Community #5.7 “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality” Recap & Review Community #5.7 “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality” Recap & Review
A mature look at the ups and downs of friendships and self-truth don't lead to many laughs, but still yields a satisfyingly introspective episode. Community #5.7 “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality” Recap & Review

Community - Season 1Summary: A mature look at the ups and downs of friendships and self-truth don’t lead to many laughs, but still yields a satisfyingly introspective episode.

If you have not seen this episode yet and don’t wish to be spoiled, don’t continue reading.

Recap

Ian asks Jeff to help him hook up with Britta, so Jeff gets him to investigate a charity event that would interest her. The entire group ends up attending the charity event, though, and while there Jeff realizes he might still have feelings for Britta, angering Ian. Britta, meanwhile, reunites with old friends, only to realize that they’ve become successful and she’s failed miserably in both life and as an activist. Ian tries to pick her up and take advantage of her vulnerability, but her frustrations with friends makes him realize that he is being a poor friend to Jeff by picking up a woman he still has feelings for. Britta decides to spend the night hanging out with herself, while Ian and Jeff decide to hang out with each other and “not have sex with anyone.” Meanwhile, Abed accidentally wrecks Hickey’s drawings, and in retribution Hickey handcuffs him to a cabinet and forces him to miss the Kickpuncher reboot movie. They both realize that neither understands the other as much as they think, and Abed offers to work with Hickey as a creative team on his cop film. Also, Chang accidentally performs for an audience, which he thinks is a ghost…or maybe the janitor who told him they were ghosts is the ghost. Or maybe he doesn’t exist?

Review

Community has done plenty of sappy friendship episodes, but it’s apparent that the show has viewed “friendship” as something much broader and more obvious than how it is in life. In fact, this episode marks a clear differentiation between the study group as a family and the individual characters’ friends. They don’t live in a bubble, as much as we might pretend they do, and there are definitely other people in their lives. So while the last four years have been spent letting the original Greendale 7 learn to love each other, there are still people outside of Greendale that have seen them at their best and worst. In fact, as Britta points out, people like Jeff and Ian have known each other even longer than the group has been together.

As Britta also points out, Jeff and Ian have seldom acted like friends in the show. The obvious reason is because this is a sitcom, and it’s easy to get laughs from snark and characters acting deviously to each other, under the guise that “they really love each other.” Look at any typical family sitcom, where the “loving married couples” are at each other’s throats more often than not (Modern Family‘s Cam and Mitchell is a common example nowadays.) This week’s Community doesn’t delve that far, particularly because it’s specifically not focused on married couples and nuclear families. But it does address the importance of having people in your life that you can just be you around, without some kind of ultimatum. Ian decides to not hook up with Britta because his friend Jeff still has the slightest of feelings for her, even if those feelings are probably superficial at this point. Instead, they settle for a night of hanging out and bro-ing it up (cutting their hands trying to whittle!) which turns out to be more fun than chasing the same tail.

With this in mind, “Bondage” does a nice job of balancing the realistically ickier sides of Jeff and Ian while making it clear that they still aren’t bad people at their core. The idea of Jeff still being attracted to Britta is a little worrisome, considering their platonic friendship has become a such a highlight of later Community. He also does have the problematic “she was mine first!” mindset, even if he attempts to backtrack and ensure that no one can own love, etc. But at least Jeff is aware that his attraction isn’t totally healthy, and the upside is that the resurgence of it does comes from seeing her at her best (her “true to yourself” speech sounds very much like something season 4 Jeff would say, but sounds even more fitting coming from Britta.) It’d be silly if the show tried to sell Jeff and Britta as a will they/won’t they again, but it’s not unrealistic to have Jeff still interested in someone he regularly slept with for a year. And it’s not like Ian has ever been presented as a not-icky guy when it comes to women, so the slightest bit of development for him is good.

Community - Season 1Britta, on the other hand, has to be comfortable with herself by herself. Jeff and Ian are both aware of themselves, but need to find better ways to be people in relation to other people. Jeff even shows how far he’s come by being pretty darn helpful to Ian in his quest to hook up with Britta (until Jeff realizes he still has feelings.) Britta is pretty good at meeting people, but her enthusiasm and tendency to make bad decisions turns people off after a while. Her surrogate family, the study group, still needed her as their heart even as she progressively became the worst, but friends can be a little more vicious. It’s not uncommon for friends to grow out of one another and get on with their lives as Britta’s do, but Britta cares too much to just let that happen. We’ve seen a bit of this last season, but Britta’s big heart also means she gets even more hurt than usual when someone points out that she’s not actually good at what she thinks defines her. She wants to be a feminist and an activist, and she really does have the best intentions, she just has poor judgement from time-to-time. What she needs is to recognize that she does have very good intentions, and her poor execution doesn’t mean she’s unworthy as a person. She doesn’t need to learn how to be a person in relation to people, but how to be true to herself without having other people to compare herself to. Luckily that’s not a hard lesson to learn, she just needed a little push to get there.

Hickey and Abed has a less direct connection to this friendship theme. They probably won’t ever be classified as “friends” in the most basic of terms, but they represent that idea of seeing ourselves in relation to other people. Hickey’s frustration this week is, oddly enough, derived from his jealousy of Abed’s whimsicalness. As Abed lays out, Hickey wants people to see him as a creative type but can’t seem to create, while Abed’s very presence inspires creativity among his peers, but only because they have to appease him. Abed’s rebuttal is that his whimsicalness more often makes him a victim of abuse, and the people he “inspires” are nothing more than “tourists taking pictures of another great big wall.” Their perceptions of one another are purely based on how other people see them, and in turn their perceptions of themselves are based too much on how other people view them.

It’s a bit heady, but the idea is similar to Britta’s “be true to yourself” speech—Hickey and Abed are examples of people who are generally true to themselves, but think the way to do that is to be by themselves. Now that Abed doesn’t have Troy, there isn’t anyone around that understands him (as evidenced by no one caring about the Kickpuncher reboot.) Abed’s part in this also feels similar to his need to relate to other people expressed in “Virtual Systems Analysis”, the difference this time being that Abed now has to try an empathize with someone who doesn’t want to be empathized with. Hickey had a long, hard life and doesn’t think anyone is capable of helping him see anything new. Both realize at the end that they can still be true to themselves even if they’re getting help from one another, and they can in fact create something better as a team. They probably won’t end up best buddies, but they do have the capability of being creative partners and a veritable writing team, one bringing what the other can’t.

This is all in line with season 5’s mission to reassert the “lessons” of season 4, but without the sappiness and with a darker edge.  We know the main group loves each other, but they still need to reach out to the people on the outside of their bubble. That’s the genius of how these periphery characters have been given larger roles in the group; yeah, we had to “replace” Pierce and Troy, but they aren’t really doing that. The original study group’s relationship is still very different from their relationship as a committee with Chang, Hickey, and Ian, which yields more story possibilities after last season exhausted so many of the classic dynamics.

old timeDespite the ridiculous (and clever) title, “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality” paints a somber picture of loneliness when these aspects of friendships hurt us, but also maintains an optimistic view of it in the end. Whether we’ve lost friends or gained them, we can still learn something about ourselves from the situation. It’s not a terribly funny episode in the grand scheme of things because of this, much more akin to the subdued tone of season 2’s “Mixology Certification.” It’s not without laughs; the Chang Sixth Sense/Shining subplot is hilarious in its absurdity, as are many of the other scattered jokes that land. But the mature look at the concept of friendship is what yields a satisfying outing, and proof that this refreshing new version of Community is working.

Odds & End

  • I love that Hickey has thoroughly thought about what he’d do in the apocalypse, which includes “hoard cinnamon sticks.”
  • While the show has done a good job of making sure Hickey isn’t just “old guy replacement for Pierce,” it’s funny that Hickey pronounces Abed’s name incorrectly like Pierce did. (Pierce pronounced it with a hard “A-” and Hickey puts unusual emphasis on “-bed.”)
  • The Dane Cook spiel between Jeff and Ian is amazing.
  • Jim the Duck has a Twitter. You’re welcome.
  • Sure, the British jokes are easy. But the unintelligible “British Laurel and Hardy” is still an awesome joke.
  • The old timey photo with Chang features most of the writing staff, which is pretty darn cool.
  • There hasn’t been enough Dean Pelton this season, as evidenced by the very funny end tag.
  • “We’ve had our share of focus lately.” / “Speak for yourself.” – Poor Shirley has yet to have a centric episode all season.
  • “Kids with cleft palates should have more food, not less.”
  • “The stupid steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car!”
  • “You cannot be on the committee if you’re going to be actively insane.”

Derek B. Gayle

Derek B. Gayle is a Virginia native with a BS in English, Journalism and Film from Randolph-Macon College. In addition to being an avid Power Rangers and genre TV fanatic, he also currently co-produces, writes and performs in local theatre, and critically reviews old kids' cartoons. You can check out his portfolio here.