[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Thursday's episode of Glee. Read at your own risk, and preferably with tissues.]
From the beginning, Glee was always about being all inclusive and embracing differences. Where is the one place that the driven, wannabe leading lady, the fashion-obsessed, sexually confused boy and the seemingly successfully but truthfully lost high school quarterback can all go when life just isn't going their way? To glee club and New Directions.
So on Thursday's heart-wrenching farewell to the character Finn Hudson, and the late Cory Monteith, the series stayed true to itself by showcasing just how differently everybody grieves. Kurt (Chris Colfer), who opened the episode, was still in denial when he left for NYC and said he felt like he would go back to Lima and Finn would just be there. "I'm going to spend the rest of my life missing him," he said.
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Santana (Naya Rivera) went into full protection mode, calling Coach Sue "a miserable, self-centered b---" for taking the candles from Finn's locker memorial. Coach Sue (Jane Lynch), in turn, was the strong silent type. Never crying or "making self-serving spectacle of our own sadness," as she puts it, but still telling Santana, "I thought I'd spend the next 30 years teaching alongside him."
Puck (Mark Salling) handled the loss of his "quarterback" on and off the field in typical Puck fashion: through alcohol, anger (he ripped out the tree Kurt planted for Finn on school grounds) and action (after planting a new tree, he tells Coach Beiste he is going to join the Air Force).
Then there were those not ready to accept Finn's death, such as Mr. Schue (Matthew Morrison), who didn't muster one tear until the final scene of the episode, when he finally let out a long overdue sob into Finn's varsity jacket. Although she called him "my person," Rachel (Lea Michele) seemed at least willing to accept his absence and, more importantly, willing to admit that her future will be "something different" now that her plans of living happily ever after with Finn have been washed away.
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Staying true to their word, the writers did not address how Finn died at the young age of 19, although Kurt did say to Santana that Finn had "secrets." Instead, the biggest question of the episode was, "What comes next after losing a loved one?" Finn's mother (in an especially moving performance by Romy Rosemont) struggled with just that in a beautiful scene as she packed up her only child's room. "How do parents go on when they lose a child?" she pondered. "You don't get to stop waking up. You have to keep on being a parent even though you don't have a child anymore."
Looking ahead, Finn's death made Santana embrace her new life in New York as she blocked Lima out of her heart, and mind, at least temporarily. "I used to love coming here, but now it just reminds me of everything that I've lost," Santana told Mr. Schue.
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Will viewers feel the same way about Glee after losing someone so important and so beloved to the show's devout fans all over the world? That also remains to be seen, just like how Rachel and Santana and Mr. Schue and everyone will handle Finn's loss going forward. Ryan Murphy told reporters recently that Finn's passing, and the long-term effects of that, will continue to be felt on the show. "We keep mentioning Finn. We don't just say this is done and we're never going to go back to it. That resonates throughout the year," he said. "We're trying to be sensitive and also have some fun with it, to go back to some optimistic stories. I think he would've wanted that. He always loved that about the show."
But will viewers be able to laugh at Glee again after such an emotional roller coaster? Just like the process of grieving itself, it will take one day, or in this case, one episode at a time.
Glee returns on Thursday, Nov. 7 at 9/8c on Fox. What did you think of Finn's farewell? Did you have a favorite moment or a favorite song?
Additional reporting by Natalie Abrams