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by Pat Cerasaro
The Boss to the Beatles to Madonna to Rod Stewart, GLEE's emotional and invigorating season finale was pretty much everything a gleek could have asked for in a grand send-off to the original crew of McKinley High's New Directions - at least insofar as we have seen of them thus far in the series - as the musical dramedy ends its third season and heads into uncertain new terrain with Season Four and the purportedly revolutionary new dual-show concept GLEE mastermind Ryan Murphy and company plan to incorporate (while bringing in guest stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Kate Hudson and THE GLEE PROJECT winners in the process). As seen in last night's "Goodbye", the future looks quite uncertain for many of the McKinley graduates - Rachel (Lea Michele) may have gotten into NYADA at the eleventh hour and arrived on Broadway to fulfill her Theatre Dreams, but Finn (Cory Monteith) and Kurt did not get into the performing arts academies of their choice. So, what now? So, too, will Quinn (Dianna Agron) assumedly head for the East Coast and Yale, despite her rekindled affections for her former flame, while Santana (Naya Rivera) will apparently be joining Rachel in New York - but, to do what? The future is evidently more promising for some than for others, but what we will see play out is infuriatingly indeterminable at this stage of the game. Anticipation is building, in any event - and GLEE continues to entice. What's next for the rest of the glee club we will have to wait until next season to witness, as well, but we can rest assured that Blaine (Darren Criss), Sam (Chord Overstreet), Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), Brittany (Heather Morris), Joe (Samuel Larsen), Sugar (Vanessa Lengies) and Artie (Kevin McHale) will be around, with the fates of some of the original glee clubbers who graduated a little less cut and dry as far as their character's trajectories are concerned - particularly Puck (Mark Salling), Mike (Harry Shum, Jr.) and Mercedes (Amber Riley); though Mike is supposedly headed for ballet school in Chicago and Mercedes to a singing career in LA. And, as for Mr. Shue (Matt Morrison), Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), Coach Beiste (Dot-Marie Jones) and Emma (Jayma Mays)? We will definitely be seeing much more of them in September when school is back in session. While we can always rely on GLEE to provide us with outrageous jokes, outlandish characterizations, unexpected dramatic and thematic twists and turns, shockingly touching domestic drama and many incredibly heartwarming moments and socially progressive messages, the music - more importantly, the musical numbers - is what makes GLEE stand out from every other serial television program before or since and acts as the sole reason why the show will unquestionably be remembered as something revolutionary and indisputably idiosyncratic in the scheme of TV history. It is much more than merely about the music at its best and when firing on all axels, but the best parts of the GLEE experience are always the moments of music and what the songs express - in the characters and in us. Last night's GLEE - much like last week's two-part season-high spectacular Nationals double-dose - was an utter and complete return to form for the series and reminded us of many of the joys of the original thirteen episodes. "Goodbye" brought us right back to our roots and made us root for the underdogs once again. While S3 has been consistently enjoyable, if somewhat cookie-cutter compared to some of the more absurd storylines of seasons past, the series has absolutely and totally shown in these last four episodes that this train is far from out of steam and we are going to go on a truly exciting ride next year that only an entertainment enterprise as daring as GLEE could ever dare to take us on - with only a fearless conductor such as Mr. Murphy. No matter what comes next, nothing can change the many marvelous memories the sixty-plus GLEE episodes in the first three seasons have given us.
