Glee returned on Thursday night with the episode fans were both most looking forward to and most dreading – Cory Monteith tribute "The Quarterback."

Standing somberly on the empty McKinley High School auditorium stage are the New Directions newest members – Jake (Jacob Artist), Ryder (Blake Jenner), Marley (Melissa Benoist), Unique (Alex Newell) and Kitty (Becca Tobin) – singing Rent anthem "Seasons of Love." They're soon joined by the senior class – Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), Sam (Chord Overstreet), Artie (Kevin McHale) and Blaine (Darren Criss), and finally those who've graduated – Kurt (Chris Colfer), Santana (Naya Rivera), Mercedes (Amber Riley), Puck (Mark Salling) and Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.). Rachel Berry and Lea Michele are noticeably absent. As they close the number, the group turns to face the back of the stage where the iconic shot of Monteith as Finn standing on the football field, looking every bit the quarterback.

Flash to New York City, and there's Kurt packing up a bag as his voiceover reveals that it's been three weeks since Finn's death and the funeral. He's heading back to Lima for a special memorial with the rest of the New Directions members – current and former. He doesn't reference Rachel by name, but mentions that "she" can hardly get out of bed and won't be heading back to Ohio. Kurt also delivers one of the episodes most meta lines – "Everyone wants to talk about how he died too, but who cares? I care more about how he lived."

At the choir room, Mr. Shue (Matthew Morrison) tells the gathered group of his pupils that over the next couple of days, he'd like for each of them to come up with a song that reminds them of Finn as a way of coping with their loss. Mercedes goes first, choosing the song that Finn sang to the sonogram when he thought he was the father of Quinn's baby – "I'll Stand By You." The rest of the room struggles not to cry and, as it is throughout the episode, difficult to tell if it's the characters or the actors, and if they're crying for Finn or their late friend.

Kurt goes home to help Burt (Mike O'Malley) and Carol (Romy Rosemont) organize Finn's things. Burt, who became a surrogate father to Finn over the last couple of years, insists on keeping the "faggy lamp" Finn had commandeered from Kurt to prove he wasn't prejudice. Burt remembers the incident, saying Finn didn't have a judgmental bone in his body and wishing he'd hugged him more. Carol dissolves into tears on the floor, not knowing how to be a mother without a child. Kurt, a pillar of strength for both adults, asks if he can keep Finn's varsity jacket that reminds him how when he saw his stepbrother in it, it was like seeing a superhero.

Meanwhile, back in the choir room, Artie and Sam sing James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" with the rest of the group. Santana walks out mid-song and stops to look at the memorial. When the new Santana-esque Cheerio blows out the candle, Santana loses it and storms off to Sue's (Jane Lynch) office. She screams at her former coach, unloading on her about all of the horrible things she's done and how terrible she always was to Finn, and winds up shoving the current McKinley High principal into a bookcase.

When Santana stands before her former classmates and Glee Club teammates, she delivers a moving rendition of "If I Die Young." But before she can sing the last verse, she chokes up with tears. When her friends move to sooth her, she shoos them off and flees to the auditorium. There, Kurt finds her and learns that she's upset with herself for all of the nice things about Finn she wrote down that she couldn't bring herself to share – which include how sweet he was when they had sex and how he hid a chocolate stain on her Cheerio skirt for an entire day by walking behind her. When she asks Kurt to leave her so she can cry, he leaves Finn's letterman jacket over her shoulders.

Puck, like Santana, has channeled most of his grief into rage, even stealing the remembrance tree Kurt bought for the courtyard. Coach Beist (Dot Jones) sits him down for a locker room talk, where she learns that he's afraid that if he starts crying, he won't be able to stop. Channeling Finn's signature rage move, he kicks a chair across the locker room before sitting back down and letting the tears roll. Eventually, Puck chooses to sing Bruce Springsteen's "My Surrender," serenading Finn's old chair. Afterwards, Santana accuses him of stealing Finn's jacket from her, but he insists it wasn't him.

As the Glee kids once again surround the intense memorial, Rachel appears, linked arm and arm with Kurt. With her Peter Pan collar, she looks more like the old Rachel than the New York rising star. The group returns to the choir room where Rachel sings the first song that she and Finn ever sang in the car together – "Make You Feel My Love." Tears stream down her face while she sings the Adele version of the Bob Dylan song; Mike and Tina, Blaine and Kurt grasp hands; Sam cries into Santana's lap.

Afterwards, Rachel finds Mr. Shue alone and asks him how he's holding up. He says it's hard, but that he needs to keep everyone together, help everyone grieve. When Mr. Shue returns the question, Rachel heartbreakingly reveals that she still talks to him everyday and that she'd always imagined that one day she'd return to McKinley where Finn would be teaching and tell him that she was home. She knows that he knew that's what she wanted, and the thought of a new life with a new dream without him is something she can't imagine.

When Mr. Shue returns home, he walks to the coach and pulls Finn's letterman jacket out of his satchel and holds it gingerly on his lap. When Emma (Jayma Mays) arrives home, she finds her husband hugging the jacket close, sobbing into it, grieving for his star pupil and best friend.

– Chelsea Regan

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For More 'Glee' News:

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Cory Monteith News: Cause Of Death Confirmed In Coroners Report

‘Glee’ Premiere Recap: Kurt Gets Engaged To Blaine; Rachel’s Broadway Plans Thwarted

Jane Lynch Recalls 'Glee' Co-Star Cory Monteith At Emmy Awards; Tells Fans He was 'Worthy Of Your Love'