With all that crazy Chang and saving Greendale business out of the way, we end the season—and the Dan Harmon era as a whole—with a character-driven episode rife with strong continuity. Thankfully, we’re ending on a high note, bringing the series full circle while still propelling it into what’s likely to be a very different fourth season.
At the end of summer, Jeff is trying to study with the group for their Biology retake finale. Britta misses Troy, who’s still at the A/C Repair School, and Annie is worried about Abed. Dean arrives saying Subway has ended their deal with the school, and he’s decided to sell the space to Shirley’s Sandwiches. Pierce and Shirley just need to sign the form to make it official—but there’s only one dotted line, prompting an argument between them over who should legally be considered the owner. Annie wants Jeff to get involved, but he’s too wrapped up in passing his Biology test, once again yearning to get back to his life as a lawyer.
Abed, having a tough time dealing with Troy’s absence, is visited by his Evil Abed persona once again in the Dreamatorium, and his Evil side takes over. Britta visits Abed for a therapy session, and Evil Abed-in-Abed’s body (now sporting the foam goatee) reveals he’s from the “Darkest Timeline.” He describes the events of his timeline in “Remedial Chaos Theory,” and says he’s crossed into their timeline with the intent to darken it. His first action: asking Britta to tell him about her parents. As a result, he breaks down Britta’s flaws—the main one being how she’s absolutely average, and only became a psych major to break down why people who are special must be sick, and being “healthy” sounds more interesting than boring. He then leaves to cut off Jeff’s arm to further match the other timeline.
At the A/C repair school, Troy isn’t behaving well in class because he misses his friends. Dean Laybourne pulls him out of class, and shows him the Sun Chamber, where A/C repairmen once dueled to the death. He then reveals there’s a prophecy for “The Truest Repairman,” a messiah figure who will literally repair men, specifically other repairmen. Soon after, Troy learns Dean Laybourne has been killed during a repair. Troy isn’t convinced his death was an accident, and realizes Murray has become Vice Dean. Murray releases Troy from the school, but Troy, sensing something is wrong, decides to stay and solve the murder. He confronts Murray on the grounds of being The Truest Repairman, and they duel in the Sun Chamber. In the chamber, each man has to repair a unit as the heat increases until one dies or the other completely repairs his unit. During the intense struggle, Murray accidentally blurts out “I’ll kill you, just like I killed him!” before passing out. And after seeing Dean Laybourne’s ghost giving approval, Troy fixes the unit and wins. Afterwards, he commands the school to send Murray to jail.
Shirley visits Jeff to ask for his help in her case against Pierce; Dean Pelton suggests they settle it in Greendale court. Pierce brings Alan Connor (Rob Corddry) from season 2’s “Accounting for Lawyers” to represent him. After some low blows from both sides, Alan reveals that he’s now the owner of the Attorney practice after Ted died, and Jeff needs to throw out the case in order to get his job back. Abed arrives to the courtroom with some sort of bonesaw, but he fails to cut Jeff’s arm off because the cord is too short. Shirley recognizes that Alan could hurt Jeff’s career, and tells Jeff to throw out the case for his own sake. This inspires Jeff to make his final argument: that people like him can normally get away with these things because of some false truth that says they can. But in reality, the simple, painfully obvious truth is that doing things only for ourselves is bad, and helping each other is good. Because Shirley has “gone good” and is helping him, sacrificing her dreams for his, Jeff realizes “you have to stop thinking what’s good for you and start thinking about what’s good for someone else, and you can change the whole game with one move.” He says to throw the case out because it’s dumb, and as a result, Pierce offers to withdraw his case. The lightening of the timeline weakens Evil Abed, and Abed regains control over his own body once more. Alan openly reveals he’s the one who turned Jeff in, but Jeff, in turn, thanks him for the opportunity to change. Alan says Greendale has made Jeff “so gay,” and Pierce defends him saying “Hey, don’t use gay as a derogatory term—booyah, good person!” to everyone’s applause.
With the dispute over, Pierce says Jeff should sign the form and represent he and Shirley as their attorney, his first good idea. Abed apologizes to Britta for what he said, and tells her to stay a Psychology major because she’s the best therapist he could have. Troy returns from the A/C Repair School after telling them to act like a real school (which he can do since he’s their messiah.) Troy and Abed do their handshake, Troy and Britta embrace, and Jeff establishes that Pierce is still his friend. Finally, the group goes to take their Biology final.
