Once More, With All The Feelings
Glee ends as it began: kind of a mess, but full of emotionally manipulative potential.
True story: Last week I was in the drug store and the Glee version of "Keep Holding On" -- which you may recall was used to play eliminated contestants off of The Glee Project every week -- shuffled into my headphones and I, a thirty-nineyear-old man out in public in Manhattan, burst into tears. I have no memory of how the song was used on Glee itself (but apparently it involved Quinn and was very dramatic), and my response in the dental care aisle had nothing to do with the sound of Lea Michele and a voice so heavily processed it can barely be called Corey Monteith's. It was all about the "ah ah ah ah ah" intro that played on a loop under those Project kids' sad final confessionals, before Ryan Murphy sadistically made them sing lead on their own show choir send-off. At its best, Glee could masterfully manipulate this Pavlovian response that songs can inspire, even shamelessly recycling its own emotional beats in later seasons. Don't think for a second that I say "shamelessly" like it's a bad thing. They did it masterfully. These moments are why I'm glad Glee existed, even when it was terrible, and why I'll miss it.
Also a true story: there's really a Russell Simmons musical coming to Broadway. I don't even know, you guys.
Anyway, tonight's two-part finale is credited to all three of the show's creators, and focuses entirely on original cast members, and as much as I've championed the new cast this season and liked the new writers' work, for this I am grateful. I'm glad we're ending with the people we started with, both in front of and behind the camera. It wasn't perfect, but I think it was about the best we could have hoped for. So, losers like me who've stuck it out this long: what should you watch and what should you skip?
Teenage Suicide: Don't Do It
Tonight's first hour is a flashback to 2009, showing us events during the pilot that we never got to see. Will comes home and excitedly tells Terri he's decided to take over the Glee Club. She's less than excited. Emma meets Kurt for the first time, right after he's been assaulted by Karofsky and a suspiciously puffy Puck, and realizes he's been perusing brochures a brochure called "Ending It All: Pros and Cons." She calls Burt into the office, but he "thinks it's a little bit early to be talking about it" because "kids grow out of stuff." Emma explains that she doesn't mean Kurt's obvious homosexuality (neither of them actually say the word), but his suicide risk, and a concerned Burt confronts Kurt (whom they've done a remarkably good job of making up to look like his tiny 2009 self, all things considered) about it, demanding that he stop spending so much time alone and join a team, just like his dad did at his age.
The Minute I Graduate I'm Going To Broadway And I'm Never Looking Back
The next day in the cafeteria, Kurt sits with Rachel for lack of anywhere else to sit. She's working on posters for the many clubs she's in, and tells him, "It's important for me to be immersed in all cultures. I'm an actress." Kurt knows, he's seen her videos on MySpace. Rachel is very excited that Mr. Shuester, "that really cool Spanish teacher who looks like an old Justin Timberlake," is starting up the Glee Club again, because when he was a student McKinley went to Nationals, and offers to help Kurt audition.
Cut to the auditorium, where they jump right into a perfect rendition of "Popular" from Wicked. Kurt thinks they should audition together, but of course Rachel is having none of that. Auditions are eat or be eaten: "This...is show choir."
I Don't Think This Pale, Sexy Keebler Elf Look Really Fits In
Kurt chases after Mercedes in the hall and tells her he wants to be just like her, because he's heard she's huge in her church choir. She agrees to help and says he needs to stop being so shy and awkward. She admires his fashion sense and thinks his personality should match. "I feel invisible," he says. She thinks she might know the perfect song for him.
Never Even Know I'm There
It's time for "Mr. Cellophane," Kurt's actual audition from the pilot, but they wisely never show his face. We do see Mr. Shue's notes for the first time. "Impressive range, ear-piercing falsetto, gay?" And then on the high note he crosses out the question mark.
I Don't Think I've Ever Been This Genuinely Excited To Go To School
Kurt excitedly tells his dad that he's joined a "team." Burt isn't exactly thrilled to learn it's the Glee Club: "The point of this was for you to feel what it's like to bond over a shared goal." When Burt learns that there's competition against other schools "like a sports team," he's okay with it. Kurt thanks him for pushing him to do this, and Burt thanks him "for showing up for yourself." There's an awkward pause, and we hear Kurt's thoughts: "I'm gay, dad. Please don't stop loving me, but, I'm gay." He doesn't say anything, though, and Burt goes back to work. We know exactly how this is going to turn out, but it's definitely getting dusty in here.
