Grading the Season Finales: Glee

Title Goodbye (3.22)

Written By Brad Falchuk

Major Characters Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith), Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison), Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer), Santana Lopez (Naya River), Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron), Noah “Puck” Puckerman (Mark Salling), Mercedes Jones (Amber Riley), Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), Brittany S. Piece (Heather Morris), Blaine Anderson (Darren Criss), Mike Chang (Harry Shum, Jr.), Tina Cohen-Chang (Jenna Ushkowitz), Sam Evans (Chord Overstreet), Artie Abrams (Kevin McHale), Burt Hummel (Mike O’Malley)

What Happens As graduation day draws closer for the seniors at William McKinley High School, the Glee club finds itself back where it began – with Mr. Schue watching Kurt, Rachel, Tina, Mercedes, and Artie performing “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat,” just like they did in the pilot episode. Mr. Schue’s trip down memory lane concludes with a performance of Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young” for the group of students that he’s watched grow from underdogs to national champions. The nostalgia continues with Burt’s graduation gift to his son: his own rendition of the “Single Ladies” dance he saw Kurt perform when he was a sophomore, which he notes as the moment he and Kurt started to come back together as a father/son team.

Back in the choir room, Kurt serenades the boys of New Directions with Madonna’s “I’ll Remember,” and all of the seniors pass the torch to the underclassmen with the New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give.” As the episode reaches its midway point, we learn the fates of various New Directions seniors: Mercedes was signed as a backup singer and will be taking classes at UCLA; Mike is joining the Joffrey Ballet; and Quinn will be heading to Yale but keeping in touch with Rachel, her graduation gift to Rachel is a Metro pass to travel between New York and New Haven (Quinn has one for herself, too).

After a discussion in which Rachel reveals that she always thought Quinn would end up with Puck, Quinn realizes that she has to help Puck pass the one exam he needs to retake in order to graduate because she’ll always love him and they shared the experience of having a daughter together. After a kiss from Quinn restores his confidence, Puck passes his exam and is able to graduate (leading the “Glory Days” performance at graduation).

And what about Santana and Brittany? Brittany, it turns out, has a 0.0 GPA, so she’ll be sticking around WMHS for another year as a Super Senior. Santana was unaware of this but is aware that she doesn’t want to go to Louisville on a cheerleading scholarship anymore. She wants to go to New York and be a star, but is she ready to leave Brittany behind to do so?

Finn is still struggling with his discovery that his father did not die a war hero but rather a dishonorably discharged, broken man who left his family. He wants to pursue his acting dreams, but he still feels as if he’s letting his father down by not doing something to change his legacy. As Finn worries about his future and his impending marriage to Rachel, his support for his fellow Glee club members is praised with a rendition of The Beatles’ “All My Life,” by the New Directions underclassmen.

After graduation, Finn, Rachel, and Kurt all get letters from the colleges they hope to attend. We learn that Finn didn’t get into The Actors Studio at Pace University, and Kurt failed to get into NYADA despite a solid audition. But Rachel’s performance at Nationals was enough to make up for her botched NYADA  audition; she is the lone member of this trio to hold an acceptance letter. However, Rachel decides to turn down her dream school to stay in Lima with Kurt and Finn as they perfect their auditions for the next year.

On the way to what she thinks is her wedding to Finn, Rachel realizes that her fiancé is driving to an unfamiliar destination: the train station. Finn knows she should be in New York, so he bought her a train ticket to go with her dads to look at NYADA’s dorms. Despite Rachel’s tearful protests, Finn tells her that he’s setting her free to chase after the dreams she wants to put aside for him. Finn also discovered his own dream, and it’s in a place without Rachel: the army. Heartbroken and shocked, Rachel still boards the train bound for New York after saying goodbye to all of her friends, singing Room for Two’s “Roots Before Branches” as she walks, alone but finally smiling, through New York City – her new home.

