Last night's episode of Fox's weary and mostly off the rails Glee was one that we've been dreading/grimly anticipating since July, when one of the show's lead actors, Cory Monteith, died of a drug overdose at age 30. Never a show to handle sensitive issues all that sensitively, it seemed likely that Glee would bungle this sorrowful meta episode — saying goodbye to Monteith's character, dopey-sweet football singer Finn, while also memorializing the actor. But as it turned out, "The Quarterback" wasn't much of a fumble (sorry). A sad and occasionally sweet episode, Glee's double goodbye suggested that this beleaguered show can still get things right on occasion.
Which isn't to say the episode was without problems. Really, this should have simply been some sort of concert, whether the cast was in character or not. Most of the songs last night — including "Fire and Rain," "Make You Feel My Love," and "Seasons of Love" — were lovely and admirably understated and said enough on their own. The whole hour probably would have played more smoothly had it just been the music, which is likely the main reason most people tune into the show at all at this point.
But instead there was a plot shoe-horned in, picking up three weeks after Finn's funeral (he died of unspecified causes) with the gang convening on McKinley High for a memorial service. Feeling, perhaps understandably, that the show couldn't completely abandon its usual sour perkiness, the episode's writers (Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan, and Brad Falchuk — also the show's creators) sandwiched plenty Sue Sylvester nastiness, Puck jerkiness, and Santana bitchiness between the aforementioned sad songs and scenes of intense grieving. (One with Kurt, Kurt's dad, and Finn's mom cleaning out his bedroom was a particularly weepy standout, featuring a terrific turn by Romy Rosemont.) This odd mix didn't quite work, but how much can we really fault them for trying?
The truth of the matter is that, in many ways, this episode is impervious to criticism, or at least undeserving. Picking apart how a group of people decided to memorialize their friend is a pretty cruel waste of time, even if, yes, they chose to do so on national television. And anyway, one glance at the Twitter hashtag #RememberingCory offers solid evidence that many of the show's fans were pretty invested in the memorial themselves. (Ratings were higher than they've been in over a year.) So who is anyone, really, to pooh-pooh that? If we want to criticize somebody, we should probably look to the ad people at Fox, who did, y'know, sell commercial spots for a funeral episode. That fact definitely sits uncomfortably, but the writers, actors, and other crew involved didn't have all that much to do with that, did they?
For the most part, those folks were just doing their earnest best. There was even one smart, thoughtful scene last night, in which Sue, letting her caustic veneer slip away, bitterly refused to find any higher meaning in a young person's death, in that senseless loss of potential. "There's no lesson," she said, with a kind of frank emotional honesty that this show, which tends to pitch itself toward a kind of starchy, canned optimism, rarely deals in. I could have done without a lot of the narrative last night — I frankly didn't care if Mr. Schue cried or not — but there were enough little moments that rang true and, as someone who lost a young friend suddenly not too long ago, were even cathartic in a surprising way. So I hope it felt even more so for those involved, because this was their thing, it was for them. We may rightly balk at this show's often aggressive sentimentality and too-frequent very-special-episode-ing, but in this one instance, I think they get a pass. If nothing else, they made some pleasant music. Which is what they're there to do, after all.