That "Goodbye" trended towards maudlin was not unexpected; it was graduation, after all. But with a few exceptions (three words: Burt. Hummel. Beyoncé), the episode was a nonstop sapfest of too many tears and not enough nostalgia. And, when all is said and done, we were right back where we started: underdogs all the way.
Schue walks in to find the original glee kids – Artie, Rachel, Mercedes, Kurt and Tina – reenacting "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat," spliced in with the footage of the original, way back when in the pilot episode. Schue watches wistfully, then writes "Goodbye" on the white board. "There's nothing left to prepare for. All that's left to do is say 'goodbye," he explains, telling the kids their weekly assiganment is for the graduating seniors to sing songs to the underclassmen and vice versa as he picks up his guitar. "I really hope you're about to rap," Quinn remarks. "I'm leading by example," Schue responds, launching into that song that soundtracked everyone's Bar Mitzvah montages. Everyone looks appropriately sad and reflective, but while the bare-bones guitar arrangement is suitably melancholy, Schue's voice never quite settles in, seeming forced the whole way through.
This is not technically a song performed in this episode, but it was far and above the best moment. Kurt is summoned to the auditorium, where Burt is waiting to give Kurt his graduation present. "Is Elaine Stritch here?" Kurt asks hopefully. "I don't know who that is," Burt responds. Oh, you two! "Do you remember when when we started walking towards each other instead of in opposite directions?" Burt asks his son. Kurt immediately knows what's up as Tina and Brittany walk on stage, and BURT LAUNCHES INTO THE "SINGLE LADIES" DANCE, recalling the moment when he discovered Kurt rehearsing the number in their basement. "Best graduation gift ever," Kurt tells Blaine after. BEST GIFT OF THE SEASON is more like it.
"Let's just call the Cadillac pink and be done with it. I was in the closet," Kurt reflects of his entry into McKinley. "In this room, it doesn't matter if you're gay or straight. What matters is that we're friends," Kurt says tearfully to his New Directions, launching into an appropriate Kurt goodbye tune: Madonna's 1994 With Honors theme. He's both dapper and emotional while singing in a crisp, clear and natural voice – but I wish there was something more than everyone's sad faces. There's got to be more nostalgic b-roll of Kurt's greatest moments than just "Single Ladies."
"You Get What You Give"
Finn leads the graduating seniors in a rambunctious cover of the New Radicals' '97 hit. Everyone gets a moment in the spotlight, and the angst and bitterness of the original is (surprise!) turned into an uplifting pass-the-torch moment. It's fine and fun, but nothing really spectacular.
We find out that a music producer in L.A. saw Sam's YouTube clip of Mercedes singing "Disco Inferno" and wants to sign her as a backup singer on an indie label. She's going west and will take classes at UCLA. Meanwhile, Mike was all set to go to Alvin Ailey, then Joffrey Ballet in Chicago accepted him, so he's staying in the Midwest after all. Good going, you guys!
Meanwhile, Finn reflects back on how lost he was at the beginning of senior year. His newfound confidence about the future comes from nailing his Inside the Actor's Studio school audition, but we don't get to see any of it except James Lipton (yes, for real) telling Finn what an exception to the norm it would be for him to get in. While he waits for his acceptance letter, Finn gets mad at Schue for taking the easy way out in signing his yearbook. "I couldn't get two words out without falling apart," Schue says. So instead he tells Finn the one thing he'd "rather not write anywhere": his Machiavellian pot-planting technique to get Finn to join New Directions, to which Finn says, "You are so much cooler than I ever thought you were."
Despite all of this, Finn is still moping over not getting his dad an honorable discharge status. "How is becoming an actor redemption for a man who did all that?," he wonders about his dad, who saved men's live in Kuwait. "Everything seems like it's falling into place. Everything but him."
"In My Life"
The underclassmen want to thank Finn for always having their back, even when he didn't need to. And we have now officially entered sappy hour, with a blended-past-recognition, laden-with-harmonies Beatles tune.
Newly Mature Quinn marvels at ending her McKinley career where she began: on top, baby! She's verging on Robot Quinn, with no emotion except a flatline profession of how lucky she is and a miraculous recovery from her accident that is in no way, shape or form realistic to . . . anything. She gives Rachel a Metro North pass to come visit her at Yale and tells Rachel she's happy for her and Finn. Rachel alludes to Quinn's babydaddy romance with Puck, saying he was at his best when he was with Quinn.
