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COMMUNITY’s Three-Part Finale – Review
I was very wary of having three episodes of Community airing in a single night. A part of me thought it might be too much awesome in one sitting, but those were the thoughts of a crazy man. I often fear Community will one day cease to entertain me in much the same way shows like Supernatural and The Office have lost their appeal. This Thursday, however, Community demonstrated everything it does well and more, with each new episode trumping the one preceding it. That is no small feat for a series that so often comes close to cancellation. I’ve thought long and hard about how I want to tackle this article; should I do three separate articles or one big, long one? In the end, I’ve decided to write one article. The episodes relate to each other in such a way it would only make sense to talk about them all at once. So let’s dive in with the first episode, “Digital Estate Planning.”
This episode has been heavily promoted as the “8-bit” episode, where the study group plays an old school video game in order to secure Pierce’s inheritance. Standing in their way is Gilbert, Pierce’s half-brother, masterfully played by Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito. We’ve seen Esposito play villainous to perfection when he plays drug lord Gus Fring, but who knew the man could so easily slip into a more comedic bad guy. He felt right at home playing a video game, giving the camera just the right amount of cartoonish acting to remind us this is just so silly, but he’s sinister enough that we don’t forget their playing for real money. Inside the video game, which has been programmed to be infinitely customizable if you know what you’re doing (as Abed does), the characters are represented by sprites made in their image. It’s completely adorable and funny seeing how each character behaves differently in the video game environment (for example, Pierce can’t figure out the controls and continuously runs into walls, while Troy can’t stop jumping around).
As the first episode of the finale, it doesn’t come as a shock this is at the bottom of totem pole. It’s a great achievement to be sure, but if you’re not familiar with old video games, you might miss out on a lot of the jokes. Spending the majority of our time with sprites instead of people takes a lot of the emotion out of the proceedings; luckily we are treated to little breaks throughout the episode, taking us briefly back into the real world. But the biggest detractor is how it fits in with the remaining two episodes; which is to say it doesn’t. Nobody even mentions the status of Greendale or the Dean’s kidnapping. It’s as if everyone completely forgot where were in the storyline. This definitely felt like “let’s do a video game episode just because we can.” I wish it had been more relevant, but what can you do? It’s still a wonderful episode and ends in Community’s typical emotional climax. Pierce offers to forfeit his inheritance when he realizes Gilbert deserves it more. It’s a nice capper to Pierce’s daddy issues, with him essentially saying, “Forget our father, we have each other now.”
“The First Chang Dynasty” jumps right back into the main plot of Chang’s takeover, with the study group trying to prove there’s a Deanelganger (or Doppledeaner, Deanelchanger, whichever pun you prefer). When the authorities refuse to listen to their claim, they take it upon themselves to free the Dean. Troy goes so far as to seek help from the Air Conditioning Repair School. This is where the theme of episode begins: heist movies. Specifically, this is parody of Ocean’s 11. And in typical Community style, every joke and reference is done to perfection. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how well the heist part of the episode is done. If you haven’t been enjoying the Change storyline, which I know some people haven’t, this may not win you over. Chang is such a cartoonish character, even when the show is at it’s most realistic. It is no surprise he gets sidelined the majority of the time. I don’t find him to be as a big a problem as some, but I can definitely see where he doesn’t exactly help things along.
Still, this is much more emotional episode for our characters, with Troy inevitably having to face his fears and succumb to the AC Repair School. They’re able to rescue the Dean, but Troy will no longer be able to see his friends. He even has to move out of the apartment to live in AC School housing. It’s a big sacrifice. The end of the episode may wrap up the Chang/Dean plots (the Dean finally being touched by Jeff was priceless), but the final episode is set up quite nicely as well. But already I can tell there’s going to be a lot going on in the next episode. So far, we’ve resolved issues for Pierce, Chang, and Dean, but that leaves Shirley, Jeff, Britta, Abed, and Troy with outstanding storylines. That’s going to be a lot to cram into a single episode.
But this is Community; you need not worry. “Introduction to Finality” masterfully wields all five characters with precision. To compact things, Britta and Abed are paired together, as is Jeff and Shirley, with Troy dealing with his problems on his own. It creates three separate stories, but they’re all tied together by the common theme of a simple truth: helping ourselves is bad, but helping each other is good. What makes this theme so special is Jeff, who is helping Shirley win a fake lawsuit against Pierce and Alan (Rob Corddry) for the ownership of her sandwich shop, brings it to our attention. If you can think back all the way to Season 1, you might remember Jeff saying, “I discovered at a very early age that if I talk long enough, I can make anything right or wrong. So either I’m God or truth is relative.” To have him come out and contradict himself, saying that truth is absolute, you’re either good or bad, is monumental. This is a Jeff who has come full circle.
Jeff’s revelation is key to what’s going on with Abed. He’s come to believe the world has gone bad and if he wants to survive with his sanity intact, he needs to go bad as well. He adopts the Evil Abed persona and begins a mission to make everything more like the darkest timeline he imagined in “Remedial Chaos Theory.” Britta seeks to help him, because she’s a therapist. She Brittas it, and Evil Abed runs rampant. Absolutely crushed, she decides to change her major, but once Abed returns to normal he’s willing to admit he needs therapy and Britta would be exactly the kind of therapist he needs; someone with as little control over his mind as he has. And the journey getting to that realization was hilarious. I could watch Evil Abed all day, just roaming the halls of Greendale, smoking, popping kids’ balloons, and muttering, “Cruel. Cruel, cruel, cruel.”
Finally, Troy is not even slightly enjoying AC Repair School. He misses his friends and Vice Dean Laybourne dies under mysterious circumstances, shortly after telling Troy he’s the Truest Repairman, which essentially makes him a repairman messiah. John Goodman has done well in the role of Laybourne, but he’s been grossly underutilized. His last few appearances have mostly amounted to cameos, and we only ever saw him interact with Dean and Troy. I felt his story could have been fleshed out more. Remember when Laybourne was “going through something?” We never found out what that was, though I think if you ponder on it long enough you’ll come to realize he was coming to grips with not being the Truest Repairman like he thought. The whole AC Repair School plot just feels unresolved to me. Sure, Troy can basically do whatever he wants there, which means he can probably redirect some of the cash flow to the rest of Greendale, but that’s hardly a satisfying conclusion. But that’s a minor complete in the bigger scheme of the episode.
In the last couple minutes, you can clearly see “Finality” was written to serve as a series finale if need be. Thankfully, that isn’t the case, but the feeling is still there. Seeing everyone walking down the hall, as the theme song begins to play, there’s a sense of finality to it, even as threads for Season 4 are planted (City College is planning some kind of attack on Greendale while Chang is living in their vents now, and Jeff starts the search for his father). Even if the show wasn’t coming back for another season, you don’t feel like you’d be missing out if these ideas were never explored. It just lets us know the story goes on, even in death. The lives of our characters don’t end just because the show does, and this was clearly demonstrated in that final montage. But Community is coming back, so this isn’t the end. I’ll be seeing you all in the fall when the greatest sitcom the world has ever seen returns.