There Sure Are A Lot Of White Folks Here At McKinley
Mercedes voice-overs that her life is okay, but that she doesn't have a lot of friends: "There is that one black kid, but he's real boring." Matt, the one black guy from Season 1 whose disappearance was mentioned earlier this year, walks into frame and says hi to Mercedes. She says hi and keeps walking. "I'm a big star and my church, where everyone knows I have a big-ass voice, but here I'm just a nobody." Rachel approaches her and yammers on about how they're going to be competing for the female lead and it will be okay and they should be best friends. Mercedes isn't really interested and has dealt with competition in her church choir and she's over it. Rachel asks if she can come to church with Mercedes and hear her sing.
I'm Happy Just To Know That I'm His Child
In a strangely empty church, Mercedes sings a big gospel number called "I'm His Child." It's kinda boring, but I'm always happy to hear Amber Riley sing her face off. Afterward, Rachel compliments her, saying "I saw Mercedes Jones, future R&B star. Your audience is really going to love you." Mercedes takes this as a dig: "Oh I see what you're saying. My audience isn't your audience. Rachel Berry, you are officially on notice."
My Name Is Tina Cohen Chang, And You Don't Care
Tina loves being unpopular. She's trying to be unpopular, because she's goth. Puck and Karofsky give her a hard time, and she stutters at them, then reminds us in her voice-over that her stutter is fake, all part of her outsider schtick. Artie rolls up and takes over the voice-over duties, telling us that he's in love with Tina, who treats him like a normal person. In the cafeteria, two other goth kids dump spaghetti on Rachel and Kurt, apparently because Artie dared them to. It's Tina's turn to accept a dare, so the goth girl dares her and Artie to sign up for Glee.
My Saddle's Waitin'
Auditons. Weirdly, we do see Tina's face, and I honestly couldn't tell you if this is original footage or new. Will's notes include "edgy" and "angry." Artie does "Pony" by Ginuwine, which we never saw the first time around. It's pretty standard Artie number. Will writes "Need ramps." When Tina compliments Artie afterward, she drops her stutter, but he doesn't notice.
The Devil Will Drag You Under
First rehearsal. Will welcomes everyone and gets things started with "Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat," giving Artie the lead. Rachel complains that because she's the only one of them who was a member of Mr. Ryerson's Glee Club, she should have the first solo. Will explains that everyone will get a turn. He says that later they'll be doing a medley from Grease, and asks who wants to play Sandy. Mercedes's hand shoots up, and all hell breaks loose.
Rachel: Is this even a discussion right now? I'm the only person in this room who can play Sandy!
Mercedes: Why, because you're white?
Rachel: Okay, I wouldn't dream of being Miss Saigon or Black Dorothy from The Wiz, but if we're going to be taken seriously as a glee club, it can't be about color or disability, or whatever, it has to be about who has the best voice.
Mercedes: Exactly. That would be me.
Will: Let's warm up!
Goofing Off With The Sheet Music...Isn't A Euphemism
Terri berates Will for spending all his time and energy on the Glee Club and "making his sperm stressed" (plus not doing the cooking and cleaning). She has a bad feeling about all of this. What if all this extra time means he starts neglecting her? "You are the love of my life," Will tells her, "and nothing is ever going to take you away from me." Wellllll...
I Told You, Everyone Hates Me
Rachel accosts Will to ask how the search for a male lead is going, along with a list of reasons why she should get the first solo. Puck slushies her. One more for the road.
I Lost It To That Demented Little Beanie Baby
Will tells the kids they're going to sing "You're The One That I Want" with Rachel as Sandy. Mercedes freaks out and demands a sing-off. Will: "We're not having a sing-off! ...Although that's not a bad idea for a future exercise." Will insists that everyone will get a turn, but Mercedes is still upset that "the white girl always goes first." She goes to church to cry, and her mother (I guess?) tells her that part of being a star is learning to share the spotlight: "Rachel will make you better. Her drive and ambition will help you raise your expectations of yourself, and you can use that to become great."