In the end montage, Pierce and Shirley open their sandwich shop; Jeff passes Biology; City College plots the next step to take over Greendale while Chang watches from a vent; Starburns is revealed to have faked his death; Jeff starts searching for his father; Annie and Abed pack up the Dreamatorium so Troy can move into that room; and Abed keeps a smaller, cardboard version of the Dreamatorium in his fort. As his mini-Dreamatorium activates, the screen whites out, and the words “#sixseasonsandamovie” appear.
As the title implies, “Introduction to Finality” doesn’t really have a “hook” other than being a finale. But from the get-go, it’s definitely the strongest of the three episodes aired on Thursday. It’s straightforward and (mostly) down-to-Earth, but still mixes that realism with the bizarre. It’s fast-paced, zipping through numerous plotlines and jumping from scene-to-scene to equally distribute time to each character, but not so much that it feels like a whirlwind. More importantly, the episode avoids focusing on making jokes out of crazy situations, and instead lets the characters carry a plot which has nothing to do with outside forces but everything to do with their own ongoing struggles. Every dangling plot thread from this season is addressed—the sandwich shop, Britta’s major and relationship with Troy, the Dreamatorium, the A/C Repair Annex, and even Jeff’s lawyer troubles from the very first episode. So while there’s nothing epic on the scale of “Pillows and Blankets” or “Course Listing Unavailable,” it works as a conclusion to the heavily serialized and development-heavy third season. More importantly, it manages to cap off the show as a whole up until this point—but I’ll get to that in a minute.
The theme here should be obvious, since Jeff himself states it outright: sacrificing your happiness for someone else’s. Jeff sacrifices his career to save his friends’ relationships; Troy sacrificed his freedom last week and his release this week to bring the A/C school to justice; and Shirley and Pierce put aside their pride for their business. But beyond the obvious theme, we get a glimpse of the characters progressing to the next stage after overcoming their hurdles. Troy and Abed take down the Dreamatorium so Troy can move into a real room; Britta gets reaffirmation of her Psychology major and doesn’t actually suck at it; Shirley and Pierce open the sandwich shop; and Jeff finally starts searching for his father. Pierce even calls out someone on the use of “gay” as a derogatory term—which was a fantastic moment, by the way. Maybe these developments weren’t presented the most fluidly in the grand scheme of things, but we are looking at a sitcom, here. Community is judged on a very high curve because it often presents its levels of insight and development on par with high-brow dramas, which is a bit unfair, but in its own genre it’s fantastic.
The only thing wrong with the episode, perhaps, is that it didn’t really utilize every character as well as others have—Annie, for example, didn’t have much of anything to do. Though, she got her big developments in “Virtual Systems Analysis,” so maybe we didn’t need to see her big “next stage” moment. And frankly, this doesn’t feel like something that’s missing, it’s just worth noting. It’s also a little sad that the characters are mostly paired off or alone instead of all together for the season’s final outing, but considering last the four episodes or so have featured every character playing an equal role together, it’s forgivable.
Every character who was at the center of the story had great material. Danny Pudi’s Evil Abed was phenomenal. We’ve seen glimpses of him, of course, but we got the persona in full-force this time around and it was lots of fun. The delivery of his monologue to Britta was chilling, while the actual words spoken were very clever. All of his actions in the school—which collectively brought up timeline darkness a whole 1%—were hilarious. It’s a dark turn, considering this entire scenario is essentially saying Abed really is losing his grip on reality (and implies that all the different timelines in “Remedial Chaos Theory” were in his head, interestingly enough) but the coolness factor of Evil Abed’s existence, and the fact that he’s just fun, doesn’t bring down the episode at all. Troy’s character arc also came to a head as he made some big choices, something I touched on for last week’s episode. Again, the show’s big heart sometimes masks just how dark it really is (he’s solving a murder by dueling to the death) but it’s another aspect that makes it so unique. It helps that Donald Glover is a joy portraying a serious, down-to-Earth Troy while still delivering some hilarious quips, like the “You take him to jail, he murdered someone” bit. It’s much in line with his portrayal in “Mixology Certification” and a number of episodes this season.
