In Memoriam – Glee’s Cory Monteith: “Leaders are supposed to see things that other guys don’t, right? Like, they can imagine a future where things are better.”

I know my readers haven’t heard much from me in the past month, and that’s been mostly because I’ve been concentrating on a new job and being sort of lazy in the meantime. But I’ve been avoiding this particular column now for a few days because I just didn’t want to write it. I didn’t want to do a fucking obituary. I remember writing my own when I was about 24 and in journalism school; it was creepy, but mostly hypothetical. It’s so much more horrifying when you’re writing one for a person who really is dead but should have had their whole lives in front of them.

For those who haven’t heard already, Cory Monteith died suddenly in Vancouver, British Columbia on July 13.  The remaining facts are simple and grim: he had been staying at the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel while visiting friends and family in Canada. His body was discovered by hotel staff sometime after noon local time, when he missed his checkout time. The  B.C. Coroners Service determined after an autopsy and toxicology tests that he died of an accidental overdose of alcohol and heroin. He was just 31.

Anyone who’s followed the ‘Glee’ fandom at all knows that Cory was quite open about his history of substance abuse beginning around age 12, and his struggle to get clean. His move to LA with a family friend at age 19 to pursue an acting career seemed to have helped, and being cast as Finn Hudson on ‘Glee’ was another very lucky break. By all accounts, the show’s cast and crew have become very close in the 4 years it’s been on the air, and it was reportedly his cast-mates who staged the intervention that led to his voluntary stint in rehab this spring.

But here’s the thing: I don’t want to talk anymore about addiction or the pressures of fame or how Cory might have been living some kind of “double life” while he was on ‘Glee’. All the other vultures in the mainstream entertainment press have that covered all day long and twice on Sunday. I want to talk about what Cory did with the role of Finn Hudson, and why it was so important to ‘Glee’.

The first time we see Finn, he’s with a group of typical knuckle-dragging football morons who are getting ready to toss Kurt into a dumpster in the McKinley High parking lot. We see that he’s not quite following the “jerk” script when he offers to hold Kurt’s Marc Jacobs jacket so that it doesn’t get ruined by garbage.  This proves to be just the beginning of a beautiful friendship that actually turns into family.  There are bumps and bruises along the way, but we see Finn making an effort to step out of his popular comfort zone to make friends with kids far below him in the social hierarchy.

Something that’s important to know about Finn — and really central to who this boy is — is that he’s sweet and trusting and more than a little naive. We see this when Quinn tells him she’s pregnant with his child.  He remembers they never actually had sex, but believes her anyway when she tells him that hot tub water makes sperms swim faster. He wants so badly to see the best in people that he buys it. And you can literally watch him make himself buy it. It’s the same reason that he doesn’t stand up for himself when Mr. Schue blackmails him (with drugs!) into singing with the glee club.

That bit of dark inspiration on Schue’s part shows us something else about Finn — despite sitting at the top of the high school food chain, he still sees himself as a Lima loser. He knows down into his bones that he’s not really going anyplace special, so he decides to join glee anyway, because he enjoys it, and really, how much worse can his life get? Rachel scares him and Kurt sort of freaks him out, but they and their passion for music and performing also intrigue him. Despite some early bumps in the road, he goes from being the goofy jock on the edges of the club to its emotional center.

This isn’t just true for the glee clubbers themselves, it’s true for the audience as well. Finn is the adorable, accessible Everyman that viewers can relate to. We understand and appreciate his often priceless comic reactions to the drama queens surrounding him (hello again, Kurt and Rachel, and Quinn and Santana and Puck too)! But we also ache for him in his self-doubt over a girlfriend who cheated on him and lied about it, a friend who betrayed him for a toss in the hay, and peers who regularly questioned both his IQ and his sexuality.

As he began to find himself as a leader, and tapped into his desire to do for other kids what Mr. Schue does for the glee kids, he shed much of his self-doubt and started becoming the man that Rachel saw the potential for. He actually began filling the shoes of the man who put his fiancé on a train to New York alone, so that she wouldn’t abandon her dreams for him. Their final conversation of the fourth season was about what song she should sing for her “Funny Girl” callback. The advice he gives is sound, and she trusts every word. He might still struggle with academics, but his emotional intelligence is stronger than ever. Finn has never stopped believing in Rachel, and the rest of the McKinley High glee club, and he’s beginning to believe in himself. It’s a crying shame we’ll never get to see how the movie ends.

About Jennifer

I’m a wife and a mother and a geek and girl, and I enjoy all those things immensely. If I had to boil myself down to a particular phrase, the one I’d use would be “rational romantic mystic cynical idealist”. (All credit for that to Neil Peart of Rush….)