Glee season 5, episode 3 “The Quarterback” aired last night. Read our full recap of Glee’s tribute to late star Cory Monteith below.
To start with, you should all know that I don’t want to write this recap. I can’t believe that the day is really here where I have to write this recap. Glee returned to season 5 with such an element of sheer joy. It made it easy to forget the shadow hanging over the show, and even though I knew, we all knew, this episode was coming, I wasn’t really prepared to deal with it and didn’t really process it as reality.
And yet. Here it is. The Quarterback, focusing on Finn Hudson’s death as Glee’s tribute to Cory Monteith, opens on the glee club, past and present members, in mourning clothes, onstage in the audotorium. They perform “Seasons of Love” from Rent, one of the world’s greatest songs about life and death. This new is one that long-term fans of the show have always hoped would be a huge featured performance for New Directions, but I don’t think anyone ever expected to see it in quite this way.
Right from the start, it’s evident that the entire cast is devastated and that the Glee production team has put more thought into every single movement and moment of this than they have into any episode before. The staging of Seasons of Love is perfect. The cast enters and sings in groups – first the new babies, who knew Finn only as a teacher: Marley, Jake, Ryder, Unique and Kitty – then the current members of New Directions who had been in glee with Finn – Blaine, Sam, Artie and Tina – and then the graduates, the original glee club members who were able to return for this episode. We see Puck, Mike, Kurt, Santana and Mercedes join the current glee club. They look like somebody died. That’s a glib phrase we use, isn’t it, an overdramatic statement. Here, it is the truth. There are no other words for it, they look lost and horrified and numb and washed out, and I do not think anyone on that stage could have given this performance had it not been real. They are all wonderful actors and I am sure that some time in their careers they will need to act out grief, and it will be well done and touching in terms of filmed, fictional grief. This is not like that. This is real, and it is hell.
The episode’s story begins three weeks after Finn’s funeral, with a voiceover from Kurt as prepares to travel back to Lima from New York for a special glee club memorial. The cause of Finn’s death is never addressed, and Kurt’s inner monologue is rather defensive towards those – either characters or viewers – who may want to address it. “Everyone wants to talk about how he died, too, but who cares? One moment in his whole life. I care more about how he lived.” – this line is the first of many to come in the episode that feels directed at the public in a broken-fourth-wall way, things the Glee team wanted to say about the reaction to Cory’s death. Kurt hides a photo of himself and Finn, saying “I only keep that out when I know she won’t come in,” – the she, of course, being Rachel. We don’t see her, yet, but Kurt gently tells her closed door goodbye as he leaves. “This isn’t real,” he thinks to himself, because someone had to say it. It’s definitely a predominant sentiment that has been going through everyone’s heads these past three months.
Glee chooses to use The Quarterback to show different reactions to death, different ways of mourning. In the staff room, Emma tells the others that no one has come in yet for grief counselling. Sue gets told off by Will and Bieste for being callous and insulting towards Finn in her pragmatism – Bieste spitting out a line that must get spoken at least omve by every group of people to ever go through a mourning process, “how can you even joke at a time like this?” The truth is, people are different, and they grieve differently, a point Sue uses to defend herself, and it feels genuine. “We honor Finn Hudson by taking care of the people he loved. And how do we do that? By helping them to move on.” “How?” “By not making a self-serving spectacle of our own sadness.”
Will writes Finn’s name on the whiteboard as the glee club and visiting graduates sit listlessly in the choir room. He explains that, though the funeral was for everyone in Finn’s life, he wanted to give the glee club a private memorial, and invites anyone who feels like it to spend the week singing a song dedicated to Finn. Mercedes chooses to have a turn immediately, and performs “I’ll Stand By You,” – a song that, as she explains, Finn once told her he sung to “his” baby’s sonogram, a memorable moment from season 1.
A bittersweet element of the episode is the reminder of some of this cast’s brilliant chemistry, the actors that no longer get to interact very much on screen. In a great example of this, Sue calls Kurt in for a meeting, and – both of them trying to maintain ultimate sass levels but just coming across appropriately deflated – the two of them discuss the fact that someone has stolen the memorial tree that Sue had planted for Finn. We see, in a cut away over which Sue explains that grief makes people do strange things, that it was Puck, who apparently wants to horde as much Finn paraphernalia as he can.
