A simple role of the dice splits space-time, resulting in severed limbs, evil goatees, and 'Roxanne.'
Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC
McHale is the king of snark, which made him the perfect choice for prickly, self-obsessed Jeff Winger. But here's the surprise: As Jeff continued to…

Inspector Spacetime would be proud.

That’s because Community’s “Remedial Chaos Theory” was about the smartest, most entertaining use of an alternate timeline concept since we first glimpsed Evil Spock’s goatee in Star Trek’s “Mirror Mirror” episode, the ur-text for all subsequent parallel universe storytelling. But “Remedial Chaos Theory” wasn’t sci-fi. Actually, it called to mind Groundhog Day in the prismatic way it employed its high-concept gimmick to shed new light on its characters.

I have a feeling season 3 of Community is going to be about growing up. Jeff already had his post-Model UN heart-to-heart with Annie about how he’s going to stop patting her head and start treating her like a woman—which he certainly did tonight, at least in one of the timelines. And now, Troy and Abed have declared their independence (Troy from Pierce, Abed from his Dad) while also declaring their co-dependence. At last we saw their new apartment (#303, like the episode’s production number), outfitted with their Linens & Things registry wishlist, mahogany bunkbeds, a Kickpuncher poster, and a scale-model recreation of the “Rolling Boulder Scene” from Raiders of the Lost Ark, complete with actual rolling boulder. And if all that didn’t spell “adult,” surely their respective ascots and synchronized TV-jingle catchphrase “Troy and Abed’s New Apaaaartment!” did. Even better, Troy welcomed Pierce with “Bienvenido de la Casa Chez Trobed.” ‘Bout time they got their own nickname, even if it sounds like some unholy combination of St. Tropez and Club Med.

Trobed also brushed up on their party etiquette: adopt a plastic, Fox News-worthy smile, “avoid touchy topics like The Negro Problem,” order a pizza rather than letting your study group friend make a pie with ketchup and cream cheese, and lure your cynical thirtysomething hipster with an invite to a new “Single Malt Platinum Boobs and Billiards Club.”

All was well. The space-time continuum remained linear and whole.

But then, Trobed brought out a game known not only for its crude repackaging of Puerto Rican Chess but also its deep roots in quantum mechanics: Yahtzee. When Jeff decided to use one of its die to determine who among the six (ha ha, no, not seven!) would answer the summons of the pizza delivery guy, the fabric of reality shredded like paper, and six separate timelines branched off. Each timeline would be altered depending on who would leave the room, and, more importantly, whom the study group could then gossip about behind his or her back. Let us now consider each plane of this seven-sided multiverse.

Timeline 1: The Prime Timeline

This is the reality Abed labeled “The Prime Timeline.” Clearly, he saw J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek and is among those ubergeeks who would call Zachary Quinto’s Spock “Spock” and Leonard Nimoy’s Spock “Spock Prime.” I’m a huge Trekker…but never. This has to be the prime timeline because the die chose Annie to get the pizza, and we all know the default position of the universe is to unload its burdens upon her. This reality also set up many elements (or variations thereof) that would appear in subsequent timelines: Pierce’s non sequitur account of a lavatory tryst with Eartha Kitt; Britta’s shrill rendition of “Roxanne”; Shirley obsessively baking while wearing a chef’s apron that’s the definition of stay-at-home-mom tacky-chic—“He is Risen” printed over a Crucifix made of two perpendicular loaves of French bread; Britta pretending to smoke a cigarette in the bathroom while really getting high, then doing a Lindsay Bluth-style chicken dance to a ganja-fueled chant of “Pizza! Pizza! Go in tummy. Me so hungee! Me so hungee!”; and a revealing encounter with the pizza delivery man that exposes each of the characters’ degree of humanity. Loved Jeff’s response, “So you’re saying he’s… a pizza guy?” after Annie said, “That pizza guy was so creepy!” Also, Timeline Prime featured one critical piece of exposition. Annie’s living in a sketchy neighborhood, so she’s taken to carrying a hogleg in her purse.

NEXT: Feel the terror of the Norwegian troll!

