Don’t Stop Believing: A Letter to Rachel Berry

This is the latest addition to my collection of letters to female characters who’ve inspired me throughout my years as a fangirl. If you have a letter (or letters) of your own you’d like to share, check out this post to learn more about the book of letters I’m compiling, and send your letter(s) to!



Dear Rachel,

When I first started watching Glee in 2009, I was struck by more than a few similarities to my own high school experience, which had ended three years before. I had been a theater kid, a member of my school’s show choir, and far from what anyone would call popular in high school. But the thing I related to the most was a line you said in the eighth episode of that first season:

I want everything too much.

In you, Rachel, I found a reflection of the ambition I often keep hidden in the deepest part of my heart, because too often I’m afraid to tell people how much I want my dreams to come true. What if they laugh at me? What if they tell me I’m not good enough? What if they think I’m ungrateful with what I already have for wanting more?

You didn’t care. You owned your big personality, your big dreams, and your big plans for achieving those dreams. Confidence radiated from you like sunlight, inspiring others to be their best just to keep up with your glow. And what was so important about your confidence was that it wasn’t delusional. Your theatrical personality and your over-the-top methods for getting what you want were things characters and the audience were supposed to laugh at or roll their eyes at, but your belief in yourself wasn’t a joke. And for a young woman who still—now a decade removed from high school—wishes she had your confidence, that matters immensely.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (10/6 – 10/13)

This was another fantastic week in the world of television. On Sunday, Once Upon a Time reminded us just how wonderful Snow and Charming’s relationship is while setting the stage for a relationship between Emma and the surprisingly sincere Captain Hook. Monday’s Dancing with the Stars convinced me that this might be the most competitive season yet, and Castle upended Beckett’s professional life while showing us that her life with Castle is more stable than ever. Tuesday’s night of TV started off with my favorite Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode so far, and it continued with a strong episode of The Mindy Project and a New Girl episode that made me fall even more in love with Nick Miller. Thursday gave us a funny Parks and Recreation, an intriguing pilot episode of Once Upon a Time in Wonderlandan emotional 200th episode of Grey’s Anatomy, and an even more emotional episode of Glee.

That episode of Glee may have been hard to handle at points because of its raw emotion, but there is no denying that it was the best thing I saw on TV this week. “The Quarterback” gave all of us a chance to mourn the tragic loss of Cory Monteith through an episode that saw the characters mourning the loss of Finn Hudson. The episode was filled with brutally powerful moments: Santana’s confrontation scene with Sue; Sue’s brilliant monologue, which allowed Jane Lynch to show once again just how good she is; Puck’s statement that the dash between birthdate and death date is so small but has to represent a person’s whole life; every moment where you could see the real grief bleeding through the actors performances; and, of course, the heartbreaking moments when Lea Michele was onscreen. You could tell that so much of what Rachel was saying about Finn was what Lea really felt having to bury the man she loved at such a young age. And her painfully beautiful performance of one of my favorite love songs (“To Make You Feel My Love”) reminded me just how strong and brave this young woman is.

The most heartbreaking scene in the whole episode, though, belonged to Finn’s family. Watching Burt, Carole, and Kurt go through his things was such a honest moment of the reality of death and the pieces left to be picked up by the ones left behind. For as amazing as Mike O’Malley and Chris Colfer always are (and they were characteristically amazing once again), this scene belonged to Romy Rosemont. Her portrayal of a mother’s all-consuming grief was so raw and so powerful. The moment when she says she still has to be a parent even though she doesn’t have a child was the moment that completely broke me. I still want to cry just remembering it. Rosemont’s performance in this one scene was better than any performance I’ve seen from another actor so far this television season.

What was the best thing you saw on TV this week?

Daily Dose of Feelings #21

Do you want to know something that never fails to make me cry? Watching someone do what they were born to do. Not just something they’re good at—or even great at—but to paraphrase A League of Their Own, something that gets inside of them and lights them up. There’s nothing quite like watching someone with a God-given gift bask in the joy they feel while using that gift. It’s a feeling of pride for someone you’ll never know, a strange sense of secondhand accomplishment.

It’s the feeling I get every time I watch a Rachel Berry solo on Glee. Lea Michele is truly a once-in-a-generation talent; she was born to sing big songs on big stages to big ovations. And I love that she has always infused her portrayal of Rachel with that same sense of devotion to performing. The stage is and always will be Rachel’s first love—her happy place, her home. And there’s something so moving about watching this character—who has dreamed of being something special her whole life—find the one place where there is no one better, no one more special, than she is.

Everyone has their favorite Rachel Berry solo, and mine is “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.” I’ve been a fan of that song since I was a little girl, and to hear it sung with such passion and such strength made me fall in love with it all over again. But this moment is about so much more than the song choice. It’s about a love story deeper than any other Glee has ever tried to sell: the love Rachel has for the stage.

Michele glows in this performance; her inability to contain her own happiness is what makes this scene so powerful. You know you’re not just watching a character do what they love; you’re watching an actress do what she loves, too.

The moment when Rachel sees Carmen Tibideaux sit down to watch her is my favorite moment in the whole scene. As soon as she sees the woman behind her rejection from NYADA, Rachel turns her performance up to another level, almost daring Carmen to continue to doubt her. That confidence is something this character almost lost after that rejection, so to see it come back in such a definite way was incredible. Rachel may doubt a lot of things about herself, but she knows she’s a great performer—and it’s beautiful to watch her prove her greatness on the biggest stage.

The joy of performing is something nearly impossible to describe. It’s something that can only be felt, and only the best of the best can translate that joy into something tangible for audiences to latch on to. Michele is so good at making you feel everything Rachel feels as she’s singing—whether it’s pain or joy. In this moment, she’s feeling a kind of joy and sense of purpose unlike any she’s ever experienced, and if that’s not a powerful thing to behold, then I don’t know what is.

Daily Dose of Feelings #6

This is a tough one.

When I came up with this list of emotional moments, one of the first scenes I wrote down was the breakup scene between Finn and Rachel from Season Four of Glee. When that episode first aired, I found myself sobbing almost uncontrollably when the couple I’d been rooting for since the pilot ended their relationship for good. I cried because Lea Michele was so raw, real, and absolutely devastating. I cried because this scene perfectly encapsulated the pain of walking away from your first love. I cried because Cory Monteith gave such a subtly heartbroken and lost performance. And I cried because even though this was a breakup scene, it was filled with so much chemistry and so much love that you could practically feel it through the TV screen.

Now, though, I’ll cry even harder every time I watch this scene because of what it means after Monteith’s death. In this scene, he was Michele’s rock, and that’s who he was in all of his scenes on Glee—a rock for his costars and a relatable presence for the audience. Monteith was Glee’s everyman, and the show will never be the same without him. But what really breaks my heart is thinking about how the people who loved him will never be the same without him. It’s clear watching this scene how connected and in love he and Michele were. Throughout the show’s run, he gave her the strength and confidence to go to emotional depths she never reached opposite any other actor. That kind of support and partnership produced her best moments, such as this scene. My heart aches for her when I think of what she lost.

This scene is about the very real heartbreak of the end of a relationship even when love is still clearly there. With time, it will only get more painful to watch as we remember the real-life love story that ended even more painfully than its fictional counterpart.

R.I.P. Cory Monteith.

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.

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