The tears flowed freely on Glee’s musical tribute to the late Canadian actor Cory Monteith.
In a particularly sombre episode, each of the characters on Fox’s normally lighthearted drama series grieved the loss of the singing football player named Finn, but you could tell they were really saying goodbye to Cory.
Titled simply “The Quarterback,” the episode has been much anticipated by Glee fans since Monteith’s untimely death in a Vancouver hotel room last July at the age of 31. An autopsy revealed the actor died from the combined use of heroin and alcohol.
Last night’s tribute was penned by Glee co-creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan and while the story stopped well short of suggesting that Monteith’s character also died from drugs, the presumption was clearly there and hung like a pall over the hour-long episode.
Which began, fittingly enough, with all the members of the New Directions glee club gathered in the school auditorium, each wearing black and their voices coming together for a plaintive version of Seasons of Love from the Broadway musical Rent.
The song ended with a screenshot of Monteith as Finn in his McKinley High football sweatshirt.
Focus shifted to Finn’s stepbrother Kurt (Chris Colfer) still numb with grief three weeks after the funeral. Likewise for the teachers at McKinley High, collectively unsure how to honour Finn’s memory, except for the faithfully acerbic Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch).
And from there, the players of Glee began to honour their respective memories of Finn, “the only we way we know how,” said the iron-willed character Mercedes (Amber Riley): “By singing.” At which point Mercedes broke into an aching, symphonic version of The Pretenders’ I’ll Stand By You, which ended with the entire music room singing along.
For most of the tribute episode, that’s how Glee dealt with the death of Finn/Cory. By having the principal cast members perform, either solo or in groups, emotional versions of popular songs that deal with love and loss. There wasn’t a single smile or breezy moment through the entire hour.
We saw the likeable nerd Artie (Kevin McHale), aka “wheelchair kid,” join a handful of New Directions singers for a mournful take of James Taylor’s Fire and Rain.
We saw the tormented, talented thug known as Puck (Mark Salling) deliver an angry version of Bruce Springsteen's No Surrender. We watched the normally hot-blooded Santana (Naya Rivera) barely hold it together for her cathartic rendition of The Band Perry’s If I Die Young.
Inobtrusive storylines were gently feathered in throughout the Monteith tribute, each somehow more heartbreaking than the one before it.
Among other unhappy developments, Finn’s parents Burt (Mike O’Malley) and Carole (Romy Rosemont) were still in delayed shock over their son’s death. Finn’s beloved football jacket went mysteriously missing. Someone vandalized the tree memorial planted in the late footballer’s memory.
More notably, teacher and glee club mentor Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) couldn’t bring himself to cry over Finn’s passing.
But even non-Gleeks knew that the spotlight moment in the Monteith sendoff episode would undoubtedly go to Lea Michele, who plays Finn’s girlfriend Rachel on the show and was romantically involved with Monteith in real life.
At the recent Teen Choice Awards, an extremely tearful Michele wore a necklace spelling “Cory” and devoted her best actress trophy to Monteith. Even though the Glee tribute episode was filmed in advance and under controlled conditions, everyone knew she would be the last to say goodbye to Monteith.
Did she ever. In the episode’s final tribute act, Michele’s character stood quietly before the New Directions team in the music room and told them, “I love Finn and I know he loved all you guys,” before she began a heartwrenching version of Make You Feel My Love.
Bob Dylan’s achingly beautiful love song has been covered by the likes of Adele and Tom Jones, but Michele’s version soared. This was her public farewell to the love of her life and the song ended with tears streaming down her face and the faces of everyone in the room.
And finally, the real impact of Finn’s passing, and surely of Monteith’s death, registered with the man in charge of the Glee club, who was shown at home alone, finally sobbing uncontrollably into a varsity jacket.
Yes, Mr. Schuester took Finn’s jacket.