Have you ever wanted to watch an hour of TV of teenagers staring at each other dreamily? That's what the "Glee" season finale is, mixed with the inner monologues of the key cast of graduating seniors to narrate the journey.
It's time to say "Goodbye" to the seniors and set up season 4 as best "Glee" can. Unfortunately, the real symptoms of a bloated show rear their ugly head in this finale, when there simply isn't enough time to settle the fates of so many seniors in a mere hour. "Glee" has made us care too much, and when they try to reign the story back in to a single point of focus it's impossible to let go and not crave more and more from the enormous cast of characters.
We begin with the strains of "Sit Down We're Rocking The Boat" floating through the hallway, as the original 5 reprise their tune from the pilot. Will walks in, tells them their final assignment is goodbye songs, and then sings them Rod Stewart's "Forever Young" as his entry to the theme.
The structure of this episode is framed around different seniors reflecting on their high school journey. We start with Kurt, who reflects on his years at school in a voice over, and we see these little baby gay kids, and Papa Hummel is waiting in the auditorium to give him his graduation gift -- a performance of Beyonce's "Single Ladies." Kurt recounts the charming way Burt shook his hips and made an old meme come alive again to Blaine, who worries about them doing a long distance relationship come fall. Kurt promises he'll never say goodbye to Blaine, and that they'll grow old together in a modified version of "The Notebook." Then Kurt dedicates Madonna's "I'll Remember" as his goodbye song to the men of "Glee" who didn't see him as different, they only saw the things that made them the same -- which definitely glosses over a lot of season one and parts of season two (we'll let them have season three as a gimmie).
In a fast check-in with the seniors who don't have New York-centric plotlines, we learn Mercedes got a recording contract as a backup singer at an indie label in LA and Mike was all set to go to Alvin Alley and then switched tracks when the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago accepted him. Usually these plans are finalized sooner than two days before graduation. Santana overhears this and realizes she's just as much of a star as the rest of the glee clubbers and she shouldn't waste the star on Kentucky and instead is destined for New York too. She powwows with her mom, Gloria Estefan, and Britt, who isn't graduating because she's flunking all her classes. By the end of the episode we learn that Santanta's mom has been saving money for her to go to college, and she gives it to Santana and tells her to make her first adult decision and use it as she wants, be it New York or college.
After Finn and the rest of the seniors sing the New Radicals' "You Get What You Give" to the underclassmen in the most aggressive way -- is it possible to punch someone with a song? -- he internal-monologues about how fear is no longer in his vocabulary. We finally get closure on the fact that Schue planted that pot on Finn in season one to blackmail him into New Directions, and instead of being angry he says it makes Schue cooler.
Then, out of the blue, Finn returns to his disgraced father plotline that almost everyone who watched the show had forgotten by now and suddenly feels like he's not redeeming his father by becoming an actor. Where's all this father angst been the last few weeks, Finn? The underclassmen sing a song for him, thanking him for his sacrifices and bravery for being a part of the club with The Beatles "In My Life," because if there's one lesson we learned from Glee it's that it's extremely brave for someone to be in both football and glee club. Somewhere in the middle of this sap-fest of everyone making eyes at each other, Puck and Quinn catch each other's glances and remember how they used to be a somewhat cool pairing. Quinn then thinks about how nothing will stop any of here friends, except for Puck who still hasn't officially passed his one remaining class, so she resolves to help him by kissing the Puck swagger back into him. Apparently that's all it takes for Puck to come back to life and become a star again. He passes, and the whole senior class throws a song and dance party as their graduation -- wow, their class is actually tiny -- to Puck singing Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days." Everyone gets a dramatic entrance, audience hugs and their moment in the spotlight. It's much more fun than any actual graduation would be.
The elation doesn't last long, however, as Finn, Rachel and Kurt all convene to find out if they've been accepted to college. It's one of the better moments of "Glee" because you actually care, and it hurts when Finn and Kurt don't get into their schools, but Rachel does. You might not have expected Finn's last ditch effort to get to New York to work, but even when it fails you're sympathetic. As for Kurt and Rachel, after a season that's pitted them against each other in terms of their complimentary yet warring ambitions, to see Kurt fail while Rachel succeeds, again, is heartbreaking.
There's opportunity to go into this in depth, but the show simply doesn't make the time for it, instead focusing on our final internal monologue of the episode -- Rachel, who despite getting everything she wanted says she'll defer her acceptance for a year so she can go to New York with Finn and Kurt. But first she's off to marry Finn, except Finn fakes her out and instead takes her to the train station to go to New York so she can look at dorms. He won't let her defer or marry him, and forces a break up so she'll face her dreams alone while he enlists in the army to redeem his father's legacy.
It's like everyone went batshit crazy and ended up in a completely different show for this episode, and while sometimes the moments are strong, they don't fit with the "Glee" we knew all year long.
As he puts her on the train, Rachel sings Room for Two's "Roots Before Branches." The whole Glee club shows up to this extremely awkward moment to see Rachel off. It's an excessive sequence for her arrival in New York... to look at dorms for the weekend. Do they all realize they have to do the dramatic goodbye again at the end of the summer?
Somehow this finale managed to have too many scenes yet not enough scenes at the same time. Where is the resolution to Kurt's storyline? When do Britt and Santana make any decisions about their fate as a couple? Puck may have graduated but does he actually have a way out of Lima? Will Sugar Motta ever learn to sing? The last is clearly less pressing, and while the lack of resolution for so many characters leaves a lot for next season, they can't really be called cliffhangers when they're more a product of a lack of time than design. Plus, thanks to the pop culture news cycle we know bits and pieces of what's to come already, specifically that Kurt Hummel will have a mentor in the form of Sarah Jessica Parker, and that the show will focus on a split narrative between New York and Lima come season 4.
Now "Glee"'s got three months to bulk that up, tease it out and see if it can reign the ship in from the sprawling mess it's danced on the edge of all season long.