I Have A Bad Feeling About This Glee Club
Sue questions Figgins about Glee Club. Figgins tells her not to worry: the kids are "too busy with their Friendster and MySpace and Blockbuster Video. These are things that are here to stay." Womp womp.
And Now You're A High School Spanish Teacher
Sue and Will play one-on-one basketball for some reason. Will tells her he wants these kids to have the arts in their lives like he did in high school. "Will, the students at this school aren't going to become performers," says Sue. "They're not going to become professional singers or dancers or actors. They'll be fry cooks and auto mechanics. And it's really unfair of you to suggest otherwise. Fostering unrealistic dreams in these kids will accomplish absolutely nothing but to make their lives that much more dark and depressing." Will disagrees. He makes the fatal mistake of saying the arts are more important than cheerleading, and Sue tells him he's made an enemy.
Remember Terri's Fake Pregnancy? Wish You Could Forget It? Sorry.
We've skipped ahead a bit and Rachel frets about how Terri's pregnancy will affect Will. She's heard that he's considering taking another job and that Glee Club will end. She goes to see Terri at Linens and Things to convince her to let Will keep teaching. Terri won't let him "chase after a dream that doesn't change our lives in any measurable way." Rachel begs her to reconsider, believing that Will can help shape her into the star she wants to be.
You Can't Go Wrong With Red And Denim?
In the coffee shop, Kurt and Mercedes bitch that Finn has joined, quit, and rejoined Glee Club, and is now bossing everyone around, and they're supposed to be happy about it. If it wasn't already (and it was, every time Puck and Karofsky were on screen), Corey Monteith's absence is really awkward here. So are Dianna Agron's and Naya Rivera's, but in a different way. Mercedes says they need Finn, and maybe he needs them too. Kurt's afraid they'll get pushed out if more popular kids join the club. Kurt goes to get a table and Mercedes gets some sugar, passing Blaine and another Warbler, who continue the tired joke about the flaming-but-closeted Warblers. Kurt and Blaine, of course, won't meet for another year or so. Mercedes starts to agree that having Finn around might be a mistake, and calls an emergency meeting.
When We Look Back On Our Time Here, We Should Be Proud
At the meeting, Kurt isn't happy that Finn wants to do "Don't Stop Believing": "Our audience is going to think we're doing a salute to the Sopranos finale." Rachel is late, and she's not happy when she learns what's going on: "It's obvious that Artie and I don't fit your idea of a proper leading man, and honestly I don't care, but he shouldn't be an evil jock." Artie defends Finn, reminding everyone that when the jocks locked Artie in a porta-pottie, Finn rescued him and wheeled him home. Mercedes says that Finn's never called her fat. Kurt concedes that he at least let Kurt take off his Marc Jacobs jacket before throwing him in a dumpster. Tina says "he is awfully cute." Rachel says, "Maybe he just wants to be accepted for who he is and not for what people label him as. And if we start excluding people, then we're no better than the people who exclude us. So far, my time at McKinley has sucked. But not this week. I made some friends, and that's always been really hard for me. I don't know what's gonna happen with this club, but maybe it'll be something special." They vote to keep Finn in the club. I get something in my eye.
For The Last Time, My Hands Are Tied
Emma yells at Figgins that they can't lose Will, because McKinley can't become yet another American public school with no arts programming. Figgins says he can't offer Will more money, but that he can offer a precious adolescent memory: he's found a DVD of the 1993 National Show Choir Championship. Emma, as we know, shows this to Will, but it doesn't convince him to stay.
Hold On To That Feeling
Sue congratulates Will on choosing to leave teaching, giving him her tax receipts to be his first accounting client. As he heads out, he hears "Don't Stop Believing" coming from the auditorium and stops walking. Cut to...Finn. It's the original footage, teeny tiny Kurt and all. As good a job as they did with the makeup in this episode, the real kids all look so young and fresh-faced! If you've been watching this show for six years and you're not crying, you are dead inside.
Glee Is About Opening Yourself Up To Joy
With no break, we begin what is technically the second of tonight's episodes, back in the present day. Will flashes back to his own time at Nationals as he, Rachel, Kurt, and Blaine get ready for judging at this year's Nationals. So it seems we've jumped ahead a few weeks or months from last week's episode, and...the New Directions have won Nationals!
