Rachel’s Grief in Glee’s “The Quarterback”

glee-season-5-cory-monteith-tributeRemember when Rachel and her dads sat shiva because she choked in her NYADA audition?

When I saw the promotional stills for “The Quarterback,” Glee’s tribute to Cory Monteith and Finn Hudson, I anticipated that Rachel Berry’s grief would take on the dramatic bent her character is so good at and so famous for.

I found the tribute episode incredibly moving and sad. Between writing about Rachel Berry in an academic context and my own intensity and penchant for theatrics, I feel personally close to that character. I think I also needed the tribute episode because of how meaningful I found the story of Finn, Kurt, and Burt over the first couple seasons. The scene in which Finn’s mom and Kurt’s dad discuss their grief over sorting Finn’s belongings was stunning. I think the real value in the episode, as others have pointed out, is the way it shows different ways of grieving. Puck and Santana get angry. Sue tries to make everyone move on too quickly. Schuester busies himself being there for others, hiding from his own feelings. Tina is worried about wearing so much black.

What I was surprised by, however, was how little Rachel was in the episode and how undramatic she was. It feels weird to write about this because of how blurry the Rachel/Lea line can be, but I was worried about how Ryan Murphy and Co. would handle Rachel’s reaction. It would seem that her grief was taking on a numbness, like Mr. Schuester’s lack of tears, but the way she talks about Finn is so sweet that the lasting impression is that Rachel is grieving in a complicated and private way. She’s not the dramatic teen girl overreacting to failure or a break-up anymore.

When Schuester suggests that maybe she’ll find something better, my breath caught a little. It hurt. It seemed too soon. But Rachel’s response was both heartbreaking and honest: “I don’t think it’s possible. He’s my person.” She also thanks Will for putting on the memorial for Finn: “I felt like I didn’t know if I would be able to sing again, but now I know that I can.”

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, though. It seems like the episode was a case of art imitating life. By all accounts Lea Michele has been incredibly strong for the Glee family. Ryan Murphy asked her what they should do, and her thought was that they should get back to work. As she told TV Week Australia*, “Everyone is asking: ‘Is it hard to do this? Is it hard to be back at work?’, but the truth is it’s no harder at work than it is in life so we might as well all be together as a family supporting each other to get through this together.”

And yet, according to Matthew Morrison, there was also a bit of a dramatic element too: “She had one of the first songs we filmed for the episode and she did it so beautifully and after, she said something like, ‘It can’t be harder for anyone else than it was for me,’” he tells the magazine. “So, we knew we had to show up because our leader stepped forward and kind of gave permission to all of us to do it. I don’t think we could have done it without her.”

In a nutshell, that’s what I admire about Lea Michele. She has a confidence that borders on bravado, but it’s an earned confidence and in her interviews, her career, and the way she carries herself, I feel like she puts that confidence to good use. I’m glad that in “The Quarterback” we got to see how Rachel has matured and how strong of a woman she has become.

See Also:

TV Line’s Recap

NYT: Not a Teachable Moment, but a Respectful One

Washington Post: Glee’s awkward but moving farewell to Cory Monteith

*It seems really weird to me that this would be her first interview after Cory’s death. I’m sort of waiting for this to end up being fake, but it does sound real.

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