Glee Recap: Journey (Season 1 Finale)
There’s only one way to say this: Glee’s season 1 finale was a letdown in many ways—possibly in every important way. And the sad thing is that, just like those sweet, earnest kids of William McKinley High’s New Directions, it tried—so hard—to please.
What are the things we viewers want from a season finale? A certain sense of closure, to be sure—optimally, story lines resolved in ways that answers questions and yet pose new, larger ones for the next season. And in the best season finales, an expansion of the original premise and a raising of the stakes, which enlarge our understanding of the characters and deepen our complicity in their stories, enough to keep the show alive in our hearts and minds during the off season.
Now, what did we get? Like the last act of a Shakespearean comedy or the entry ramp to Noah’s Ark, we got a lot of pair-ups. Rachel kisses Finn on the stairs and he tells her he loves her. Puck loves Quinn. Will loves Emma. It appears that Artie and Tina are now a full-on couple. And Shelby pairs up with… well, we’ll get to that.
And we wanted pair-ups, we rooted for them. So why did they feel, especially as they piled on, so schematic and unsatisfactory?
All right. Let’s get some quibbles out of the way. I’m old enough that I should feel shame for my unclean feelings for Finn, and maybe show choir works differently nowadays, but in my day you knew what you were going to sing and rehearsed the heck out of it months ahead of competition day. What’s with New Directions constantly coming up with the program several days before showtime? I know they have to keep our attention but if that’s true, why the reprise of “Don’t Stop Believin’”? I love the song as much as anyone (in fact, Glee’s version is on heavy rotation on my iTunes), and yes, I even teared up during this rendition too (loved Puck and Santana’s duet in the middle, and Mercedes’ gratuitous and delicious modulation), but I still wondered why I was hearing the same song for the third time in one season!
I get it’s their anthem. Sing something new.
Oh and same with “Over the Rainbow.” First of all, what an … unclimactic … way to go out. I like Will and I like his rendition of this version of the song, but for the last two minutes of the season, I would have gone another way. Many other ways. Second, same objection as to “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Because I am such a Gleek, I’ve heard Matt Morrison’s rendition several times already, from his audition tape and Glee’s live appearances in recent months. I honestly couldn’t believe it was being pulled into the show. More specifically, the last seconds of the season finale. It felt like retread, a “Greatest Hits” episode from a show that is only one season long.
Also, at least one too many scenes of the kids in despair. Brought the energy of the episode down.
Okay. That’s the minor stuff. Here are the big problems:
Glee producers, writers, story editors, everyone responsible for this episode: The big drama is Quinn’s baby??? Really????
I violently object to the most tedious story line of the season hijacking the finale. Of all the emotional arcs—Kurt’s coming out and his evolving relationship with his father, Kurt’s father and Finn’s mother, Will and Terri and Emma, Finn and Quinn and Rachel, Rachel and Jesse and Rachel finding her birth mother Shelby—the one they foreground for the season finale is Quin’s … yawn … regrettable-in-every-way pregnancy?
Of course it was inevitable. We were set up and forced to endure the baby plot all season long for just this pay-off, but I feel gypped and dragooned. As in what a drag. What a pathetic lack of imagination. Both utterly unsurprising and punishing.
Furthermore, I must post two significant addenda to this objection:
Addendum A, what a boring and utterly conventional TV labor room scene. Seen one, you’ve seen them all. Totally uninteresting. Of course TV labor is always over in twenty minutes, and the only surprise is that the Quinn gives birth one month early, to the biggest premie in the world.
Addendum B, and this is more important: why why why was this unexceptional and cheesy footage interspliced with Vocal Adrenaline’s extraordinary performance of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody? The camera kept cutting away from Jesse’s incendiary performance to Quinn birthing—way to undermine one of your biggest stars and best scenes and show an ironic lack of faith that musical performance alone can keep the audience’s attention. As a Jonathan Groff fan, I found this hugely annoying.
Okay, major issues two and three are the same and I discuss them more in depth in my season wrap-up but for a finale that’s supposed to resolve or at least bring new understanding to major story arcs, I am left completely unsatisfied about both Rachel’s relationship with Jesse (no explanation? Really, Glee? Nothing?) and with her birth mother Shelby. And then Shelby adopts Quin and Puck’s baby? Huh? Shelby can’t handle being a mother to your own child Rachel, but is happy to get a fresh start someone else’s brand new kid? That’s just weird to me. Or at least weird that it doesn’t destroy Rachel. This is Rachel, after all. She’s destroyed by a nasty comment on her MySpace page, but not by rejection from the birth mother she’s yearned for all her life? The writers almost looked in that direction with Rachel’s line about Quinn having “a beautiful baby girl,” but that’s all we got.
Oh and then Quinn’s back to school a couple of scenes later, seemingly unscathed by either the birth or the giving up of the baby. I get that they wanted her there with the others in the beautiful and moving “To Sir with Love,” but where is the larger character development on these people? Why are the guys so sensitive and well-rounded but the girls made of Teflon?
One last quibble, although maybe this one’s just me. I never in my life expected to say this, but I could have used fewer “I love yous.” Where is the subtlety? Say it or sing it, but both in succession, several times in a row, feel unearned and too neatly tied up.
All right. On to the good stuff. I know I made it sound all bleak in the first paragraph but there was good stuff. This is Glee, after all.
I don’t care what anyone says, I think Cory Monteith can sing, and heck, can he act. He captures Finn’s conflicts and struggle to live with integrity perfectly, and boy does he shine in the myriad flickers when he conveys Finn’s vulnerability, joy and radiant inner life.
I loved how Olivia Newton-John out-Sued Sue, and I loved Sue’s show of heart. The look on Jane Lynch’s face in the judge’s room—she knows how to show the humanity in that character that makes the ruthlessness all the more enjoyable.
And the outcome of the competition. The blogs and critics were calling for Vocal Adrenaline to win, if only for the sake of realism and of course next season’s storyline, and I was on board with that, but still, I found myself totally devastated when New Directions lost. Our kids have a lot of heart and their hearts got broke.
I know I sound like a hater, and no doubt I’m judging more harshly than I might have because I just spent the last two days rewatching every episode in the season and loving—nay, crushing on—Glee. I have my issues with it, as you can read in my soon upcoming season wrap-up, but overall, overwhelmingly, Glee is one of the most fun, pleasurable shows on TV. Its course over the Season 1 was bumpy, but show me a show whose first season wasn’t. It was a journey, a marvelous one. There were many great episodes, many more absolutely wonderful moments, and a cast of characters worth genuinely caring about. Which is why I found this episode so, so heartbreaking. This episode should have been fun. It should have been exciting. It should have been packed with everything I love about Glee, and it should have left me wanting more.
Does this all sound like I was watching the episode dry-eyed? Let’s just say I was operating a pen with one hand and a mountain of kleenex with the other. From the second Finn told Rachel he loves her all the way through their incredible Journey medley was one epic weep. Yes, I know I quibbled about the re-use of “Don’t Stop.” Doesn’t mean I wasn’t sobbing so hard I had to turn up the volume to hear the kids sing.
Someone please promise me that Glee, the show with so much energy and hope and promise, didn’t just jump the shark in its very first season.
* * *