by Amber Turner
It’s official: per Ryan Murphy, creator of Glee, the writers will kill off the character of Finn Hudson from the Fox musical dramedy in the wake of actor Cory Monteith’s death. The tribute episode to Cory will be the third episode of Glee’s fifth season and as Ryan stated in the article linked above, they are in the process of writing it at this time.
Though a lot of Finn fans in various sectors of the internet were hoping the writers would give the character a happily-ever-after offscreen, I think the decision to kill him in show was ultimately a good one. I understand the reasoning behind why fans would have preferred the former option: Cory didn’t get to have a happy ending in real life so why not give it to his fictional character? I mean, isn’t that the great thing about fiction, that we can make things happen that don’t necessarily happen in reality? Here’s why I think the writers’ decision makes more sense in the long run:
It keeps Finn in character. Having Finn suddenly leave Lima, OH without saying goodbye to his friends and family, and never speaking to the characters in New York again, would be completely OOC for Finn as he’s been portrayed for the last four seasons of the show. Think about it: Rachel’s opening night on Broadway and Finn doesn’t show to give her a pep talk before the curtain goes up? Kurt gets married and Finn doesn’t make an appearance at his own brother’s wedding? It wouldn’t make sense. Not to mention the cognitive dissonance the audience would feel every time someone mentioned Finn calling or emailing or tweeting when we know the actor who played him is dead and gone. And having Lea Michele, Cory’s onscreen lady love as well as his real life girlfriend, constantly name dropping the character as if he were coming back, when Lea knows he isn’t, would be too cruel for words.
Killing the character will be sad, but the catharsis is needed for both his friends and colleagues and the fans of the show, all of whom never got a chance to say goodbye to Cory and never got definitive closure from his character’s storyline on the show. This gives everyone the chance to mourn the loss and to close the book on this incredibly sad chapter of his life. Finn Hudson, and Cory Monteith, was too integral to the show’s early success to just write him off as if he were some lowly secondary character who didn’t matter. He did. And giving him a memorial shows how much the people behind the scenes realize that fact and it acknowledges all of Cory’s hard work in a poignant way.
All that said, I am very concerned about how this tribute episode is going to play out. I stopped watching Glee after season three because the writing took a turn for the worse in season two and never recovered. Instead of being the dark comedy it set out to be in the first season, the writers decided that doing weekly after school specials with music was the best direction for the show to take going forward. I am so scared that Ryan Murphy and Co. are going to turn Finn’s death into yet another one of their heavy-handed PSA’s, ruining what could be a beautiful farewell to a guy who by all accounts was a lovely person in real life and deserves an equally fitting send off.
Finn was not Cory. This is what I hope these writers remember when they sit down to write this episode. I know the inclination to want to warn kids about the dangers of drugs will be at the forefront of their minds, especially considering that Cory’s own substance abuse struggles began when he was twelve or thirteen, but mirroring Cory’s life in Finn’s is not the way to go. If the young fans of the show didn’t get that drugs are to be avoided at all costs after hearing the news about Cory’s death, beating them over the head with a message episode certainly won’t get through to them. The teen years are all about pushing boundaries and experimenting with shit you have no business doing just to see how much (or how little) you can get away with. I’m not saying that we adults should never try to steer kids in the right direction, but I am saying that I don’t think now is the time to try and do it. Honoring Cory’s achievements, not highlighting his shortcomings, is what a tribute episode should be about.
So how do they do this? How do the writers tackle such a delicate situation while remaining true to the character and the spirit of the show? Here are some ideas I have on how the show can move forward with Finn’s ending:
- Have Finn’s death in no way mirror Cory’s. Instead, if they really want to have a dialogue about substance abuse after this episode airs, have Finn’s character killed by a chemically impaired driver either indirectly (he’s hit at a red light by someone who was drunk and/or high and ran through a red light) or directly (he got into a car with someone who was “buzzed driving” and they ran off the road and neither survived). This way, the writers can show how dangerous drugs and alcohol can be without making Finn’s character wildly OOC. I would throw a shoe at my TV if we got a storyline where Finn OD’d as the character was never shown as having a substance abuse problem and in fact, was one of the only characters who didn’t get drunk during “Blame It On the Alcohol” back in season two. I beg the writers to please remember his characterization at this time.