The next scene is one of the hardest things I have ever had to witness on television – Kurt and Burt help Carole pack up Finn’s room, deciding what to keep and what to give away. The Hummels both have very emotional moments regarding some of Finn’s possessions and the grief it draws out of them – Burt breaking down about the “faggy lamp” debacle, and not having hugged Finn enough, and Kurt cuddling into Finn’s letterman jacket, saying “Seeing him come down the hallway wearing this, it was like Superman had arrived.” But naturally, the most awful thing to watch is Carole, trying to be practical, and eventually breaking down into one of the most realistic portrayals of loss that I’ve ever seen, speaking out about the shock element of it all, how every day you have to re-remember and it hits you just as hard as the first time. “For just a second, you forget. And then, oh, you remember, and it’s like getting that call again, and again, every time. You don’t get to stop waking up. You have to keep on being a parent even though you don’t get to have a child anymore.”
Kurt and Puck’s scenes are ones I have missed sorely, and the bristling chemistry is still there when Puck begs Kurt for the letterman jacket, which Kurt has taken to wearing around. He offers to buy it, even – and then abuses him aggressively about it when Kurt refuses. It’s only fitting that this takes place as they watch some nerdy kids decorate the old dumpster as another tribute to the boy who changed the status quo and protected them from being tossed in it.
The next performance comes from Sam and Artie – “Fire and Rain,” picked out acoustically as the kids sit around in a circle on the auditorium stage, but Santana finds it hard to cope with and takes herself out into the halls, wandering to the shrine-like memorial of candles and notes at what would have been Finn’s old locker. She finds ex-Principal Figgins there, weeping himself, and when Bree arrives to remove the candles – on the fire marshall’s orders, via Sue – Santana freaks out, storming into Sue’s office. In probably Naya Rivera’s best scene to date, she tears Sue a new one, letting loose with everything she bottled up while she was a student, accusing Sue. of hating everyone, including Finn, and saying that Finn hated her too. Sue is very obviously taken aback, particularly when the confrontation ends with Santana physically shoving Sue back against the filing cabinets.
Tina chooses to attend grief counselling with Emma, and I feel genuinely bad for Jenna Ushkowitz that her character had to be the one in this episode to come across badly, because Tina’s issue is basically that she doesn’t know how much longer she can cope with wearing black after it took her so long to transition away from goth. Emma throws beautiful shade as she provides Tina with some pamphlets: “It’s Not All About You,” “Wait, Am I Callous?” but the real point of this scene is that Will drops by as Tina leaves, and he and Emma talk privately about how Will has not yet cried about the entire issue.
Puck wanders into Coach Bieste’s locker room, apparently drunk. These two characters have always had a special relationship and Bieste calls Puck out for his coping mechanisms, and for being scared to let his feelings out. Puck lashes out aggressively, punching the wall and tipping a trolley, and Bieste just lets him, before making him sit with her and holding him as he starts to sob. They start to talk while crying, both of them, as Puck pleads that he needs Finn around to help him be a better person, and Bieste, also heartbroken, tells him that he has to do it for himself now. “I’m telling you this straight, because that’s how you and I talk. He’s dead, and all we’ve got left is his voice in our head. I’m sorry, but it’s time, you gotta be your own quarterback.” The pair try to calm themselves as Puck suggests retiring Finn’s football number and trying to get his letterman jacket off Kurt to be framed and hung, and Bieste says she can try make that happen, if Puck promises to put the tree back.
Santana chooses to give her performance in the choir room of “If I Die Young” in the choir room, but she introduces it with her usual tongue in cheek chubby-guy insults, speaking irreverently about Finn in the way she would have if he was alive. Some of the others look around awkwardly at each other as she begins the song, which is beautiful, but she starts to cry while singing. When it overcomes her, some of the group, including Will and Mike, approach her, concerned and reach to hug her, but she warns them off her with her hands, holding them away and muttering “no, no,” before literally screaming and running out. A little while later, Kurt finds her, alone and staring blankly, in the empty auditorium. She explains her behaviour, saying that she “couldn’t do it” – that she’d had a whole plan to surprise everyone by being genuinely nice and saying all the good things she felt about Finn, but that she chickened out. Kurt asks to hear some of what she had wanted to say, and she tells him. Kurt, in turn, tells her how much Finn cared about her as well, and leaves her alone when she asks, wrapping the letterman jacket around her.