It is almost surreal in attempting to comprehend - even moreso than the series itself - but GLEE has been a part of our lives for over three years now - three wild, crazy, loca years. Looking back, we can see that Season One introduced the black humor and spaced-out scenarios that have remained, while, since then, the focus has been significantly dialed-down from the teachers and moved almost fully to the students, yet, on GLEE, anything goes - as we have all seen so far. The second half of Season One found the series settling into the thematic and dramatic patterns that it has followed in large part since then, while also allowing for some theme episodes and guest star dominance when benefiting the entertainment value of the whole series all considered. Of course, Season Two was when the show had its highest ratings and also when it began to get a bit bloated and started to stray from the beaten path and attempted more absurdist humor and non-club-focused material to varying success. Too many tributes? Perhaps. No matter what, though, GLEE has always remained fresh - albeit sometimes frustratingly schizophrenic and ever-changing in its attempts to never wear out its welcome - GLEE has brought us to its logical next step: a reinvention. No, GLEE is not the type of series to slowly walk off into the sunset and fall into a predictable pattern or even eventually commit itself to a certain overall style or genre chemistry equation - at least not yet. Sure, we can always expect five songs or more per hour and we are guaranteed laughs, tears and dramatic twists, but the places that the series has gone has proven everything we need to know about where it can and will go in the future - and that is virtually anywhere and everywhere. The possibilities are endless, so let's just hope the creators and cast can continue to deliver the high production values, smart scripts and thematic concepts that compel us to keep watching week after week as the GLEE machine continues on producing such high quality product. While some TV shows have had the luxury of coasting when they come to this point in their creation and execution - for a TV show is constantly created anew; it's not written in stone like a Broadway musical performed over and over thereafter or in the can for all time remaining unchanged like a film is when we view it - GLEE must set a new high and create new goals to stay in the game. That is sometimes the plight of seemingly having done it all and succeeded in doing so - you then have to create new rules to break and set new, higher hurdles to jump.
Written and directed by GLEE co-creator Brad Falchuk, the pleasingly structured and dramatically satisfying "Goodbye" gave us the high school denouements of many characters that we have come to know and love over the course of the series so far and offered each of them a moment to shine while also proffering forth flashback glances at some of the reasons we first fell in love with them all back in 2009 along with Mr. Shue. The touching scenes and sob-inducing conclusions and climaxes arrived by the truckload in last night's tearful adieu - Sue Sylvester and Mr. Shue in particular had refreshingly moving moments with Finn and Quinn, respectively, as did Finn and Rachel in their gut-wrenching penultimate scene. The drama delivered and the laughs landed, if the latter took a back seat to the sincere and sentimental vibe of the episode. Plus, apt and savvy cameos from James Lipton and Gloria Estefan continued the season-long streak of appropriate and enhancing guest star spots, giving both Finn and Santana dramatic character moments for fans to savor.
Then, there are the musical numbers - and what royalty fees must have been racked up with this list of impressive songs and performers! Matt Morrison made Rod Stewart's "Forever Young" tender and contemporary, while Kurt gave appropriately diva-worthy gravitas to Madonna's "I'll Remember". Finn's "Not The End" (by The So Many's) was surely passionate, but the far and away solo spotlight moment of the show rested with the GLEE's breakout star, Lea Michele, as she gave the little-known Room For Two's "Roots Before Branches" a ravishingly sung rendition set to a visually striking and generally spine-tingling travel-to-NYC montage. As far as group numbers go, Finn led New Directions in an enlivening "You Get What You Give" - originally made anthemic by New Radicals - and the group soared with the classic Beatles gem "All My Life". Above all others, the musical moment to remember most of all was the long-awaited GLEE cover of a song from the highly prized catalog of classic rock king Bruce Springsteen - and a graduation-stage-set "Glory Days" was more than merely well-worth-the-wait. All of that and even a little bit of the Frank Loesser's "Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat" gave the cast many showstopping showcases and continued the tradition of stratosphere-soaring song choices for the season finale. What gleek could require much more than all of that?!
All told, Season Three is officially the most consistent in tone and dramatically most satisfying of any season insofar as its contained story arcs and series-long storytelling value are concerned, while also managing to give the many members of New Directions - graduating seniors, current juniors and new students included - countless opportunities to give us all they have got to give; and that's a whole lot. S3 of GLEE had countless highlights and there are entire episodes for us to revisit again and to remember fondly over the Summer and far beyond then, with few - if any - forgettable excursions along the way; and, I am elated to report, no entirely negligible episodes at all. Yes, indeed, Season Three gets an A for effort and continued excellence and Season Four seems poised to deliver that extra push to give the series a big plus sign next to its grade come September. Until then? School's out! Have a great Summer!