Timeline 2: The Burnt Pies of Disillusionment Timeline

Proceeds much like Timeline Prime as Shirley’s role in the maintenance of the group’s quantum dynamics is relatively analogous to that of Annie. But two important developments occur that will have trans-dimensional implications. First, with Shirley gone, the other study groupers let her pies burn, lest they should actually have to eat them. Shirley is devastated but Jeff is not sympathetic: “You’re not allowed to have baking things as an identity.” Second, Pierce gives a Norwegian troll to Troy as a passive-aggressive housewarming gift. Mr. Hawthorne knows, from the time they were housemates, that Troy is terrified of the troll—which I presume means he had a terrifying experience on Maelstrom at EPCOT, or, like me, was freaked out by those trolls in David the Gnome. I look forward to future conflict when Abed wants to go see Troll Hunter, thinking it’s the new Kickpuncher, but is stymied by Troy’s primal phobia.

Timeline 3: The “I’m Not a Boy, Not Yet a Man” Thwarted Ambition Timeline

With Pierce heading downstairs to deal with the delivery man, that left Jeff having to fill the negativity vacuum by emasculating Troy. At long last Jeff has come to regard Troy as a threat. After all, Troy is every bit as good looking, but younger and poised to usurp Jeff as the snarkmaster in chief. So Jeff hit below the belt: “I can’t believe those are real mahogany bunk beds in there. I bet that cost you a few allowances.” Troywas devastated and sought refuge in the bathroom with Britta, when he thought she was only washing her hands. Turns out she was smoking.

Troywas cool with it. “I know what you were doing. I’m 21 years old. I’m a man.” Then he proved himself a man by whipping out his own cigarette case…Okay, so it had candy cigarettes, alright? Anyway, for his insolence, Jeff got a karmic fan rotor to the head. And Pierce vented his disgust at the state of contemporary pizza delivery men: “Pizza guys are getting worse and worse looking. I guess all the good ones went into porn.”

Timeline 4: The World Without “Roxanne” Timeline

With Britta sent downstairs,Troy had an opportunity to refill the toilet olives. Jeff and Annie shared a tender, but platonic, moment when she tended to his post-fan head injury. And Pierce tormented Troy more than ever with his diminutive Nordic companion: “Feel the terror of the Norwegian troll!” Most importantly, without Britta being there, not only did she not get a chance to break out into “Roxanne,” the Police classic didn’t get any playtime at all! Without the sweet sound of Sting to christen the apartment, Britta was left even more unhinged than when she was high. She brought Toby the pizza guy upstairs and announced their engagement after a 90-second courtship.

NEXT: A study group member gets shot! Jeff makes out with Annie! And the last 15 seconds are presented LIIIIIIIIIVE! (Okay, not really on that last one.)

Timeline 5: The Dark, Goatee-Requisite Timeline

One pivotal act held the monstrous jaws of chaos at bay in every other universe: when Troy caught Raiders’ rolling boulder before it hit the ground. But when he was sent downstairs, there was no one to preserve the fragile balance. And when that scale replica of rolling terror landed upon the apartment floor, it set off a chain reaction of destruction worthy of one Mr. Rube Goldberg. Here’s the play by play: the boulder hits the ground; Jeff, as always, hits his head on the ceiling fan as payback for his snark; Annie slips on the boulder and knocks over Pierce’s bottle of Serbian rum, which shatters; Annie’s purse hits the ground with the gun inside, which discharges upon impact; the gun shoots Pierce in the leg; Britta, in her astonishment, lets the lit cigarette in her mouth drop and ignite the spilled Serbian rum, setting the apartment ablaze; and Troy, returning with pizzas in hand, stares eye to eye with the cosmic trickster who he knows really set it all in motion. One word: troll.

Timeline 6: The Siddhartha Gautama Sensual Unfulfillment Timeline

In some ways, Timeline 6 may be the most devastating of all. Sure, it doesn’t feature death knocking on Apt.303, but it speaks to, in a way, deeper issues of dissatisfaction within the group. Maybe all this was exposed because Abed was the one absent this time. With him gone, Britta freely acknowledges that she’s high and even eats one of Shirley’s pies, though she admits that she wasn’t supposed to partake in any of her baking handiwork. Shirley was crestfallen. “Sometimes I think making desserts is the only thing I’m good for in the group.” She then proceeded to call Britta a drug addict, to which she high-handedly replied, “Drug addict? You’re a pie pusher. You push pies to get love!”