The Game-Changing Moment This entire season had been building to the moment when Kurt and Rachel discover once and for all if they got into NYADA, the school of their dreams. Kurt’s rejection and Rachel’s acceptance certainly set the stage for the dramatic final act of the episode as well as what’s to come in Season 4. Leaving Kurt’s future in limbo was a writing choice that I’m not sure I agree with (more on that later), but it definitely allows for more summer speculation about what this character’s future on the show will be. I was convinced that both Kurt and Rachel would get into NYADA, so if the writers were going for shock-value with this plot twist, they certainly achieved it for this viewer.

Finale MVP Some time ago, Glee became a show that I enjoyed not because of the plots or the writing but because of the music and the performances of the actors. Lea Michele has always delivered on both accounts, and she stood out once again in this episode. She is one of the most heartbreaking criers on television, and she got to display that talent to full effect in the finale. She made the breakup scene between Rachel and Finn feel painfully intimate and realistic. I was incredibly frustrated by the writing in that scene, but no one can argue that Michele and Cory Monteith didn’t bring everything they had to it as actors. I think that scene was Michele’s best dramatic work on Glee to date, and her performance gave the episode the emotional punch that the writing seemed – at times – to lack.

Most Memorable Line Quinn: “This freshman just gave me a hug and told me to never change. Poor thing is too young to realize that change can be so good.”

What Didn’t Work Almost as a rule, Glee either does things really right or really wrong, and that was certainly true in this episode. The things that didn’t work for me really didn’t work (but the things that worked really worked). First and foremost, sometimes I have to wonder if the writers ever went to high school when I look at what a shoddy job they do with the realism of their details. I’m willing to overlook a lot of things like that because Glee is supposed to be a fun show that shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but when there are major plot moments built around poor writing, I can’t excuse it. It may be 6 years since I graduated from high school, but from what I recall, no acceptance/rejection letters for any school were given out after graduation. You had to make your decision by May 1. Also, how is it that none of these kids had a backup plan, a safety school? Most of the high school seniors I know apply to at least five colleges, but the students of WMHS seem to only be able to apply to one school, so if they can’t get in there, all of their dreams are shattered.

Speaking of dreams being shattered, it would have been nice to see even one scene of Kurt reacting to his NYADA dreams falling apart. The entire season was building to his acceptance/rejection almost as much as it was building towards Rachel’s, so it seemed like a very dark (albeit sadly realistic) turn for a supposedly happy show to have him get rejected despite a great audition (especially since Rachel also would not have gotten in had the writers been going for realism). It would have made more sense if we’d at least been given a scene of Chris Colfer crying because sometimes I’m convinced that the writers do terrible things to Kurt just so Colfer can show his crying skills (the same goes for Michele). But we get no reaction from Kurt after his brief, “I didn’t get in.” That character arc needed some sort of closure (a moment with Burt or Blaine, perhaps?), but that emotional beat was sacrificed for the sake of a ‘So now what?’ cliffhanger for Kurt.

Kurt’s story was also denied closure because time had to be saved for Finn to send Rachel off to New York in what was one of the most depressing ways I could have imagined for Rachel to accomplish her dreams. I think it’s time I expressed my bias before going any further: Rachel (especially Season 1 Rachel) is my favorite Glee character, and I’ve wanted her to go to New York and become a star since the pilot. My chief problem with this episode is that I couldn’t be 100% happy that Rachel got to live the dream we were made to root for since the first moment she was onscreen. Her happiness was first tempered with the disappointment she (and we) felt for Kurt and Finn, and then it disappeared altogether when she decided to abandon her dream to stay in Lima with them for a year (I was close to literally yanking my hair out at that point).

Where is the Rachel who chased her dreams no matter what? Where is our plucky, determined female protagonist? She’s crying in a car while her boyfriend gets to be the hero who lets her live her dreams because he’s selfless and loves her enough to make the right decision about her future for her. Yes, the scene was poignant, Finn meant well, and Monteith and Michele were never better as actors, but it just felt so wrong to me. When does Rachel get to be her own hero? Why does she have to be dragged, just short of literally kicking and screaming, to her own happy ending? Why does she have to be set free; can’t she ever set herself free? I wanted to feel an incredible sense of happiness that my favorite character’s dreams were coming true, but instead it felt tainted because she was so ready to give up on those dreams and had to be forced by Finn to go after them without him.

