Throwback Thursday: Show Reviews: Glee 5×03 (yes, THAT episode).

The first thing about this post that makes me smile is its title. Clearly, past-me believed that it would be the first of many show review posts. It is, to date, the only show review I have written. Ah well. At least I had good intentions.

I wrote this post on 12th October 2013; several days after this Glee episode originally aired. Glee only had one or two seasons after this, and I grew b0red and stopped watching long before the show’s conclusion. But I stand by my assertion that this particular episode is excellent.

I imagine that it cannot be easy, being the writers or producers of a long-running TV show and having to deal with the death of one of the main cast members. Fans are invested in both the character and (certainly in this case) the actor who plays them. The Glee show creators would have been faced with several different options. They could have had some sort of storyline in which Finn Hudson leaves the main cast off-screen. They could have replaced Cory Montieth with another actor and kept the character in. They could have done nothing, except have a little dedication to Cory Montieth at the end of the next episode to air. But instead they spent an entire episode focusing on Finn Hudson having recently died, and how his death (the cause of which is left unexplained) affects the other main characters.

It was a brave decision, but I think it was the best choice they could have made.

SPOILERS!!

…so.

Glee is one of those shows I have a love-hate relationship with. I find most of the stories frustrating enough to make me angry beyond belief (I mean, what the hell was up with having one character give another an eating disorder, which is kind of a weird thing in itself, and then after it’s revealed to all that this was what was done, NOBODY MENTIONS IT AGAIN), but something about it has left me hooked enough to continue watching it through all the frustration. Most of the time it’s like a form of self-imposed torture. But I stick to it for two reasons: 1. Because I hold resiliently on to the misguided belief that they might actually dare to make Ryder and Unique a thing at some point this season, and 2. Because of episodes like this.

The idea behind this episode was to be a memorial to the character of Finn Hudson, and co-incidentally the actor who plays him, Cory Monteith, who died earlier this year of a heroin overdose. As a young lad in his early 30’s with what was shaping up to be an amazing life ahead of him, there is no doubt that his death was a tragedy. And for many of Glee’s young cast, it was the first death of someone they knew/were close to that many of them would have experienced. But in essence, I think this episode was as much about remembering Finn/Cory as it was about dealing with grief itself.

In my experience, I have found that grief is probably one of the most individual of human experiences, in that the way people grieve differs radically from person to person. Some people grieve in the “typical” sense, with lots of crying and hugging people and possibly hitting the bottle for a couple of nights. Others shut themselves off from the world and cry privately. Others don’t cry at all. Some might joke about the person they’ve lost, or maybe say really “inappropriate” things about them. We as humans all have different coping mechanisms, and in my opinion, that is okay. I think that when a person is grieving, they should be allowed to do it in whatever way they please (provided that it doesn’t involve harming others, of course).

In terms of craft, and creating something that would be respectful to the cast and crew, as well as to the audience of Glee, my main concern was that they would do what they normally do when exploring an emotion or issue, and have everybody essentially experience it in the same way. A person has died. Everybody should therefore be sad. And be sad in exactly the same way (ie. be stoic for a bit, until somebody comes along and gets them to break down and cry and essentially admit that they are sad, because crying is the only way people express sadness, don’t you know?). Well, to my blessed relief, they didn’t do this.

Instead, the episode focused on several key characters (characters who had a significant relationship with Finn) and their grieving processes, which were all, blessedly, different (as well as in-character!). Kurt and Rachel were the more constant criers, not afraid of crying or concerned about showing how they were feeling. Puck and Santana were more typically stoic, then more revealing. Will was reasonably upfront about what he was feeling, but he kept it inside until after he had looked after everybody else. Sue was grieving, but she did not cry. I think that is probably what I appreciated the most about this episode – not everybody who is grieving cries.

What was particularly interesting were the character explorations that occurred as a result of Finn’s death. I’ll use Santana’s as an example, mainly because I found it the most interesting. Santana has become one of my favourite characters, primarily because I find that she has a surprising amount of depth for a Glee character. She is a bitch, and she knows it and is normally fairly blase about it, or at least accepts it as fact. But during more honest moments she shows regret about being a bitch, and it seems to be something that she does not want to be.

So in this episode she is mostly quiet and solitary in her grief. At one point after a song she walks away, and when she is found looking at the shrine to Finn near his locker, she says she “had to get away”. She then finds out that Sue wants to get rid of the shrine, and marches into her office, understandably upset, and calls her a complete bitch that Finn always hated. Sue advises her to choose her next words carefully, and Santana ends up pushing her, then walking out looking somewhat horrified. I think the writers intended her to be shocked at herself for what she had just done, but I also think that maybe Santana was also a bit scared that she might someday be as hated as Sue seems to be.

The next scene she’s in, she attempts to redeem herself by singing a tribute song for Finn, but she dissolves into tears before she finishes. When the others try to approach her she screams at them to go away and runs off. Kurt finds her in the auditorium and she tells him that she was planning to “show, for once in my life, that I’m not a bitch” by saying nice things about Finn, but she chickened out. To me this indicates another layer. Maybe her bitchiness is something she hides behind. To protect herself, maybe? Who knows? Either way, she is unwilling for people to see her unbitchy side. Kurt manages to convince her to tell him what she was going to say by saying “do you really think, on your death bed, that you will think ‘thank God, nobody knew I was kind’?” So she tells him, and he finds it quite sweet, and she tells him to please, leave her alone for a bit.

Her next move is to apologise to Sue. Sue tells her to shut up and says that she was right, and that it destroys her to know that Finn will never know that Sue did like him and thought he was a good kid. Santana says to Sue that maybe this will be a turning point for her and Sue tells her to cut the crap. She doesn’t care about any of that. And maybe she doesn’t. What she cares about is that Finn is gone, all that potential is gone and it isn’t coming back. It’s that loss of potential, as well as regret, that seems to upset Sue most.

As for Santana and her bitchy side, it seems as though she was hoping that this might be a turn around for her and she would stop being such a bitch, but Sue’s words imply that she won’t. There are some things that you might wish had happened differently, and that you can go back and repair them, and change yourself for the better, but in this instance it is just too late. And what surprises me is that Glee was intelligent and brave enough as a show to say that sometimes things can’t change, and that is something you have to learn to live with.

The episode certainly had its flaws (some of the songs were a bit daft, some characters fell to the wayside, etc), but for my money, this episode is Glee at its best, and if you are at all interested to see how grief can be portrayed in a variety of ways, I would say that it is well worth a look. It is a bit of a tear-jerker though, so have your tissues at the ready.

Posted by Gillian

Hello. My name is Gillian Brown. I'm a freelance writer living in the UK, with an Australian accent to offer as a starting point of conversation. As a writer, my main areas of interest are social activism, ethical consumption, linguistics, comedy, and marketing. My other interests include dancing, tabletop role-playing, crocheting and cooking.

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