The next day, Puck performs Bruce Springsteen’s “No Surrender” for the club, but as he finishes, Santana comes storming in and accuses Puck of stealing the jacket. Apparently she’d been laying down for a “grief siesta” in the nurse’s office, had hung the jacket up on the door, and when she woke up, it was gone. Everyone rounds on Puck pretty fast, some angry, some, like Kurt, just accepting, but even Mr Schuester, when he tries to stop the fighting and sends everyone away, kind of implicates Puck by saying he understands the sentiment.
Santana goes to see Sue again, to try and apologise, but Sue tells her that she’d been 100% correct – that she’d been horrible to Finn and that she was completely devastated that he had died thinking that she hated him. Santana mumbles something about taking it as a lesson about talking to people or something, to which Sue responds with one of the most important lines of the episode: “Cut the crap. I don’t care about people, I care about him. He was such a good guy. There’s no lesson here, there’s no happy ending. There’s just nothing.” Glee really could have gone the opposite way, for this episode – the track record shows that they definitely try and make everything a lesson, a teaching moment, a PSA, and an untimely death due to addiction could pretty much be at the top of the list for dramatic teaching moments.
But this is so much bigger and more important than that, and I’m glad the show chose not to try and incorporate that type of plot. Sue sits back on her office couch and reveals her true feelings about Finn to Santana. She talks about how he would have been a great teacher and thought he’d be her colleague for the next thirty years, and both Jane Lynch and Naya Rivera really, really knock this episode out of the park in terms of demonstrating both their own feelings while also remaining true to their incredibly complex characters.
The current New Directions lay sets of drumsticks at Finn’s locker shrine, all of them solemn as Kitty announces, without venom, that it’s sort of cheesy. “No, it’s beautiful,” a voice says from behind them, and it’s Rachel, very small and frail, and clutching onto Kurt, saying that she’d felt the need to come and see what they had done for him.
Later, she stands up in front of them in the choir room, and the others can barely look at her, like facing her would hurt too much. “Nobody treat me with kid gloves, okay?” She tries to smile, and it’s just awful, but she very simply talks about how Finn loved her, and all of them. She describes how she used to sing with Finn when they were in the car together, how before him she used to sing alone, and she says that what she is about to perform is the first song they sang driving around together. She sings “Make You Feel My Love” while openly crying. Most of the rest of the room is also openly crying, holding onto each other as Rachel holds onto herself, gripping each elbow with the opposite hand, literally holding herself together. I don’t think any of those tears, from Lea and Cory’s friends, their family of the past five years, were acting. I cannot imagine what it would have been like having to sit in that room and watch her do that. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen on television.
Afterwards, Will attempts to compose himself and finds Santana sticking up reward posters for Finn’s jacket – she’s offering a $10,000 reward as bait in an attempt to make the thief come forward so she can beat the crap out of them. As he talks to her, my suspicions about the whereabouts of that jacket, which twinged a little earlier on, deepen severely, but I cross my fingers that we’re not going there because I don’t think my body can possibly contain more hate for Will Schuester than it already does. Puck and Bieste share a root beer as Puck re-plants the memorial tree, and Puck gets introspective about the memorial marker there – the line between Finn’s date of birth and date of death, his whole life in that little line. Bieste asks him what he plans to do with his line, and he tells her that he’s going to be joining the military.
Rachel goes to visit Will, to thank him for what he’s been doing and to give him her own memorial – a photograph plaque she had made, similar to the one of Will’s teacher Lillian Adler, with Finn’s photo and a quote, “The show must go… all over the place… or something.” Rachel lets out some of her grief while talking to Will about how Finn was her entire life plan, and how she doesn’t know what she’s going to do now. “Something different?” “Maybe something better.” “I just.. don’t think that that’s possible. He was my person.”
This conversation is the last dialogue of the episode, but not the last scene – over instrumental music, we see Will entering his home, sitting down, clearly drained, and opening his satchel to pull out the damned letterman jacket. He holds it against his face and starts to cry, which is how Emma finds him as she returns home as well, and the episode closes on that image, before flashing up a tribute screen of Cory’s own name and life dates.
Glee returns Thursday, November 7 at 9 p.m. eastern/pacific. Watch a first look at this link.
Watch a collection of PSAs the cast recorded in light of Cory’s passing by overdose: