I was really looking forward to this episode of Community. It’s quite possibly the last episode of the show to feature Troy (played by Donald Glover). It’s also a new high-concept episode, something the show typically excels at. Some of it was excellent, some of it was substantially less so. This needed to be an exceptional episode grounded in character. The big difference between season four of Community and, well, any other season of Community are the characters. Dan Harmon has this wonderfully consistent hold on characters, which mainly stems from his circle technique.
Dan Harmon’s circle concept is simple and effective, and if you look for it you can see it all over his work. The problem with this episode, “Geothermal Escapism”, is that only Abed gets to be a character. A handful of fade to blacks see the entire school turned into a crazy post-apocalyptic Mad Max world and all the characters completely committed to the zany concept at hand. For a creator as obsessive about character development as Dan Harmon is, it all feels weirdly false. Not one character seems to view the crazy game of “The Floor is Lava” as crazy. The paintball episodes, which this feels like a rough imitation of, always had someone realize how nuts the whole thing was. Even Jeff (Joel McHale) is completely committed in this episode, and it doesn’t feel right.
Troy’s goodbye is appropriately heart wrenching at least. It might not have been quite as sad as Pierce’s goodbyes, but the whole scene was pretty great. Troy’s goodbye to Britta (Gillian Anderson) and Jeff were especially nice – funny and sad. His goodbye with Abed (Danny Pudi), the scene the whole episode revolves around, was pretty damn sad.
Danny Pudi is definitely the highlight of this episode. The scene where Abed reveals that the lava is real to him is legitimately wonderful stuff, and Pudi manages to bridge the robotic character of Abed and the emotions of the scene brilliantly. It seems obvious that we’ll see more of this from Pudi – Abed is clearly going through stuff this season, and his best friend leaving isn’t going to help.
The other thing that made this episode stand out was Britta. Even if her plot line felt a little false, it nicely set up the future for her and Abed. She’s right there with Troy when they save Abed, something she might have to do again in later episodes. Her battle banter with Jeff (“but it’s knocking at your house!”) was pretty funny, and it reminded me of the racism speech from season one (it’s not that good though, or that similar actually…just watch the clip):
Even though the first chunk of this episode felt rushed and forced, it was occasionally pretty funny. Britta’s “We’re human beings, not the editors of teen vogue” made me chuckle. She provided some much needed self-awareness when she shouted, “What are we getting from this extra level of commitment?” Too bad she almost immediately started running around on chairs and howling. Also funny was Chang (Ken Jeong) talking about same-sex celebrity crushes: “don’t lie, everyone has one.” His is Nathan Fillion, by the way.
The episode had some great moments, but they were almost all after the concept had wound done. It felt like Dan Harmon needed two episodes to make this concept work, so that the lava stuff didn’t go by so quickly. Maybe then he could’ve made the characters feel more real. Despite the episode’s shortcomings, the actual send off to Troy was everything you could want, even if the buildup was weak. I’m hoping the show can dust off these changes and keep going strong.