To understand the hour-long insanity-fest that was the season finale of Glee, one first has to understand Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
Ever since its release, “Don’t Stop Believin’” has held a special, nay, irreplaceable spot in the hearts of the American people. This is particularly true, I think, of people from the Midwest. Look at the protagonists. A small-town girl, livin’ in a lonely world. And a city boy, born and raised in South Detroit. If the ever-infallible Wikipedia proves to be correct, Journey actually started in San Francisco. Steve Perry is from California. But the song is framed with a Midwestern city because it’s believable.
It makes sense then, that within the first 10 minutes of the Glee season finale, Will Schuester hears those famed opening piano strains and begins to weep.
We’ve gotten flack for emphasizing Glee’s central Ohio setting before. But it’s fitting to bring it up when talking about this episode because this is one of the rare cases in which we are constantly reminded of the Middle America location. The group finally goes to Regionals, so it’s natural that this would require an understanding of the region we are in.
We find out within the opening scene that Sue is judging Regionals, and she wastes no time giving the best Will’s-hair-related insult this entire season: “Your hair looks like a briar patch. I keep expecting racist animated Disney characters to pop up and start singing songs about living on the bayou.” Jane Lynch should be in everything.
The first thing that happens at Regionals (after lots of nagging fatalism from the Glee Club kids) is we meet the CELEBRITY JUDGES. In addition to Sue are returning guest stars Josh Groban and Olivia Newton-John, and priggish local news anchor Rod Remington (Bill A. Jones), who we last saw breaking Sue Sylvester’s heart.
The horribly-named Oral Insanity Aural Intensity of Fort Wayne, Ind. goes first, taking the suck-up-to-the-judges route and wearing redonkulous white flapper garb. New Directions takes the middle spot, looking stunning in gold and totally killing it with the Journey medley. “Faithfully” was one of the best numbers the show’s had all season. Finn’s smirk goes from character trademark to genuine fun and Rachel is just belting like a pro. The crowd loves it. The entire cast looked like they were having an amazing time performing, which is what counts. And of course, “Don’t Stop Believin’” is irresistible. The only part of the Journey medley that at all felt out of place was the Wham!-esque choreography on “Any Way You Want It.”
The “Bohemian Rhapsody” sequence wasn’t bad, but it may be one of the more bizarre things to happen on this show. The vocals on Queen’s classic were alright—there’s no denying that J-Groff can sing, but the Agnes DeMille-style choreography and Groff’s Scott Stapp-ish poses felt a bit distracting. The juxtaposition of the song with Quinn’s birth scene via rapid-fire edits was unsettling. But it definitely made for interesting television, especially considering how much plot development happened over the course of six minutes or so.
(Also that was totally like the fastest delivery ever. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a long song, but not that long. I know you have a show to run, but c’mon, Glee. Think. It’s a baby, not your Domino’s order. You don’t get free cheesy bread if it comes in 30 minutes or more.)
So now it’s JUDGMENT DAY and things do not look good for New Directions. The other celebri-judges don’t buy the whole ragtag-group-of-inspirational-dreamers thing that New Directions has going for it. “Don’t Stop Believin’” has failed to work its magic. And then, all of a sudden, everybody starts attacking Sue’s Ohio roots. We are reminded again, rather harshly, of our setting, why the idea of dream-chasing in Middle America is so key to this series. On a slightly related note, hearing Jane Lynch yell “Kiss my ass, Josh Groban!” was one of the most strangely gratifying moments of television this year.
Of course, Vocal Adrenaline wins. Oral Discomfort takes second. There is an awkward, half-forced-but-still-half-totally-crushing slow-mo sequence that follows. The close-up on Artie’s face, near tears, would make even the most disinterested viewer want to run up and hug the kid.
But don’t you see? Vocal Adrenaline had to win in order for there to be a second season. Had New Directions won Regionals, there would be nothing to work for, no hope or hard-fought battles following that first crushing defeat. If Rocky had beat Apollo Creed in the first movie, there wouldn’t have been five more (and this analogy TOTALLY WORKS because New Directions is the scrappy, lovable hero against the glamorous, seasoned opponent JUST LIKE IN ROCKY, YOU GUYS). If my beloved hometown team, the Chicago Cubs, ever win the World Series, we won’t know what to do with ourselves following more than a century of blind hope and sing-a-longs of “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
Back at the hospital, Ms. Corcoran shows up out of nowhere and we get the show’s first moment of genuine sadness. When she asks Quinn and Puck what they named their daughter, Quinn says “she doesn’t have a name” and Puck says “Beth.” Kills, doesn’t it?
Of all the character development (or lack thereof?) on the show this season, the evolution of Puck, albeit predictable, is still engaging. In an episode that had been full of over-the-top boo-hooing and sulking, Puck’s simple, heartbroken “Beth” was one of the rare moments of believable emotional turmoil.
Thinking it’s all over, the Glee Club comes together for their “O Captain! My Captain!” moment and sings “To Sir, With Love” for Mr. Schuester. The rendition is sweet, heartfelt and well-executed, a fitting ending to their season, but to make Mr. Schue the hero of the show when the actual club members have grown and matured far more than Will has just… doesn’t seem right.
Will confronts Sue and we find out—as suspected—that she was the good cop in the judging room after all, sticking by the Midwestern misfits and pulling for New Directions to win it all. Alas, it wasn’t enough to combat the other celebri-judges.
In the end though, Sue does the right thing and uses her Sue Sexual Blackmail Powers to woo Figgins into giving Glee another shot, mostly because she knows if she doesn’t, she’ll miss antagonizing Will. Also, this line happened: “I recently contacted an exotic animal dealer because I had a very satisfying dream that the two of us went to a zoo and I shoved your face into one of those pink inflamed monkey butts that weeps lymph.” KILLING IT, Sue.
So a lot of loose ends get tied up in the last five minutes: Will and Emma kiss and make up (sort of), Ms. Corcoran adopts Quinn’s baby and Glee Club gets another year. To celebrate the new beginnings for New Directions, Mr. Schuester takes out a ukulele and breaks into the Israel Kamakiwiwo’ole version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” with Puck on guitar. Oh, the feeeeelings. The song choice borders on Hallmark commercial sap, but ending on an acoustic number instead of a big production was a refreshing, likable conclusion to an over-the-top-even-for-a-show-about-show-choir finale.
It’ll be interesting to see where Glee goes next season, but now that the club for sure has another year, maybe it’s time we can put the whole everyone-being-out-to-destroy-Glee-Club plotline to rest in favor of some new stuff. The show may be almost too ridiculous to watch, but it sure as hell will be entertaining.