Whatever my problems with Glee, Cory Monteith was never one of them. He wasn’t the best actor, singer or dancer on the show, but his imperfections perfectly matched his character Finn Hudson, who was never the best singer or dancer in the fictional glee club. Monteith brought a decency and consistently youthful quality even as he aged further away from the character with each passing year. Finn represented the possibility of finding out that your weaknesses don’t have to matter, as long as you don’t let them.
Monteith was never much for comedy, and the show didn’t always play to his strengths as an actor, but he still found plenty of standout moments in the three and a half seasons of Glee that I’ve seen. The one I remember most vividly comes at the end of the third season finale, “Goodbye.” Finn picks Rachel up from school; she thinks they’re going to the courthouse to get married, but Finn takes her to the train station instead. They can’t get married, he says, because she has dreams she needs to fulfill without him. “Do you know how many times I’ve cried about this?” Finn asks, and Monteith plays it without vanity or embellishment. It’s raw, and it’s real, and it’s meaningful because it’s played with full knowledge of a relationship that’s been built over three seasons. When Finn runs alongside the train that’s carrying the love of his life to lands unknown, Monteith allows a small smile to take over his lips, because he knows he’s done the right thing. In a world of happy endings and romantic fantasies, it’s rare for a television show to acknowledge that there’s more to life than true love. Monteith brings the pain to life beautifully.
(I wish I could link to a clearer video of this scene, but the one below is the best one I can find.)
Monteith tolerated a lot of asinine character developments during his run on Glee, but he always looked like he was trying his hardest to make them seem natural. It was that commitment to even the less believable aspects of Glee that made him worth watching: he cared, and so did we.
I’ll leave you with the moment that everyone has already cited as the defining one for Finn, and for Monteith’s career. At the end of the pilot episode of Glee, the entire cast joins together to sing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” with Finn and Rachel (Lea Michele) taking the lead. This is a scene so stirring, transcendent and emblematic, it will live on as an iconic moment in television history, and Monteith is as responsible as anyone for its power. The look of pure joy on his face as he sings that brilliant first verse, and later as he reaches heavenward with Rachel in an act of spontaneous melodrama, encapsulates the optimism and aspiration at the heart of this messy, problematic show.
Cory Monteith passed away tragically this weekend at the age of 31. He died far too young. But with Glee, he leaves behind a legacy of passion, commitment, and realized potential. Don’t stop believing.