Glee Series Finale Plot Summary:
For its final act, Glee flashed back to the beginning before the New Directioners became friends and forward to the future to see where they ended up after they left William McKinley High School.
It’s finally over. After six years of uneven storytelling, countless songs and more self-righteous preaching than any one show should inflict upon its audience, Glee has taken its final bow. Unsurprisingly, Friday night’s double episode finale was a mixed bag. It was sad, joyful and frequently maddening, but the show marched to the beat of its own drum all the way to the end and it was a fitting finale to a landmark piece of television.
The first hour, “2009,” flashed back to the days before the New Directioners became a team and it was at turns touching and infuriating. Watching characters like Rachel (Lea Michele) and Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) before the writers ruined them was a painful reminder of how focused and sharp the show used to be. Nonetheless, it was really touching watching the characters find each other knowing how close they would become six years down the line. Unfortunately, the show had to rewrite its own history to pull it off. What made the pilot so interesting was that it was about a group of misfits with big personalities who put aside their differences to make beautiful music together. The implication was that the glee club brought them together and that without it, they would never have met. “2009” revealed that these kids not only knew each other before glee club, but were even friends in some cases.
Nowhere was this retconning more damaging than with the Mercedes (Amber Riley)/Rachel relationship. These two have always been self-centered divas who viewed the other as a threat. That was especially true of Rachel and while she was still the fast-talking megalomaniac introduced in the pilot, her edges were softened. She actually respected Mercedes’ talent then, even seemed to think they could exist easily together in the glee club before Mercedes accused her of being a conniving bitch and soured the relationship.
The thing is, Mercedes should have been right. The Rachel from the pilot absolutely would have made a condescending comment about the two of them appealing to different audiences—Mercedes’ audience being the inferior one. Making Rachel seem hurt by that implication, conflicted with who the character was at the time. The show made it even worse when it revealed that Schue (Matthew Morrison) didn’t give her the first solo because she was the best in the group (which he said at the time and the narrative the show has always operated under), but because she was the “most pathetic” and needed the boost. That choice fundamentally rewrote who the character was, turning her from a fiercely competitive girl with the talent to back up her confidence to a lonely loser who only got ahead because people pitied her. It was one final indignity for a character who has suffered too many.
The only thing that made up for the change to her beginning was that her ending was almost perfect. In the second episode, “Dreams Come True,” Rachel got everything she wanted. The glee club won nationals under her direction, she returned to NYADA and eventually won a Tony. Since Monteith’s untimely death made creator Ryan Murphy’s plan to have Finn and Rachel end up together impossible, the show gave her the next best thing and she married former lover and rival, Jesse St. James (Jonathan Groff). It was a weird, last minute pairing that seemed especially jarring since the show spent the entire season trying to make us invest in her romance with Sam (Chord Overstreet), but it was the right end for the character. Much the same could be said for the other characters’ stories and the second episode mostly served to assure the audience that everyone lived happily ever after.
Still, the happy endings would have been more effective if the two episodes had been cut together instead of playing one after the other. Both were episodic in their storytelling, focusing on one major character at a time. Contrasting past and future for each then moving onto the next would have given the episodes much needed organization. Instead, “2009” felt slow and disjointed while “Dreams Come True” felt rushed. The biggest problem, though, was that both were too narrow in their focus. The final huge group performance of OneRepublic’s “I Lived,” with its cursory shots of people like Quinn (Dianna Agron) and Santana (Naya Rovera) only served to remind how many beloved characters were left out. Instead, the most emotional moment of the finale came at the end of the first episode when they replayed–unchanged–New Directions first performance of “Don’t Stop Believing” from the pilot. Watching it now, it’s hard not to be struck by all that wasted promise. The show really hit upon something special in that first episode and it couldn’t figure out how to keep it.
During her Tony speech, Rachel said something that sums up the show: “Being a part of something special does not make you special. Something is special because you are a part of it.” The show was special because of the talented cast and their connection and the show only occasionally knew what to with them. Sure the characters had zero continuity and the stories were repetitive and stupid, but when those kids sang, nothing could compare. In the same way, enjoying Glee was more about what fans got out of it than what the show itself could do. Enjoying it was about doing so in spite of its mistakes. Like I said for this season’s premiere episodes, I wouldn’t presume to speak for people who loved/hated this show, but I know how I feel about this crazy journey. I’m glad it’s over, but I’m glad I went on it too.
By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over every detail of America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture and celebrity obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to. You can find her risking her life by reading comic books while walking down the crowded streets of New York City, having inappropriate emotional reactions at her iPad screen while riding the subway or occasionally letting her love of a band convince her to stand for hours on end in one of the city’s many purgatorial concert spaces. You can follow her on Twitter to read her insightful social commentary or more likely complain about how cold it is at @MarisaCarpico.