As expected, “Goodbye,” the finale of Glee’s third season was awash in misty-eyed nostalgia, and director-writer Brad Falchuk wasted no time in prompting viewers to reach for their tissues. In the very first scene, we find Will (Matthew Morrison) watching from the hall as the glee club founding members perform “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” from Guys and Dolls, the first song they sang together, and the scene is interspersed with flashbacks from that performance in the series pilot. On the verge of tears, Will gives his students their final assignment: goodbye songs. He himself begins with a poignant acoustic version of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” as his own farewell to the seniors.
In the first of numerous voiceovers in the episode, Kurt (Chris Colfer) reflects on his high school years as he wanders into the auditorium and unexpectedly discovers his dad (Mike O’Malley), who is there to deliver a special graduation present, a somewhat awkward karaoke facsimile of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” with Brittany (Heather Morris) and Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), and the song is interspersed with flashbacks of Kurt singing the same number in “Preggers” from season one.
Back in the choir room, Kurt is the first to offer his goodbye, a tearful performance of Madonna’s “I’ll Remember.” For their collective goodbye, the seniors perform the New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give,” led by an over-produced vocal from Finn (Cory Monteith). The juniors’ collective goodbye is the Beatles’ “In My Life,” a resonant rendition that they dedicate to Finn for joining glee club and making it the success it is.
We then briefly follow Quinn (Dianna Agron), who tries to make amends with Rachel (Lea Michele) and Puck (Mark Salling), whom Quinn admits was her first love as she kisses him. In his voiceover, Puck waxes on somewhat incoherently about the power of that kiss, which he credits for giving him the confidence to pass his history final retake so he can graduate. At the unique graduation ceremony, a cross between rock concert and runway show, Puck and Finn perform Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” as the seniors sashay onstage to get their diplomas.
After graduation, Kurt, Finn and Rachel gather to open their college letters. Only Rachel is accepted. In her voiceover, she considers deferring so she can help Kurt and Finn re-apply. When Finn picks up Rachel for their wedding, though, he makes a detour to the train station, “setting her free” to pursue her dream. Of course, she is weeping buckets, but instead of knocking the living daylights out of him for canceling the wedding at the last minute, Rachel follows Finn to the platform, where the entire club is waiting to say goodbye.
Rachel sings Room for Two’s “Roots Before Branches” as she boards the train and arrives at Grand Central Station, which is picturesque but really isn’t where she would have arrived by train from Ohio. Anyway … the episode ends with Rachel wandering through Times Square, very much like a modern Marlo Thomas from That Girl, before disappearing into the crowds on Fifth Avenue.