Since then we've had speculation, scandal, plenty of backtracking from Glee creator Ryan Murphy and now, after almost a year of build-up, it's finally here. To say that 'Goodbye' is the most anticipated episode of the season or even the series is probably an understatement - even the final ever episodes of TV heavyweights House and Desperate Housewives haven't received this much teasing.
Part of the reason everyone's been looking forward to the Glee finale is the hope that it may contain answers as to what the characters will be doing in season four. And while, yes, pretty much everybody does get their future laid out for them (Mercedes has got a record deal and is going to Hollywood, Mike has a scholarship in Chicago), there's still no clear idea of how the hell this could possibly be documented on screen.
But that's a problem to be worked out by the Glee team in the summer. Now is the time for reminiscing and reflecting, not looking forward. It's made clear that this is to be the theme of the episode right from the start when Will walks in on the original members of New Directions performing a (more polished) version of their 'Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat' routine from the pilot.
More Glee-stalgia comes courtesy of Burt Hummel, who after three seasons finally slips on his dancing shoes and recreates Kurt's classic 'Single Ladies' dance from season one as a graduation present. Thankfully there's no unitard. This is just about the highlight of Kurt's curtain call. There's a nice rendition of Madonna's 'I'll Remember' as his goodbye song and a proud bit where he talks about having inspired other people struggling with their sexuality, but the dilemma of his long-distance romance with Blaine is glossed over with meaningless words and it just feels a bit short. Even in an episode as great as this one, Glee is not able to avoid slipping into old habits of overlooking characters and rushing through major plot points.
For a goodbye more significant and heartwarming, we have to go to Quinn. She reflects on her journey from bitchy cheerleader to a humbled figure of inspiration and vows to give back to her friends in their final days. She hands Rachel a travel pass that will allow them to visit each other and commits to helping Puck study so he can graduate.
In that time together, she and Puck have a heart-to-heart about everything they've been through and Quinn tries to remind him of how confident he used to be, saying that's what he needs to pass the last year. They kiss and this apparently is enough to get Puck through his final exam. Hopefully this latest reconciliation will not be dropped in between the seasons. Like Rachel, we always thought Quinn and Puck were a good match (even though this writer was one of the few who enjoyed her and Finn), so hopefully their romance will go somewhere this time. We don't want to go back to the days when we weren't even sure if they were dating.
There's another surprise emotional moment when Quinn tries to return her uniform to Sue. The coach allows her to keep the treasured garments and takes back her comment from yonks ago about Quinn being a young Sue Sylvester - she's better than that now. We still miss Sue being evil, but her fond farewell to her former protege was the closest we'd come to tears at this point in the episode. Like when Puck and Beiste had their breakdown last week, the shock of seeing such powerful characters so upset really resonates.
Finn also takes the time for a special goodbye to a member of McKinley High faculty - Mr Schuester. Their teacher/student-turned-father/son relationship has been a little creepy at times, but it's also been tender and deserves a proper conclusion. Will also confesses that he was the one who planted pot on Finn in the pilot and blackmailed him into the glee club. Personally, I thought this was about to be a last-minute curveball to the graduation goodness, a relationship that would be broken and then fixed in the final minutes. However, Finn simply laughs off the confession and all is well. I do feel they missed a trick there, but the shout out to the 'help the kids' zoom from the pilot is enough to appease me.
'Goodbye' may be focusing on the graduates at McKinley, but that doesn't mean there's no room for one last guest star. Gloria Estefan has a brief, but deep, appearance as Santana's mother, who is desperate for her daughter to go to college. Santana, however, is not convinced, toying with the idea of trying to make it New York and staying in Ohio with Brittany. Gloria (her character has a name, but come on - you'll only be calling her Gloria) later surprises her daughter with a wad of money she has been saving up over the years and gives her blessing for Santana to go to the Big Apple. We're keeping our fingers crossed we see Gloria again - she fitted into the spunky, feel-good world of Glee with ease. And we also hope Santana's move to New York is not going to signal the end of her romance with Brittany. Surely Murphy wouldn't axe one of the most beloved elements of the show?
The graduation itself is a joyful moment. Scored to Puck's performance of 'Glory Days', it's an energising sea of cheering, hugging and squealing that perfectly sums up the strange celebratory sadness of the real thing. But as is often the case on Glee, joy comes coupled with sadness, with the next scene showing Finn getting rejected from the Actor's Studio (despite nailing his audition for the actual James Lipton) and Kurt getting turned down by NYADA.
Rachel, however, gets accepted. In voiceover, she notes that everything she dreamed of way back at the start of Glee has now come true, and yet she is sad. She decides to defer her place at NYADA for another year so that she can be with Kurt and Finn, but the latter has other plans.
While the intention of the episode was undoubtedly to celebrate the characters moving on for season four, it still is at the end of the day a series finale. There's got to be a big plot development somewhere. And it's one we were definitely not expecting.
The twist starts off with Rachel getting all giddy as Finn drives her across town on the pretence of getting married, but her smile fades when they end up at a train station. Finn tells her that she's getting on the train to go to NYADA and that he is setting her free to follow her dreams without him dragging her down - in other words he's breaking up with her.
Finn reveals that he's joining the army as tribute to his war hero father, and also so that Rachel cannot follow him. The scene is terribly heartbreaking - Finn is so steely and determined to give Rachel her dream, that he's somehow able to withstand her desperate cries that she just wants to be with him. And the worst part is - they both know that Rachel getting on the train to New York is the right thing. Breaking up with a girl on what she thought was her wedding day still seems a bit too cruel though.
It's a devastating, devious twist that I'm sure will prompt many viewers to reach for their tissues, but in a way it's exciting. This is vintage Glee, raw and emotional. The bittersweet ending of the glee club turning up on the platform to wish Rachel goodbye, Finn sprinting alongside the train as it pulls off, Rachel's torment gradually turning into a smile as she walks to her destiny in New York - it's a beautifully crafted ending to a season that has, in truth, often disappointed.
Glee has always had it faults, but over the last 20 or so weeks it was starting to feel like they were corroding the whole show. In fact it's hard to shake the feeling that Murphy and co have cobbled the rest of the season together while channelling all their time and energy into the finale. Nonetheless, 'Goodbye' was truly excellent, an episode that should be enough to impress even those so convinced that Glee has already lost it's way. Now let's hope they can make season four work.
What did you think of the Glee finale? What are you hopes for season four? Should Finn and Rachel have split? Leave your comments below!