Community season finale recap: The Finale to End all Finales
The philosopher Steve Martin once said, “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” Basically, that it’s almost an impossible task to fully translate the brilliance of one art form into another. Well, at this point I feel the same when it comes to writing about Community. How could I possibly capture in a mere recap the 90 minutes of insight, innovation, and, above all, hilarity, that we witnessed on TV last night? It seems a fool’s errand even to try. So I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint those of you in our live chat who asked me to write a 15-page recap today. However, as some of you predicted you will get not seven, but twenty-one Lines of the Night. Count ’em, baby!
I will say, though, that if the three episodes that aired last night–“Digital Estate Planning,” “The First Chang Dynasty,” and “Introduction to Finality”–had been the finale of the series, not just the season, I would have been satisfied. Because they were that frickin’ good. First and foremost, they were about character, and I can’t think of another show on TV right now whose characters are this distinct, this fully realized, given such a degree of both internal and external life: Jeff and Britta’s bipolar shame/shamelessness; Troy’s shaky, evolving sense of manhood; Shirley’s spiritual yearning and hard-headed pragmatism; Pierce’s daddy issues; Annie’s need to find love and acceptance; Abed’s purposeful denial of reality. That’s why I don’t understand the critics who say that Community time-stamps itself with all its pop culture references, that it’s doomed to be dated. That would be true if there weren’t such vivid characters upon whom to hang those pop culture references. But luckily for us, there are.
Before we get any further, however, let me take this moment to extend a big EW “Thank You!” to Gillian Jacobs for participating in our Community live chat during the finale last night. You really are the best. I was amazed, though, to learn from Gillian during our chat that everybody separately recorded the vocals for their videogame avatars in “Digital Estate Planning.” It’s a testament to each of the actors’ intuitive understanding of their characters, and the ways they interact with each other, that it sounded more like an old-time radio broadcast, with everyone in the recording booth together at once.
NEXT: The study groupers become the people they were always meant to be inside Daddy Hawthorne’s eight-pixel world.“Digital Estate Planning,” in which Pierce had to emerge victorious in an elaborate videogame designed by Daddy Hawthorne and his deported Chinese henchmen in order to claim his inheritance, is Exhibit A for why Community‘s comedy derives from the writers’ understanding of the characters. It reminded me of the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek and how he’s said that the identity we project into our videogame characters is actually an expression of our truest selves, uninhibited and unmediated by social convention or morality. Rather than instilling violent feelings in the player, videogames actually help release the violent intent that already exists by nature within the player. There’s almost a safety-valve catharsis involved. Hence Annie’s brilliant “These things happen in videogames. We can’t get hung up on conventional morality. We need to survive and win!”
When you think about it, our characters’ truest selves were expressed through this game: after first revealing his self-doubt by metaphorically committing suicide, Pierce channeled his pent-up daddy issues into mace-wielding fury. Jeff, who looked like some cross of Tintin and Bob’s Big Boy, got to be a true leader, not just some nefarious firebrand like during the pillow war. Shirley’s churchy morality and Annie’s “Hello, Kitty!” charm gave way to a paranoid, Nixonian cover-up sensibility. Britta found herself “one with life” in a lab that looked like her apartment, but with 23 fewer cat urns. Here was a place where she could “Britta” something even as simple as a potion and it would be a good thing.
Troy couldn’t stop eagerly jumping all over the place, a sight which gave me an incalculable amount of joy. There really are two types of gamers in the world: walkers and jumpers. Personally, like Troy, I fall into the latter. Why would you want to walk anywhere when you can jump your way there?
And Abed, perpetual outsider in the real world, fused completely with his digital surroundings, achieving things that he never could in real life like a stable relationship with pixelated girlfriend Hilda. A transformative pioneer, he turned the proverbial desert of the game into a garden, building a huge manor and factory, with his dozens of children toiling away like the slave kids in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. But, hey, you don’t build a civilization without breaking a few backs.
NEXT: The best lines of “Digital Estate Planning” and a rundown of “The First Chang Dynasty.”
In short, “Digital Estate Planning” was a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. But there can only be seven lines from it that make our list. And they are:
7. “I didn’t bring my likeness!” -Troy
6. “You can leave notes. This game is incredible.” -Abed
5. “I wish my mom were here. She always said my videogame knowledge would come in handy. I never believed her!” -Troy. Incidentally, my mom has said pretty much the same thing to me.
4. “We’re women. We don’t hack and slash our way through life because we’re one with life.” -Britta
3. “He’s shooting lightning and I’m naked!” -Troy
2. “People have said similar things about me.” -Abed, when told that Hilda is just “a program.”
1. “Troy and Abed shooting lava!” -Trobed
“Digital Estate Planning” was almost like a Terrence & Philip-style deviation from the finale-arc proper. Last week, when we left our heroes, they had discovered the full extent of Chang’s villainy. He had replaced Dean Pelton with Fake Moby, a.k.a. The Doppel-Deaner. Or Deanel-Gänger, if you prefer. In “The First Chang Dynasty” they had to infiltrate the school and end Chang’s reign of terror once and for all. Andthey did so like an Ocean’s 11-style heist movie. In a way it reminded me of–in a much, much darker part of our timeline–Dane Cook’s insistence that what guys want most from life is not sex but to participate in a big caper. That’s probably the only vaguely humorous insight he’s contributed in his sorry career. There’s a feeling of belonging, of contributing something vital for the group to succeed, that’s undeniably fulfilling…okay, it’s really just about the chance to yell stuff into a Walkie Talkie like “Where is the van?!” Or, in the case of the Greendale Seven, “I’m in!” (Yes, I realize that the mere act of mentioning Dane Cook in a Community recap means that the space-time continuum really is breaking down.)
