written by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk & Ian Brennan | directed by Brad Falchuk
I stopped watching Glee early-season 4, and haven't kept up with the show since, but felt drawn to this episode as it's the long-awaited tribute to actor Cory Monteith—who sadly died of a drugs overdose shortly before production on season 5 started. I wasn't a particular fan of Monteith's character (the eponymous quarterback and notoriously awful dancer Finn), but he was a key part of Glee when I watched and it felt like the thing to do. It's also interesting to see how any television show deals with the untimely or unexpected death of a leading actor; but particularly Glee, seeing as it's often criticised for being bathetic.
As expected, what kept this episode engaging was knowing the actors were being asked to show emotions I'm sure they felt for real. That gave everything a different energy (knowing the tears were genuine and the sentiments true), and there were some excellent performances from Mike O'Malley (lamenting how he rarely hugged his adopted son), Jane Lynch (admitting she regrets knowing Finn died thinking she hated his guts), and, of course, Lea Michele. The latter's late entrance was particularly effective, as her connection to both Finn/Cory both on-screen and off-screen is well-established. It was moving and heartbreaking to see her appear, sing, and share in the tribute of someone whose loss she feels deeper than most.
"The Quarterback" must have been a very difficult episode to writer, or even know how to approach. I approve of the decision to not be specific about exactly how Finn died, and by choosing to not get on a soap box and make this episode about the dangers of drug-taking (which it could so easily have been used to speak out about). I was a little surprised Cory Monteith himself didn't appear in flashbacks, but for an episode about loss it was perhaps a wise move. You felt his absence all the more. The episode also walked that tough line between drama and comedy pretty well, by using sarcastic Sue Sylvester to cut through some of the saccharine bullshit (a role that character is often required for). I wasn't very impressed by the narrative of the episode, involving a memorial tree and Finn's jersey being passed around as a token of everyone's emotions, but obviously this episode wasn't really about storytelling. It was about emotion and saying goodbye to a character/actor who had a big role in a popular TV show.
For all its missteps and tendency to bludgeon you with mushiness, "The Quarterback" worked well as a memorial episode that simply had to be done. The opening "Seasons of Love" song from Rent, and Leah Michele singing Adele's "Make You Feel My Love" also stood out as musical highlights, and my overall impression is that this was a flawed by well-meaning and occasionally beautiful hour. It certainly drew out a few tears from me, if only because some of the character's sentiments struck a chord in me regarding my own dealing with death.
- From the perspective of someone watching an episode of Glee after a year away, it was noticeable how much older some of the cast look now. I know some of them are still part of the show, despite having graduated in season 3's finale, but there are still quite a few actors who really should not be playing high school students now. It's just weird.