The third episode of Glee’s fifth season is titled The Quarterback and serves in honouring the memory of Cory Monteith, who starred in the show as Finn Hudson and passed away in July.
The episode gathers the majority of the cast back to Ohio, (Heather Morris as Brittany is absent due to the recent birth of her child and we’re not privy to why Dianna Agron’s Quinn isn’t present), three weeks after Finn’s funeral for a memorial week organised by Mr Shue so the glee club can celebrate his life and mourn his death together. At any point, he tells them, they can get up and perform any song of their choice. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to watch.
Throughout the episode it’s impossible to tell where the actors end and the characters begin. There’s a distinct feeling that none of this is acting – this is what they’ve been living with since July.
There’s an absence of plot but it feels right. This is about the actors and the fans coming to terms with a loss in their family. The glee club singing the iconic Seasons of Love, from the musical Rent, opens the episode. They’re all dressed in black and the newbies step back to give way to the veterans, which also outlines how this episode will play out. This is their time and they’ll be given priority.
In New York, Kurt gives a heart-breaking monologue and essentially summarises what has happened and where he’s going. There’s no explanation for how Finn died because it seems like there’s almost an unspoken understanding between the audience and the show that how he died doesn’t matter, it’s not why we’re here. It’s a space to grieve and that’s what we’re given.
The episode makes great use of exploring different kinds of grief. We see Kurt losing a brother, Burt and Carole losing a son, Puck losing his best friend and moral compass, Santana and Sue regretting what they never said. Rosy Rosemont’s speech about having to still be a parent without a child is one of the strongest performances of them all, among an episode filled with already amazing ones.
Rachel does end up making an appearance, towards the end of the episode, and of course steals the show. As she was Cory’s off-screen girlfriend as well, Lea Michele’s grief I cannot even contemplate as she sings Make You Feel My Love, a song she chose herself for the episode. It’s selfless and gut-wrenchingly beautiful and if it doesn’t make you cry, then the reactions of the other characters will.
Even more heart breaking is her conversation with Mr Shue, where she discusses the future and the plans she had for herself and Finn. It’s nothing you haven’t heard before about loss and death – she still talks to him, still sees his face and can hear his voice so clearly. What really makes this scene difficult to sit through is the knowledge that once again this isn’t Rachel talking – it’s Lea Michele. Mr Shue asks her if she ever told him any of plans she had. “I didn’t have to,” she says. “He knew.” She brings out a plaque she’s made, a picture of Finn with ‘1994-2013’ engraved, and one of his more memorable quotes: “The show’s gotta go… all over the place… or something!”
The closest thing to a plot is Finn’s jacket. When clearing out his room, Kurt finds it and asks to keep it. Later, he gives it to Santana after she breaks down during her rendition of If I Die Young. After that it goes missing, and while all blame goes to Puck as he’s the one who stole the memorial tree planted in Finn’s honour, he swears he didn’t take it.
Mr Shue, according to Emma earlier in the episode, has not yet cried and while he assures her he’s fine, the episode closes with her coming home to find him on the couch, sobbing into the jacket.
The episode feels very raw and stays with you long after it has finished. It’s also the most respectful Glee has ever been and in terms of giving closure to the fans, I don’t believe a better job could have been done.