The episode was written by “Glee” creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, and it was disappointing to see them set aside one of “Glee’s” lasting attributes — cold honesty — as it awkwardly and even sanguinely avoided revealing how Monteith’s character died. Did Finn, like the actor who played him, have a drug problem? Was it a car crash? Did he kill himself? Aneurysm, heart attack, infection, old football injury, what?
“That doesn’t matter,” said Kurt (Chris Colfer) in the episode’s opening.
Well, of course it does, if this is still a television show and not just an exercise in demonstrative grief-through-song. It came across as a bizarre absence of basic plot in a show that built its reputation on deftly locating comedy in the most uncomfortable personal details.
Erasing Finn seemed to be the ultimate goal: no clips of Monteith’s character from past episodes, just vague memories and broad strokes. That undermined the episode’s strongest scenes, including one in which Finn’s mother, Carole (Romy Rosemont), broke down in tears while packing up her son’s bedroom. It also left a hollow spot in the final minute when Will Schuester, the glee-club sponsor played by Matthew Morrison, sobbed into Finn’s varsity letter jacket.
On the plus side, “Glee” was mindful about its mission as a comedy first, where treacle still takes a back seat or gets slapped down. As one “gleek” fretted about wearing too much black, guidance counselor Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays) reached into her desk for copies of grief brochures titled “It’s Not About Me” and “Wait, Am I Being Callous?”
And as Mr. Schuester tried to figure out the best way for McKinley High School to honor Finn (who graduated more than a season ago, to become one of those alums who hangs around too much), it was up to Jane Lynch’s reliably cruel Sue Sylvester to carry on “Glee’s” core mission of snark: Students who wish to remember Finn can visit the memorial tree planted next to “the shrubs where I caught Finn and Quinn Fabray fondling each other’s breasts,” she said. More important, it’s Sue who warned the gleeks to not make “a self-serving spectacle of our own sadness.”
Which is precisely what we expect that the attention hogs of “Glee” were made to do — sing their hearts out while brimming with manufactured emotions. While the cynics among us strapped in for a long hour of weepy power-pop arias (Mr. Schuester encouraged each of the gleeks to sing a solo about Finn), “Glee” instead briefly reaffirmed its sense of Top 40 surprise and free-ranging taste. Song choices included James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain”; the Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand by You”; Bruce Springsteen’s “No Surrender”; and, once Lea Michele’s Rachel made her dramatic last-minute entrance into the halls of McKinley High, “Make You Feel My Love” a Bob Dylan song likely known to most “Glee” watchers via Adele’s 2008 recording.