The graduating New Directions lead a surprising tribute to Finn at Nationals
GLEE City Of Angels
Credit: Fox
The fourth season of Glee was full of ups and downs, but one consistent bright spot was Lea Michele's Rachel Berry, who stretched her wings…
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Well, I was certainly not emotionally prepared for that. I thought the Nationals episode would be one final showcase for all of the kids we’ll never see again come Glee: NYC (a.k.a. Smash: Season 1), but it ultimately served as a fitting New Directions tribute to the legacy of Finn and all that he brought to Glee Club. It was lovely, and it was sad — a surprising tone for the second-to-last episode with the littlest McKinley kids.

This episode had a feeling of finality, and unlike most of Glee’s competition episodes, it took a look back, rather than toward the future. Because, like Finn’s mom said, as the people that knew Finn best leave McKinley High School, it’s like he’s leaving it too. And, as the people who followed Finn and his friends, and later, Finn and his students – sometimes with apt attention, sometimes under the forceful will of the show’s creators – we’ll all leave it behind too. After next week’s 100th episode, it’s on to the bright lights of New York City, where everyone’s a Broadway star, and there’s enough space in your Brooklyn loft to house literally every Glee member who cares to drop by unannounced with a rolly suitcase. But, at least for the next hour, it’s over to the tanner coast for Nationals in L.A.!

Please Grant Me This Small Grumble About a Forced Plot Point in a Mostly Fluid Episode: Before they can prepare for Nationals, Schue tells Sam it’s time for him to step up as a Glee leader, like Finn always was. Listen, I like Sam, but has Blaine not been the New Directions’ leader for a while now? I’m not saying that he’s always the most likable, or that the fitting of his pants doesn’t confuse me on a regular basis; but he stepped up when the kids didn’t have a teacher or anyone else to, you know, lead them. So, why does Will need to “count on [Sam] to get it done?” Mostly, Sam ends up taking on the task of keeping Finn’s legacy alive throughout Nationals, which was important and he does so admirably. But there’s no need to thrust this mantle of greatness upon him in the last hour. He doesn’t want to be a leader, he just wants to dance model!

That aside, I give all my highest praise for the rare treat of getting to see Romy Rosemont and Mike O’Malley as Finn’s mom and stepdad. Carole and Burt drop by the choir room to remind the New Directions how much they meant to Finn and a offer little inspiration: “No sad faces. No regrets. And, you know, it’d be OK if you won the damn thing.” The damn thing is in the City of Angels though, so with Carole and Burt as chaperones, Will and Blaine start off Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” that naturally leads to a bus-top tour of the city’s main attractions. It’s a cute little song and a cute little performance. Plus, it strongly implies that L.A. is mostly about soaking up sun and eating hotdogs, and there’s nothing not to love about that. B

Stars, They’re Just Like Us: Mercedes Jones got a record contract, y’all! New Directions has turned out as many stars as The Voice, just sayin’. She’s arrived at the New Directions’ hotel to serve as their fake-dog-toting, recently-singed-by-Sony spirit guide, and just in time, because Throat Explosion (yes, still really their name) has entered the building, even if Blaine is the only one who recognizes them: “No, Blaine…none of us read the show choir blogs. Just you.” Slightly Nicer Kitty has been killing it with her annoyance at how predictable all of her new friends are.

Throat Explosion’s leader is Jean-Baptiste, show choir royalty (and fellow blog reader), played by Skylar Astin, a cappella royalty. He’s a Quebec native, trained with Cirque du Soleil and, according to Blaine, “smells like a winner.” Any chance we can slide him over to New York? There’s probably a prime Broadway gig for him there.

NEXT: Are there too many ‘Throat Explosion’ puns…or not enough at all?

As his first act as Schue-appointed Nationals leader, Sam sneaks everyone into the auditorium at night. He reminds them how much Finn was rooting for them to make it to Nationals, unveiling the plaque that Rachel had made for the choir room as a physical representation, there with them in L.A. But in the middle of that sweet moment, that damn Jean-Baptiste comes striding in – “existentially yes, Blaine, perhaps we are all alone” – and in a few moments, the rest of Throat Explosion (seriously, they’re still going with that name) to steal the auditorium for their own rehearsal. Jean-Baptiste offers his condolences for the loss of Finn, but says at Nationals, there will be no mercy: “We are Throat Explosion – expect us!” (He said it. I used closed captioning and everything.)

In this week’s ‘16 is Too Early to Give Up On Your Dreams, Wait Until You’re 25 Like the Rest of Us’: Marley has revealed to Ryder that she’s planning on quitting Glee Club after Nationals. She’s been entering her songs into tons of songwriting competitions (a thing!) only to get rejected or not hear back at all. But Ryder is the kind of guy who wears skintight neon hoodies under skintight graphic tees, so he can’t just let her settle for Accounting Club. Naturally, he decides to team up with her ex-boyfriend Jake to try and get her “very good” songs (just trust Ryder, OK, he knows his stuff) into the hands of some record label execs. Or at least Mercedes.

The night before they take the stage, Sam and Tina are working on some last-minute costume alterations in the Hudson-Hummel’s room, looking back on their past competitions. Tina casually says, “My life’s going to be so empty from now on,” and Carole just as casually lets out, “At least you get to have one.” She immediately apologizes, she knows that’s not what Tina meant (“Tina always does this”), but after the kids leave the room, it’s enough to make her realize that maybe she’s not up for this. “I thought it would make me feel close to him, but…when those kids leave McKinley, it will be like the last of him leaving too.”