William McKinley High School For The Performing Arts
Superintendent Harris tells Will that, thanks to Will's efforts and the New Directions' win, McKinley is going to become an arts school. Is that really how it works? Never mind. Harris tells Will that schools cutting arts budgets to save money in favor of "more essential" programs hasn't worked -- in some cases, test scores have gone down -- and because of Will and his example, he decided he had to stick his neck out and make a pitch to the school board about the importance of the arts. It worked, and Will is to be principal of the new school. Now, obviously I agree with this wholeheartedly, but also obviously Ryan Murphy wants us to know that "Will" = "Glee" and "McKinley" = "Everywhere." It may be true, Glee did have an impact, but that doesn't make it any less obnoxious to gloat.
Do I Have The Talent To Actually Do The Job?
Three months later, Will and Emma get ready for their first day at the new school, very proud and excited. "I'm so proud of you, Will," says Emma. "It's been quite a journey to get to this place, and you've made it the whole way without losing your integrity. Except for those days when you were rapping." Hee. Will admits that he's scared to death. Valid: considering he was barely qualified to be a teacher, what makes anyone think he can be a principal?
If They Told You, You Would Cry
In the choir room, Will is greeted with applause by the new Glee kids and a bunch of extras...and most of the alumni, for some reason. Will explains that there will be multiple clubs so that his old policy that anyone who wants in can get in will still stand. And because he's principal he won't be able to coach any of them anymore. But before he announces his replacement, he picks up a ukulele and dedicates Crosby Stills and Nash's "Teach Your Children Well" to the alumni. If the whole hour is going to be like this, I'm going to be a puddle. Rachel too, apparently. The extras are all, "Whatever, hi mom, I'm on the Glee finale!"
There's Too Many Sports Teams So I Get Confused About Which Ones To Root For
Blaine asks Sam if he wants to move back to New York with Blaine and Kurt (and Rachel, Brittany, Santana, Artie, and Kitty, apparently, making it clear everyone's moved on and is just back for the opening of the school), since Sam is about to be unemployed. (Not clear why he wasn't unemployed at the end of the last school year, or why an arts school can't have sports or at least gym class, but okay.) Sam misses Blaine too, but he doesn't like New York and doesn't want to leave Ohio. He says he has a new job...
Looks Like We're All Right Where We Belong
...as coach of the New Directions! You'd think he would've mentioned that to his best friend but whatever! The first assignment is country. "Uh-oh," says Will. But Sam gives a good lesson, explaining that country and blues use "little personal stories about breakups or broken-down pickups to express the deeper pains of poverty and anxiety that was and still is such a normal part of life in the American south. If we wanna be great, we need to be able to sing about hurt and loss and, even if we can't relate to the specifics, make them our own." He's got this.
You Made Me Know That Good Things Are Possible
Mercedes tells the gang that she's been picked up to be Beyoncé's opening act. She's been trying to remember how invisible she used to feel, so that she can appreciate how far she's come: "Even when I got the call earlier, I didn't think, 'Oh, this must be some kind of mistake'...that's because of you guys." Between the tour and rehearsals and cutting an album, Mercedes knows she won't be seeing them for a while, so this is goodbye for a bit, and instead of a teary group hug, she wants to sing a song and walk out like it's just the end of another Glee Club rehearsal. She launches into "Someday We'll Be Together," backed by a gospel choir (which I'm choosing to believe is imaginary), and it's great. She blows everyone a kiss and walks out the door. She doesn't cry. Um, neither do I? Sure, let's go with that.
That Seemed Childish, So I Just Peed Everywhere
Kurt and Blaine find Sue in what is now Will's office. They thank her for getting them back together. Okay. Sue says that Kurt expanded her mind through his tribulations, and taught her things about herself she would never have discovered on her own, and she thanks him. It feels like a little more show back-patting about the gay storylines and acceptance and blah blah blah, but then she turns to Blaine and says, "I still don't really get you. Um, I guess I'm just not a fan of your thing. But hey, you're doing you, and that's swell," and redeems it for me. The music swells, and Sue says there's someone she needs to see. Becky is in the hall. WHY? WHY WOULD BECKY BE IN THE HALL? They run toward each other in slow motion and hug, so for all three of you who needed closure and reconciliation on the Becky storyline, there ya go.
