Glee‘s Tuesday night return was like a pile of salt water taffies: Sweet, inoffensive, and enjoyable enough, but not exactly a full-fledged meal. Indeed, the one-hour run-up to next week’s Gaga Extravaganza mostly served as a means to tie up some loose plot threads, possibly set up another inexplicable story arc for Terri Schuester, and give Mercedes a moment in the spotlight (not an encore performance of “Hell to the No,” though that needs to happen by season’s end, yes?). Let’s do a quick rundown on how things played out:
* Thanks to Sue’s redirection of McKinley extracurricular funding into offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands, glee club was short on cash for its trip to New York City for Nationals; plus, Mike, Tina, Artie, and Brittany’s academic team needed a whopping $250 to finish its championship season in Detroit. But Mr. Schue had a plan, and a rudimentary math lesson, too. Q: If New Directions and the Brainiacs need a combined $5,250, and decide to sell 25-cent salt water taffy in the halls of McKinley High, how many pieces of candy do they need to move? A: Irrelevant! Indeed, Will’s main squeeze Holly Holliday wanted her man to dream bigger, and proposed a benefit concert — A Night of Neglect — in which the music of overlooked artists would raise money for McKinley’s overlooked clubs. And just like that, a plot was born.
* Sue, meanwhile, desperate to return to power and thwart Will’s recent string of successes, took a break from “bow-hunting for hobos” — seriously, writers? — and recruited a team to help do her bidding: Vocal Adrenaline coach Dustin Goolsby (aka Sergeant Handsome) to drive a wedge between Holly and Schue; deposed McKinley glee director Sandy Ryerson (The Pink Dagger) to sabotage New Directions’ performances with hecklers; and Terri (aka The Honey Badger) to carry out some yet-to-be-explained nefariousness against the glee kids and continue her bedbug-esque reign of unwelcome in the Glee universe. I’m not really sure why the show’s writers continue to drag Sue (and Emmy winner Jane Lynch) down the cartoon train tracks to Absurdville — somehow a violent, homicidal Sue is less fun than the one who lived to shoot poisonously funny verbal arrows back in the day — but I’ll cop to a couple of laughs during the recruitment scene: Sandy excusing his inappropriate lusting for heterosexual Dustin with this zinger — “You’re hunky and I’m what they call ‘predatory gay'” and Holly being described as “looser than a thrift store turtleneck and probably just as diseased.”
Naturally, Sue’s minions got thwarted by those crazy kids. Dustin tried and failed to seduce Holly and poison the well against Will by pointing out that his tiny baby hands can’t even pick up a Big Mac, while Sandy fell victim to his love of the arts — and in particular Aretha’s “Aint No Way” — and ended up personally providing funding for both New Directions’ and Brainiacs’ trips.
* The Night of Neglect itself required the kind of suspension of disbelief usually reserved for, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger action films. New Directions rival (and onetime McKinley student) Sunshine Corazon signed up for the show and promised to recruit her 600 Twitter followers to attend, which seemed like nothing more than a flimsy excuse to insert a musical number by Filipino singing sensation Charice. Once Goolsby forced Sunshine to pull out of the lineup, though, the Night of Neglect audience shrank to Kurt and Blaine, plus Sandy and his three-person heckling squad. (Because, apparently, Finn’s super-supportive mom and stepdad, Rachel’s gay dads, and not a single parental unit bought a ticket for the benefit concert.) Oh, and somehow Aretha Franklin wound up on the list of “neglected” artists. Not to kvetch, but wasn’t there a single member of the Glee writing squad who could’ve taken a moment to boost the fortunes of an under-the-radar diva by showcasing one of her tunes — think Kina’s “Girl from the Gutter” or Allison Iraheta’s “Scars” or Lina’s “It’s Alright,” for example — as Mercedes’ show-stopper?
