…an episode reminding us all the importance of being “a school on 911’s blocked call list.”
Saying goodbye to Troy was never going to be easy. Even though, going into Community‘s fifth season, we knew this day would come, the foreknowledge did not help me to prepare adequately for the departure of my favorite character. Last week, the narrative twist that turned Pierce’s death into a set-up for Troy’s exit blindsided me. And then, Abed’s insistent “cool cool cool” gut-punched me.
In many ways, this episode is a direct response to those closing lines from last week. That Abed’s parting gift to Troy, a school-wide game of Hot Lava with $50,000 on the line, becomes an astute insight into the psychology of letting go proves that Community is so much more than a joke-machine. You listening, Big Bang Theory?
I’m not going to belabor the plot machinations of the episode’s first three-quarters too much. While I enjoyed the Mad Max and Waterworld (lol because why not?) homages throughout, having another parody/spoof so soon after episode three might have undercut its impact a bit. Great opening credits, plenty to laugh at**, but not a whole lot to really break apart. As the saying goes, if you have to explain a joke, it stops being funny.
**Professor Hickey deserves the #FTW here. From his amazing entrance on that makeshift tank mowing down Chang’s Locker Boys gang to his lamentations about his “getting gay married” son’s expensive wedding, Jonathan Banks continues to kill it.
What is worth mentioning is the way the story develops this entire mythos around it, with a new lexicon (floor strider, chair walker, sofa hopper), a quasi-religion, and even a MacGuffin (the orb) all contributing to the overall tone here. Just further proof of Harmon’s do-it-right-or-don’t-do-it-at-all attitude. Love it. Also, so many chair puns I couldn’t even keep track, though the sparring words of “chair to dance?” still ring in my ears.
Oh, and Magnitude playing a post-apocalyptic version of steel drum on Shirley Island? His journey to that point could have been a subplot in and of itself.
But, as we all know, the story of Troy’s exit had to be the story of his friendship with Abed because, as we expect, it hits him the hardest. Troy puts it best to Britta, “No one gets Abed. I got him a little.” There is something incredibly moving about Abed telling Troy that, for him, the floor really is lava. It’s his way of processing the emotional reality of his friend’s departure–he can’t let go of Troy, so he devises a game where he cannot relinquish his literal grip, either. Wow. So this is what you call a half hour situational comedy, huh?***
***Though Abed’s slow motion fall into the lava to the swells of classic music makes sure things don’t get too serious because this is Community, after all.
The fact that Britta then saves the day with psychology of all things (!) makes me question if perhaps we need to re-define the term “Britta-ed it.” She and Troy devise a scheme to reanimate and clone Abed (who fake died in the lava pit because obviously), so his clone version can be the one to say goodbye. To make it even easier on Abed, Troy (admitting he’s as afraid to go as Abed is to lose him) does a backwards free-fall into the lava himself, so that, in the end, it’s just two cloned versions of best friends parting ways. In any other show and with any other set of characters, this would sound ludicrous. But for Troy and Abed, whether they’re “in the morning”, “shooting lava”, “sewn together”, or “in slow motion”, this makes absolute sense. And it’s also incredibly sweet and, somehow, moving? Dan Harmon, you rascal!
Well, if you managed to keep those eyes dry up to this point in the episode, then the final sequence might have reduced you to a blubbering mess. (Shut up, you’re the one who’s crying…) I mean, sure it was a bit predictable, but don’t we sort of expect a scene where the departing character says one final thing to each of his friends? I thought so. In this case, predictable’s fine.
Troy wishes he hadn’t ignored Annie in high school so that he could have had four more years of friendship, tells Britta she’s absolutely amazing, labels Jeff the coolest guy he’s ever met, and reminds Shirley she’s not the mom of the group but one certified bad-ass. And then he shares a final hug with Abed before climbing aboard the Childish Tycoon****. A final parting gift? Co-captaining his ship with, of course, Levar Burton. Fortunately, this meeting goes a little better than the previous one. And by a little, I mean a lot. At least Troy can, you know, speak to the man.
****A clever meta-joke referencing Donald Glover’s decision to leave the show in pursuit of his hip-hop career as Childish Gambino. By the way, the dude can rap; if you haven’t, check out his albums.
In the end, Troy Barnes, whose dim-witted hilarity proved a source of consistent laughter over the years, leaves big shoes to fill at his seat of the study table. But with returning gags, as well as an honest treatment of his central friendship with Abed, this proved a wonderful send-off that ultimately rendered my initial hesitance moot. I’m not sure what a Troy-less Community will look like, but I take solace in picturing Mr. (or is it Captain?) Barnes listening to “Come Sail Away” on an unending loop as he cuts a swath through the Pacific Ocean, firing a barrage of questions to Burton. Maybe somewhere around Indonesia they’ll get to the bottom of that whole Star Trek misnomer.
Quotes from the Refurbished Study Room
– Jeff: “Do you get kickbacks from Big Buzzkill?”
– Prof. Duncan: “My self-published novels aren’t going to publish themselves!”
– Vicky: “My name is Vicky! Tell my story!”
– Troy: “I had a dream like this, but it was sexual!”
– And, for a final time: “Troy and Abed in a buuuuuubble!”