With his roommate gone, Troy felt free to open his heart to Pierce and thank him for letting him live with him. Pierce, shocker, was actually touched, and didn’t want Troy to then open up the box with the evil troll inside. “I demand to be housewarmed!” Troy shouted as they struggled for the package. Needless to say that when he finally got his hands on the Terror of the Fjords, it was, for him, the biggest anti-climax of all time. But not for us! “You’re a sick, sad, twisted man, and I hope you die alone!” Troy belted with full Kirk Douglas-in-Paths of Glory self-righteousness.

In the midst of all this drama, Jeff and Annie were finally able to share a little alone time. In EW’s Fall TV Preview, Joel McHale teased that Annie would be Jeff’s primary love interest this season and that was hinted at in Timeline 6. The ultimate way to a guy’s heart is to tend to his wounds, and thus Annie and Jeff shared a kiss in the kitchen after she patched him up. But Annie started talking about how this moment reminded her of being with her Dad, and Jeff was offended: “Uh, a little Makeout 101. Less Dad talk. And you could ease up on the bubblegum lip gloss.” Annie then called him a Grandpa and clarified that it’s cotton-candy lip gloss. Someone’s a Katy Perry fan!

NEXT: Every plane of reality in this multiverse may be different. But there is one constant: evil people have goatees.

Timeline 7: The Universe May Be Chaotic But Stop Worrying and Start Dancing to “Roxanne” Timeline

In the final universe, Abed articulated what may be the definition of what it means to be human: that we live in an inherently random, chaotic universe, and it’s the responsibility of our consciousness to try to shape a more ordered existence within that. Hence, in this timeline, and only in this timeline, Abed grabbed the die before it could hit the ground. He also shared his revelation that since there are only six sides to the die, Jeff excused himself from ever having to get the pizza. Which meant that in Timeline 7, the group forced Jeff to get the pizza. And without that particular hair-gelled, high-foreheaded force for negativity in their midst, everybody was finally able to do what they really wanted to do: dance to “Roxanne.”

Aftermath of Timeline 5: The Dark, Goatee-Requisite Timeline.

So leave it to Community to offer a splash of bitters after that “Roxanne” hootenanny. We then got to see the aftermath of Pierce’s shooting and Trobed’s apartment catching fire. Shirley, once again drowning her sorrows in a bottle, toasted, “To Pierce. May he rest in Pierce.” (Could her liquid intoxicant be the same demon rum from the Balkans that contributed to their present hell?) Yes, the moist-wipes tycoon actually bit the bullet, literally and figuratively. Though death may have been the easiest release here. Jeff lost an arm in the fire—all the more difficult then to style his hair. Annie, fragile minded as she is, had to be committed once again. Britta added a streak of blue to her hair. And, craziest of all, Troy lost his larynx because he tried to eat the flaming troll when he saw that it had unleashed an inferno in his apartment. He should take comfort, though. The sound of his new artificial larynx should be a big hit. Just look at how well those Chipmunks movies do at the box office!

Abed realized that he should’ve caught the die. So since this is the darkest timeline, he proposed that they commit to being evil and don felt goatees until they can grow real ones, then find a way back to the prime timeline, kill their good selves and assume their lives. Should be simple, right?

Surrealism is alive and well, my friends. And it’s name is Community. How did you guys enjoy “Remedial Chaos Theory”? Is this not one of the best episodes this series has ever given us? Do you sometimes speculate about what you’re doing in an alternate universe? And are you also afraid of trolls?

Also, be sure to check out Ken Tucker’s take!

Episode Recaps

McHale is the king of snark, which made him the perfect choice for prickly, self-obsessed Jeff Winger. But here's the surprise: As Jeff continued to…
Joel McHale and Alison Brie star in this comedy about a community college study group that turns into a surrogate family.
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