The next morning, loading the bus to Nationals, Sam discovers that Finn’s plaque is missing and confronts Jean-Baptiste, who doesn’t seem to have it, but reminds the New Directions that they’re only there on a technicality. Blaine tells Sam to get it together for the team, so Sam gets back on that bus, and dammit, he LEADS. He says he knows Finn is watching them and thinking, “The show must go all over the place.” And that’s really something that Finn would have said, isn’t it?

Finally at the competition, the judges are introduced: Marlee Matlin, Jackée, and Prancercise inventor, Joanna Rohrback (Blaine’s excitement over this really sells the moment). They get straight into the competitor performances, for some quick songs from people we know nothing about. First, the “Amazonians” sing the Go-Go’s “Vacation” in fashions that can only be described as “Ronald McDonald meets a Vegas showgirl in a ball pit.” I would have preferred to see a sampler of the whole “Belinda Carlisle tribute,” but this is mostly just background music for Burt and Carole deciding to leave L.A. without going to the competition. B-

And, of course, a lead-in to those who cannot be expected, Throat Explosion. On the real though, I was not expecting Styx’ “Mr. Roboto,” and Skylar Astin sure does kill every bit of it, followed up with an exciting transition from camouflage into a Blaine-worthy blue suit and One Republic’s “Counting Stars.” It is a show! Like Vocal Adrenaline before them, Throat Explosion are stone cold (high school show choir) professionals, with 11 Hour Energies pumping through their veins. A

NEXT: ‘This was Finn’s favorite song.’ Gulp.

For every Sure Thing there is an Underdog, and no matter how many Sectional and National trophies they have, that Underdog will always be the New Directions. Just as Will starts in on a rousing “we didn’t come here to win, we came to sing and dance our hearts out” speech, Carole and Burt bust in all, Lock it up, Schuester, go out there and win this thing! Carole says they are Finn’s legacy and she could hear him in her head, telling her that leaving them would have been like leaving him.

Hands in on “Amazing!” and the reigning National champions take the stage. Blaine and Tina take the lead on Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” with lots of high notes, lots of harmonies, and a few Cheerios we’ve never seen before to fill out the choreography. B+ They pick up the pace, transitioning into Neil Diamond’s “America.” It’s a big, fun group number, but the camera stays surprisingly tight on the individual singers, saving most of the climactic swells for the next song. B+

Because if you’ve been holding that lump in your throat for the last 30 minutes, the last number reminds you that it’s OK to cry. As the first notes of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” play, the camera shoots to Finn’s mom in the audience as she tearfully realizes they’re singing all of Finn’s favorite songs. And suddenly this kind of odd set list makes sense. The graduating seniors – Sam, Blaine, Artie and Tina – take the lead, with brief clips of Cory Monteith playing Finn cut in throughout the performance. It’s something that Glee held back on in “The Quarterback,” but it seems appropriate now, in what is the New Directions’ tribute to Finn, not spoken, but sung. And the drumstick thrust; well…it’s some closure. They did their best. A

I won’t say their best isn’t always good enough, because it was good enough – it just wasn’t 1st place. The New Directions take home a certifiably giant trophy for 2nd place, and Throat Explosion takes the championship that is rightfully theirs. So, it’s back to Lima, where Jean-Baptiste, has mailed back Finn’s plaque after finding out one of his teammates stole it (“a bully with a moral code” feels oddly symbolic for Glee). Everyone is feeling a little dejected with their giant 2nd place trophy, but Burt reminds them what their leader Finn always stood for: “Even though Finn didn’t have the best voice or the best rhythm or the best throwing arm…the best thing about him was he always managed to find a way to feel like he won.”

If only that could win over Principal Sylvester, who comes in at the end of an already somber episode to remind Will that he needed a 1st place finish to keep the Glee Club. And though she delivers the news with surprisingly sincere remorse, she has to look out for the whole school now, not just the clubs that she “likes.” Apparently everyone but “Diving, Academic Decathlon, actual Decathlon, and yes, the Glee Club” took home 1st place National wins, and not just metaphorical ones, because they’re the only clubs that get the axe.

It seems they’re really pulling the plug on the Glee Club at McKinley High. Marley doesn’t need to quit; Ryan Murphy has given her a contractually obligated out. The news makes it all the way to Kurt, Rachel and Santana in New York: cue the 100th episode reunion. I’ll leave you with some patented Advice from Mercedes Jones, Recording Artist, that she serves up to Marley after listening to the original songs Ryder and Jake passed along:

– “You can throw yourself a pity party for exactly three minutes and then you need to haul your ass up” from whatever rejection you’ve just received, be it a songwriting competition for high schoolers, a National Championship, or hey, let’s bring it to the real world, a job you really wanted.

– “They’re stupid and they’re wrong and they’re going to be sorry someday.” All of them.

– “Those guys, they really care about you – that don’t mean you should date them.” And you can run and tell that.

What did you think of the 99th episode of Glee? Were you expecting more closure for the second generation of Glee kids? Or did you think this was a fitting tribute to Finn? And are you ready to finally take this thing to New York full-time?

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The fourth season of Glee was full of ups and downs, but one consistent bright spot was Lea Michele's Rachel Berry, who stretched her wings…

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