Death is always tragic, never more so than when the deceased is young. Even when drugs and alcohol and poor choices are involved, there is still great regret to see someone lose their life. The recent tragedy with Glee’s Cory Monteith, only 31 years old, despite being nothing new for Hollywood, is such a terrible event.
However, the story must go on. Glee has other seasons to produce, and the characters have to continue their arcs. It is the unenviable task of writers, who care about a series and quite possibly its stars, to have to figure out how to handle the next few episodes in order to pay tribute to the character and the performer behind them. This is the case no matter what the age of the actor, and given production schedules, not much time can be spared to mourn.
Many series have handled this in different ways. Recently, TNT’s Dallas wrote Larry Hagman’s JR’s death into a season-long mystery arc and used some special effects trickery to build JR himself into the plot. The West Wing had Leo McGarry die off screen when John Spencer passed, although it somewhat changed their direction for the rest of that final year.
Recasting a role may be an option in some instances, but not in this one. Monteith is arguably one of the show’s two most central characters, and any attempt to put someone else in the part would result in a huge fan backlash that would cripple the show in such a manner that it would never recover.
So Finn will either have to be killed off or be said to have departed to somewhere that he will not return from. Given his importance to Glee, it’s likely to be the former, since having Finn gone somewhere, without seeing his happy ending, would feel hollow and forced, given the direction the character has gone in.
It would have been easier, story-wise, if this had happened last summer. Season three ended with Finn joining the armed forces, and as cliché as ‘died in combat’ may be to a show, it would have made sense. Instead, the last we see of Finn, he makes up with Will and agrees to help coach the New Directions in competition… which he is never seen doing because Monteith unexpectedly went to rehab while those episodes were being filled. Frustratingly, the writers did not explain or address his absence, but surely they cannot continue that tactic now.
How will Finn be killed? I can’t imagine it will be by drugs, something his character is never shown to favor. Most likely a car wreck will be the culprit, which is also pretty done before, and Glee has already had a character critically injured in one, but it requires little explanation and will feel more natural than most choices.
Despite the comedic tone of Glee, Finn will need to go in an emotionally moving way, one that allows his cast mates to show their sorrow on screen. This will be especially true for Lea Michele, Finn’s real life girlfriend and on screen love interest. Rachel will never get to be with Finn, and that should be a driving arc for her for some time, restructuring her entire tale this fall.
Fans wants to mourn with those on screen. The actors know Monteith as a friend, but viewers feel sort of that way, too, at least towards the character of Finn. We need to say goodbye in some kind of tribute that remembers the good, minimizing the bad. There may be a funeral, there may be a montage, there may be teary speeches, but there will be something sad and honorable. No matter what Glee chooses to do, it will probably be a sorrowful, touching first hour back.
Glee will return, sans Finn, this fall on FOX.