After the announcement that Chevy Chase is leaving Community, there's been worry of how his character, Pierce, could be written out of the show at the last minute. Michael Ausiello at TVLine revealed today that Chase's exit, while abrupt, was actually anticipated enough for the showrunners to take some measures. In fact, the entire reason the finale was shot early was so it could include Chase to give his character a potential exit.
Despite reassurances that the season finale, entitled "Advanced Introduction to Finality," could function as a series finale, it seems that it will actually end on multiple cliffhangers for the characters. As such, Pierce's character's fate won't be set in stone, so if the show gets renewed for a fifth season, it won't be hard to explain why he's absent. While the word "cliffhanger" is probably terrifying for any fan of a show so on the bubble, it could very well mean it's open-ended and we aren't specifically told what's next for the characters. So, for example, the season could end with a question of whether or not Pierce will marry an eighth wife and move across the country.
Oddly enough, Pierce's exit apparently has something to do with return of "the darkest timeline," Ausiello revealed in his "Ask Ausiello" column earlier this week. The "darkest timeline" concept originated in the Emmy-nominated season 3 episode "Remedial Chaos Theory," which featured a number of alternate timelines, including one where Pierce is accidentally shot and dies. Is this hint that Pierce will be similarly killed off? Or perhaps one of the episodes Chase is absent in takes place in that Pierce-less timeline?
Despite all this talk of the finale, it's still a long way off---Community doesn't premiere until February 7, so we'll still have ten episodes to see Pierce and thirteen to get our fill of the show as a whole.