Among many challenges of Glee in this reoriented season after the death of Cory Monteith and his character, Finn, has been acknowledging it without milking it — doing it justice without exploiting a real-life tragedy.
With its tasteful Episode 3, The Quarterback, and now its melancholy yet celebratory Episode 11, City of Angels, Glee has done that. Half-way through Season 5, clips of Monteith/Finn had not been used — until now. And when they first appeared, woven into a passionate New Directions performance of U2’s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For at Nationals in LA, the footage of Monteith/Finn made my jaw drop, much as did Lea Michele/Rachel’s sudden first appearance in The Quarterback episode.
With that, ND did all it could to pour its collective heart out for its fallen leader and, as I’ve always said in the face of the haters, a well-meaning guy who was the true moral compass of this show. As mom Carol (Romy Rosemont) said to Burt (Mike O’Malley), the little show choir Finn helped build and lead was performing his favorite songs, also including Boston’s More Than a Feeling (not as passionate, but it dovetails the classic-rock of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing) and Neil Diamond’s America, a rousing anthem from the same era. (Amber Riley’s Mercedes and Nene Leakes’ Roz Washington also were welcome returnees.)
So even though ND lost — which series logistics made it clear was due — they triumphed, as Carol said, by honoring and embodying Finn’s spirit. That spirit would live on through them, the ones he loved — just as, hopefully, Monteith’s spirit will live on in those who loved him, including every Gleek who hasn’t stopped believing since a bold little show became the first ongoing movie-musical style series in TV history.
Yet transitions must be made, especially for a series that stretched its fourth year of high school through a season and a half. The originals all will be graduated and moving on, and while some go to the new nexus of New York, others will subside, as others have before them.
I accept that, and I think Will (Matt Morrison) did too when he sat down for the richest heart-to-heart he’s ever had with nemesis Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch). ND finished an impressive second nationwide with a largely new group after being rocked by tragedy, but it still lost, to the aggressive Throat Explosion, led with less showmanship than surprising integrity (bullying with a sense of honor, it was said) by Jean-Baptiste (Skylar Astin).
As Figgins preached since Day One, school wasn’t just about education but also budget cuts and hard business decisions. And Sue made one — reluctantly, as it turns out, yet reasonably. The glee club would be disbanded. And with that, Glee’s presence in Lima, Ohio became “dead show walking,” to paraphrase Becky.
Soon we’ll turn to New York full time, and that’s good. Innocent high school plots have been done, and the new cast, while able, never could replace the originals, who have graduated to more adult concerns in the musical theater capital of the world.
Glee has had some of its best episodes there already, and I believe the best may be yet to come as Rachel and Kurt chase their dreams, and as Glee winds toward it series conclusion without constant cutting from one state to another, but focusing on one core cast in Gotham.
City of Angels launched that transition beautifully, giving tribute to Cory/Finn while accepting the reality — and finality — of moving on. It wasn’t just the characters who did this — it was Glee. It was the show’s fans. It was anyone who’s cherished having a series where lovable losers could sing from the heart and make everything seem all right.
Now onward — to the second half of Glee’s fifth season, to its landmark (and syndication-friendly) 100th episode, and to the final one-fourth of its projected 132-episode run over six years.
Yes, it’s time to move on — and get with it.
Time to transcend transitions and kick some musical ass. Time to give the core cast their evolutionary due. Time to live up to Glee’s promise, all the way through the end.
Don’t stop now, Glee — and I won’t stop believing.
— Bruce Westbrook