If You're Going To Steal, Steal From The Best (Mamma Mia)
"There's still one last person I have to see." It's Will, of course. He approaches Sue in the auditorium as Brad plays the intro to ABBA's "The Winner Takes It All" on the piano. I laugh out loud as I realize what's about to happen. "Hey Sue, you wanted to see me?" Sue puts a hand up. "I don't wanna talk / about things we've gone through." When she gets to "Tell me does she kiss like I used to kiss you," Will looks appropriately perplexed," but this being Glee, he just starts singing with her. "I don't wanna talk / if it makes you feel sad / and I understand / you've come to shake my hand." The song ends and Will starts to talk, but Sue Don't Speaks him, kicking over Brad's piano bench as she leaves.
Five years later. It's election night, and Jeb Bush has just won reelection to a second term as President. Sue is Vice President and Becky is the head of her Secret Service detail. Sure. She appears briefly on Geraldo's show. Remember that thing that Parks & Recreation did so elegantly just a few weeks ago? This is not that.
Now You Know How Happy I Can Be
Kurt shows Blaine a time capsule he made in a locker at McKinley. It's sweet, but how has no one else used this locker? Five years later, now famous (for, among other things, performing in the first LGBTQ version of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf). Klaine perform at the Harvey Milk Elementary School Career Day and Celebrity Tuesday Singalong, telling the adorable moppets how their safe space reminds them of the choir room. They do The Monkees' "Daydream Believer," and it's pretty cute. Kurt works in a "Single Ladies" hand move for old times' sake. Blaine does a show circle with the kids.
It's Just So Hard To Say Goodbye To What I Know
Rachel plays the piano in the auditorium and sings "This Time," a new song written by Darren Criss.
When I was looking for that spotlight
I was looking for myself
Got over what I was afraid of
I showed 'em all that I was made of
More than trophies on a shelf
For all the battles that we lost or might have won
I never stopped believing in the words we sung, we sung
This time no one's gonna say goodbye
I keep you in this heart of mine
This time I know it's never over
No matter who or what I am
I'll carry where we all began
This time that we had, I will hold forever
I'm looking out from the crossroads
A little on the nose, there, guys!
Excellent, More High School Couples!
Five years later, in New York, Mercedes pulls up in a limo to where Artie and Tina are waiting. Tina starred in a movie that Artie wrote and it got into a film festival. Blaine and Kurt pull up in a cab gossiping about Sam's new girlfriend. Artie and Tina kiss. Everyone goes up to a room where Rachel is getting ready for some sort of event...and very pregnant...with Kurt and Blaine's baby! She agreed to be their surrogate because they gave up so much of their lives trying to make her happy, the least she could do is give up nine months of hers for them. Aw. Jesse St. James enters. "Here's my husband!" says Rachel. Sure? Well, it's Jonathan Groff in a tux, who can argue? He says they're going to be late, and everyone wishes them luck.
Dreams Really Do Come True
It's the Tonys! Rachel's a nominee, and Jesse gives her some pointers "as a former winner." Will, Sam, Sue, and Emma watch at home with what looks like six kids as Andrew Rannells reads off the nominees. Smash's fake Tony nominees were funnier. Kitty and Roderick are watching in Rachel and Jesse's apartment with the other alumni, which is nice. Rachel wins! In her speech she thanks Jesse, her gay dads, Carmen for giving her a second chance at her degree, and all of her friends at McKinley: "But I wanna dedicate this award to the person who is responsible for getting me on this stage tonight. And that is Mr. Will Shuester. Mr. Shue always taught to my strengths and not my weaknesses, and he cheered the loudest when I soared, and he picked me up when I was in a million pieces. He taught me the one great thing that all teachers do...and that is being a part of something special does not make you special -- something is special because you are a part of it."
