Forty-eight hours before I settled in to watch last night’s Glee finale, I was sitting in the Big Thunder Ranch Main Stage at Disneyland, awaiting a high-school choir performance. This wasn’t a planned study in contrasts or anything — just a weird, happy coincidence. There was a beleaguered adult accompanist. There were sequins and show faces and lifts. As we clapped along to an even-more-enthusiastic-than-the-original (such a thing is apparently possible) cover of “Happy,” my friend leaned over to me and asked, “So, is this what Glee is like?” I almost said yes, reflexively, but then for the millionth time in the past several weeks, it hit me: No. Glee is something different now. But we’ll get to that.
Given Darren Criss’s wheelhouse, Glee doesn’t give us Blaine behind a piano nearly often enough, and as he sings “All of Me,” it’s hard not to think of the last time he sat at a piano and sang to Kurt — that ended with a betrayed, furious Kurt, too. I hate watching Kurt and Blaine argue because I’m a human with a heart, but I love that Glee has found a way to create and explore conflict in their relationship without having one of them cheat on the other. Their conversations about trust are surprisingly frank and mature, and while I’d still prefer Kurt’s own stories to be moving forward rather than him constantly having to come to terms with others’ success, I’m (improbably) really happy with where the two of them are at the end of this season. I’m also very excited about how Kurt and Blaine now have a canonical bird fetish. Have a great summer, fan-fiction writers!
Still, I wonder whether all of the “we’re okay no matter what” groundwork the writers have been laying is just preparing us for more Klaine strife in the show’s final season. (I’d much rather have 22 full episodes of them looking at wedding magazines and going to cake tastings, but I’d be willing to settle for 12.) Sure, Kurt and Blaine managed to stand up to Shirley MacLaine’s June Dolloway, but all that took was a quick rendition of “American Boy.” Oh, the power of white-boy rapping and line-dancing. Will you ever fail to triumph? I’m guessing we’ll find out next season.
Meanwhile, Sam’s still modeling, even in the throes of the blue balls induced by Mercedes’s continued abstinence. “My dream of being naked on a public bus is this close to coming true!” (Spoiler: It does.) The two of them break up, which isn’t a surprise, since it seemed pretty evident from the beginning that the show paired them together because they were both straight and single and because a tearful good-bye would be a nice addition to the season finale.
Can we talk for a minute about Amber Riley, though? I’ve joked before that her Dancing With the Stars finale was the best episode of Glee in a really long time, but it’s a true pleasure to see how she’s grown as a performer as Mercedes embarks on tour in support of her album. Sure, it’s a mall tour, but watching her bring down the house while Kurt mouths every word, Brittany (Heather Morris does not look like a woman who’s given birth recently and is therefore obviously a witch) dances her ass off, and Artie films the whole shebang. And I’m thrilled that Mercedes performs a song written specifically for her character rather than a cover — it references both the frustration of drinking Diet Coke and still gaining weight and being mad at God while still liking Jesus, bewilderingly but also awesomely. Well done, Mercedes Jones.
Unrelated: Did anyone else go a little nuts trying to figure out exactly when, where, and how Santana was edited out of the episode?
When she first appeared, I was a little worried that Mary Holloran, the beyond-eccentric screenwriter who’s tasked with writing Rachel’s pilot, was based on Lena Dunham. Then I felt like she was uncomfortably similar to me. (It was, “Can you leave? I need to shame-eat” that did it.) But by the time she reacted with the dawning knowledge that Rachel was going to sing to her with, “Oh, God, no,” I was in love with her forever. And speaking of that song, can we talk about how Rachel told Mary that she was going to show off her true essence through song and then immediately sang the line, “Have you ever felt a lover with just your hands?” Like, just your hands as opposed to what?
And while I know the pilot and series we’ll likely see Rachel filming next season will be based on the rewrite of the script, not Mary’s first draft, I would pay tens and tens of dollars to see a filmed version of the original. If you edited out a third of the hashtag-speak, it’d actually be better than most of the pilots going to air this fall. It has everything: Blaine and Brittany as sex partners/gallery owners! Kurt in a lice-riddled dinosaur suit! Rachel constantly referencing her gay dads while eating cake in a bathtub!
All that aside: There is a particular form of Glee-related anti-subtlety that I’m a complete sucker for, and the episode’s closing number falls under that umbrella, right down to Blaine saying wistfully, “It’s the end of another era for us glee kids!” Rachel makes everyone vow to meet in the exact spot they’re standing in six months from now, a nod to the fact that the sixth season of Glee won’t be solely set in New York, and Kurt wishes they could burst into song … and so they do. As they perform Bastille’s “Pompeii” in the streets of Brooklyn, the song is intercut with shots of all of them going about their adult lives: Artie at film school, Blaine moving back into the loft, and Sam, oddly, back at McKinley, looking at the choir room that’s now being used as a computer lab. Since it seems like the Glee writers have been using Rachel’s actions to guide viewers through grieving Finn’s absence, I’m not completely sure what to make of the fact that the song (and episode) ends with her briefly looking at the sky, then looking straight into the camera in an almost-but-not-quite-but-maybe fourth-wall break.
It’s impossible, of course, to talk about this season of Glee without talking about Finn, in large part because the season was often at its strongest in the moments that dealt with his absence. And it’s equally impossible not to wonder about the Glee that might have been, especially after a season that’s been so very uneven. Glee hasn’t quite figured out what to be this season, whether that’s a product of Cory Monteith’s absence, the struggle to hit the right tone as it tells post-high-school stories, or a combination of the two.
Still, there were things to love about season five, too: more scenes that passed the Bechdel Test than ever before, Mike O’Malley and Romy Rosemont’s continued stellar guest performances, a Klaine engagement, and a reprise of “Don’t Stop Believin’” that managed to sum up the essence of Glee almost better than the hundred episodes that came before it had. I think I’ve ended each of my season-finale recaps with veiled or outright promises to walk away from the show forever, but I know I’ll be back for another round — but not until 2015. Never been a better time for a Tina Cohen-Chang “We’ll all be dead by then!” GIF, am I right?
In every way possible: I cannot wait to see how this ends.