Three Community episodes in one night, can you say Deangasm?
Season three had a tough job. Not only did it have to live up the high standards of the critically acclaimed season two, but it also had the task of taking the show in a much darker and more serious direction. As a result it was more focused on the characters and their inner struggles than the kind of trouble the group could get into. It was a necessary step for us to get a deeper understanding of these characters, but also to take their relationships to the next level. Season three was them moving beyond just being friends, and realizing they don’t need school to need each other.
Because of this, season three was more grounded in its plot. In my review of “Curriculum Unavailable”, I stated that season three might be better viewed once the season was over and we were able to watch the season front to back without breaks between each episode. While it’s still too early to tell, the episodes tonight (“The First Chang Dynasty” & “Introduction to Finality”) wrapped up the season perfectly, with themes and plot arcs all paying off. Even Chang’s off the wall stories now felt like they were necessary steps to get to the conclusion of the season. But ultimately, antics aside – the season left us with some obvious truths (to quote Jeff Winger) – and that truth is that the group needs each other. Beyond school, beyond anything. They aren’t just friends at a college anymore, they are friends for life. And that is where season three really paid off in the end. Yes it hasn’t been easy. The group has turned on each other at times, and their narcissistic behavior could sometimes seep out and affect those around them. But the arc for season three was the group finding out a way to deal with those issues. That by relying on each other, they could overcome these issues that in the past would have driven them away from others.
All three episodes were fantastic. Being a huge gamer, “Digital Estate Planning” was in my view, one of the best video game homages I’ve seen on television. What really worked for me was that it wasn’t just focused on hitting all the tropes and being video gamey. I mean, sure that was a part of it (and it was done extremely well). But it was also accompanied by an interesting story and the premise of the group sticking together to fight an outside threat. I loved the idea of Pierce having a brother, and finding family that he’s always longed for. After all, both he and his brother had to suffer a lacking relationship with their father. But Pierce realizing his brother had it much worse was a really touching moment and a major sign of growth for Pierce. I haven’t been all that happy with how the writers have utilized him in this season, but this episode was really well done in that regard. Plus any excuse to have the incredible Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad) as a possible recurring character is okay by me. But story aside, the episode was just so damn funny. My favorite scene was easily Annie killing the shop owner by accident after mistakenly stealing, and stating: “characters die all the time in games, this is no place to get moral”. Then Shirley killing the shop owner’s wife because they couldn’t leave a witness. The whole thing escalates and leads to them stealing all the weapons in the shop and burning the store down. My other favorite part was when Britta conjures up a potion, and instead of it being for super human strength like she intended, it was deadly poison. This is why the episode worked so well for me, because the game tropes were touched on by the traits of these characters. But ultimately it was the story that really tied it all together. If I had any gripe about this episode, it’s that it felt a bit strange in the seasons episode order. Seeing as “Basic Lupine Urology”, “Course Listing Unavailable”& and “Curriculum Unavailable” all had a serialized plot arc that lined up with tonight’s final two episodes, it felt odd that they would stick a regular episode of the show between these, especially since it had nothing to do with this main arc.
“Last Chang Dynasty” felt like a return to old times for me. Not that three hasn’t had its epic themed episodes, it has. But as I said above, season three was much more focused on serious issues. Even those themed episodes often had darker undertones. This episode was the climax of that chapter – with the group united and stronger than ever. Leave it to Community to spoof an Ocean’s 11 heist with Jeff as a Chris Angel magician, and Britta as a sexy Goth assistant. This episode was anchored by the fact that the Dean was being held hostage, and damnit no one holds the Dean hostage. In a larger sense, it was about the group fighting to get their school back. It’s true the group has now realized that they don’t need school to be friends, but it’s also true that they love Greendale and will do whatever it takes to fight for it – especially since it was Greendale that brought them together. This is the connection that both the Dean and the study group have. While the group has for a while played it off like the school is a dump, and just a place they have to be at – this has also drastically changed by the end of this season. And so when Jeff (baring his sweaty chest) puts his hand on the Dean (the way the Dean has done to him for years), it was the show coming full circle. It was a funny scene to be certain. Who can’t laugh at a Deangasm. But the moment was also endearing, and was again a strong moment for the series. That Jeff would care so much for the Dean that he would do this shows how far these group of characters have really come.
And finally, the season wraps up with “An Introduction to Finality”. The school has been restored after the fall of the Chang Dynasty. Jeff is trying to study for his Biology test (yes, the show jumped to the end of Summer school), but is distracted by Shirley and Pierce fighting over who will be the legal owner of the sandwich shop that is being opened in Greendale. The group is also distracted by the absence of Troy. Britta who is basically his girlfriend at this point, misses him for obvious reasons. But Abed is completely torn apart by his friend leaving and this worries Annie. And so these problems distract the group from Jeff’s goal of studying. But for Jeff this test is a big deal. He’s already had to take the class a second time, and he wants to get out of college on schedule. Prior to all of this, it’s always been kind of set up that Jeff is a selfish narcissistic person. And this is true, sort of ( he’s changing). But despite that, he’s always done what was right at the last minute, mostly out of guilt. But this time he asks: what about me? Does anyone care about what I want? The tables have been turned. And it’s true, Jeff is always having to step in as the leader, and sacrifice the things he wants for others. And this time, it’s not like he’s being unreasonable or selfish in what he wants.
