'Glee' honors Cory Monteith with the mostly effective 'Quarterback'
Lea Michele and Naya Rivera were the emotional standouts
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The tribute songs weren't all successful. Artie and Sam singing "Fire & Rain" was a mistake. For this sort of tribute, I really disapprove of emotionally piggy-backing on a song that was already written as an expression of a specific singer-songwriter's pure grief. It's a shortcut. [The same is really true of "Seasons of Love," but I guess it feels different for one musical to lift an emotional beat from another musical.]
As I already mentioned, Lea Michele's "Make Me Feel Your Love" was unbearable (in the desired way, not in a bad way).
And "Glee" stayed true to itself by making sure that characters still behaved in the way we've been accustomed to and still got in little bits of humor.
Emma still passed out joke pamphlets after Tina found a way to make the wearing of black all about her.
Santana still began her song for Finn by calling him "Squishy Teats" and saying that he's in Heaven with his new friend Fat Elvis.
Puck still lashed out with anger before exposing his emotional vulnerability. The locker room conversation with Coach Beiste and Puck was another good non-singing scene.
And Sue still says inappropriate and Sue-like things under we're supposed to be shocked by her sincerity and humanity. Unfortunately, we've seen Sue do this kind of character reversal in episodes too many times before becoming serious about much less. It would have hit harder if we'd never seen the exposed side of Sue Sylvester before.
Sue also had the line that nearly torpedoed the entire episode for me.
In her second confrontation with Santana, Sue crumbled and became regretful about the idea that Finn had died without ever knowing that she liked him. We'll leave aside that it's a wildly egotistical moment in a scene where her shield was supposed to be down and I think it's safe to guess that whatever mysterious way Finn died, he probably died without giving a hang whether or not Sue Sylvester liked him.
Continuing with Santana, Sue noted, "There's no lesson here. There's no happy ending. There's nothing. He's just gone."
It's here that I'm afraid I had to call shenanigans. Cory Monteith was not Finn Hudson, but for the purposes of this episode, there is no distinction to be drawn. I return you one more time to the conflation of Finn and Cory in the episode title and the hashtag and in the emotions we were feeling tonight. Chances are pretty good that Finn Hudson didn't die of a drug overdose, but Cory Monteith did. And that means that while there surely is no happy ending, there absolutely is a lesson that can, should and MUST be learned from his passing. I don't think it's just one lesson either. This isn't something as banal as, "Kids, don't use drugs." It's a much more complicated and sad lesson about addiction, personal demons and the reality that success doesn't lead to happiness. There are many lessons here and as long as people were intermingling sadness about Cory with sadness about Finn, it feels dangerous to pretend otherwise. It's one thing for "Glee" not to use this episode as a teachable moment -- Nobody is saying that Finn's death had to be used as a cautionary tale about drug use -- but to deny a teachable moment exists isn't good. Delete that one line -- "There's no lesson here" -- and my quibble magically vanishes. [Though for a educator, surely there's a teachable moment in any tragic death. Life doesn't lack for lessons to be taught.]
And it's not like the writers (and FOX) didn't know perfectly well that there's a lesson. The episode ended, as it NEEDED to, with an addiction hotline number and a message from several stars. I get that the writers didn't want that lesson to weigh in on the episode and the character of Finn, but that's what Kurt's opening voiceover was for. Sue's line was just a blunder. [It's a lot harder to do the "lesson" thing right than to skip the lesson entirely. I probably would have preferred an episode in which the "Glee" writers acknowledged that this was an important opportunity to convey an important message to an impressionable audience, but I only would have preferred it if they did it well. I preferred this episode to a badly done version of a "lesson" episode.]
I'm also not sure why the episode ended with Will. To me, it doesn't matter whether we're talking about Finn or Cory, we were supposed to end with was Lea Michele. The episode had to end with "He was my person" and with the plaque with the Finn quote, "The show must go all over the place, or something." I just didn't think this episode, which was supposed to be about Finn/Cory, needed to end up being about Will being a rock and having to eventually find a way to cry. At least he didn't rap.
Having returned to "Glee" for "The Quarterback," I'm probably not going to check back in again any time in the future. As somebody who does what I do, I had to check in to see how they handled this episode and as somebody who watched "Glee" for 70-ish episodes, I had to see how they honored Cory and Finn.
There's no perfect way to do a thing like this, but I think the "Glee" team got it mostly right and "mostly right" is a pretty high bar for something this hard.
What did y'all think of "The Quarterback"?