Here we are: Community’s fourth season finale and I can already tell it’s a polarizing one. Some will say it was too heavily reliant on what’s come before, that it’s merely fan service and well below what is expected of Community. I would vastly disagree with those notions. Does “Advanced Introduction to Finality” make blatant references to older episodes and jokes? Absolutely it does and I was thankful for it. I’ve seen criticisms of this season suggesting the new showrunners spent too much time referencing Dan Harmon’s tenure and I find that to be ridiculous as a criticism of this season alone. When Harmon was in charge, he was constantly calling back to things he’d already done. He reused concepts and jokes often and without mercy and he did so with purpose: to be entertaining. I found this finale to be plenty entertaining. In fact, it was the first episode of this up and down season that had me smiling the entire time, something I haven’t done since “Virtual Systems Analysis.”
The darkest timeline has been an idea fans latched on to during Season 3 as a kind of mantra during the extended winter hiatus, so I can understand why it was brought back for the finale: it’s a fan favorite. It is a little odd that Jeff is the one conjuring up the dream of the evil versions of the characters attacking, but it’s easy to forgive because of how it internalizes Jeff’s indecision about taking a job at an old partner’s law firm. His time at Greendale has changed him and he doesn’t know if he should take the job offer – he’s not that same, snarky lawyer he was at the start of Season 1. So what does he do? Does he take the job and regress to his old ways or does he try something different that better suits the man he’s become? The decision of what to do after he graduates is so intimidating he imagines a scenario where Evil Jeff crosses over to the prime timeline to force him to take the job.
I think what makes the dark timeline chunk of the finale work is we know there’s no way it can really be happening. I spent the entirety of those scenes wondering how they were going to explain all of it with the utmost glee. Even more pressing was not the how, but the why. Community’s strengths lay in the way it ties the big concepts into a character’s emotional journey. We spent the majority of the episode watching Evil Jeff’s attempts to sabotage Jeff’s friendships so he’ll have nothing left to do but go back to being a snarky lawyer only to learn it was all in Jeff’s mind. He did what he thought Abed would do, something he would’ve never done earlier in the series’ run. It was a battle against cynicism internalized and shown to us visually. Was it perfect? No, but it was a lot of fun to see some of our favorite moments from seasons past called back to.
There were some hiccups, however. The paintball fight wasn’t very inspired, made all the more apparent by Abed’s poorly chosen words about finally finding a way to make paintball cool again. That was a line just asking for backlash. While I liked the study group facing off against their evil counterparts – Shirley’s “Get help” to her drunken self was particularly awesome – the confrontations were much too short and ended with each pair just standing there and talking instead of, you know, shooting each other. I was also disappointed in the way Pierce was written out. So he graduated along with Jeff. He had very little to do, being left behind early in the episode, and only turning up at the very end to announce he’s leaving Greendale. We did get to see Evil Pierce for a bit and he was very enjoyable, but was sent off without delay.
If you start thinking too much about Jeff’s dream, you can start to see the seams, like why would he imagine a subplot for Abed when it’s his fantasy? I interpreted it as Abed being Jeff, as the whole point of rolling the die was to elicit a response from Abed, so of course Jeff would imagine what Abed would get up to. Abed was the subject Jeff wanted to manipulate, and at the end when Abed is explaining to Jeff the meaning behind the dream, it’s so obvious Danny Pudi is acting as Jeff instead of Abed. So for me I didn’t see a problem with giving Abed his own B-story. But Annie’s line about nobody sleeping with Jeff, not even her, was a little weird. I suppose maybe Jeff just feels really conflicted about Annie, hence why Evil Annie could sleep with Evil Jeff. I don’t know. I don’t want to pick at this too much lest it start to bleed.
By far my top moment of the finale was Jeff’s final Winger Speech. The man who could spin the truth into whatever he wanted it to be found himself unable to find the words to express his love for the group of unlikely friends he became a part of. That was touching and, in my mind, a great way to end the story of Jeff. He’s going to use his natural ability to talk to help small businesses and stop by Greendale from time to time to settle arguments over who misses him more. The door is left open for a Season 5, but should Community finally find itself unable to outrun the grim reaper, I would be satisfied with this ending. It’s a natural conclusion. That’s not to say I don’t want more Community, because I so do. I felt Season 4 was just the start of a new era for this show. David Guarascio and Moses Port spent a lot time this season trying to emulate Dan Harmon, but now I want to see them do a season that is completely their own and they have the opportunity to do so. Jeff and Pierce have left Greendale; it would almost be like a new show. So why not make a new show? I loved the way they used the dark timeline and Inspector Spacetime, but I’m ready to say goodbye to those parts of Community and see something new. I see this finale as the end to that series and the beginning of whatever comes next.