Community S05E04: “Cooperative Polygraphy”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “having the heart of a hero.” 

Dan Harmon, you scoundrel you!  In another ridiculously strong entry in the Community cannon, Harmon proves that all a show needs is strong writing and compelling characters we care about.  We love the gimmick episodes that seem to come from left field (like last week’s lampooning) and mine unexpected comic territory, but here–in what amounts to a bottle episode–we have more than the trademark hilarity; Harmon doesn’t really truly reveal what this episode is about until the final third. In a twist that blindsided me, the episode’s true intention is to land an emotional sucker-punch to the gut, though not in the way  you might expect.

Last week, I lamented the way the episode seemed to shoehorn in the revelation of Pierce’s death.  I can accept the reality that its inclusion in last week’s episode was likely the result of the shortened episode order and resulting narrative crunch.  But this week, we pick up with the group entering the study room dressed in wizard-like garb that seems like the cast-off costumes from a botched Devo music video.  Evidently, Pierce died as he lived: embroiled in the Laser Lotus cult.  As they decompress over the bizarre funeral service (lots of beeping and persuasive literature), a team of investigators descends upon our mourners, led by Mr. Stone (a phenomenal Walton Goggins, playing this part as straight as an arrow).

This might surprise you, but Pierce remains as kooky in death as in life.  You see, Pierce left instructions with Mr. Stone that, upon his death and regardless of its cause, he was to lead an inquest into his possible murder by the hands of at least one member of the study group.  The catch?  Those who pass all stages of the lie detector test are subject to a considerable bequeathment.

Let the bottle episode begin!

Every family or group of friends has an instigator, the one to stir up trouble.  For the study group, that person was Pierce.  And faster than you can see the color blurple, Mr. Stone (acting as Mr. Hawthorne’s proxy) sends the group into a tailspin.  Hooked up to lie detectors, it’s all “You don’t plan to include us in your Zombie Apocalypse emergency plan?” this and “You’ve been using my Netflix account this whole time!” that.**  Before long, Shirley confesses to tampering with Britta’s beloved “Helen of Soy” sandwich, Annie admits to drugging her friends with a teensy weensy bit of methamphetamine during an arduous study session, Chang unburdens himself and confesses to using his body like a one-man jungle-gym all over Greendale, and—most egregiously—Troy and Abed’s secret handshake is revealed as a copycat.

**For the record, I’m totally with Jeff on this one.  The Grey is a great movie! 

This section of the episode had one belly-laugh after another and would have been satisfying if the entire story revolved around these guys gathered around the study room table, one-upping each other with their deceit.  But no, this episode had a trick up its Level 5 Laser Lotus cloak.

Speaking through Stone, the ghost of Pierce Hawthorne gets to the emotional core of this episode when he begins passing off his possessions to his friends.  Sure, that meant a round of sperm-filled canisters, but it also meant some other symbolic tokens.  Britta’s passion inspired Pierce, so he bequeathed an iPod Nano to encourage her to take life a little less seriously; Shirley’s strength of character and business acumen intimidated Pierce, so he gives her his Florida time share to allow her time for herself and her family…***

***I started to see what was happening  around this moment in the episode, and suddenly it all hit me.  This whole set up, Pierce’s death, it was all leading to….There was a reason why Troy was at that end of the table…I couldn’t get a grasp on my thoughts because of Dan Harmon, you devious such-and-such.  This entire time, we were being set up to initiate Troy’s departure from the study group.

…Annie was always Pierce’s favorite, so she receives a tiara that reminded him of her, Jeff gets some Scotch so he wouldn’t have to drink from the other canister (aww, that’s so Pierce), Abed remained an enigma to Pierce, so he just receives a receptacle full of Pierce’s genetic fluid, and then it comes to Troy.

Pierce really had a soft-spot for his once-upon-a-time roomie (who doesn’t?), so it comes as no surprise that the lion’s share goes to Mr. Barnes.  In addition to now owning 14.3 million dollars in Hawthorne Wipes, Troy has an obligation: to have the life that Pierce, in his youth, threw away.  Troy’s financial dreams can come true only if he agrees to sail around the world, an opportunity Pierce’s father insisted upon but Pierce blew off.  Of course, Troy accepts, shocking the group and even leaving Jeff Winger speechless.

I’m not ready to say goodbye,**** but this is such a great way to write off this beloved character.  Troy, the perpetual collegiate child, needs to grow up; that Pierce is, in his death, a catalyst for this inevitable change just feels perfect.  And when Community nails this blend of comedy with its earnestness of character, it is not just the best comedy on television, it’s one of the best shows on television, period.

****Troy and Abed are in mooooooooourning indeed… 

But Harmon uses the final minute of this episode for the true coup de grace.  The stunned study group looks to one another for comfort, for understanding, for something.  None exists right now; like a family, sometimes we have to say goodbye before we want to.  Throughout the episode, Stone’s team would intervene when one of our merry band lied.  So breaking the silence, Abed says, of Troy’s impending exit, recycling a tried-and-true catchphrase: “Cool.  Cool cool cool.”  And, from the background, one of the investigators chirps up: “That’s a lie.”

Mic drop.

Well done, Mr. Harmon.  This was one of Community’s finest outings to date.  Although I will miss Donald Glover’s Troy, I cannot wait to see how this show will outdo itself because it’s been doing just that since Season 5 began.

Quotes from the Refurbished Study Room

– Abed [on catfishing Annie]: “I did what I did in the name of breakfast.”

– Britta: “You exploited me and had me believing in a slightly more magical world!”

– Troy: “I’ve never been to Legoland.  I just wanted you guys to think I was cool.”

– Britta: “If I wanted the government in my uterus, I’d fill it with oil and Hispanic voters!”

2 thoughts on “Community S05E04: “Cooperative Polygraphy””

  1. I’m surprised you didn’t mention the in-your-face parallel of “Childish Tycoon”, the boat name, and “Childish Gambino”, Donald Glover’s rapping persona! 🙂

    Edit: Forgot to mention the obvious – loved the ep and your article!

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