What Worked The beginning of the episode was beautiful. I loved the flashbacks and callbacks to “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” and “Single Ladies” (I wanted so many more of those kinds of flashbacks, actually). I loved Mr. Schue’s version of “Forever Young.” I loved the scene between Quinn and Sue and the one between Finn and Mr. Schue. Those were the moments that had me in tears because they evoked the kind of emotions I felt during the Season 1 finale (still my favorite Glee episode): a really powerful combination of sadness, joy, and unironic nostalgia. Those moments hit the right emotional beats for a graduation episode; you need some sweet to go along with the bitter (which I felt the last half of the episode had way too much of). That combination came back in the very last moments of the finale, with Rachel’s smile growing as she walks through New York City, coming home at last. If nothing else, this episode got the very beginning and the very end exactly right, and it did still manage to hit some moments of real emotional resonance in the middle, too.

The Burning Questions to Keep Us Guessing All Summer What does the future hold for Santana and Brittany, Kurt and Blaine, Mike and Tina, and Puck and his pool cleaning business? And will the “Sue’s pregnancy” storyline ever end?

Finale Grade C. This was an average episode of Glee. It wasn’t the worst by any means, but it was far from the best. It left me wanting so much more because the beginning was so emotional and so good. I wanted to feel more for these characters, but I think a large part of the problem with that is the fact that this finale isn’t the end for any of them on this show. It’s like graduating from high school but knowing that you’re going to see every single student and teacher at least once more; it takes away some of the poignancy and urgency that great graduations (and graduation episodes) have. It also led to the lack of resolution for so many of the storylines on this show. Cliffhangers are great, but leaving the futures for major characters (Puck, Santana, and Kurt) up in the air without any concrete, in-epsiode discussion just reeks of lazy writing to me. The finale of Season 1 remains my benchmark for Glee finales in terms of emotional resonance and overall impact, and I have to say that this finale came up quite short. I wanted to love it; I really did, and I started out loving it. But maybe my expectation were just too high.

2 thoughts on “Grading the Season Finales: Glee

  1. I feel like this episode should have been longer or at least better edited. It’s possible to do cliffhangers, yet still have resolution for some of your story arcs. I wouldn’t have missed a cut song, if it meant that we got to see Kurt’s reaction to his NYADA rejection. Or something from one of the other couples, talking about how they were going to deal with the separation. Without those scenes, it lost some of the emotional impact that it could have had. Even though at least some of the graduated characters will be back next season, there still could have been some finality to the episode. The Glee club that we’ve grown to care about over 3 years is gone. It won’t be the same, especially since they graduated the majority of the characters that get the most screen time. I feel like the writers tried to leave themselves with two different paths to take for next season, because they didn’t know which one they wanted (or maybe who was coming back). They can either follow the Glee club, with updates about the others, or they can follow the graduated characters and focus on the Glee club less. While I want all of the characters to stay on my screen and I want to know what happens to them all, it feels like too much for one show. The show is about the Glee club as a whole as much as it is about the individual characters that make it up, and I’m hoping for a way that they can find a good balance between the two.

    • I really think that making this a 2-hour finale would have solved some of the most glaring issues that so many fans seem to have with this episode. It may not be a series finale, but this episode still needed to have some sense of closure because, like you said, the glee club and the show won’t be the same at all next season. Without the inclusion of scenes like Kurt’s reaction to his NYADA rejection, Mike and Tina talking about their future, and some sort of goodbye moment between Finn and Puck, the finale felt a little emotionally shallow when it could have been so moving.

      I totally agree about the writers leaving things so open-ended because they’re not totally sure which path the show is going to take. That was the feeling I was left with at the end; they’re not certain about what they’re doing yet, and that bothered me more than a little bit. This episode suffered because they’re not sure what the plan is for next season, and I just hope they work hard over the summer to come up with a good plan that balances the two stories well enough to keep the audience emotionally engaged.

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