Farewell, Finn Hudson. Emotional, gut-wrenching and heartbreaking are just a few of the words to describe Glee's highly anticipated Cory Monteith tribute episode that finally aired Thursday night. The episode -- so perfectly titled "The Quarterback" -- does not reveal how the charming Hudson died (as previously promised by creator Ryan Murphy), and doesn't include a funeral. Instead, the storyline primarily centers around someone stealing Finn's letterman jacket, and with Mr. Schue (Matthew Morrison) asking the Glee members to sing songs for Finn that either remind them of him, or something he himself had sung before.
The episode began with a chilling performance from the Glee cast singing Rent's "Seasons of Love" on the same McKinley High stage the late Canadian actor had sung on so many times before. Dressed in black, Puck (Mark Salling) and Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.) returned for the tribute and joined the group as they eventually all turned to face a picture of Hudson dressed in his football uniform from Season 1. (The Glee logo for the beginning of the episode also replaced the "L" with Monteith's figure from the first season's iconic closing number "Don't Stop Believin.'")
As in life, the characters reacted to the profound loss in vastly different ways. While Kurt (Chris Colfer) wore Finn's varsity jacket and broke down with his parents Burt (Mike O'Malley) and Carole (Romy Rosemont), Mr. Schue held back his tears, Puck turned to alcohol to temporarily heal the pain, Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) asked for support, Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) made jokes and Santana (Naya Rivera) became angry enough to shove Sue in an emotionally charged moment.
In the powerful yet somber episode, the actors gave some of their series-best performances. Some of the musical numbers included Mercedes (Amber Riley) singing "Stand By You," Santana singing "If I Die Young," Artie (Kevin McHale) and Sam (Chord Overstreet) singing "Fire and Rain" and Puck performing "No Surrender" in honor of his close friend from both on and off screen. But the night's most unforgettable number belonged, not surprisingly, to Lea Michele.
Michele (Rachel Berry) appeared in the last 15 minutes, and sang a beautiful rendition of Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love" in the Glee classroom. "He was my person," the aspiring Broadway star would later tell Mr. Schue, as the two hung up a framed photo of Finn on the wall.
And as for the varsity jacket culprit? In the final scene, the high school music teacher -- who was the very first to notice Finn's musical potential while singing in a gym shower in Episode 1 (and when audiences were first introduced to the bright-eyed Hollywood newcomer) -- snuck it home to finally break down in the arms of Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays). And to seemingly cry for the student, quarterback, actor, and dear friend that he's lost.
(Monteith died in July at the age of 31 from "a mixed drug toxicity" consisting of heroin and alcohol on July 13. For Michele, filming the episode for her late boyfriend was "very therapeutic." The 27-year-old actress reportedly sat down with Australian magazine TV Week recently to talk about the emotional tribute. "I feel like, for me personally, I've lost two people: Cory and Finn," the magazine quotes her saying posted to TV Week's Facebook page. "We had a beautiful memorial for Cory in the auditorium, and some of the cast members sang and people spoke about him. It only felt right that we would do the same thing for Finn.")