The biggest surprise is that this episode works as a conclusion to Jeff’s story from episode one, and by proxy, the main throughline for the entire show. Sure, there’s more places to go with Jeff, like his relationship with Annie and his father. But, despite its growth into an ensemble piece, the show started out being about a lawyer who just wanted his job back, only to befriend a group of people who could make him a better person. Three years later, Jeff has finally made the long (and admittedly rocky and uneven) transition to fully, truly appreciating his friends more than his career. Alan’s return represented his old life, giving both a symbolic and straightforward conclusion to his story. As a result, this episode feels like a series finale. That montage to the full version of “At Least It Was Here” by The 88, especially, gave a sense of closure as we saw the characters moving on to the next stage of their lives—though, you know, still at Greendale. Yeah, there’s no graduation or epic fight for Greendale or anything, and few side characters even appear, but the one character beat that started it all has reached its end.
Of course, it’s since come to light that show creator Dan Harmon only had a one-year contract for season 3, and coupled with the possibility of not being renewed at all, it was clear even before the news broke that Harmon wouldn’t be returning next year that this was meant to function as his swan song or the show’s (or both.) And though it doesn’t contain all the “series finale” tropes I’d love to see the show explore and commentate on, as a finale to Harmon’s era as showrunner, it’s stunning. It was already a fine “faux-series finale” that other shows like Chuck have mastered nowadays, but having the extra knowledge that this is the last episode crafted by the original regime (no writers from season 1 will be present next season) just makes it pack a bigger punch. And as sad as the circumstances behind Harmon’s firing are, this was the perfect way to send him off—a character-driven romp injected with loads of continuity and just enough weirdness to make it impeccably unique.
This isn’t a “big” finale, it’s just a lot of the characters being the people we’ve grown to love, as they overcome conflicts and faults and come together as friends to end on an exceedingly high note. It’s sappy, it’s sweet, but it’s what Community can carry with merit. Season 3 had some flaws, but it dared to shoot high and delivered when it needed to. It’s something I’ve reiterated multiple times this season, but this episode—what with its evil timeline, murder and crazy repair school—is really a testament to how well the show can balance a very solid emotional core with the most insane plots when it’s at its strongest. We love the characters and we love the school, no matter how dark or unrealistic things get, and we still leave with an absurdly warm and optimistic feeling. Not too many shows can pull that off and still be outrageously funny and engaging, but Community does it in spades. And despite what happened behind the scenes, Harmon left the next showrunners with a clean slate to play with, save for a couple of hooks. The sky’s the limit from here on out, and there’s still a chance we’ll see the show continue to be as funny, clever, and heartwarming as it’s ever been. And if not, we can just say it’s Abed imagining another dark timeline in his new mini-Dreamatorium. That’s a win-win, right?
Lots of stray tidbits:
- Tag: Bringing the season full circle, we get another Leonard review, this time of “Let’s potato chips.” (Also, I love the random guy just hanging out in his kitchen.)
- Since I talked about Dan Harmon so much this time, I do want to note that another reason for this episode’s success was surely because of script writers Steve Basilone and Annie Meban, and director Tristram Shapeero (who last collaborated on “Regional Holiday Music.”)
- Fun character moments: Jeff’s “stay on target;” Britta admitting her glasses are fake; Shirley’s awkward “Yee-eees;” Pierce hiding behind the faux-bookshelf; Dean’s “Judge Judy or Judging Amy?”
- Evil Abed’s awesome monologue contained another shot at Jim Belushi!
- Rob Corddry didn’t have too much to do, but that “tugging at the teat” bit was hilarious.
- Dean has a fresh tattoo…?
- The whole twist with Ted’s death literally being that he “swam with sharks” is just awesome.
- I love Dennis the insane announcer at the Sun Chamber.
- Jeff’s reaction to Abed saying “I went crazy and I wanted to cut off Jeff’s arm” is great. Likewise, Pierce’s face after Jeff touches him and reaffirms their friendship is simple, but incredibly sweet.
- I’m normally not fond of products publicizing their own hashtags unless it’s purposefully being meta, but I’m allowing it here since it was effectively a “thank you” to the fans, and sorta-kinda made me cry a little bit.
- Speaking of crying, just try and listen to “At Least It Was Here” by The 88 after seeing this episode and not tear up. I dare you.
- “It’s a trade school. It’s a two-year degree in boxes that make rooms cold.”
- “Have you been watching Dance Moms again?”
- “Damn those Facebook privacy settings!”
- “You were like a white Blair Underwood.”