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In The Loving Memory of Naya Rivera: Remember Glee’s Best Episodes

The bad girl that has everything to be the most hated villain in the series, but ends up winning the hearts of all audience. If in the 2010's you were one of the teenagers who went through the “Glee Phenomenon”, this plot probably sounds familiar to you. Yes, we’re talking about Santana Lopez, one of the most iconic characters in the history of TV shows. With an acid sense of humor and an LGBTQIA+ empowerment speech, this fictional latin-american cheerleader became a reference to many real young people around the world.

In the period when Glee was running on TV (2009-2015), the responsibility of giving life and shine to this powerful character was Naya Rivera, an actress and singer who, just like Santana, had a remarkable journey. She began her career at only four years old, modeling and acting in sitcoms and TV advertisements. During her audiovisual trajectory, she participated in many acclaimed series, such as 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' and 'CSI:Miami'.

Naya passed away on July 8th, after an accident on Lake Piru, in Ventura, California. Since then, many Gleeks (how the fans of the series like to name themselves) have paid tributes to the artist, as well as her castmates and the producers of the show - Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk are even creating a fund to cover the study of Naya’s son, Josey!

To celebrate the memory of Naya and the legacy of this musical series that marked a generation of “losers” with a message of courage and self-love, Her Campus Cásper Líbero prepared a list with the six best Glee episodes ever! Check them out below.


“Pilot” (S1 Ep01)

How to forget where everything began? The first Glee episode was released on May 19th, 2009, on Fox. In this chapter, we are presented to the universe of the series: McKinley High, a small public school in Lima, Ohio, where a group of outcast kids find in a show-choir club a chance of being part of something special. We are also introduced to the other side of the high school food chain, made up of football team bullies and evil cheerleaders, among them the “Unholy Trinity”, a trio of Cheerios (Santana, Quinn and Brittany) who promise to do everything they can to ruin the Glee club. The Pilot is that nostalgic and fun episode from which it is impossible to get tired of watching and re-watching. And, mostly, is when we are introduced to the series ‘immortal anthem, which will summarize the characters’ entire journey in search of themselves and their dreams: “Don’t Stop Believing”!

“Born This Way” (S2 Ep18)

This episode became one of the most famous - and iconic - of the whole series; probably because it was able to masterfully address the message of the show: accept and love what makes us different. Inspired by the Lady Gaga’s song, the Glee club members are invited from Mr. Schuester to sing about the “little monsters” that live inside them and celebrate the imperfection. To it, Will encourages students to wear a T-shirt exposing, in a word, a flaw that bothers them - but that they should be proud of. It is in Born This Way that we are introduced more deeply into Santana’s personal story: her difficulty in expressing her sexuality and her battle to conquer Brittany’s love - as well as her own. Beyond lesbian visibility and representativity, the episode also brings up other relevant themes, as beauty standards (with Rachel wanting to have a nose job and Quinn being ashamed of her past appearance) and psychologic diseases, with Emma’s OCD battle.

“I Kissed a Girl” (S3 Ep07)

Well, before explaining the plot, you need to know that five of the six songs that were performed in I Kissed a Girl entered the Billboard Hot 100 list in 2011 (including the Glee version of Katy Perry’s hit that named the episode)! Here, we accompany Santana during her process of coming out to her family. Her parents accept and welcome her, which gives her strength to tell the truth to her “abuela”, who, however, does not react well. In a very intense and tough scene, Santana is thrown out of the house by her grandmother, who asks her to never return while she's still dirty by this sin. In school, Santana is supported by the Glee girls, who protect her from the bullies and sing their assistance in a magnetic and super girl power musical performance of a Katy Perry’s cover. I Kissed a Girl is an episode with a remarkable and unforgettable message of having courage to be who we are.

“Michael” (S3 Ep11) and all the tribute ones

Glee is a series that aims, in addition to entertaining and touching the audience with a message of courage, to pay homage to the greatest hits of international music. So it is no wonder that the show has become well known for its special tribute episodes - which, by the way, couldn’t be classified as less than epic! Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, The Beatles and Billy Joel are some music stars that named entire thematic episodes with their acclaimed songs as the soundtrack. In Michael’s one, for example, we accompany the feud between the New Directions and The Warblers (the choir group of the Dalton Academy, a rival school of Mckinley High), packed by songs like “Bad”, “Black Or White” and the iconic duet of “Smooth Criminal” performed by Santana and Sebastian (Grant Gustin).

For being a musical series very inspired by the stage productions, Glee also scored some episodes tributing to Broadway shows! So, if you’re a musical theater baby, you’ll love to know the Glee versions of Grease, Rocky Horror Picture Show and West Side Story - entitled to an impeccable “America” dance performance, with Naya as Anita!

“Extraordinary Merry Christmas” (S3 Ep09) and all the holiday ones

The end of the year has already a magical vibe, but imagine mixing this Christmas spirit with huge musical performances and emotional holiday stories? Glee did it! Every season of the series (except for the first one) brings a new, cozy and sensitive Christmas special episode. In “Extraordinary Merry Christmas”, the kids of New Directions are invited to present a Christmas musical program on TV and, suddenly, we are magically transported to a 1960’s black and white tale! Inspired by Star Wars and The Judy Garland Christmas Special (and a setting that is exactly equal to the original 1963 program), this episode mixes sensibility and laughs, in addition to bringing that amazing holiday's spirit.

The plots of the other Christmas episodes are equally captivating. In the second season (Ep10), for example, we can see Sue dressed as Grinch trying to ruin Glee club’s Christmas, while Brittany, who still believes in Santa Claus, asks him to allow Artie to walk again. The fact is that Glee Christmas specials are perfect to binge-watch with the family at the end of the year and also shed some tears of emotion!

“100” and “New Directions” (S5 Ep12-13)

This is for you who love that nostalgia feeling! In celebration of the 100th Glee reunion, the original chapter returns to a revival in a two-part episode. Grown up and together again, they re-present the songs that most marked the series' history in previous seasons - so, be prepared for the karaoke energy. It is interesting to notice the growth of the characters, who transform, in this episode, their original teenage solos into more mature and adult performance, such as we see in “Valerie” energy, in the acoustic and sentimental version of “Loser Like Me” and also in the Britney Spears’ “Toxic”, now turned into a tango. Oh, and at the end there’s a re-presentation of “Don’t Stop Believing”, that all the group sang together for Will Schuester’s unborn child. Well, if I were you, I’d prepare the tissues...

So, here's the end of a list that could easily be bigger: the series was on air for six years, released 121 episodes, hit more than 200 songs in the Billboard Hot and mobilized fans all over the world. And now, even five years after the release of the series finale, Glee still being a refuge for all those who feel different and excluded, as a reminder not to stop believin'!

Well, after all, there's no slush in life that can't be turned into music...


The article above was edited by Marina Ponchio.

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Helena Cardoso

Casper Libero '21

A journalism student who loves musical theater and dreams about living in Disney World.
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