Good thing season five intends to pick up right where season four left off, because “All Or Nothing” is only technically a finale. Rachel gets one scene, a knockout as she stands there in silence trying to smile at the producers of her dream show, and Finn sadly none. The Ryder catfish saga comes to a decisive middle. Will and Emma finally tie the knot while Blaine pulls out a ring for Kurt. And Brittany’s leaving for MIT immediately, apparently during the school year? The only sense of resolution comes at Regionals, where the New Directions magically win even though there are no more episodes left to cover Nationals. That’s when I found out about the plan for next year. No wonder “All Or Nothing” feels like just another episode.
But it’s not just that the finale provides no sense of closure. “All Or Nothing” is shot like a landmark, completely out of proportion to its content. Think of Sam calling Santana. The scene is made up of disfiguring close-ups—an eyeball, say—and lonely, off-center wide shots, skipping between the two at random. There’s a “something’s going on” piano tinkling in the background, until it’s overtaken by a theremin-like whirring. The overwhelming sense is that something serious is the matter. And all because, what, Sam’s worried about Brittany whose big secret is that she’s taking super-early admittance to college? It’s remarkably off-kilter, just like Brittany’s conspiratorial opening scene and Marley’s high-drama confession. Even Brittany’s return to the New Directions gets a truncated five seconds drowned out by the roaring audience before a commercial break. And was it my cable or were there honest-to-goodness jump cuts in multiple scenes, like when Blaine talks to Sam in the hallway or when Brittany begins “My Cup?” Talk about disorientation.
What’s really out of balance is that Ryder and Brittany get the main stories and Ryder’s the one who knocks it out of the park. He finally—seriously, this time!—can’t take the mind-games any more, and he refuses to participate in Regionals unless the catfish steps forward. Marley confesses, which makes no sense (augmenting the already extant feeling that this Glee is in some alternate universe perhaps called The N), but then it turns out she’s covering for Unique. If I thought Glee looked strange before, when Unique steps out of the shadows all hell breaks loose camera-wise. Now there’s some original drama. Unique never gets to feel this close to anyone, and she found a low-risk way of indulging a fantasy. And then Ryder got deep fast, and suddenly Unique couldn’t back out without causing some serious damage. Which is exactly what happens, and understandably so. Not only has Ryder revealed his deepest secrets and nakedest photos, he’s been strung along for weeks and made to believe he was talking to three different people. Just before Regionals he tells everyone he’s come to the decision he doesn’t want to be in glee club after this. But the story isn’t over, because Glee finally remembers how to mine the stage performances for interpersonal drama! I practically cheered in that moment before “I Love It,” when Ryder glances at Unique at his side, and she glances back. At the end they hug in celebration before remembering they’re upset with each other. To be continued, I guess.
Brittany, on the other hand, gets a worthy sendoff (from McKinley, presumably, not Glee), except for the lingering questions about her sudden departure. She’s gone diva, apparently out of anxiety about MIT’s early acceptance offer. Why is a 0.2 GPA going to MIT instead of, oh, I don’t know, NYADA? We’ll have to find out next season, but suffice it to say, it’s hard to feel satisfied about where Brittany winds up for now with so much doubt about her future in a high-level math department. Until then Brittany just has some funny cracks (“Do you plan on having children, or just continuing to have weirdly intimate relationships with high school students instead of children?”), a moment or five with Santana, and an off-color farewell monologue. Brittany’s intellectual self-esteem isn’t quite the rehash that the meltdown and diva moments are, but Glee sure goes full New Age feelgoodery. “I thought maybe I was smart, and that’s when other people started to think so, too.” Brittany is a talented, hilarious, creative, valuable human being. If anyone can will intelligence into being, it’s Santana, but if anyone else can, it’s Brittany. Everyone’s a winner.
Then there’s Blaine, dead-set on proposing to the man who publicly reminds him after he’s bought a ring that they’re not dating. Sam is happy to be best man/sex object, and the new older lesbian couple are proud to be mentors. This whole subplot seems to be an airing of pent-up topical rage—and more power to ‘em—so that when Patty Duke’s Jan takes a knee and proposes to Meredith Baxter’s Liz and they kiss for a brief moment, it’s genuinely cathartic and we just met these people. There’s no topping that, so that’s a wrap on Blaine this season. Maybe this proposal will lead somewhere fruitful in season five. For now it looks a lot like season-three Finn, a lost young man making a desperate move to manufacture some post-high-school stability.
All of these stories are about moving on, a fitting theme for a season of transition. Brittany is physically moving to the next stage in her life, Will and Emma are moving away from a relationship built on hiding from each other, Ryder intends to quit glee club, and Blaine wants to jump-start the next phase in his life, too. The relentlessly highfalutin camerawork finds purpose at last with indelible images of graduation, so to speak: Brittany savoring her memories of the McKinley stage as Santana joins her; Emma walking the aisle of her makeshift wedding as Sugar drops flowers and the rest of the kids hum “Here Comes The Bride”; the overhead shot of the New Directions and some old ones in a circle around their surrogate parents. They’re all moments that linger, moments you want to drink in, but in each the characters are compelled to keep going. If “All Or Nothing” didn’t feel so slapdash, so unfinished, it’d serve as a nice curtain on season four. It’s been a rocky, rewarding season limited mostly by its own reticence to move forward. Here’s another chance. Put the characters in a room, throw a surprise wedding, and don’t look back.
- All said and done, season four easily bests the long, boring spring of season three for me. Some highlights to jog memories impaired by this late-season pile-up: “The Break-Up” sans Kitty’s subplot, the superhero club, “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” Burt’s Christmas vignette, the final number in “Glease,” Finn beating up Brody, Santana moving to New York via the transportive power of Alicia Keys.
- The MIT scholars on Brittany’s supposed code, which is Avogadro’s number one way and Planck’s constant another: “We don’t even know what it means.” Obviously.
- Brittany’s relieved. “I thought you were gonna tell me I was an idiot, and that’s bullying, and I won’t tolerate that.” How many weeks in a row now has a character made fun of Glee’s big-tent take on bullying?
- Joe and Sugar return, and even Adam is name-dropped. It’s almost like they’re real people and not just plot points!
- My favorite of Brittany’s demands: “Tina, please make an exact replica of Jennifer Lawrence’s Oscar dress.”
- And the secret celebrity father of Sue’s baby is . . . Michael Bolton! Not so secret, actually, given the title of his new album’s first track, “So Proud To Be Your Father, Robin Sylvester.”
- Oh, there were some songs, too. The competition is only interesting when it contains something besides technical perfection, like with the Troubletones, the Warblers, or Vocal Adrenaline. This girl introduced in a cutaway last week? Nobody cares. Still, “All Or Nothing” gets through a snappy Regionals, cutting away from the competition and featuring a song like “I Love It” with just enough cursing that the only broadcastable part is a single, cleaned-up verse repeated a few times.
- No wonder Fondue For Two is so professional-looking. “Lord Tubbington’s a stickler for continuity in editorial.”