- Have Finn die a hero. This show loved to make the character of Finn come off as the defender of the underdogs, the reluctant leader of the core group of McKinley kids. Maybe to honor that characterization they have him save someone else’s life while losing his own in the process? For example, the writers can have him be at a late night convenience store when it gets held up. Finn, being a former football player decides to tackle the robber, who had a gun pointed at the store clerk, and gets shot and killed.
- Make this a music free episode. Since this show is a musical, eliminating the singing would be jarring, which is exactly how the death of Finn Hudson will feel for everyone who knew him. It would make the episode feel empty; kind of cold and surreal. But let’s not make this episode completely maudlin.
- Steal a page from The West Wing. When John Spencer, who played chief-of-staff Leo McGarry, died while they were in the middle of filming the final season of that series, the show did a very moving two-part memorial episode that showed his funeral and ended with the White House staff sitting around and reminiscing about all the great times they had with him. It was emotional, but also uplifting, with all of the humorous stories they told about Leo – they didn’t wallow in the sadness of John’s real life passing; instead, they wound up celebrating all of the good times they had with him and his character.
Glee could do the same with Cory/Finn. Have the characters meet up in the choir room and spend most of the episode recalling their favorite Finn moments. Smash cut after each recollection to footage of Cory as Finn acting out the moments the cast recalls. For example, Kurt could remember how Finn dressed up in his Lady GaGa inspired red spandex outfit to save Kurt from the school bullies – smash cut to a clip of that scene. Smash cut back to the choir room where Mercedes could quip about how it was the platforms that really made that outfit. Then she could remember the Pucky Puck and Finny D performance of “Good Vibrations” – smash cut to footage of Finn, Puck, and Mercedes rapping and singing the Marky Mark classic (one of the funniest performances on this show). And they could do that with all of the major characters from the first three seasons. Because I absolutely think the show needs to bring back the entire original cast for this episode. They were all Cory’s real life friends and it might be therapeutic for them to get together and laugh about all the goofy moments his character had on the show. (I definitely need to see the scene from the pilot again when Carole Hudson, played by Romy Rosemont, is teaching Finn to drive and he runs over the mailman – her freakout, and his panicked reaction to her freakout, was comedy gold.)
- The newbies need to take a backseat for this one – they can be included in the background, but the heavy lifting acting-wise should definitely come from the vets.
- If the episode does end up having music in it, keep it sparse and again, keep the heavy lifting of the vocals to the original cast. If I see Marley singing a solo that episode, I may just toss my TV out the window. For real. Yes, Finn was a mentor to the new kids for a year, but again, he spent three years with original recipe New Directions: Lea (if she’s up for it), Chris, Mark, Dianna, Amber, Kevin, Jenna, Naya, Heather (if they can somehow obscure her baby bump), Harry, Chord, and Darren should be the featured acts – these people were not just Finn’s friends, but Cory’s friends too. These are the people who were with him on the tour buses when they did the mall tours before the show premiered four years ago, they were the ones who spent hours upon hours with him during dance rehearsals for both the show and their summer tours. To have them only get cameos in this episode would feel almost insulting to the character and to the actor who played him.
As for music suggestions, I think opening the show with something like “Old Irish Blessing” would be beautiful. It would get the show back to the actual choir aspects of the series having both the original cast and the newbies singing as one. We used to sing this every year at graduation time when I was in high school and every year, without fail, I would be in tears.
If they want to re-do a song they’ve done in the past the way they redid Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”, they could have Rachel (again, if Lea’s up to it), Mercedes, and Artie reprise their cover of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” with Puck filling in on the parts that Finn originally sang. The lyrics are especially poignant for this situation:
Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your pain and sorrow
Smile, well maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun coming shining through, for you
Another song that would be fitting and equally beautiful if they can’t or don’t want to reprise “Smile” would be Jeff Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. I always wanted Amber Riley as Mercedes and Kevin McHale as Artie to do this cover together and I think it could be lovely with Mercedes’ choir backing them in a funeral scene where Puck, Kurt, Mr. Schue, Mike Chang, Blaine, Sam, and maybe Burt Hummel act as pallbearers, carrying Finn’s coffin out of the church.
