and vice versa.
All of them — all of them — were resonant, emotional and powerful, from Will’s (Matthew Morrison) unplugged Forever Young — the flipside of his kids’ To Sir With Love ending Season 1 — to the seniors’ rousing You Get What You Give and Kurt’s (Chris Colfer) faithful rendition of Madonna’s pensive pop hit I’ll Remember, a song originally used for another academic setting in the 1994 film With Honors.
Even Glory Days, my least favorite Springsteen hit, sounded good when converted from corny bar band anthem to joyously spirited theme music for the McKinley graduation ceremony’s diploma presentation. I also loved the core cast’s brief choir-room redo of Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat — the first song they ever sang — and Burt’s (Mike O’Malley) good-sport emulation of son Kurt’s dance for Single Ladies.
But the songs that really got me were melancholy: the juniors’ beautifully faithful rendition of In My Life from the Beatles’ best album, Rubber Soul, and Rachel’s (Lea Michele) heart-wrenching Roots Before Branches (by Room For Two) as she boarded a train to meet her Broadway dreams, while maybe-fiance Finn and NYADA-turn-down Kurt waved supportively.
There were also two songs I missed — songs recorded for Glee’s new Graduation CD but not included in a telecast (as with the Warblers’ CD last year). One was Green Day’s Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life), a soulful acoustic ballad which certainly would have fit the night’s coming-of-age theme. The other is bombastic belter I Was Here, which blows me away and which Lea Michele now owns, sorry fellow Houstonian Beyonce.
My God — this is why there’s no disconnect between the script’s assertion that Rachel is special and Lea Michele’s own chops. I’ve said it for three seasons, and I’ll say it again: This woman is for real. Quibble if you must about her showy if unsophisticated style choices, her tattoos or her bald ambitions. But damn, she’s a pro and a remarkable talent, and I could listen to her sing the phone book.
Fortunately, we should get more than that when Season 4 opens on several fronts, with NYC clearly one of them.
I mean, Rachel will be in Gotham, as will be Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.), while studying dance at Julliard. And Santana has the money and inclination to go there. And surely Kurt and Finn will find a way to pursue their own Broadway and acting dreams, respectively. Heck, even Quinn will be nearby in Connecticut, with pre-paid train passes to NYC.
And New Directions, in new form, will still be at McKinley.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. For now let’s savor Glee’s three seasons which put us here, and this special episode to culminate them.
No, it wasn’t perfect. We don’t know what will happen with Klaine or Brittana, and we may lose track of Mercedes (Amber Riley) and Puck (Mark Salling) in So Cal. Kids, that’s what an ensemble is: Not everyone can share an equal spotlight.
But we do know that Glee’s cast — and seemingly its spirit — will be largely intact, and the show will go on. And that’s enough for me — the simple fact that Glee, in all its flawed glory, exists.
That said, let’s raise our glass to three years and 66 episodes of Glee — and look forward to even more.
From the top!
— Bruce Westbrook