18
May
2012
Community: Season 3, Episode 20-22
Digital Estate Planning/The First Chang Dynasty/ Introduction to Finality
Jordan
It's clear that "Introduction to Finality" was intended as a series finale in the event that the show got cancelled. We know now that there will be a season four. However, we also know now (as of today), that Dan Harmon will not be acting as showrunner, which all kidding aside means that Community as we know it will never be the same. Harmon is the show's creator, the brain behind the brilliant absurdity that is Greendale, the man who mixed high concept parody and good old-fashioned character work so well, he created probably the best sitcom on television over the last few years. So while it is not the last episode of the show that will ever air, "Introduction to Finality" is the series finale for Community as we know it. And it is a great one.

Before we get there, though, there are two other episodes to discuss. All three are good, and definitely better than the last few weeks, but strangely enough, they got better as the evening progressed, with "Digital Estate Planning" being the weakest installment of the bunch. The episode feels out of place (if I find out it was aired out of order for some reason, I will not be surprised), sandwiched between the gang's decision last week to return to Greendale and save the Dean and the episode in which they actually do that. That is only important from a serialization perspective, but it did irk me just a bit to have the flow of the arc interrupted in this way.

"Digital Estate Planning" quickly became too much fun for me to really care though, with Giancarlo Esposito (Gus Fring from Breaking Bad) playing Pierce's half-brother who is engaged in an absurdly complicated video game battle with the gang to see who gets Pierce's dad's inheritance (shouldn't this episode then have aired soon after "Advanced Gay"? I'll try not to think too much about that. Maybe the story just took this long to break?). If this was intended to be a video game parody, I'm not sure how well it works, seeing as how the game the gang is playing is a thousand times cooler and more complex than any actual video game I've ever heard of, but there was so much fun in the details here I can hardly complain. I loved the way Troy jumped around the whole time. I loved the way Shirley shuffled her feet and freaked out when Annie killed the shopkeeper. I loved the way she then immediately got in on the conspiracy, and the two burned down the house to hide the bodies. This was a fun episode of television, but kind of inconsequential and out of order. Overall, it was a fine episode for the show, but the weak link of the evening.

"The First Chang Dynasty" is much, much better, to the point that I am basically willing to forgive the show for how much the "Chang takes over the school" arc didn't make any sense and stretched credulity, even on a show that has taught me to suspend disbelief. This is the "heist film" episode of Community and it does all of the tropes of that genre so well, I found myself smiling throughout the entire run time. What's more, this has the emotional underpinning the show's best parodies need, with the rescue of The Dean and Troy's heroic sacrifice to save his friends providing me enough character investment to give real weight to the proceedings. Plus, an episode with Troy and Abed as over-the-top plumbers, Jeff and Britta as a magic act (was their deception supposed to be reminiscent of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or was that just me superimposing my childhood onto Britta's make up?) and an endless chorus of people daying "I'm in," necessity be damned, there was no way I wouldn't enjoy "The First Chang Dynasty."

I still think the Chang arc doesn't really work, though this episode comes as close to saving it as was possible at this point. Also, Chang kidnapped The Dean for months and there seem to be no consequences whatsoever, which is completely ridiculous and more than a little annoying. Chang's plan never really made sense (which, ok, might be because he is completely insane), but that doesn't manage to drag an episode as well written, acted, and superbly edited as this one (seriously, watch the "laying out the plan" or the "fake fail" sequences again. Both are marvels of economic editing).

"Introduction to Finality," though, is simply sublime, a potential ending to the show so satisfying I won't mind treating it as the real ending if the show flails without Harmon. This is the best season finale the show has ever done, bar none, tying together all of the season's plotlines and setting some ideas in motion for next season, or, had the renewal order not come in, leaving us with the comforting knowledge that Greendale would go on and continue to be ridiculous.

