FOX’s Glee comes to an end this, week after six seasons on the air . The first hour of the two-part finale, “2009,” takes place during the pilot of the show, revealing different perspectives as the audition process for the brand-new New Directions begins, and filling in some of the gaps in motivation between these early characters and who they become. The second half, “Dreams Come True,” goes slightly into the future, glimpsing the fates of several key members of the cast, before ending about five and a half years down the world in a nearly-perfect world.
Glee’s quality is inconsistent; something that remains through the end. However, the series almost always hits the emotional points it needs to hit, which it does in “2009” and “Dreams Come True.” Honestly, there was little point to “2009,” having no real purpose to its flashbacks, other than to evoke nostalgia. In that, it succeeds, forcing fans to remember where Rachel (Lea Michele), Mercedes (Amber Riley), Kurt (Chris Colfer), Artie (Kevin McHale), Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), Will (Matthew Morrison), and Sue (Jane Lynch) come from, providing context to where they end up by the series end. And while it was a completely unnecessary episode, it was also a very moving remembrance, especially when including memories of Finn (Cory Monteith, whose untimely death forever changed the show).
Some of the songs were recycled from the pilot; “Mister Cellophane,” and “I Kissed a Girl” are the songs with which Kurt and Tina auditioned, respectively, and the series wastes precious on them. I won’t complain about Glee using “Don’t Stop Believin'” yet again because it is the show’s signature song, and it does allow us to see Finn again, the rest of the episode masterfully matching up the re-used footage. Rachel and Kurt’s “Popular,” Artie’s “Pony,” and Mercedes’s “I’m His Child” are better because they’re new and they fit, at least adding a little bit of something to “2009.”
The episode is fun. Seeing Will married to Terri (Jessalyn Gilsig) again, remembering how neurotic and in-lust Emma (Jayma Mays) first is, hearing the Tina we know justify the Tina Glee starts with, and having Howard (Kent Avenido) around for comic relief are all enjoyable. An unexpected glimpse of Blaine (Darren Criss) is welcome. There are a few poignant bits: seeing Will and Sue’s friendship sort of fall apart, and reminding us how poorly Kurt and his father (Mike O’Malley) communicate, as well as showing Kurt at an extremely low point, mean something. But overall, “2009” doesn’t serve much purpose in the grand scheme of things.
I would have had less of a problem with this bit of nostalgia if “2009” had not been part of the two-hour series finale. Had it aired last week, it would have been better. The issue is, after spending a full episode in the past, there isn’t a lot of time to tie up the endings, which means that many, many deserving characters don’t get their earned send-offs, some of which could be very brief, but aren’t present at all. These two hours do re-focus the story on the core cast, but even they aren’t all given their due, with Artie and Tina, arguably the least necessary characters, shafted in the second hour in favor of allowing Sam (Chord Overstreet) and Blaine some pay-off.
“Dreams Come True” presents an idealized version of the future. Rachel wins a Tony, for which she thanks Will, carries a surrogate child for Kurt and Blaine, and is married to Jesse St. James (Jonathan Groff). Kurt and Blaine are on Broadway, and doing school visits in their spare time. Sam takes over the New Directions, something in which he’d never before shown, but does seem oddly fitting. Mercedes is on tour with Beyonce. Sue is winning a second term as Vice President under Jeb Bush. The last is a bit nightmarish, but it’s the outcome Sue would want.
The most optimistic vision of all finds Will taking over as principal at McKinley, now a school for the arts, and turning it into a model copied nationally. Glee has always championed arts education, positioning music as the magic bullet that can fix a severely broken system. As someone heavily involved in music and drama while in school, I am sympathetic, but Glee takes it all to the super unrealistic nth degree. I certainly appreciate what the show is trying to do, but by tossing believability so far out the window, it pretty much undermines its own message.
What I’d have preferred from the finale is something the two hours do in half measures. Mercedes gets to say goodbye with “Someday We’ll Be Together,” Will croons his “Teach Your Children” thank you to the alumni, Sue lets “The Winner Takes It All” express her emotions to Will, and Rachel is sent off in the penultimate number, “This Time.” All of these are great, especially the Sue song, and they are good ways to let these characters depart. Kurt and Blaine’s “Daydream Believer” is at least as enjoyable as these others, though feeling less final. There are non-singing moments, too, such as see Sue and Will watch the Tonys together, Blaine worrying about Sam, and Tina and Artie’s kiss, that are touching. But there are other characters who matter besides them. Santana (Naya Rivera) and Brittany (Heather Morris) arguably get their due in their wedding episode, but others in the cast are not featured, and that’s a shame.
“Dreams Come True” ends with a huge group number honoring Will and the auditorium named for Finn with “I Lived.” This is terrific, with almost all of the previous glee club members (sans Rory and Marley, most noticeably) coming back to be with Will. Such faces are glimpsed as Zizes (Ashley Fink, whose return I long yearned for), Joe (Samuel Larsen), Matt (Dijon Talton), Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.), Ryder (Blake Jenner), Jake (Jacob Artist), Puck (Mark Salling), Quinn (Dianna Agron), and many more. That it should include kids that come after them is debatable, since Will gives up coaching in the near future. But I would have liked to have seen a more full Mr. Holland’s Opus press, with all of the alumni parading past their teacher, showing viewers how they end up, while honoring the legacy Will builds.
While some of what I suggested is personal preference, and Glee is, of course, free to handle its swan song any way it wants, the way it did feels a little weak to me. By ignoring so many of the characters that made the show important and going overboard in its support of arts education, it just doesn’t live up to its potential. And yet, it hits emotional note after emotional note, and tears are flowing for much of the two-hour running time. So does it succeed at capping the six-year run, being as almost-great as the rest of the show? Or does is squander a chance at a lasting legacy by not entirely sticking the landing? I guess that’s up for each individual fan to decide for themselves.
It is with some relief that I end my last Gleekonomics column, but there’s no denying, Glee and its characters, despite all of their flaws, will be missed.