My Man > Kurt’s pants > Sue’s tears > Try A Little Tenderness > Willy Wonka themes > Jesse St. Suck > Quinn > All those sweater vests
For a show that’s supposed to be a comedy, someone is always in tears on Glee—which is to be expected with an episode entitled “Funeral.” But along with an extra serving of emotion, Glee's penultimate installment of the season ties up loose ends that have been lingering for almost two years, setting the group up for the big nationals competition next week.
Sue Sylvester starts off this week hacking into Figgin’s email—with the help of Terri and her assistant at Sheets N Things—to reroute the glee club’s flight through Libya, which is exceptionally mean even for her. Terri calls her out on this being a little too extreme for anyone’s taste, but Sue isn’t just motivated by her cartoonish hatred. We’ve seen glimpses of her softer side, framed by the special relationships with her sister, Jean. One of the most tender outlets of that relationship is the mirrored affinity Sue shows for Becky, the cheerleader with Down syndrome. But this week Sue coolly removes Becky from the cheer squad, breaking the girl’s heart with no explanation. Will confronts Sue to ask her why she would do such a thing to her most loyal and loving student. Sue reveals Becky reminds her too much of her sister, who passed away the day before.
It’s difficult to see a character like Sue really hurting and believe it. We’ve seen glimpses before—people teasing her about her dancing or her anchorman boyfriend rejecting her—and we’ve seen her enraged by injustice and things she doesn’t agree with before, but Jean’s death packs the punch of both. The only problem is, where does Sue go from here? As the episode continues and she becomes more human and less the cartoon the show has presented for two years, can we really buy it if next season she’s back to her old ways?
While Sue is closed off about her loss, some people try to sneak into the cracks. Kurt and Finn attempt to lend her some comfort since they both have experience with losing a loved one; Kurt especially bonds with Sue over their desire not to have things sugar-coated in the face of adversity. But Sue is too hurt to truly accept their empathy, feeling guilty for being alive when she is so mean and Jean was so kind. She does accept the glee club’s offer to plan Jean’s funeral service for her, only to avoid doing it herself. She tells Will it was only because she fears an empty room and planned to use them as free labor to clean out Jean’s room. When they help pack up her things, Sue can’t even allow herself to keep more than a single stuffed animal, although she does helpfully point Kurt and Finn towards Jean’s favorite movie, Willy Wonka, which becomes the inspiration for their Wonka-themed funeral and subsequent performance of "Pure Imagination." Sue speaks only a few lines at the funeral before she can’t go on and Will steps in to read her speech. It’s touching, and Glee pulls a few more tears out of you as the season comes to the end. The club gives a pure and simple performance, and Sue mouths her thank-yous at the end. As much as the glee club can be bumbling and off-center, they make it work when it counts.
After it's all over Finn is in tears, both over the ceremony and because he is finally breaking up with Quinn. He tells her he thought he could fix everything from last year, but can’t, and when Sue spoke of feeling tethered to her sister he doesn’t feel that with Quinn and can’t pretend anymore. Quinn seems quite happy to keep pretending, by trying to pin all their problems solely on Rachel and deny that they’re breaking up. (But next year they can be Prom King and Queen together!) Apparently it is going to take her ages to get past that particular fantasy, but Finn shuts it down, telling Quinn he doesn’t want that life and yelling for her to feel things again. We can only hope this is the push that finally sends Quinn over the edge; it’s getting hard to watch more of her spiraling down into mounting delusion and intense self-esteem issues. She runs off as Finn watches Rachel come into view. Maybe she's not the cause of his relationship problems, but she’s clearly the touchstone for him to compare and figure himself out.
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Despite Sue's loss, the world of the glee club doesn’t pause. Only one week away from Nationals and still without any plans, the group brings in Jesse St. James who suggests they find a singular star to build a performance around, Vocal Adrenaline-style. While it’s not the club’s usual M.O., Will allows it, leading to a parallel to the pilot with group sign-ups, now with the addition of Santana. Her performance of Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black" is nice (but not stunning), and Jesse brushes her off with a falsely-polite “Thanks for coming.” When pressed for his critique, he claims that Santana didn’t connect emotionally, and she reacts with her default emotion—rage.
Kurt is next with his second take at a number from Gypsy—following up his iconic performance of "Rose’s Turn" last season—"Some People." The vocal is effortless and classic Kurt, but what really shines here is the performance, a testament to Chris Colfer. Jesse, of course, points out that the song is traditionally sung by a woman, and Kurt quips that he’s well aware and that gender and song is so last season, but Jesse won’t let up, causing Kurt to coolly leave the stage and pronounce to the roomful of soloist hopefuls that “Jesse St. James Jesse St. Sucks!” With tension thick, Mercedes heads out to “wrap this thing up like a Christmas present” with her rendition of "Try a Little Tenderness.” I could watch Amber Riley sing for ages, and I’m glad the show continues to give her powerhouse vocal numbers to wow us. However, Jesse has a valid point this time—Mercedes is not a star, just a girl who can really sing. He calls her lazy, pointing out she didn’t practice and didn’t have choreography. As harsh as his delivery is, Mercedes style of simply belting amazing songs isn’t really what show choir is about. As she drags her mic dramatically off stage with a muffled “I hate him,” Rachel enters and shows us all exactly how it's done.
Rachel announces she will be performing the "most difficult song" she’s ever sung, “My Man” from Funny Girl. Jesse wonders aloud if she’s singing to anyone in particular, and while she says no, we immediately get a fantasy cut to letterjacket-wearing Finn in the hallway. But it’s unimportant to whom Rachel is singing, because it’s fantastic no matter what. Lea Michele shines on Streisand, and pulls together all the critiques Jesse has leveled at everyone else—emotional depth, practice and power. She finishes with tears streaming down her face and even Kurt can’t stop himself from leaping to his feet in applause.
While Will announces he'll need a few days to mull over the decision, Jesse obviously pushes for Rachel to win lead (all while Britt films him and invites him over to “interview [her] cat,” which Jesse reacts to in a way that implies he might think she means something other than a taping of Fondue for Two). He meets her in the auditorium to confirm her victory—and bend down extremely awkwardly to kiss her—before they leave together, failing to notice a stunned Finn or the flower he brought for Rachel. Will calls an urgent meeting of the glee to announce that he won't be needing Jesse's reality TV style consulting strategy. New Directions will continue with what got them to Nationals: group performances of original songs.
In the end, Sue reinstates Becky into the Cheerios, promoting her to head cheerleader in the fall. She then wishes Will good luck for the first time ever, saying she can’t be mean to the club anymore after what they did for Jean. Next year she’ll be focusing all her energy on a run for the U.S. House of Representatives. Everything about this episode felt like they were quietly writing Sue Sylvester out of Glee, and while I have mixed feelings about the possibility, it would be nice if her comedy could be used more effectively. Another character who seems to get a much needed write-out is Terri, who redeems herself for her hand in the airline mix-up by producing first class tickets (on American Airlines, can we say product placement?) for the club and telling Will she’s moving to Miami for a job. She watches miserably as he walks away with Emma, then hopefully disappears for good. Emma has been cheering Will on in his quest to explore his options on Broadway over the summer. The kids don’t know yet, and ostensibly that secret can’t be kept for long.
Will Glee be a completely new show next year with all it’s central conflicts maimed? We still have to get through next week as the club takes to New York and tries to win. I’m going to place my bets now on another series finale loss, if only because a win takes away the last lingering oomph for next year, possibly the final season for many of the show’s regulars. Place your bets now.