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Glee Season Finale Recap: Regionals, Obviously

GLEE: AMERICAN IDOL Season 11 runner-up Jessica Sanchez (C) performs on a rival team competing against New Directions at Regionals in the "All Or Nothing" season finale episode of GLEE airing Thursday, May 9 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2013 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Adam Rose/FOX

There were some very strong moments in last night’s season finale; even so, huge portions of the episode felt a little forced, though that’s largely due to the assortment of corners Glee’s writers had painted themselves into. Regionals had to happen at some point in the season, or the pretext that Glee is about a show choir would’ve completely crumbled. There couldn’t be any Finn and Rachel scenes, because Cory Monteith was in rehab when these episodes were shot. Loose ends, big (Unique is the Catfish) and small (Michael Bolton is Sue’s baby daddy) needed to be wrapped up, or risked being dragged into next season. And because of Heather Morris’s (visible!) pregnancy, Brittany had to leave.

The pleasant result of all of that mess is that improbably, the season finale was mostly a love letter to, for, and about Brittany, and it was more poignant than I would’ve expected it to be. While no one’s confirmed that Heather Morris is leaving the show permanently, she’s been really vocal about how she’d planned to stop performing once she started a family. (Frankly, if she comes back as a regular next season, this episode is going to seem incredibly incongruous.) Still, even though other characters have moved on from the show, this departure feels sadder somehow, although maybe that’s just me beginning to grieve the fact that with Brittany gone, Glee might not be funny anymore.

After MIT deems Brittany a mathematical genius and offers her immediate admission, she goes into a tailspin that involves nailing 95 theses to Coach Roz’s door, demanding all of the solos, and hosting a special Will/Sue “Fondue for Two,” gotcha-journalism style. Santana comes to town and gets Brittany to admit that she’s scared of leaving, and just before Regionals, she says her good-byes, sweetly and inimitably. The best moment comes when she tells Jake, Marley, Ryder, and Kitty, “You guys are like the foster kids who come to live with us when the orphanage closes, who we don’t trust at first, but we grow to love, just like we do our pets!” Completely fitting that she’d go out saying what everyone else is thinking.

Meanwhile, Blaine wants to propose to Kurt, because heaven forbid anyone on this show have an honest conversation that was not in some way tied to a manufactured major life milestone. I don’t have an issue with the fact that it’s unrealistic – actually, a grand, misguided gesture sounds like it’s right up Blaine’s alley – or that the boys are too young. What’s problematic is the likelihood that this will be a repeat of Rachel’s pregnancy scare. I have a sinking feeling that what’s being sold to us as a major cliffhanger is going to be resolved at the start of the next season with a shrug and a, “Just kidding!” That’s not to say that Kurt and Blaine won’t get back together, but all of these engagement shenanigans just seem like even more drama for drama’s sake.

That said: PATTY DUKE, GUYS. When her character meets Blaine as he’s shopping for engagement rings, she sees he needs guidance and takes him and Kurt to dinner at Breadsticks with her long-time partner, who’s played by Meredith Baxter. Over dinner, she winds up proposing. I love the idea of an older couple connecting with Kurt and Blaine (although it seems like Rachel’s dads could’ve easily fit the bill, too), and Duke and Baxter are both powerhouse actresses and advocates in their own right and mothers of hobbits and stuff, so I’m hoping they’ll pop up again next season. But while their engagement was lovely, the ovation the restaurant gave them didn’t exactly seem realistic, as I’m pretty sure the last time someone talked about being gay at Breadsticks, it ended with Dave Karofsky attempting suicide.

The second fake cliffhanger of the night was Rachel’s final callback for Funny Girl, which she apparently hired her own flautist for. (Somewhere, someone opens a Word document and begins an extended work of fan-fiction from the flautist’s point of view.) I’ve heard a lot of griping about how unrealistic it would be for Rachel to land a lead the first time she auditions for a Broadway show, but Lea Michele was good enough to be on Broadway when she was Rachel’s age, so it’s not a particularly egregious leap in logic, especially by Glee standards. And Funny Girl rehearsals and performances would make for such an easy scaffolding for Rachel stories that her fifth season basically writes itself. Plus, it’s not a Broadway revival if Jon Groff doesn’t show up at some point, right?

It’s a strong bunch of competitors at this year’s Regionals; while it doesn’t reach the level that the competition reaches when the Warblers or Vocal Adrenaline are in the mix, both the Waffletoots (played by the Whiffenpoofs) and the HooiserDaddies (led by Jessica Sanchez) are more than capable of holding their own – the HooiserDaddies’ performance of “Clarity,” which I’d never heard before, was a real standout. While I wasn’t wild about the idea of the New Direction girls singing the theme song from J-Woww and Snooki’s Jersey Shore spinoff, it was high energy and fun and sassy in a way that suits this bunch of girls. Marley’s “original song” wasn’t anything too special, but it did cement her in the ranks of New Directions members (past and present) who can truly carry a number like that, and that’s saying something.  The New Directions win, because this is a TV show about a show choir, and that’s just fine. I even got a little misty when Artie wheeled himself downstage and hoisted the trophy over his head.

Then Will and Emma get married, which makes sense, because all little girls grow up dreaming of one day getting married backstage at a show choir competition.

And just like that, season four is behind us. I’m tempted to say that our nation’s long nightmare is over, but I’ve been rereading this year’s recaps (apologies for how frequently I said “Cool story, Glee,” everyone), and this season wasn’t all bad. After all, season four gave us “The Break Up,” one of the strongest hours of the entire series. It introduced us to the Secret Society of Superheroes, the strange multitudes contained within Sam Evans, the continuing enigma that is Lord Tubbington’s inner life, and the full-stop magic of Kurt singing “Being Alive.” It featured Emma and Santana and Blaine and Rachel straight killing Steven Sondheim and Alicia Keys and Elton John and Celine Dion, respectively. I mean, come on, season four gave us the Puckermen singing “Oh Hannukah” on the Paramount backlot, so it deserves at least a tiny bit of credit for that alone, right?

Sure, its lack of sensitivity was sometimes galling and its inability to handle complex issues was laughable at best and dangerous at worst. I don’t want to downplay that aspect of Glee; it makes me crazy, and I’m planning to keep calling it out, as I would really like it if no one got shot at or molested next season.  But (and this is a big but), for all of its flaws, I keep watching, because every now and then, Glee still manages to strike this balance of feelings and music and, you know, occasional storytelling that resonates, that actually works. It comes less frequently than it used to, but it’s what I’m watching for.

Then again, there were no new Katy Perry covers this season, so I might still ask for my money back.

Photo: Adam Rose/FOX