Then, close to the end of the episode, they can have Matt Morrison sing a song that was close to Cory’s heart that he desperately wanted to sing on the show: Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is.” I’d love it if they did the version Terry McDermott did on The Voice a couple seasons ago. They could have Matt as Mr. Schue perform the verses with Puck and Artie coming in on the chorus.
But here’s where things get tricky for this episode: how much involvement will Lea Michele, and subsequently Rachel Berry, have in the tribute? I will not begin to act as if I know what Lea’s feeling or how she’s coping with all of this. From what Ryan Murphy said in his interview, it sounds as if she’s ready to get back to work because she wants to be around people who knew and loved Cory and that she’s handling a lot of the planning of things like memorials and scholarships in his name behind the scenes. I give her all the credit in the world because I know I couldn’t handle any of this, especially while being in the spotlight, with the amount of grace and dignity she’s shown. It’s a lot to ask of a person.
So I don’t know if she’d want to be heavily featured in a Finn tribute episode, but the writers need to be very careful about how they go about writing Rachel into the episode if Lea does want to be in it. This is a delicate line they’re straddling here. I know for my own personal comfort (yeah, like that really means much to the cast and crew, I know) I would not want to see scenes of Rachel Berry crying over Finn’s death. It crosses the line from fiction into voyeurism given the real life romance between Lea and Cory. I don’t need to see Lea Michele grieving – that’s private. We can infer that Rachel would have broken down upon hearing the news of Finn’s death – we don’t need to see it. And the last thing the writers want, I’m sure, is for people to accuse them of exploiting Cory’s death for Emmy reel material because you know that’s what detractors of this show will say.
My hope is if Rachel is included in this episode, that they devote very little screentime to the character. If they go the funeral route for Finn, then show her briefly in the pews with Finn’s mom and step-dad, but no lingering camera shots on Rachel’s tear-streaked face; no wrenching, half-sobbed solos at the church or anywhere else. Glee really does not need to do anything that would overshadow the message of this episode, which is to pay respects to a talented actor who was in the prime of his life when it was cut short tragically and unexpectedly.
A classy way to end the episode, I think, would be to have Rachel go back to Finn’s house with his parents and have Carole tell Rachel that she’s welcome to take anything of Finn’s from his room if she’d like. Rachel could go into the bedroom and we can get wide shots of all the things in the space that remind us of Finn and the person he was: his football jersey on the back of his closet door, his drumsticks sitting on the dresser, the cowboy sheets on his bed, etc. She can go and sit on the bed, running her hands over the comforter and the show can smash cut to the scene in “Grilled Cheesus” when Finn and Rachel were making out in that room and she tells him he can touch her boobs and nothing else (a hilarious scene in context, I assure you), then smash cut back to Rachel picking up the jersey or the drumsticks (whichever), standing at the door of the room and giving it one final glance before switching off the lights and closing the door. Fade to black. This gives Lea as Rachel a chance to close the book on the Finchel ‘ship without crossing the line too much into the personal. The show can intersperse some other Finchel flashbacks while she’s in the room so that Lea doesn’t even have to spend much time filming this scene and the previously aired material can fill in the emotional blanks.
Whatever the writers ultimately decide to do, my thoughts are with them. This is not going to be easy. I imagine that they are all grieving the loss of Cory Monteith just as much as his co-stars are and that they want to do the best damn episode they can to honor their friend. It’s a shitty situation that none of them could have foreseen and they’ll try to make the best of it. I want to reiterate that these are only my thoughts and opinions on how they should handle the Finn situation – no one else has to agree and the writers certainly aren’t wrong if they go and do something entirely different. Like I said, this situation sucks all around and any option they go with is inevitably going to feel “wrong” somehow or not adequate enough because it’s wrong that they even have to do this episode in the first place.
I haven’t watched Glee in over a year, but I will be back for this episode, one last time, to say farewell to Cory and then I’m out again. I never liked the character of Finn and thought he became a total tool from season two onwards, but I liked Cory in all the behind the scenes interviews I saw of him. He always came off so sweet and just so happy to be there. It was nice to see an actor so unaffected and so un-jaded. I’ll miss him. Here’s hoping the writers knock this one out of the park and that everyone affected by this loss can find some peace.