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Community Recap: Season Four Finale “Advanced Introduction to Finality”

By on May 11, 2013
Joel McHale and Jim Rash, who both deserve better. (Image © NBC)

Joel McHale and Jim Rash, who both deserve better. (Image © NBC)

“We finally found a way to make paintball cool again.”

No. You really didn’t. “Advanced Introduction to Finality” is a terrible episode, in which the trickle of desperation that had leaked out at various times in this bizarre fourth season finally breaks the dam. For the first time in the show’s history there’s nothing—no performance, no line, no clever homage—that can save this episode. There’s a very real chance that this may be the last bit of Community we’ll ever see. And, if that’s true then it might be time to, in the words of Pierce Hawthorne, “burn this mother down.”

The plot, as far as it matters, finds Jeff preparing to graduate Greendale while mulling over an offer to return to practicing law with his old partner. But as the group gathers in Dean Pelton’s office to watch him sign his diploma and make it official, he realizes that maybe the moment does deserve something a little more. Annie and the Dean jump on the opportunity to throw a lavish ceremony, but Jeff is obviously just hiding from his fear about moving on.

Hoping to trigger Abed into one final fantasy (giving him one final crisis to solve) Jeff throws a die into the air—similar to the die that triggered Abed’s multiple timeline fantasy in “Remedial Chaos Theory”. But this time it’s Jeff who engages in the fantasy, as the “evil” Jeff from the darkest timeline appears in the Dean’s office, Terminator-style, to ruin “lame” Jeff’s life, turning him back to his old ways. All of this culminates in an uninspired Matrix tribute, as our study group battles the evil study group for supremacy (for a series that built its reputation on staging inventive action sequences, it’s a remarkably boring shoot-out).

But, who cares?

It’s a minor relief when the evil timelines nonsense is revealed to be Jeff’s fantasy, but it’s also frustrating because that’s the only  path that the episode is allowing. Our choices are two poor ones—either it’s all a daydream, and therefore doesn’t matter, or the show really has gone off the deep end and these things now actually happen in the “real world” of Greendale.

Of course, “Remedial Chaos Theory” is also an episode which takes place almost entirely in the imagination of one of the characters, but that episode is the polar opposite of this one in terms of invention and wit.

The sad thing is, this is probably the right story to tell. Jeff should be scared of leaving his comfy little world of Greendale to return to an unknown future, and it’s appropriate for him to use something he’s picked up from the group—in this case a vivid interior world—to help him hide from reality until, of course, he accepts it by episode’s end. But part of the fun of a Community parody is that the series has been very careful to play out those plots in a mostly believable way. There are elements of that here, when “Evil Jeff” insults individual group members, only to act baffled by their anger toward him.

If we’d just seen the episode as Jeff having a psychic break similar to Abed’s at the end of last season, that would have been fine, but the show wants to have it both ways. It wants to mix elements of that possibility with weak Matrix parodies and then wrap it all up with a sappy, unsatisfying Winger speech. In the end, Community fails for a reason I never would have imagined—it refuses to commit to the bit.

And—maybe—that’s how Community ends: smothered by its own insular references and forced emotion. Of course, maybe Community actually ended with Abed walking into his cardboard dreamatorium and the words “#sixseasonsandamovie” appearing onscreen. But that negates the back half of a turbulent fourth season that showed so much energy and life. It’s a further frustration that this episode comes after last week’s origin episode—finding out that the group was always meant to be at Greendale, even Chang, could have made a sweet and fitting ending to the series, if it had come to that. But instead we leave on this sour note.

The episode was written by the usually reliable Megan Ganz, who on her Twitter account some weeks ago feared that she may have messed up the finale. I’m certainly not going to blame this all on her, and it’s probably because of Ganz that there is anything good here at all. There are some funny lines throughout, but the story is unfocused and confusing, and completely derails in the boring third act.

Maybe only an obsessive, on-the-spectrum type can keep a show like this running at top speed. Somebody who will stay hyped up all day on vodka and Aderall and edit the show until hours before its airtime. But God only knows where we’d find someone like that.

I don't know. Maybe the monkey?

I don’t know. Maybe the monkey?

Of course, part of the trouble here is that you can hardly craft a satisfying finale if you have no idea whether or not you’re actually writing one. Harmon danced around this last year with mixed, but acceptable results. Writer Andy Bobrow recently revealed that there had been plans to do a sweeping final montage at the end of this episode that followed the study group through graduation to their future. Apparently, it was quite emotional, but ultimately shelved, as there was still a chance of a fifth season.

And there is. We might get more of this. NBC is a joke in the ratings—still—and with nothing else promising on their schedule, this episode might draw enough viewers, even out of curiosity, to justify a pickup. Sony certainly wants that, because they would like to see this project actually become profitable for them. But it’s hard to imagine a real fan engagement with a fifth season—one that takes place half in Greendale Community College and half in the outside world. This season has already tested a fanbase that had been pushed to their breaking point. It’s hard to imagine who will be left standing after another 13 baffling, sometimes great sometimes embarrassing episodes. Last fan out turn off the lights.

Yes, you in the Inspector Spacetime t-shirt.

Community
Season 4, Episode 13
“Advanced Introduction to Finality”: F

Season Four Overall: B-