So many great moments here, where to begin? Chang playing a nine-minute keytar solo. Troy and Abed sporting mustaches and a Noo Yawk honk. Britta seducing one of the Changlourious Basterds over the Internet, in what might be a felony offense. Jeff posing as Ricky Nightshade, a hair-rocker magician who doesn’t really seem to do anything in his act other than glower and wear leather. Britta as his Goth baby-doll assistant. That little girl’s birthday song to Chang about how he “eats the sun and drinks the sky.” The moment of requited love for the Dean when Jeff finally touched him back. The copera or police-ical. Annie wearing aviators. I could go on…but here are the seven best lines from “The First Chang Dynasty.”
7. “Love is not admissible evidence.” –Lyric, from Copera.
6. “They’re like telephones for your eyes.” -Britta
5. “Chang, you’re insane. You’re still into keytar?” -Troy
4. “It’s like Stalin back in Russia times.” -Britta
3. “It looks like J-Swag is going deep dish.” -Changlourious Basterd
2. “I just want to reiterate this should be the only time you seduce a child over the internet.” -Jeff, to Britta
1. “Sar. Cas. Tic. Claps.” -Chang
Taking back a weirdly magical school from the clutches of evil hasn’t been this exciting since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
NEXT: “Introduction to Finality” and the end of all things?In order to free his friends from Chang’s imprisonment, Troy sacrificed himself to the Air Conditioning Repair Annex. Vice Dean Laybourne had finally won. As a native Floridian, I’ve had to interact closely with surly air-conditioning repairmen my whole life. I can assure you that the depiction of their uniquely insular, alien subculture here was pretty darn accurate. Unfortunately, in my own dealing with their kind, I still haven’t found a repairman who’s capable of repairing Man, though.
In a stunning twist, Troy found himself in the middle of a coup. Laybourne died in a freak Freon-valve accident. It was a rookie mistake, and Troy knew it. Laybourne’s replacement had obviously engineered his death to seize power for himself. So Troy challenged him to a barbaric ritual, a part of air-conditioning repair’s history that had been long-thought forgotten: the sun chamber. The two of them would duel by standing in two separate climate-controlled chambers. Each one would get steadily warmer until he had repaired the air conditioner inside. The loser would be whoever yielded first…or died. As their Messiah, Troy won the battle handily. Then, like a real hero, he walked away. Truly, he is the Kwisatz Haderach!
At the same time, Jeff was representing Shirley in her courtroom fight with Pierce over ownership of Shirley’s Sandwiches. His opponent was his old nemesis at the law firm–the guy who turned him over to the State Bar for having an undergrad degree not from Columbia, but Colombia. Who better to play this legal swine than Rob Corddry? He had taken the job of representing Pierce because the moist-wipes tycoon was a cash cow the firm could milk for all he was worth. Corddry’s hissing sound while simulating how he was “milking” Pierce–intermittently adding “Money!”–was a highlight in an already jam-packed episode.
Little did Jeff know, though, how close he was to losing his right arm. Evil Abed had found a way to cross over from the darkest timeline to our own. I assume he just Quantum Leaped into Abed Prime’s body, right? We knew he was evil because our Abed has a crush on Britta–as revealed in “Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps,” when she appeared in his fantasy–while Evil Abed tried to belittle her enough that she’d want to change her major and add a blue-streak to her hair. I’m telling you, things got dark! After leaving a humbled Britta behind in the Dreamatorium, Abed left to transform this quantum reality into the “darkest timeline” by sawing off Jeff’s arm with a buzzsaw. He viewed his surroundings like a Terminator sizing up his enemies’ threat level: hanging up a student’s call on a pay-phone, popping a kid’s balloon with a cigarette like Bruno in Strangers on a Train, then extinguishing it in a passerby’s coffee cup. He’d have to cut off Jeff’s arm while the lawyer was in court. But somehow Jeff’s passionate argument during his closing statement caused Evil Abed’s heart to grow five times its usual size, and he gave up his plot to darken their timeline. He and his felt goatee vanished.
7. “Did someone say ‘Sexy construction worker’?” -Dean Pelton
6. “Can you honestly tell me that’s a saner decision?” -Evil Abed when Lame Abed tells him he’s reading the novelization of The Chronicles of Riddick.
5. “You already know the rules…because there aren’t any!” -Sun Chamber hype man.
4. “I’ll change my major just one more time.” -Britta
3. “You’re going to get diagnosed by someone who says her favorite superhero is X-Man?” -Evil Abed to Lame Abed
2. “I come from the darkest timeline. You may call it the Britta of timelines because everything is the worst.”
1. “#SixSeasonsAndAMovie” -the grassroots hashtag of Community fans everywhere that was included in the closing credits last night.
The final montage set to Community‘s theme song felt like a true ending of sorts. If, you know, Community actually had been cancelled. We saw Shirley open her sandwich shop, Jeff ace his bio final, Abed tear down the Dreamatorium (or maybe just make it portable), Chang now living in the City College air vents, the City College Dean preparing a full-scale military invasion of Greendale, and, best of all, Star-Burns, alive, well, and blonde. Yes, The Drug Dealer Formerly Known as Alex faked his death in that meth explosion, after all. If this had been the end, it was such a perfect wrap-up I think I could have been able to deal with it. But, luckily, we live in the brightest timeline and we have at least 13 more episodes awaiting us. How cool, cool, cool is that?
See you in the fall, everyone!