“The Quarterback” was the toughest Glee episode to date. Everyone knew that it would be. In tribute to Cory Monteith, the writers and performers brought a levity to the show that hasn’t been seen before. The staging of the opening number Seasons of Love was spot on. The cast enters and sings in groups – first the new gleeks, who knew Finn only as a teacher, then the current members of New Directions who had been in glee with Finn, and final the graduates, the original glee club members who made the show what it is today. Puck, Mike, Kurt, Santana and Mercedes join in song. Everyone looks horrified and numb and hurting. While they are all talented actors, this grief was palpable and real.
The episode’s story begins three weeks after Finn’s funeral, with a voiceover from Kurt as he prepares to travel back to Lima from New York for Finn’s memorial. The exact cause of Finn’s death is never addressed and it doesn’t have to be. Kurt says, “Everyone wants to talk about how he died, too, but who cares? One moment in his whole life. I care more about how he lived. Kurt hides a photo of himself and Finn, saying “I only keep that out when I know she won’t come in,” – the she, of course, being Rachel. We don’t see her, yet, but Kurt gently tells her goodbye as he leaves. “This isn’t real,” he thinks to himself, because someone had to say it.
Glee uses “The Quarterback” to show different reactions to death and mourning. In the staff room, Emma tells the others that no one has come in yet for grief counseling. Sue gets told off by Will and Bieste for being callous and insulting towards Finn in her trying to make a joke. Sometimes people joke in times of great emotional distress, Sue is no different. Sue points this out in defense of herself. “We honor Finn Hudson by taking care of the people he loved. And how do we do that? By helping them to move on.” “How?” “By not making a self-serving spectacle of our own sadness.”
Will writes Finn’s name on the whiteboard as the glee club and visiting graduates sit mourning in the choir room. He wanted to give the glee club a private memorial, and invites anyone who feels like it to spend the week singing a song dedicated to Finn. Mercedes starts off with a rendition of “I’ll Stand By You,” – recalling a memorable moment from season 1.
Sue calls Kurt in for a meeting, and – both of them trying to maintain ultimate sass levels but just coming across appropriately deflated – the two of them discuss the fact that someone has stolen the memorial tree that Sue had planted for Finn. It turns out to be Puck, who apparently wants to horde as much Finn paraphernalia as he can. Sue explains that people act strangely in times of grief.
While the Gleeks of course, have difficult reactions to Finn’s death, the reactions of his family members are more than heartbreaking. We see Kurt and Burt help Carole pack up Finn’s room, deciding what to keep and what to give away. Burt laments not having hugged Finn enough, and Kurt cuddles into Finn’s letterman jacket, saying “Seeing him come down the hallway wearing this, it was like Superman had arrived.” Carole, above all others, however, is the most heartbreaking. She tries to be practical in sorting through his belongings and eventually breaks down and speaks about loss in a brutally honest way: “For just a second, you forget. And then, oh, you remember, and it’s like getting that call again, and again, every time. You don’t get to stop waking up. You have to keep on being a parent even though you don’t get to have a child anymore.”
Later, Puck begs Kurt for the letterman jacket, which Kurt has taken to wearing around. He offers to buy it, even – and then starts to get violent when Kurt refuses. Later, we see some gut-wrenching moments from Santana. She goes after Sue, with ire and anger that is clearly masking great pain and sadness. Sue is very obviously taken aback, particularly when the confrontation ends with Santana physically shoving Sue.
Puck wanders into Coach Bieste’s locker room, apparently drunk. Bieste calls Puck out for his coping mechanisms, and for being scared to let his feelings out. Puck lashes out aggressively and Bieste just lets him until she finally takes him into her arms and holds him as he starts to sob. They start to talk while crying, and Bieste tells Puck he has to be his own better version of himself now.“I’m telling you this straight, because that’s how you and I talk. He’s dead, and all we’ve got left is his voice in our head. I’m sorry, but it’s time, you gotta be your own quarterback.” The pair try to calm themselves. Puck suggests retiring Finn’s football number framing Finn’s jacket; Bieste says she can try make that happen, if Puck promises to put the tree back.
Santana chooses to give her performance in the choir room of “If I Die Young” in the choir room. It’s a beautiful song but her remarks at the beginning are sassy and somewhat crass. She breaks down and starts to cry while singing. When it overcomes her some reach to hug her, but she screams and runs out. A little while later, Kurt finds her, alone and staring blankly, in the empty auditorium. She explains her state of mind, saying that she “couldn’t do it” – that she’d was going to surprise everyone by being real and authentic and nice and saying all the good things she felt about Finn, but that she chickened out. Kurt asks to hear some of what she had wanted to say, and she tells him. Kurt, in turn, tells her how much Finn cared about her as well, and leaves her alone when she asks, wrapping the letterman jacket around her.
The most difficult part of the episode, in general, was Rachel’s performance. Tears streamed down her face as she sang goodbye to the love of her life and potentially her future home.
While more brouhaha ensues with the jacket, Puck eventually returns it and replants the tree, grieving all the while. Emma and Will fight, with Emma pointing out that Will may not be processing his feelings at the expense of helping the students process theirs. Later, Rachel goes to visit Will, to thank him for what he’s been doing and to give him her own memorial – a photograph plaque she had made, similar to the one of Will’s teacher Lillian Adler, with Finn’s photo and a quote, “The show must go… all over the place… or something.” Rachel lets out some more of her grief while talking to Will about how Finn was her entire life plan, and how she doesn’t know what she’s going to do now. “Something different?” “Maybe something better.” “I just.. don’t think that that’s possible. He was my person.”
This conversation is the last dialogue of the episode, but not the last scene – over instrumental music, we see Will entering his home, sitting down, and opening his satchel to pull out the letterman jacket. He holds it against his face and starts to cry, his own moment of horrific grief which is how Emma finds him as she returns home as well, and the episode closes on that image, before flashing up a tribute screen of Cory’s own name and life dates. Glee returns after a short hiatus on Fox.