The episode brilliantly takes the formula that the show has centered on for a while, and turns it on its head. Yes, Jeff still ends up coming to the rescues in the end. But he realizes it’s not because everyone else is selfish that he has to sacrifice what he wants, it’s because it’s the right thing to do. This powerful sentiment is set up when Jeff is basically faced with career suicide. Facing off against his old scumbag partner (who is now a big shot at the firm), he puts it bluntly: if you don’t throw this silly trial, you won’t have a job when you get out of college. There is a lot of truth to what he says. After all, Jeff did get fired for practicing law while having a fake degree. So really, that old firm is the only real “in” he has, the only firm that would gladly take him in. This is perhaps the most important episode for Jeff. Everything we’ve known about his character is built around getting back to being a lawyer. Hell, the entire premise of the show has had this ticking clock over the heads of the group – Jeff is racing towards this deadline and this is what drives him. But Jeff realizes he doesn’t want to leave Greendale. Well, everyone wants to get out of college. But he no longer has this need to get out of there as soon as possible. And well, to hell with his career. His friends are more important, and he would rather spend more time with them than sell them out for a career. So when Jeff thanks his ex-partner for screwing him over by ratting him out to his boss, it was very sincere. Jeff has been changed by this entire experience, and he owes everything to him getting disbarred. Or more importantly, he owes everything to Greendale and the group for changing who he is.
This was an extremely pivotal moment for the character, and sets up a lot of possibilities. We see in the ending montage that Jeff is ready to look up is father. We see that while he still cares about passing his grades, he’s more concerned about his relationship with the group and fixing himself. Most importantly, this frees up Jeff. He’s no longer tied down to that need to graduate at this specific time. I’m not claiming that Jeff will no longer hold himself to this goal (although I would be disappointed if in next season Jeff was complaining about his deadline again) – but at least on a personal level, he no longer feels like he’s wasting his time at Greendale and actually acknowledges that he’s experiencing the best time in his life with these people that he loves.
Of course, the episode wasn’t just focused on Jeff. Troy had his plot about the air conditioning annex, and it was well worth the wait. I’ve felt that the air conditioning story up to this point was kind of hit and miss. Not that I didn’t appreciate the weirdness and absurdity of it, but it never felt like enough. The brief moments of this plot popping up in past episodes at times also felt like an unnecessary distraction. But like my gripes with Chang’s stories this season, I feel looking back on it – they were necessary steps to build toward this conclusion. For starters, the whole secret organization angle was perfectly played upon. Having Laybourne murdered in a conspiracy for a power grab in the organization was hilarious. And the show down between Troy and the Murderer was epic. I mean think about this for a second: Troy, is competing with a killer in an air conditioning face off. When Troy says: “No, take him to the police. He murdered someone. You guys are weird” it was gut wrenchingly funny.
Underneath all of this though, or rather what makes this plot important – is the impact Troy has on the group when leaving. It’s another reminder that when someone from the group leaves, the entire group suffers. Britta is in love with Troy. Abed is his brother. And all of this becomes a major loss for the group. So this plot arc both worked from a point of view where Troy sacrifices himself for the group (and the group hurting because of his departure) – but also from the absurdity of the air conditioning plot itself – which finally paid off.
The season ends in a very good place. This was a very dark season, but we have reached the light at the end of the tunnel. Here we are presented with a lot of freedom. Abed tears down the Dreamatorium and accepts Britta as his new psychiatrist; Jeff is now open to searching for his father; Troy and Britta are now dating (well, the assumption is there). And Star Burns is still alive. Wait what? Yes our dear friend Alex lives! Faking his own death to escape drug charges, brilliant. But on a serious note, like Jeff is freed from his time table to graduate, the group is also freed with a lot of possibilities. Who knows what they will face next, but we know they will face it together. We know that they are now aware of how important the group really is, and what Greendale actually means to them. In what was a touching nod from the writers to end the episode, they acknowledge the passion we the fans have for the show by flashing #SixSeasonsAndAMovie
“Introduction to Finality” felt like a big closure to the show. It makes sense given the writers at the time didn’t know whether this would get renewed or not for another season. But the ending really stuck a chord with me (as I’m sure it did with a lot of fans). It felt like a culmination of all the things we love from this show. It reminded us why we fight for it.
“Digital Estate Planning” Grade: A+
“The First Chang Dynasty” Grade: A-
“Introduction to Finality” Grade: A+