Faced with an impossible situation -- addressing the death of Cory Monteith without appearing overly saccharine or in any way glib -- "Glee" did what the show does best, letting the music do most of the talking. Given the circumstances it was emotional, certainly, in its painful exploration of grief, but also frustrating -- and in some respects, a missed opportunity -- in its stubborn refusal to address the circumstances surrounding the 19-year-old character's death, and by extension, what prematurely took the 31-year-old actor.
Monteith died in July from ingesting a lethal mix of heroin and alcohol. Tributes have already poured in -- among them the TV academy including him among several more esteemed luminaries at this year's Emmys -- but it was inevitable the series that made him famous would have to somehow tackle what happened to Finn, its one-time quarterback.
Jane Lynch), to state the obvious, saying the remembrances should be about Finn, "not making a self-serving spectacle of our own sadness."
Still, the episode -- written by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, and directed by Falchuk -- also used Kurt (Chris Colfer), Finn's stepbrother, to say right up front in regard to the cause of death, "Who cares?"
In terms of grieving the dead, fair enough. But teens and young adults often die for highly preventable reasons much like Monteith did, and while a drug overdose would have been too on the nose, any of numerous other explanations -- from drunk driving to other risky behaviors -- would have made this not just a somber sendoff, but a teachable moment to the younger quadrant of the program's audience. And if that sounds dangerously close to Afterschool Special territory, creatively overcoming that sort of challenge would have been a truly admirable tribute.
As it was, the show's highlight came in the very first scene -- a poignant rendition of "Seasons of Love," a song all about the fleeting nature of life from the musical "Rent." After that, the original cast members essentially took turns musically paying tribute to Finn, culminating with the golden-throated Lea Michele and a wrenching breakdown involving his teacher, played by Matthew Morrison.
Even those who have dutifully stuck with "Glee" -- through cast changes and increasingly tedious melodrama -- would mostly have to admit the show's best days are behind it, a bright light that burned itself out pretty quickly. And with this sad chapter over, it will feel like something of a relief to get back to that, following a three-week hiatus due to playoff baseball.
Fox did present an anti-drug public-service announcement at the end of the hour, and dispensed with promos or the studio's customary fanfare.
"There's no lesson here," Sue eventually says, admitting her own sorrow. "There's no happy ending. He's just gone."
In the wake of a tragedy involving someone close to you -- especially who dies so young -- that's an understandable response. But there actually could have been a lesson here, and it's sort of a shame "Glee" -- a show often about helping kids deal with life's setbacks -- didn't even try to teach one.