We’re accustomed to post-hiatus episodes of Glee piling on the entertaining ridiculousness. Instead, this week, we’re left with a sinking feeling in our stomach, and it’s not from all the matzo we just ate at a Passover seder. The premise of “Night of Neglect” was sketchy at best — teach the whiny New Directions crew a lesson about just how not-totally-terrible their funds-less plight is by forcing them to raise money for the Brainiacs, the McKinley quiz team. But two slightly more promising developments early in the night — Sue’s creation of a delectable triumvirate of evil, and a song theme that could have proved more interesting than usual — gave us hope. But it turns out the “neglect” theme seemed to apply more to the writers’ general attitude toward this episode: neglect zippy pace and charm in favor of musical choices that make last season’s “Home” seem upbeat by comparison, and add in bits with Gwyneth Paltrow and Charice that, at this point, feel tired (we get it — Gwynnie does wacky historical figure impressions). Judging by how much next week’s 90-minute escapade looks designed to make up for all these shortcomings (Gaga! Mall dancing! Aaaaah!), we’re guessing we’re not the only ones left feeling, much like little Sunshine Corazon, left out in the cold.
“All by Myself”
It’s time to begin the multi-episode push toward nationals, which means Schue is scrawling big, scary numbers on the dry-erase board. Funds must be raised, and pushing salt-water taffy like crack is the way to do it, kids! When a distraught Mike Chang suddenly gets up in a huff, we learn a dirty secret: He (and Artie and Tina and Brittany) have time for an extracurricular activity that’s not glee club, and they’re in even deeper financial trouble than the New Directions. The solution, courtesy of Schue’s soon-to-be-short-lived girlfriend Holly Holliday: a benefit called the Night of Neglect, wherein the glee kids will sing songs by neglected artists. This immediately brings to mind several totally off-topic artist choices: Lykke Li (neglected, or still just not so known by middle America?); Aretha (come again?); Celine Dion (and again ); and, hmmm, a solo dance by Mike Chang set to the definitely NOT neglected Jack Johnson. Sunshine Corazon magically materializes in the auditorium, ready to sing this slightly-more-neglected Eric Carmen (but definitely chosen because it wasn’t neglected by Celine) belter. Rachel is rightly suspicious, but Charice recites the lines written for her very precisely, so the kids are immediately convinced that only Sunshine can save their benefit with her 600 Twitter followers (we kinda see Mike C.’s point now — these kids totally don’t want to work for the money!). She sings in the technically spot-on way we have come to know yet not completely love (we know — our heart is cold) and much clapping ensues!
“I Follow Rivers”
We’re starting to feel like Sue needs a motivation for living other than destroying glee club. Can this ever happen in Glee’s universe? It’s a question for the ages, and not one the writers will be answering tonight! Instead, Sue has assembled the League of Doom, all of whom have great villain names: the Pink Dagger (Sandy), Honey Badger (Terri), and Sergeant Handsome (Dustin Goolsby). We feel strangely happy to see Terri again and hope for one fleeting instance that Cheyenne Jackson’s presence means he will sing — alas, it does not, though he does get some great lines, including a reference to a hairline that’s “85 percent my own,” an attack on Will’s “baby hands,” and the winner: “I’m handsome, I’m good-looking, and I’m easy on the eyes. Also I’m gorgeous.” Their tasks: Break Will and Holly up and heckle the glee club. When the benefit finally happens, poor Tina is the victim of said hecklers — as is unfortunately often true on this show, she’s also the victim of a megashortened solo vocal, which is decent while it lasts, though muddily arranged.
Let’s hold a brief moment of silence: Stamos has left the building. Yes, we’re sure he’ll be back — Will and Emma’s day in the sun is, sigh, no doubt close by, so at some point he’ll need to step back in for momentary conflict. But for the moment, Will is back to showing his support for troubled Emma in very odd ways; here, by polishing her grapes for her (we’re not psychiatrists but wouldn’t this just, er, reinforce her behaviors?). Sorry, Holly, it was nice while it lasted! We’ve very much enjoyed Gwyneth’s time on Glee, and we know it’s not totally over — when Schue asks, “Holly, will you come back and visit?” we imagine Gwyneth screaming to us, “Of course, when it’s time to promote my album, and hey, why not go out and buy that Matt Morrison album that we did a duet on while you’re at it?” — but we can’t help but think this song choice wasn’t the best one for Gwyneth’s semi-swan song. It takes someone at least close to Adele’s soulfulness — say, John Legend — to even begin to match her, and while Gwynnie’s got decent pipes, they don’t quite cut it.
“Ain’t No Way”
If there’s one way in which this episode did succeed, it was in the slightly more buried “respect yo’self before you wreck yo’self” theme. We loved the idea of Lauren as Mercedes’s manager, and Mercedes’s blend of J.Lo/Mariah-esque diva demands was the kind of tongue in cheek Glee does well. And it’s about time the questions constantly on our minds — why does Mercedes always get the secondary solos, when she’s on par with Rachel? And why does she stand for it? — finally got some airtime, along with a pretty realistic treatment (Mercedes may be a diva, but it’s of course a front — she’s not nearly as confident as she projects). Meanwhile, Santana serves as a fabulous example to all in the ass-whupping R-E-S-P-E-C-T department, standing up for Blaine and Kurt in front of the still-terrifying Karovsky to dazzling effect (“Oh and also, I have razor blades hidden in my hair. Tons, just hidden all up in there”). We can’t decide whether an episode sans Rachel belting was ultimately a good thing (for once, this week could have used some overemoting), but Mercedes’s closing Aretha tribute is a great and heartfelt one — and hey, with the gospel choir (cost-free, we’re sure), there’s even a tinge of the ol’ Glee ridiculousness to give us hope till next week.