When news of Cory Monteith’s death in July sent shockwaves through "Glee's" fan base, many wondered how the series would pay tribute to one of its most beloved characters.
But more importantly would the show, which has long handled heavy-duty story lines about sexuality, gender, race, disability, body image and countless other meaty topics high schoolers confront, address the star’s death from a heroin and alcohol overdose?
Those answers came on Thursday, three episodes into the new season, with an hour-long tribute to Monteith’s Finn Hudson.
Hudson, the affable yet sensitive star quarterback with ambitions of crooning, was the heartbeat of McKinley High School’s glee club for the show’s five-year run. And though the character graduated more than a season ago, his influence on McKinley hadn’t faded (Monteith, like a handful of original cast members, still had a running story line).
In the episode, aptly titled “The Quarterback,” glee club members past and present reunite to pay tribute to Hudson. His cause of death isn’t revealed at any point.
“That doesn’t matter,” said his step brother Kurt (Chris Colfer) in an early scene. Sadly, it did -- considering the episode opted for grief-through-song without tackling a cohesive plot.
The opening of the whole group, in all black, singing "Seasons Of Love" from “Rent” was a mournful moment for those who have seen the iconic musical it’s lifted from.
So did Mercedes’ (Amber Riley) searing take of the Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand By You.” And its impossible to not crumble when Hudson’s girlfriend Rachel (Lea Michele, who was Monteith’s real-life girlfriend) arrives toward the end of the episode to deliver a crushing rendition of Adele’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love.”
Still, despite a commercial and post-credit public service announcement that offered information about substance abuse, the episode missed an opportunity to really deliver a truly meaningful message -- something the show has done plenty before.
Admittedly, it's tricky to tackle the star’s untimely death without appearing exploitative, but the episode ultimately came up feeling hollow by tiptoeing around the circumstances surrounding his demise.
But “Glee’s” resident deliverer of harsh truth, Sue Slyvester (Jane Lynch) said it best: “There’s no lesson here. There’s no happy ending. He’s just gone.”
Watch Lea Michelle's heartbreaking take of “Make You Feel My Love" below: