If you have not seen this episode yet and don’t wish to be spoiled, don’t continue reading.
To celebrate Troy’s last day at Greendale, Abed organizes a campus-wide “The Floor is Lava” game, with a huge prize in one of his comics valued at $50,000/$15,000. Britta is against the idea, though, thinking it’s the group avoiding confronting their emotions. When Troy and Abed abandon her during the game, Britta teams up with Hickey to take them all out. When Troy and Abed are the only ones left in Britta and Hickey’s pursuit, Abed reveals that the lava is real for him, and he doesn’t want Troy to leave. He “kills” himself, and when Britta realizes this is real for Abed, she and Troy work together to make-believe clone him. This new Abed can accept Troy leaving; Troy decides to “clone” himself too, making a new Troy who is ready to leave. After a tearful goodbye, Troy embarks on his adventure on the Childish Tycoon…with LeVar Burton.
For Troy’s swan song, “Geothermal Escapism” is only marginally focused on Troy. There are certainly bits of insight there, but the episode is predominately focused on Abed and Britta’s manner of dealing with his departure. The former was certainly a given, of course, and the latter makes sense considering she ultimately became the second closest to Troy in the show. But things certainly don’t play out with those three crying over how much they’ll miss Troy or why Troy’s afraid of leaving–quite the opposite, actually.
In fact, while this episode isn’t the instant classic that last week may have been, it does manage a feat in doing what “Advanced Introduction to Finality” did, but way, way better. Season 4’s finale was focused on Jeff’s departure–and theoretically the finale of the series itself–and thus spun a tale squarely focused on Jeff’s psyche and fear of leaving Greendale, while rehashing the action-heavy concept episode to tell the story. “Geothermal Escapism” does the same, but doesn’t get lost in the mayhem of the concept. The post-apocalyptic Lava World is akin to “Modern Warfare” and even “Pillows and Blankets” to an extent, which allows the show to skip past the wonderment of the new world and jump into the shenanigans. It’s necessary to speed things up this week, so we get the best bits of an action-heavy episode before careening into the emotional payoff, and leaving plenty of time for a proper goodbye. It all times out very well, with ample time to get a taste of everything needed.
The downside is that pretty much everything up until the final act is a bit messy, but it’s clear by the end that this wasn’t meant to be a terribly tight, introspective story. We all knew what was going to happen and how these characters were going to react. And we all knew how any episode with Troy and Abed in the spotlight should be. Of course the lava game would be reminiscent of paintball. Of course LeVar Burton would show up. Of course we’d have “Troy and Abed in a buuuuuubble!” It’s both fanservice and probably an excuse for everyone in the writer’s room and on set have fun. They wanted to give the cast a romp to spend their last days together, and it’s all par the course for the Troy and Abed duo that became the show’s epitome of childish fun.
So it’s weird to pass judgement on it as a whole, because in a lot of ways, the episode isn’t terribly smart or good all the time. The structure hearkens back to season 4’s concept episodes, where it all feels a bit familiar and is generally rushed, with a big, sappy heart pervading at the end. I’m one who still liked most of season 4 as a whole better than most, though, and “Geothermal Escapism” seemed to have similar intentions. It’s supposed to honor the glory days of the show and give us all a reason to remember how much fun we’ve had with these characters, Troy and Abed in particular. And considering those two are the epitome of fun on the show, it’s only fitting that a final episode with them as a duo is totally, unequivocally fun.
There are lots of little bits about this episode that work, and that’s where it benefits the most. As usual, the attention to how everything looks–the tattered set design, the orange color-wash effect, the awkward and unusually dynamic camera angles–make the pre- and post-game Greendale look like night and day. Professor Hickey seems to be taking Pierce’s role in the halfway-villainy kind of sense, though in a more playful way and for less complex reasons (“I’m in it for the money. My son’s getting gay married…the flowers alone, you have no idea.”) Jonathan Banks is obviously more gung-ho about doing the ridiculous stuff, and he’s really good at being funny in his own way, too, which makes the prospects of this season more exciting. The use of all the supporting characters, as usual, is very fun; in addition to the always funny and pathetic John Oliver as Professor Duncan, we have some great bits from Garrett (“These are my only pants, I can’t get them dirty!”) and Magnitude (“I’m actually British!”)
Britta’s role is particularly inspired, pretty much laying out the obvious symbolism of “Abed fearing Troy leaving” and preventing it from feeling too heavy-handed. She functions as both a protagonist and antagonist simultaneously and unintentionally, and it gives Gillian Jacobs lots of range to play throughout. And hey, this is one of the rare occasions when Britta is completely right, which is nice. The subtle references to Troy and Britta’s relationship are good, too, with Troy’s appreciative response Britta when she mentions how much he means to them at the beginning of the episode…not to mention confirming how much better Troy is at sex than Jeff. It’s admittedly a little odd at the beginning that she’s the voice of reason when the game takes over, but it becomes apparent that her awareness–and really, all the character’s sudden acceptance of the new world–is what helps the episode play up the familiarity to its benefit. Greendale has a long history of wacky out-of-hand games like this, and it’s actually a bit heartwarming that even someone like Jeff would be willing to play into the shenanigans just because everyone knows this is the type of send-off Troy deserves.
Ultimately, the goal of the episode is to find an imaginative way to justify Troy and Abed overcoming their fears of separation. Having to leave friends or family behind to become your own person is a common trial mostly everyone faces in their lives at one point or another, but it’s never one that comes easily. For a show that values the importance of friends as a surrogate family so fiercely, it’s a great one to address, and Troy–who’s always struggled to be the man he thought he should be–is the best character to present that. In the end, it turns out that way to become the man he needs to be isn’t actually him, but a clone of himself with those previous fears alleviated. Both Troy and Abed lived good lives as the popular comedic duo, but that era is…well…dead, now. Instead, we have two new, but incredibly similar characters embarking on separate journeys. It’s all silly and maybe a bit pat, perhaps, but it’s the type of rationalization a show so entrenched in pop/geek culture has earned.
The hope is that this means the show is heading in a new direction from here on out. The beginning of this season made headway by retooling things a bit, but losing Troy is going to make a bigger impact on the structure than losing Pierce did, just because of how integral he was to the formula. We could have another post-apocalyptic episode (though it should probably be a while before we do), but it won’t be the same without Troy in the mix. So in a sense, this is the swan song to the old-fashioned Community just as much as it is one for Donald Glover. And as such, it has just the right mix of pathos to keep things grounded, but not before giving the characters, cast and crew one last go to be crazy and wild. So, with respect to Troy and Abed, we might as well sit back and have fun with them.
Odds & Ends
- Let’s cry together now.
- While Donald Glover did get some great bits (like his pretty pathetic intimidation stance), the funniest gag of the episode goes to Jeff and Britta hilariously yelling at each other over the lame knock-knock joke insults.
- Nice detail with the janitor cleaning up the mess from the game, alluding to the end tag of season 2’s finale that had Troy interacting with the janitor post-paintball.
- The homing pigeon/compulsion to come back bit is just adorable.
- Chang yells about Nathan Fillion, which is a fun bit of foreshadowing.
- “This is why the English never win any sports, ’cause everyone else cheats!”
- “Feels normal enough for a school that’s on 911’s blocked caller list.”
- “I did not skip my son’s birthday for second place!”
- “Welcome to Shirley Island, where all your dreams come true…if your dreams are standing on a table and pissing in a jar.”
- “You tell Buzz Hickey that Shirley Bennett said…well, I don’t want to waste your time. Just think of something cool and give me credit.”
- “I had a dream like this but it was sexual!”
- “Sorry about our butts touching.”
- Some good Troy & Abed episodes to watch: season 1’s”Introduction to Statistics” for Troy and Abed’s first great moments of chemistry in the tag and “The Science of Illusion” for the first appearance of Troy and Abed in the Morning; season 2’s “Epidemiology” for good insight into Troy and Abed’s relationship and “Mixology Certification” for just a great Troy episode; season 3’s “Digital Exploration of Interior Design” and “Pillows and Blankets” two-parter; and season 4’s “Basic Human Anatomy” for more great insight into Troy. That’s just a few of many, though.