Hindsight Reflections On The Corey Monteith Tribute Episode Of 'Glee'
At first, I was tempted to dismiss the episode as having been in bad taste, given that it would not have been written and produced had Monteith not passed away. What must it have been like for Monteith's family to watch an hour of dramatic television in which his character's classmates, many of them played by close friends of Monteith's, began to work through their grief as fictional characters mourning the loss of the one that he played? Awkward seems too soft and inappropriate a term; devastating too severe an answer.
Finn could have been written out in a number of less emotionally targeted narratives. Kids often go their separate ways after high school and see each other rarely, if ever, again -- relegating each other to the past or casually lumping their pals in with hundreds or thousands of their nearest and dearest on Facebook. Finn could have simply left town, or the state, or the country -- for whatever reasons. He had graduated from William McKinley High. Even if he hadn't died, an episode in which the characters movingly talked (or, more to the show's point, sang) about the changes that occur after high school could have been dedicated to Monteith and been a beautiful tribute to a great guy who left us entirely too soon, as too many young people do. (I don't intend to sound heartless here. I had the pleasure of talking with Monteith on two occasions and found him to be one of the nicest and most down-to-earth people I have met in or out of the television business during the last 20 years.)
I'm still somewhat taken aback by Lea Michele's appearance in the episode, trembling and crying throughout as her character, Rachel Berry, talked and sang about the boy she loved. Maybe she was acting to some degree, but the emotions brought to her scenes by Michele -- who had been in a real-life relationship with Monteith -- were obviously 100 percent real, and as such they became painful to watch if one stopped for a moment and considered the specifics of her situation.
Given the nature of the real-life relationship that Michele and Monteith shared, something about her participation in the tribute felt wrong. I'm not saying she was emotionally exploited, but the potential was there. Of course, this was true for all of the past and present cast members who participated in the show.
As conflicted as I was (and continue to be) about this hour, I readily admit that I was moved by much of it, especially the scene in which Finn's family packed up his belongings, and the scene at the end when Mr. Shue broke down, clutching Finn's jacket (an odd narrative touch) as he wept, at first alone on the couch and then in his wife's arms. Even if I wasn't always comfortable with it, I thought the episode was unfailingly well done from beginning to end.
Perhaps I would have felt better about the hour if the writers had chosen to reveal how Finn died. The loss of any young person is tragic, but there was an opportunity there to do something special. Imagine the impact on young “Glee” audience members if it had been revealed that good-guy Finn -- a rather wholesome fellow -- had been “innocently” fooling around with drugs and alcohol and paid the ultimate price. Why soft-peddle such things on a show that is otherwise often brazen and bold? I still think the character Quinn Fabray should have died when she was in that horrific car accident two seasons ago -- the result of her focusing more on her smartphone than her driving. (Don’t text while driving, kids. Quinn was killed and you could be, too.)
Even “good” kids die from “bad” behavior. Many more set out on life-ruining paths because of it. If ending Finn’s life in that manner cut too close to home, a lesser character could have died as a result of such choices, which still would have made an impact and played to the whole idea of separation after high school, youthful innocence lost, etc.
Perversely, the entertainment media often celebrates substance abuse as something fun or inconsequential. Consider the happy messages sent out by the often charmingly funny sitcom “That ‘70s Show,” which consistently derived big laughs off the habitual pot smoking of its teen characters. Pot and other drug humor is everywhere today, and while it’s often quite clever, and frequently very funny, it suggests that there are never any serious consequences to the intake of certain substances. I don’t know much about molly, but Miley Cyrus clearly enjoys singing about it, and she seems quite taken with weed, too. I wonder what her very young fans think about that.
“Glee” missed a chance to offer some balance in this matter by telling the audience that Finn, like Monteith, died because of alcohol and drugs, and by making clear that such things can happen -- and more importantly, that they don’t have to. Lives might have been spared as a result. What a lovely tribute to Monteith that could have been.