'Glee' Cory Monteith Tribute Episode Review: "The Quarterback" Is A Moving And Heartbreaking Tribute To A Beloved Character And Actor
You may have needed a good pep talk to psych up for it, but mandatory TV watching this past week included Glee's tribute to Cory Monteith and the character he famously portrayed, Finn Hudson. I was pretty much dreading it because I knew how sad it would be and how tragic his death is. Whenever a bright young star passes away, it feels so pointless and like such a waste of talent, particularly if it’s a drug related death. I am a proud fan of Glee (I don't use the term "Gleek" but I have seen every episode ever) and I saw Finn Hudson just as everyone else did: sweet, kind, thoughtful, insightful, romantic.
The tribute episode "The Quarterback" opens with what is one of the most bittersweet musical moments/songs in history and could not have been more perfect for the occasion: "Seasons of Love" from Rent. The cast stands on a dark stage (just like in the musical production), with newer Glee cast members starting, Finn's graduating class friends featured next and then the entire cast singing together. Mercedes (Amber Riley), no surprise, took on the wonderful solo vocalist part and as she told us to "measure your life in love" for the last time, an enormous screen with a photo of Finn/Cory dressed in his football t-shirt and holding his helmet appears behind. "Brace yourself, this episode is going to be rough" I remind myself.
The next scene shows Kurt (Chris Colfer) packing in his NYC bedroom apartment, explaining how Finn died a few weeks ago and how he is going back to Lima, Ohio, for a tribute week planned by Mr. Shue (Matthew Morrison). Kurt looks like he's been crying nonstop for weeks and I quickly realize how these actors aren't going to be acting, or at least not the way one normally would when playing a grieving character. These are people who, in actuality, lost a dear friend and co-worker they've known, worked alongside of and loved for years. They cried real tears over this. This tribute episode is so, so sad because it’s actually real. Cory really is gone.
In this opening scene, Kurt tells us that it doesn't matter how Finn died, that he wants to remember Finn's whole life, not just a moment of it. And, in fact, we never find out how Finn died. We may find out in upcoming weeks, but I really doubt it and I respect that decision. If creator Ryan Murphy and the other writers didn't tell us in this episode, they're not going to tell us.
The show developers wanted the episode's focus to be more on how Finn's friends and loved ones cope and grieve. Different characters are focused on in this episode, particularly Santana (Naya Rivera), Puck (Mark Salling), and of course Kurt, his dad (Mike O'Malley) and his stepmother, Finn's mom (Romy Rosemont). But all the characters are portrayed experiencing their grief in their own unique ways, which could not have been more fascinating or touching.
The scene that had me breaking down only 15 minutes in was the scene portraying Kurt in Finn's room, with their parents, talking about Finn. Mr. Hummel discusses through tears how he wishes he hugged Finn more instead of pats and the backs and high fives. Kurt reflects on how Finn protected him from bullies, taking out Finn's football varsity jacket and putting it on: "Seeing him come down the hallway wearing this, it was like Superman had arrived.”
Finally, Finn's mother speaks: "I always thought, parents go on when they lose a child. But I would think, how do they wake up everyday? How do they breathe? Then when you do wake up, for just a second, you forget. And then, oh, then 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." Insert breakdown here on the show and also on my couch. It was such a brutally honest and well-acted scene that the tears were really streaming. It also featured the most touching group hug. The most heartbreaking scene I've seen on television in a long time.
Back in the choir room, Mr. Shue tells the group to pick a Finn-related song, whether it be one that reminds the person of Finn, of losing someone in general, or a song that Finn once performed. Also, throughout the show, Finn's varsity jacket gets passed around the Glee Club, comforting the grieving person enveloped in it at the time.
Santana is a really tough cookie, but even she breaks down while performing The Band Perry's "If I Die Young." Introducing her performance, Santana is her usual caustic, mean self, which she later feels badly about because she actually wanted to share nice memories of Finn.
One of the episode's best plot points was Santana directing her anger over Finn's senseless death at Sue (Jane Lynch). Santana finds out that Sue took down the school's Finn memorial and she really rips into Sue: "You wanted that memorial gone because you're such a cold-hearted b—h. A miserable, self-centered b—h who has spent every waking minute of the last three years trying to make our lives miserable." Santana later apologizes, leading to one of those great and rare times when Sue lets down her front and shows her kind and compassionate side. I love when Sue does that. "He was such a good guy. Now I'll never get to tell him. There's no lesson here, there's no happy ending. There's just nothing. He's just gone. He would have made an excellent teacher. I thought I'd spend the next 30 years teaching along side of him…It's just so pointless. All that potential."
A fan of Bruce Springsteen or not, anyone would love Puck's bare bones, meloncholic rendition of Mr. Springsteen's "No Surrender."
Amber Riley is an outrageous performer, and her gorgeous rendition of The Pretender's "I'll Stand By You" for Finn is no exception.
Sweet and simple rendition of "Fire and Rain" by James Taylor, sung by Artie (Kevin McHale) and Sam (Chord Overstreet).
With just a few minutes left to the episode, we get our first glimpse of Rachel, played by Cory's real-life love Lea Michele. She sings the gorgeous Garth Brooks tune "To Make You Feel My Love." Rachel states that this is the first song she ever sang in the car with Finn. She is a mess, and I couldn't help thinking that there is no way she could sing and cry like that at the same time. But we'll put the fantastical element aside and say a prayer for Ms. Michele during this time of grieving and appreciate her incredible talent and beautifully sorrowful rendition of this song.
I'm sure many Glee fans agree with me that this episode was extremely well done and was, all around, a beautiful tribute to Cory Monteith and his beloved Glee character, but I am personally glad that it has come and gone. It was not easy viewing but it was a total must-watch. And, when the show returns from hiatus Nov. 7, it will be very interesting to see if and how the rest of the season incorporates Finn's death.