“Glee” is obsessed with writing final episodes, or episodes that at least feel that way. That’s “Glee” 101 for you, both literally and figuratively. While we’re still a season and a half away from the actual finale of the series, so many episodes to date have carried the weight of an ending. For example, Episode 13 (which was the last episode filmed before “Glee” became a hit) does it’s best to cap off the series there in case of a cancellation. Almost all the season finales feel like they could stand alone as caps to the series, and some middle episodes like “The Quarterback” carry the weight of finality in their own ways. When “Glee” really ends, will any of us have any emotion left to give?
“New Directions,” the 101st episode in the series, asks for our emotions from the get-go, and you can’t help but feel the weight of another important goodbye, even if the pacing edges on roller coaster style. The show has big declarations to make, and important plot loose ends to tidy up before our characters don a cap and gown, sing a tribute song to Mr Schue and go on their way. At times, this big and final strategy works brilliantly. You can never go wrong with a Mercedes Jones powerhouse number, and even better if you throw some Kurt Hummel on top of that just for good measure.
They sing “I Am Changing” from Dreamgirls to inspire Santana and Rachel to mend their friendship. When Tina starts fretting about her future and what it would mean to go off to NYC without a college, Blaine, Artie and Sam break out a stripped down acoustic version of Season 2’s “Loser Like Me” from “Original Song.” It’s one of “Glee’s” better uses of musical reinvention, taking the throwback song concept and not just giving it another go, but letting it fit the new emotions of the characters. New Directions has gone from losers to winners and back to loser again, but right now as optimistic as they’re trying to be about their post-school future, they’re still a defeated club. The song resonates, and reminds you of how great “Glee” can be when they venture outside the note-for-note cover box.
Then, of course, there’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” which, despite now being on it’s 6th appearance on the show, will undoubtedly have to pop up at least one more time at the actual series finale (if not more). This time it’s prefaced by a tribute video from the new and old club members to Mr. Schue, reminiscent of the “To Sir, With Love” moment from Season 1. The last time this song appeared on the show, Rachel wowed at her Fanny Brice audition with the help of her fantasy original club members playing back up. It’s also Cory Monteith’s last musical performance on the show, and so when Kurt sings Finn’s line in this new version and Will shoots a look at the sky, you can’t help but feel the gut-punch. They twirl, and bow, and Schue even gets to join in on stage. It’s hard to imagine anything more final than this performance of the song, but we could say that about almost any reprise the tune has had by this point. “Glee’s” made an art of making the never-ending seems final.
In contrast to where “Glee” lulls you with throwback emotions, there’s also something frenetic about the episode. With so much to go through we jump all over the place. Britt woos Santana with lilies, offers her a one-way ticket to Lesbos Island and gets her to give up being Rachel’s understudy all in a single scene. Santana didn’t really want to be on Broadway anyway, she just wanted to win, and so she quits the show and moves on for no real good reason other than she wants to take an extended vacation with Britt before they end up back in New York.
To seal the deal in true club fashion, Santana and Rachel sing Oh Honey’s “Be Okay” to the group and all is mended. Later Quinn and Puck are giving it a go after a duet to “Just Give Me A Reason” by Pink and Nate Ruess. You’d think after all the focus the pair got last week we’d explore a little more of their plans for a life together, but there’s simply no time. The newbies even have to squeeze in some sentiments about how much the choir room meant to them before we likely never see them again. It’s an awful lot for 44 minutes.
Then there’s just the delightfully weird sprinkled throughout. We go back to the trope of knocked-out Tina has crazy fantasizes, like a charming idealized future where everyone ends up in NYC living in the loft and working at the diner together in a modern version of Friends called Chums. Blaine and Kurt are making out in their bunk beds! Sam never remembers to wear his clothes! Rachel gets a horrible haircut! You sort of wish Tina would never wake up. Later, the only reason to explain why Holly Holiday dressed up like Temple Grandin as a transition into a foam party ’80s performance of Eddie Murphy’s “Party All The Time” is that Paltrow must have had some special provisions in her contract. Who really cares why it’s there, though, when she’s gyrating on lab tables and everyone is in fabulous costumes?
In the end, it is the end. Our seniors graduate, the choir room is emptied to become the computer lab, and Schue gets a chance from Sue to coach Vocal Adrenaline. The season could end here, and so could the series, yet we’re back next week to focus on the stories of New York City. Perhaps “Glee’s” perma-finale nature is a function of the show’s musical core. Songs tie a big emotional ribbon on a storyline, and “Glee” is chock full of songs and emotion. “Don’t Stop Believin’” is the ultimate of “Glee’s” self-referential nature, but it’s the tip of the iceberg. “Glee” love to look back, and bring up an old joke explicitly. It’s less about the easter egg reference and more about the in-your-face of dance moves on repeat, old lines ghosting over scenes, and singing that same song again. But that’s just musical theater for you. Everything great has a reprise. Now that we’re entering “Glee’s” final act, it’s only fitting that we keep circling back again and again.