I Swear I Lived
Somehow that wasn't the end. It's 2020 and Vice President Sue speaks in the McKinley auditorium to an audience comprised of Will, Burt, Carol, Figgins, Emma, Beiste, Sam, and Terri, all dressed in red and white versions of their regular clothes. "You know a great big fat person once stood on this stage and told a group of a dozen or so nerds in hideous disco outfits that Glee, by its very definition, is about opening yourself up to joy," she says. "Now, it's no secret that for a long time I thought that was a load of hooey. As far as I could see, the Glee Club was nothing more than a place where a bunch of cowardly losers go to sing their troubles away....I was wrong about the cowardly part...It takes a lot of bravery to look around you and see the world not as it is, but as it should be. A world where the quarterback becomes best friends with the gay kid, and the girl with the big nose ends up on Broadway. Glee is about imagining the world like that, and finding the courage to open up your heart and sing about it." We get it. This is at least the third time tonight a character has just said the show's mission statement out loud.
Sue is there to dedicate the Finn Hudson Auditorium, which she is honored to do, adding, "William, it is with your hard work, and his memory, that you've managed to accomplish something unimaginable." McKinley has become a model for performing arts schools across the country. Sue introduces the New Directions. Will walks up on stage, where Sam, Artie, Tina, and Quinn (Quinn!) are waiting. They sing One Republic's "I Lived." Rachel and Mercedes join them, followed by Kurt and Blaine. On the chorus, all of this season's kids, then a little dance for Sugar Motta. Mike Chang and Matt dance on. Brittany and Santana enter through the back of the house, along with Puck, Kitty, and all of the 2.0 kids. Unique, Ryder, and Joe (the Glee Project winners) stand on the risers. Jesse and Rachel hug. It's literally just a curtain call at this point. Everyone runs on stage, including the adults. There's hugging and crying and high-fiving. It feels very real. It's impossible to tell but it certainly looks like everyone who's ever played a McKinley student or teacher is here. I know this isn't how things work, but I really want to believe this was the very last thing they shot and they did it all in one take with a dozen cameras or whatever. Cut to the plaque of the Finn Hudson Auditorium.
"See the world not as it is, but as it should be."
What, you're going to quit now? Seriously, though, this is the thing: all Glee really had to do to nail this was pick the right song to end on, and they did. That's their secret weapon. Add in making it a full-on reunion and tugging at the Corey Monteith/"Don't Stop Believing" heartstrings and all sins are pretty much forgiven.
I said last week that I would have been happy if it had ended there, and I still feel that way. Tonight's first hour was completely inessential but also very sweet. None of these gaps needed filling in. We didn't learn anything we didn't already know -- except, I guess, that Artie and Tina joined Glee Club on a dare. This isn't The West Wing; we know how this band got together. But it's very nicely done. (Special kudos to Lea Michele and Chris Colfer, who really recaptured their Season 1 characters, and especially to whoever was responsible for Michele's wig and eyebrows.) It was also strangely light on music, but of course, when it counted, there was that ultimate manipulation at the end. Well done.
But then it could have ended there. I get that, for all the sad stuff that happened sometimes, Glee was always going to be a happy show, and a flash-foward gives us some tidy happy endings (or at least the illusions of them; it's only a few years, a lot could still happen!) instead of the uncertain future that last week ended on, but the second hour felt largely unnecessary to me, and worse, it separated the cast again after bringing them back together for two lovely episodes. It took the air out of both the sweetness of last week's victory for the new kids (oh, you guys? never mind, you guys don't matter) and the gut punch of seeing Finn at the end of Part 1. But then, you know, the singing and the hugging and everyone who's ever set foot on this stage and the masterful, masterful manipulation.
It did answer definitively the question I've been asking for a while: whose story is this? It's Will's. It's a little bit Rachel's and a little bit Finn's, but at its core, in the end, Glee was about Will. I kid Will Shuester, what with his approaching students while they're naked and blackmailing them with fake drug charges into joining the Glee Club, but I do believe Rachel's right that she wouldn't have won that Tony without him.
And I kid Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan too, but they made a TV show that, even at its worst, I've been happy to watch and talk about with friends for six years; that really did get kids interested in music and theater and bring money to arts programs around the country; that was less afraid of gay storylines than much "edgier" dramas; that was unlike anything else on TV. God help me, there are 107 songs from Glee in my iTunes library, ready to make me cry in the drug store for years to come. I'm not sorry it's over, but I'm going to miss it.
Take a bow, Glee.