Glee said farewell to one of its own Thursday during “The Quarterback,” an emotional tribute episode that featured the death of one of its most beloved characters, Cory Monteith‘s Finn Hudson.
The episode opens immediately with the new members of New Directions covering “Seasons of Love,” clad in all black as they’re joined by more senior members Blaine, Sam, Artie, and Tina, with original stars Santana, Mike, Kurt, Mercedes, and Puck also joining them on stage for Rent-like moment. (Rent‘s Jonathan Larson died tragically from a brain aneurism before the Broadway hit opened to rave reviews.)
The emotion on stars Naya Rivera, Harry Shum Jr., Amber Riley, Kevin McHale, Mark Salling and Chris Colfer‘s faces speaks volumes, especially knowing that many of the scenes in the episode (directed by co-creator Brad Falchuk) were filmed on the first take.
At the end of the song, the camera pans back to reveal a massive portrait of Finn — clad in McKinley’s football gear — as the cast looks back with love and admiration in their hearts.
“The Quarterback” never reveals just how Finn died — co-creator Ryan Murphy warned that the episode would not get into the why — but instead focuses on how the characters cope and move forward after the death of a loved one. Kurt sums up how Glee handled that question best: “What can I say about a 19-year-old who dies?” Kurt says of how his stepbrother died. “Who cares?”
The episode largely takes place three weeks after everyone finds out about Finn’s death, when everyone is in Ohio for a memorial Mr. Schue planned, and focuses on how Finn’s loved ones are handling his death. For some, it’s impossible to get out of bed (Rachel). Others act out (Puck, Santana) and make his death about them (Tina), while a few remain level-headed and focus on taking care of their loved ones (Mr. Schue, Kurt).
“The funeral was for everyone, but I wanted to memorialize him the only way we know how: by singing all week long,” Mr. Schue tells the reassembled team.
Here’s a look at how everyone responded:
RACHEL (Lea Michele)
After Kurt tries to bring Rachel to Ohio, his New York roommate arrives to find the powerful memorial that continues to grow three weeks after Finn’s death. “It’s perfect,” she says, marking Michele’s first scene 45 minutes into the emotional episode. “Nobody treat me with kid gloves. I don’t know what to say either. I loved Finn, and he loved all of you guys. I know he did. Before Finn, I used to sing alone, and this was the first song that I sang with him when we’d drive around together. This is for him,” Rachel says after returning to the choir room where she fell in love with Finn. Michele, holding her “Finn” necklace, sings a gut-wrenching cover of Bob Dylan/Adele‘s “Make You Feel My Love” that is so incredibly powerful that it can silence the loudest of any room. She breaks down in tears at the end of the song. In the closing moments of the episode, Rachel visits Mr. Schue in the choir room. “I had it all planned out. I was going to make it big on Broadway and maybe do a Woody Allen movie. Then, when we were ready, I would just come back, and he’d be teaching here, and I’d walk through those doors and I’d just say, ‘I’m home.’ Then we’d live happily ever after,” Rachel tells Mr. Schue. “He was my person.” She uses the experience of coming to the memorial to realize that she can sing again, and leaves a framed photo of Finn (above) in the choir room, which perfectly encapsulates his wise and often charming sensibilities: “The show must go … all over the place … or something.”
SUE (Jane Lynch)
Sue initially fights against the various memorials set up at McKinley, and wants everyone to move on and seek help for the grief they’re likely going through. “We honor Finn by helping the people who loved him,” she says. Following a heated exchange with Santana about removing the tributes, Sue reveals how she really feels. “I was horrible to that kid, and I’m utterly destroyed he died thinking I didn’t like him,” Sue tells Santana. “He was such a good guy, and I’ll never get to tell him. There’s no lesson here, there’s no happy ending, there’s nothing. He’s just gone. He would have been an excellent teacher. I thought I’d spend the next 30 years teaching alongside him … It’s just so pointless, all that potential,” she says through tears, perfectly describing Finn — and Monteith’s — death.
“I’m going to spend my entire life looking for him,” a wrecked Kurt tells Finn’s mother (and his stepmother) Carole (Romy Rosemont) as they — and Burt (Mike O’Malley) begin to sift through his belongings. In one of the many standout moments from the episode, Carole sobs and says, “You don’t get to stop waking up, you don’t get to stop being a parent even though you don’t have a child anymore.” Among the sweet touches in the scene were shout-outs to Glee‘s early season moments: the ball from the “Single Ladies” football game, the lamp that helped unite Finn and Kurt as brothers, and Finn’s letterman jacket.
Puck winds up trying to hold on to his best friend in any way that he can, including stealing the memorial tree Kurt planted near the football field. A drunken Puck leans on Coach Beiste (the always amazing Dot Jones), who tells him that he doesn’t need to be scared to have feelings. “See yourself as he saw you,” she says. “He’s dead and all we’ve got left is his voice in our head. You’ve got to be your own quarterback.” Puck asks her to retire Finn’s number so other students know who he was years from now — which she agrees to do if he returns the tree. He winds up covering Bruce Springsteen’s “No Surrender,” spending nearly the entire song staring at Finn’s empty chair, while Mercedes responds with tears. Puck plants a new tree — with “quarterback” engraved into the bark — and reveals he’s enlisting in the Air Force as a way to pay tribute to his late friend.
Santana attempts — and fails — to get through her tribute of “If I Die Young” to Finn without reverting to her former mean girl status. Kurt helps pull the emotional Santana back together and finds solace when Sue, her former Cheerios coach, breaks out of her denial as well. “I had this whole plan to surprise everyone and not be a bitch for once in my life and say all these nice things about Finn, and I chickened out,” she tells Kurt, before reading a list of all the sweet things he did for her. “He was a much better person than I am,” she tells Kurt.
WILL (Matthew Morrison)
“I feel more than I know how to express. I’m heartbroken. To be honest, I don’t know how we’re all supposed to move forward,” Will tells Emma, who has realized that her husband has yet to cry and, rather than taking care of himself, he’s focusing on the well-being of everyone else. Following an episode-long battle for Finn’s letterman jacket, it’s Will who winds up having taken it, and in the episode’s final scene, he breaks down in tears over the death of his New Directions co-coach, and the former student who helped bring the glee club to prominence.
The episode, which included multiple PSAs, ends with a black card honoring Monteith, before stars Lynch, Morrison and McHale appear with a public service announcement that encourages anyone struggling with addiction to seek treatment.
What did you think of Glee’s tribute to Finn and Monteith? Hit the comments below with your thoughts and memories. To find out what’s next, read our interview with co-creators Murphy and Falchuk here.