For all of its fumbles, every once in a while, Glee manages to turn in an episode that's weirdly "real" within its safe fantasy land where everyone always gets what they want and there's no such thing as repercussions for anything. Ever. Finn's death was initially addressed in the wonderfully reserved "The Quarterback" and then not really mentioned again except for the occasional passing comment—which, not gonna lie, I've been a little grumpy about because a loss like that tends to have a long reach with a lasting impact. Look at the real-life effect that Cory Monteith's death has had on Glee, on his castmates. The period of relative silence following "The Quarterback" may've initially felt like a deliberate effort to keep the sugary sweet magic of Glee front and center, to maintain TV's little musical happy place, but "City of Angels" served as a mostly-eloquent-but-messy-in-some-spots reminder that you don't have to spend your every waking moment weeping to be in mourning, and just because the show goes on doesn't mean that everyone is okay, that there isn't ample baggage hiding just off stage.
The idea of turning New Directions' entire Nationals performance into a tribute to Finn was expected, though a little uncomfortable, if only for the undue pressure that it put on the club to win—not even to just do their best, but to win. I wasn't a show choir geek in high school (marching band geeks represent!), but we were in a very similar situation one year, to the point that this episode maaay have freaked me out just a smidge. We'd won our version of Nationals the year before and over the summer, lost a student in a car accident; she was a senior, a section leader, someone who was considered a lynch pin that held the band together. Long story short: The entire season was dedicated to her memory, and when we returned to Nationals we were going to win it, for her, aaaand we came in second place. We earned the highest score in the history of our school's band progam at the time, but we went home with what Sue referred to in "City of Angels" as "a loser trophy." It was the longest, saddest, and quietest bus ride back home in my life... and we didn't even have the added bonus of inadvertently getting our program cut from the budget like New Directions' did.
About that program cutting: That's so not going to stand. "City of Angels"—despite the emo-kid ending that saw New Directions take a respectable second place to Throat Explosion but lose their line item in McKinley's budget—was as much about healing as "The Quarterback" was about mourning. While "The Quarterback" was an episode that paused to reflect on Finn Hudson's loss, "City of Angels" looked toward the future. Carole and Burt chaperoned the trip, and while Carole initially struggled with being around so many of Finn's friends who were laughing and loving L.A. and, first and foremost, living, she eventually came to see Finn in each of them, continuing to live and thrive in some small way. For the New Directions, the show went on, and while they "lost," honestly, I don't know if I would've wanted it any other way. Glee, in all of its dealings with Finn's death (and by extension, Cory's), has shown remarkable restraint and respect. It's avoided falling prey to overwrought displays of emotion or "milking" the real tragedy for fictional drama. In many ways, Glee still perpetuates its own fantasy, but the loss of Finn Hudson symbolizes the end of that fantasy.
With that said: The one-two punch of losing both Nationals and the program in its entirety is a little too dark and dismal, even for this more mature Glee. I think New Directions has enough moderately famous alumni that a super-fundraiser is probably in the works (especially given all the sweet, sweet guest-spots coming up in next week's 100th episode bonanza).
Meanwhile, Glee's plans to move to New York City on a full-time basis by the end of the season further illustrate that we are indeed in the "life goes on" portion of our mourning. To remain at McKinley would mean to stagnate. Audiences have struggled to embrace the new New Direction-ers since they were first introduced, and part of that difficulty, I wholeheartedly believe, precedes the death of Finn and just plain hinges on the fact that Marley made her entrance in an episode called "The New Rachel" and she's not. We've got a new Puck and a new Rachel and a new Quinn in Jake, Marley, and Kitty, but we haven't had the chance to get to know Jake, Marley, and Kitty the way we knew their predecessors. "Heirs" exist in artsy school clubs, sure. There's always at least one bright, shining talent in every class who everyone knows will get all the solos as soon as the bright, shining talent in the class ahead of them graduates, but those things aren't set in stone (look at Tina), and no one is ever the "new" anyone. (Which is why I was a little uncomfortable with the implication that Sam is the "new" Finn.)
High school is repetitive and cyclical. There's a prom every year. A senior class graduates and a freshmen class arrives. Some things stay the same, but people aren't things. As soon as Glee asked us to embrace the new class at McKinley as replacements for the departed characters who we were already emotionally invested in after several seasons, they were doomed.
Finn's mom struggled with the notion that when the current students graduate from McKinley, Finn's living memory would be gone from the school—a school that is saturated with so much of who Finn was. She wasn't wrong and yes, that's sad, but it's also healthy. McKinley was wholly Finn's realm and Glee was obviously taking the steps in his storyline to make him a permanent fixture in the school as a teacher. Without Finn, there's really very little reason to keep dwelling on McKinley. To keep returning there, episode after aimless episode, would be to constantly highlight "what could have been," both in the fictional world of New Directions and here in the real world, where Ryan Murphy alluded to a larger presence for Cory Monteith in Glee's final seasons.
By moving forward with plans to shift Glee's focus for its final season and a half, the show itself is acknowledging that while there will always be some level of sadness in these final episodes, there is also hope. It's okay to carry your grief with you—you just can't let it consume you, or halt you in your tracks.
– Glee playlist shenanigans: I really liked "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."
– I wasn't crazy about the stolen Finn plaque story, but I was pleased by the revelation that Jean-Baptiste found out who in his group took it and punished them accordingly.
– Is it just me, or does New Directions' choreography for big competitions never seem all that impressive? The performances rely so much on close-ups and camera work, but if you look at the folks in the background, all anyone else seems to be doing is swaying to the rhythm.
– It's been so long since it was last mentioned that I totally forgot about the Will vs. Roz budget battle storyline. Oops.
– What did you think of the Nationals outcome? Did the best glee club win?
– Thoughts on the impending move to NYC?
AIRED ON 5/13/2014
Season 5 : Episode 20