This obviously causes Quinn to realize she has totally been in love with Puck this whole time, and helps him cram for his European History final do-over. She confesses her love, which leads to a scene of absolutely no emotion, for once the entire episode. Except it wasn't supposed to be like that: Puck and Quinn rush through their lines to get to a reunion kiss that magically gives Puck the insight he needs to pass his exam. Obviously.
Quinn goes to return her uniform to Sue, but Sue tells her she's retiring the number because Quinn is nothing like Sue, as originally predicted. "Somehow, you're slightly less evil," she says. "And I admire that. You're going to go so far, kiddo, and I'm going to have the best time watching you do it." And with that, Quinn bursts into tears and causes Sue to get choked up as well.
Nothing like a little Puck- and Finn-led Springsteen to soundtrack a graduation that looks more like a fashion show than a graduation ceremony. But, you guys, they did it! They graduated! The plot line actually happened. And for that, I enjoyed the scene.
But then the acceptance letters arrive. I actually felt butterflies: the delay with which Finn, Rachel and Kurt open their letters is akin to a twisted pairing of Seacrest drawing out an American Idol eliminination and Charlie trying to find the right Wonka bar. When all is said and done, we find out Finn didn't get in, Kurt didn't get in – and Rachel got in. But she can't imagine heading to New York without Finn and Kurt, and she can't very well drag them without college acceptances. So she decides to defer her acceptance for a year after making a reference to how she didn't think anything could defer her Broadway dreams, but then love came along and wouldn't you know! I can't even.
"Roots Before Branches"
Thankfully Finn has his wits about him and, instead of driving Rachel to their wedding, he drives her to the train station where she'll board a train to New York. Without him. He's heading to a military base in Georgia. In an emotional scene that actually felt genuinely emotional (Lea Michele: Epic Tear Generator), Finn tells Rachel he's setting her free and asks her to surrender to fate with him. The lady doth protest, but he convinces her this is best. It's a glee club send-off at the station as Rachel boards her train in disbelief, and I can't quite figure out why no one is comforting Finn – they're all actively cheering on Rachel's departure as she sings the pop ballad through her tears. Upon arrival in New York, Rachel has her Fanny Brice moment as she walks through the theater district (down a street of actively happening shows, unlike Smash, which prefers to show six-month old marquees) and down Fifth Avenue. Fade to black. I know I was complaining about the mega mush of "Goodbye" – and this last scene definitely carried that torch – but after everything, I would have expected a more Glee song to close out season three.
Why Didn't They Sing About This?
We meet Mama Lopez for the first time (an all-too-brief Gloria Estefan cameo) when she takes Brittany and Santana out to dinner. We find out Mama Lopez is unendingly supportive of Santana coming out but unendingly unsupportive of her wanting to skip college and head to New York. Brittany also drops a big one and reveals she won't be graduating. Turns out, showing up to none of your classes means you score a 0.0 grade average! "Maybe I should stay, too," Santana ponders. But then Mama Lopez presents Santana with her college fund in the form of a check. Santana tells her mom to go on a vacation with her dad. I can't even with this. Mama Lopez then tells her daughter to instead go to New York and chase her dreams. It's unclear exactly what will happen, but the choppy, random scenes would have been a lot better with some Gloria Estefan singing.
Also: Roz and Sue had one final tit-for-tat in Sue's office before the summer. "You and I are never going to like each other, Sue Sylvester," Olympic Champion Roz Washington proclaims. "But we both hate the fact that this school has an idiot for a principal. That's why I propose we join forces and Take. Him. Down." But Sue has already been there and tried to do that. Doesn't anyone remember anything?
Are They Staying or Going?
Graduating and Leaving: Rachel, Mercedes, Finn, Quinn and Mike
Graduating and Staying: Kurt
Graduating and Unclear: Puck and Santana
Not Graduating: Brittany
Underclassmen: Tina, Sam, Joe, Rory, Sugar, Blaine and Artie
Loved 'Em: "Single Ladies," "Glory Days"
Just Fine: "I'll Remember," "Roots Before Branches," "You Get What You Give"
Wipe from Memory: "Forever Young," "In My Life"
Previously: What a Feeling