This episode tries to do it all, and with a few easy to look over quibbles, it mostly succeeds. It gives pretty much everyone in the cast (except for Chang, who only appears in the City College vents) a moment to shine, and for the most part they do. The Evil Abed storyline is the weakest, only working if you suspend disbelief to "Chang-doesn't-get-arrested" levels and even then leaving us with a character in a felt beard with a bone saw coming into a fake courtroom to cut off his friend's arm, without anyone really trying to stop him, but it still has enough character resonance to carry it through. Jeff's speech about how it's good to help people is better in theory than in fact, but the way it dovetails with Troy's triumph at the air-conditioning repair school (which despite woefully underusing John Goodman remains excellent and hysterical) is just wonderful.

The episode revolves around Jeff's attempts to study mitosis, which brings us back to the way the show always cleverly makes the class at each season's center work to forward the gang's journey in an interesting way. In season one, the group took Spanish as they learned to communicate with one another. In season two, they took Anthropology as they figured out how to function as a society in and of themselves. And in season three, Biology works as a perfect metaphor for the way the group has grown and evolved over this season. Cellular mitosis is how cells split and replicate so that they can serve different purposes inside a greater whole. This season we have seen the group pursue their own personal interests (Britta's therapy, Shirley's sandwich shop, Abed's Dreamatorium), but we have also seen them support each other and save each other in ways they never have before.

And that is a beautiful, deeply moving message to leave things on. I had goosebumps throughout the final sequence, when the theme song begins playing and we see the gang going about their lives, and my heart warmed as the show faded to white on the hashtage #sixseasonsandamovie, a phrase I have used many times in my life when championing my love of this show. Season three of Community was messier than the first two, but that is largely because it was more ambitious. It took more chances, tried larger, weirder things, and it succeeded far more than most shows as a result. The news of Dan Harmon's departure is heartbreaking, largely because it means the show as we know it did end on Thursday night. But if that is the case, it ended well, leaving us with a strong recitation of its larger themes and with plenty to remember. We have Shirley abandoning her sandwich shop to let Jeff win the case, and Jeff abandoning his own self interest to help Shirley. We have Abed telling Britta she is the only kind of therapist that could ever help him. We have Troy saving the day, one last time. We have another of Leonard's Youtube reviews. And we have that shot of the gang walking down the hallway, one that will live on in my memory for years to come.

Ultimately, what I'll remember is the lesson Community has imparted: we can make our own lives, but we may not be able to do it alone. We will always have a second chance to get things right. And we can get by, with a little help from our friends. If that's what Community leaves us with, then I think we are all better for it.

Grade(s):
Digital Estate Planning: B
The First Chang Dynasty: A-
Introduction to Finality: A

Notes:

-"I didn't bring my likeness."

-"You can leave notes. This game is incredible."

-"I guess there's no hug button."

-"Why can't my mom be here? She always said my video game knowledge would come in handy, and I never believed her!"

-"Pierce taught me Poker. I'm not very good at it."

-"Troy and Abed shooting lava!"

-"The word mulatto, is it ok or is it borderline?"

-"I'm working on a Cop Opera." "Copera!" "Police-ical!"

-"It's just like Stalin back in Russia times."

-"You had time to build a tiny working water fountain and I'm a pine cone?"

-"A) That is racist. B) Swamis can;t drive because they're Indians!"

-"I'm in." "I know." "Everybody else got to say it."

-"I know its a long shot, but I don't suppose any of you paid my rent?"

-"So it ends as it began." "It didn't begin this way."

-"It's hard out there for a Fake Moby." That guy WAS Fake Moby on How I Met Your Mother/

-"Shut up, Leonard! I know about your crooked wang!" "No such thing as bad press."

-"You might call it the Britta of timelines, where everything is the worst."

-"In the name of the Five Winds: east, west, north, the one we keep secret, and south..."

-"I want you to have what you want." Awww...

-My biggest laugh of the night: "Gentlemen, take this man to the Labyrinth of Infinite Ice!" "No. No! Take this man to the police. He murdered someone! You guys are weird..."

Tags: Community
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