FOX’s Glee goes for the emotional reaction in its second penultimate episode. Sue’s (Jane Lynch) beloved sister Jean (Robin Trocki), who has Down syndrome, dies, leaving Sue more cranky and vindictive than usual. Finn (Cory Monteith), who is looking to retake a leadership role in the New Directions, offers to help Sue pack up Jean’s things, as well as plan the funeral. The New Directions perform at the well-attended ceremony, singing one of Jean’s favorite songs, “Pure Imagination,” from the film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Sue is moved to tears, and vows to use her efforts to run for office and make things better for people like Jean from now on, rather than continuing to try to destroy the glee club. Also, Finn finally dumps Quinn (Dianna Agron), but his play for Rachel (Lea Michele) comes too late, as he sees Jesse (Jonathan Groff) kiss Rachel.
It has only been one week since this column complained about the toothless and useless one note that Sue has become on Glee. With “Funeral,” all of that is changed, and the poor writing is forgiven. Lynch gets to take Sue to a deep, authentic place, something done few times before, but always with great success. Sue is allowed to show grief and compassion. She ruminates on Jean’s best qualities, and laments on her own faults. She doesn’t turn her back on the essential elements that make Sue, Sue, but she does show retrospection and self-judgment. It is a brilliant triumph, completely leaving behind the cartoon that Sue often is. Should the character of Sue be written this way every week, or at least every episode that features Sue, there would never be another complaint about her.
It would be naive to believe that “Funeral” ushers in a permanently kinder, gentler Sue. That would be boring, anyway. While it would be a welcome depature to see Sue turn some of her boundless energy and fierce determination towards making a positive difference in the world, it would get completely away from the original concept for Sue to be a New Directions supporter. A nice balance can be achieved, with Sue still being mean, but not going out of her way to come up with outlandish plots of destruction. Or, at least, not have those plots always directed at the New Directions.
Because of Sue’s moment to shine, the episode also gives a little more screen time to Sue’s lovable sidekick, Becky Jackson (Lauren Potter). Plenty of attention has been given to the strides Glee is taking towards equality for homosexuals, but not a fraction of that ink has been geared towards Glee‘s portrayals of people with other differences. Becky is a fully formed, three dimensional character with Down syndrome. She is treated as any other student, and her character is by no means defined by that one characteristic.
While often seen as mini-Sue, Becky is upset to be kicked off of the Cheerios this week. Becky just wants to fit in, like any teenager, and even seeks permission to join the New Directions, though it is far too close to competition to allow her in. After Sue comes to terms with Jean’s death, she reinstates Becky, naming her Captain of the cheerleaders for next season. Not many series would have a cheerleading captain with such a disability, but Glee bravely does, and the series deserves credit for such a move. Even more credit for not making an issue out of it.
“Funeral” feels like Terri’s (Jessalyn Gilsig) swan song. Her character announces to ex-husband Will (Matthew Morrison) that she is moving to Florida for work, and will no longer be around. Even though Gilsig’s name has remained in the opening credits for two full seasons, she very infrequently appears in the show. It’s almost a waste that she disappears without a major arc to justify her long-term contract, but if Glee is not going to use her, it’s time to set her free, so it’s with that in mind that Terri’s depature can be applauded.
Will Will and Emma (Jayma Mays) finally be moving forward with their relationship? Over sweaters, the two grew as close as ever, Emma being the only one to know the secret that Will is Broadway-bound come the end of the New Directions’s season. Will could easily leave this summer and be back in time for a fall season premiere, so the suspense of whether he will go through with his dream isn’t high. But, more importantly, how will Emma figure into Will’s plans? Is he willing to give up a significant dream for her? Or might he invite her to accompany him? Emma might grow a bit bored in New York City, but the latter option is still more pleasant, given that the two have been dancing around each other for years.
Weeks of Finn / Quinn handwringing is finally over! They never really felt right together this time around. Finn does pick the worst possible time to end things – in the parking lot immediately following the funeral – but at least he is man enough to do it. Quinn is in the relationship to further her social standing, not because she cares about Finn. That may have previously been enough for Finn, but he’s grown. So has she, and it would be nice if Quinn would embrace that. Hopefully Finn’s push will spur Quinn to live up to her potential, rather than settling for being arm candy.
Things between Finn and Rachel never really did cool down. Finn has every right to dump his fellow glee leader, as he did, but anyone can see that he wants her back. And she wants him. No matter what other directions the two are pulled in, they also appear to be meant for each other. That’s because they each believe in the others’ talent and abilities in a way that no one else does. They both benefit from the relationship, and both are pretty equal in the pairing. It can only be a matter of time before they end up back together.
Once they get past the obstacle that is Jesse, of course. Whirling into town suddenly, Jesse will likely leave as quickly as he came. The question is, when? It’s hard to tell if Jesse is sincere in his affections for Rachel, or if he’s simply using her again, this time to get the gig as a consultant for the New Directions, which he has already been hired for. Even if Jesse is genuinely interested in Rachel, he holds her talent above her personality, and he values star power over helping others, an outlook Rachel does not share. They will always be on uneven footing, and there is no future for them. Will Jesse leave on his own, or will Rachel have to run him off?
Jesse’s return, no matter how things turn out with Rachel, has certainly had an impact on the other members of the New Directions. Pushing to build their National competition around just one member of the group, Jesse channels a surly Simon Cowell as various members audition to be that featured singer. Jesse is of the opinion Rachel has it in the bag, and in fact, she is the only one he gives a good review to. In fairness, Rachel’s performance is the best of the four auditions. But if there is any doubt that Jesse is still an antagonist rather than a help, it is dispelled with his snide comments.
Jesse’s attitude might have put some serious cracks in group unity in season one, but the glee club members have come quite far since those early days. Any infighting is temporary, as every single singer is willing to put the good of the entire club as a higher priority than individual accomplishment. Jesse hit nerves because he spoke the truth, but there are things more important than blatant honesty. It’s an outlook that will serve them well going forward, as working together will increase their chances of placing high at Nationals.
No matter what Jesse says, the New Directions is brimming with talent. Sure, Rachel blew viewers away with her rendition of “My Man.” But Mercedes’s (Amber Riley) “Try a Little Tenderness” delivers, the latest in a long line of power ballads for which she’s known. Santana (Naya Rivera) chooses “Back to Black,” the perfect number to showcase a budding talent who gains more confidence in her ability to solo with each passing episode. And Kurt’s (Chris Colfer) “Some People” is a wonderful showcase for his best characteristics, demonstrating emotion and great range. None of the four performances were particularly surprising, but all maintained the high level of quality expected from these characters.
Only one episode left in this season of Glee! Next week, the New Directions travel to New York City, which is filmed on location, to compete in the Nationals of the show choir tournament circuit. Obviously, Finn and Rachel will have to decide if they they can be together, and Will will choose Broadway or Ohio? Patti LuPone guest stars as herself, and Rachel and Kurt visit the set of Wicked! It should be a memorable hour.
The season finale of Glee airs next Tuesday night at 9pm, a special time! Don’t miss it.