If I tried, I could write a recap solely about the film tribute the kids made for Mr. Schue last night and the ensuing reprise of “Don’t Stop Believin’.” I don’t even think I’d have to try that hard. Those six minutes felt like a series finale: a nod to the past, and a glimpse at the future. But we’ll get to that.
To kick things off, Tina gets another (!) head injury, and it is my sincere hope that the ensuing hallucination sequence isn’t Jenna Ushkowitz’s lovely parting gift from the series. In Tina’s fantasy of New York, life is an episode of Friends – or, in this case, Chums – complete with an opening sequence that lists Santana and Rachel in tiny, tiny letters as co-stars. Mike Chang exists solely to win Tina back, all her friends are in one place, and Rachel is hapless and covered in self-tanner. What’s not to love?
I have a serious question about Rachel’s peace offering of ten performances of Funny Girl to Santana. Are we to believe that Rachel Berry thought that was actually something of hers (and not the show’s producers) to give away? Or that she didn’t realize or acknowledge that she’d likely miss at least ten shows anyway? Or did Rachel know all of that? Was she offering Santana something she was already going to get? Because this may be Rachel’s first Broadway role, but I have a hard time believing she doesn’t already know every damn thing there is to know about the Great White Way, probably courtesy of flash cards provided for her at birth by her two gay dads. I’m just saying, if you wake Rachel Berry up in the dead of night, she’d probably be able to list all of Idina Menzel’s Wicked understudies and the exact number of times each went on. Homegirl knows what’s up. Unrelated: How have I never examined the paradox wherein Wicked exists in Glee’s universe, but Kristin Chenoweth and Idina herself are both recurring performers on the show?
Of course, Santana rejects the peace offering, but it’s a moot point, as she decides to give up understudying just as arbitrarily as she’d initially taken it on. Yay? She and Brittany are headed to Lesbos, Hawaii, and then back to New York together instead. Yay. Period intentional. This is Glee. My optimism is cautious. But if Rachel and Santana’s contrived feud was what it took to get us Kurt and Mercedes’s rendition of “I Am Changing,” they can have as many feuds as they want. I’m not sure whether those two have ever had a proper, just-the-two-of-us duet aside from “4 Minutes” way back in season one, but their blend is effortless, and the maturity they’ve gained as performers in the past five years is delightfully evident.
Essay question: Is Gwyneth Paltrow’s performance of “Party All the Time” more or less poignant when seen for the first time on the day she announces her divorce? Either way, she is unfairly resplendent in it, although the number drags a bit, an odd feat for a performance featuring a foam party and lots of Lycra. It’s undeniably fun, but it reads more like something Gwyneth Paltrow did for fun one weekend with her friends rather than a Glee number. I’m far less conflicted about the Amazing Race audition tape Sue and Holly Holiday made together. I would watch that shit professionally. Speaking of conflicted, I’m still grappling with how “Party All the Time” stayed in the show while Will and April’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was recorded, filmed, and then cut. Ryan Murphy giveth. Ryan Murphy taketh away.
Also, Quinn and Puck are officially together! It’s a remarkable bit of restraint on the part of The Show That Loves Grand Gestures to have him simply ask her to go steady, not to propose or anything. I especially like that Quinn expressed that it was important for her to be with someone who likes her the way she is. Stay in therapy, Quinn! It works if you work it! Will remarks that it’s appropriate that their duet (“Just Give Me a Reason”) is the last one to ever be sung in the choir room. “We’ve come full circle,” he says gravely, leading me to question whether Will understands which of the shapes a circle in fact is.
And then comes the montage – a film the Glee kids make at Holly’s request, telling Mr. Schue and Emma’s unborn child about who their father was. There are sweet moments in which the kids imagine their futures – Brittany and Santana are still together, Kurt and Blaine have twins named Hepburn and Tracy, and Quinn was their egg donor (which was hopefully a favor and not, like, a lifelong vocational change). And the things they choose to praise about him are really in character – Mike Chang says Mr. Schue could dance like Fred Astaire, Unique praises his tolerance, Brittany mentions that he could pull a duck out of a hat, a throw way, way back to season one’s “Ballad,” in which Brittany announced that a ballad was a male duck and was sure Mr. Schue was about to pull a duck from the hat everyone’s partners were going to be chosen from. (It brings me pride and sorrow to know that off the top of my head.)
In a season of Glee that’s been extra-mega-poignant in ways both intentional and unintentional, the sight of Mr. Schue hopping onstage to sing “Don’t Stop Believin’” with the kids is pretty standout. High-school kids love that song – “Hey, I’m a small town girl!” – but it’s not something you really understand the semi-sadness of until you’re a little older. It makes all the sense in the world that this particular song was the one that drew Mr. Schue back to the New Directions in the pilot.
If the theorem of Glee truly has been that being a part of something special makes you special, this performance of “Don’t Stop” is proof. It’s full of moments true to who each kid is individually, but the whole of the performance is greater than that. It’s joyful and sad. From seeing Kurt take on the male lead that was once unquestionably Finn’s to watching everything playing on Rachel’s face to Jake’s beyond-words-tumbling to Tina’s confidence to Mike Chang’s soft-shoe, it’s three minutes of all the best the New Directions have to offer. And it’s worth noting that while in the past, “Don’t Stop” has felt like a song that made things begin (the New Directions, their first major competition, Rachel’s Broadway career), this time around, it feels like an ending.
And then everyone graduates, and after that, Glee Club is just … over. There’s a quick group hug between the five New Directions newbies after a few lines of Full House–style closure dialogue, and while I’ve already talked about how I feel like Glee has done these performers a disservice, I also feel like Will Schuester is failing them. Where’s the scene of him reminding them to come by his office if they need to chat, or asking the kids to come by his house every Friday afternoon to write mash-ups? The fact that a lot of the camera work last night seemed to be avoiding them even in group shots makes me feel like the show is actively trying to get us to forget about them. As much as I’ve groused about them, I won’t forget – I’ll remember everything about Unique, and how Jake danced, and how Kitty was growing into her role as Greek chorus so nicely, and how Marley gave genuine warmth to even the sappiest ballad, and how Ryder … was … really susceptible to catfishing? (Sorry, Ryder.) And since now’s probably the last chance I’ll have in awhile, I’d like to reiterate that my antipathy for Mr. Schue has almost nothing to do with Matthew Morrison, who’s been mis- and under-used for years now. Remember this?
The New Directions are dead. Long live the New Directions.