* Speaking of Mercedes, New Directions’ perpetual No. 2 songbird got herself a manager in the form of Lauren Zizes, and decided to demand r.e.s.p.e.c.t. through a variety of increasingly ridiculous demands. I’m not really sure I bought this shift in Mercedes’ life philosophy, but I’ll admit I chuckled at the thought of Puck seeking the perfect pomeranian on which Mercedes could dry her freshly washed hands. Even funnier was Mercedes’ demand that New Directions not allow her feet to touch the ground on performance night, followed by a litany of singers who’ve made a habit of riding their minions’ shoulders to success. Gaga at the Grammys? “Carried the hell in!” Of course, in the end, it came down to Mercedes fleeing the scene of the benefit, and having a heart-to-heart with Rachel about her hurt feelings. “Why are you a bigger star than me?” she asked, in the episode’s most heartfelt moment. Rachel decided to give up the closing number and let her friend be top glee dog for a change — although neither one of them pointed out that New Directions typically has bigger audiences for its rehearsals.
* We got a brief moment in which Karofsky attempted to threaten a visiting Kurt and Blaine — only to get stopped by McKinley’s remaining bisexual student, Santana, who gave the hulking brute a choice between which of his “nuts” he wanted cracked. I liked seeing Santana use her patented brand of tough-girl bitchery for good, not evil, for a change, and kinda hope the writers explore a Kurt-Santana or Blaine-Santana conspiratorial friendship going forward.
* And finally, we got the news that Carl had left Emma — and asked for an annulment of their un-consummated marriage. (That’s really all the John Stamos we’re getting?) Somehow this led to a sweet and yet utterly serial-killer-creepy moment of Will donning latex gloves and polishing Emma’s lunchtime grapes for her, a moment that Holly inconveniently happened to witness from afar.
* Will’s unresolved issues with Emma — and the fact that Gwyneth Paltrow probably isn’t ready to commit to a full-time TV gig — led Holly to accept a four-month teaching gig in Cleveland, but not before giving the heckling team a lesson on internet bullying (zzzzz) and giving Will the okay to pursue Emma. “You’re in love with somebody else, and thanks to my counseling, she’s available now,” Holly sighed. I know the Will-Emma romance is the one we’re probably supposed to be rooting for, but I liked how Holly’s lack of worshipful longing helped make Mr. Schue less annoying. Here’s hoping that if McKinley’s Spanish teacher is serious about pursuing the stylish guidance counselor, he ends up getting her best empowered self, and not her damaged, mewling kitten persona.
* And finally, did anyone else notice the homages on the nameplates of the Brainiacs’ Detroit Smarty Pants competitors? “L. Dobler,” “G. LaChance,” and “Travis Strong,” might have been references to Say Anything, Stand By Me, and something called Radio Free Roscoe, but if you’ve got any theories on the origins of “D. Lightman,” do share in the comments!
And before we get to the letter grades for this week’s performances, let’s recap the best Brittany line of the night: “I love salt water.” And now, without further ado…
“All By Myself,” Sunshine Corazon | Please tell me I’m not the only one who was intermittently distracted by Sunshine’s wretched combo of floral miniskirt, striped shirt, frilly navy jacket, and unfortunate kneesocks (not a short girl’s best friend). That aside, while I still can’t comprehend what Sunshine was doing in the auditorium in the first place, there’s no denying the impressive horsepower of Charice’s much-ballyhooed instrument. Musical grade: B+ Relevance to the plot: C
Lykke Li’s “I Follow Rivers,” Tina | Why is it that every time Tina sings — remember her sobbing “My Funny Valentine” — things end weirdly? I wish we’d gotten a little more vocal and a little less booing in an episode about the club’s underappreciated talents. Musical grade: B- Relevance to the plot: B
Dance break to Jack Johnson’s “Bubble Toes,” Mike Chang | No doubt Harry Shum Jr. can dance his ass off, but really, a mop as his duet partner? Hard to say. “Musical” grade: B Relevance to the plot: B-
Adele’s “Turning Tables,” Holly Holliday | I can’t deny Gwyneth’s got a lovely singing voice. Better still, she never takes her vocal to a place of showy extremes or vibrato nightmares, understanding that there’s beauty in the understated. Musical grade: A- Relevance to the plot: B
Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way,” Mercedes | Sandy Ryerson was right — the song itself is kind of unbeatable. And Riley’s gut-busting performance — with full gospel chorus — was fantastic. I could quibble that there were three times as many people on stage as there were in the audience, but why go there? Bonus points for the guinea fowl-feather headpiece. Hot! Musical grade: A- Relevance to the plot: A-
What did you think of this week’s Glee? What were your favorite moments, musical and otherwise? Sound off below, and for all my TV recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV.