Community: Cooperative Polygraphy Review

The offscreen death of Chevy Chase's Pierce Hawthorne beautifully segues into the farewell of another character.

Community’s fifth season continues to provide interesting parallels to episodes from its previous seasons. This time it goes with one of the series’ best, Season 2’s “Cooperative Calligraphy,” the famous bottle episode that took place entirely in the study room and probably introduced the majority of us to the term “bottle episode.” That episode used a concept (Annie loses her pen) as a springboard to bring the study group’s conflicts to the surface, turning the proceedings into a tense, comedic conversational battle between the entire cast. “Cooperative Polygraphy” does much the same thing, but with Pierce’s death as the catalyst. Yes, Pierce died in the last episode, and I feel rather chumpish for having predicted in my article about expectations for Season 5 that Chevy Chase’s departure would be largely swept under the rug. I was basing this on how he’d been pushed further and further into the background during the previous two seasons. But it should’ve occurred to me how important it is for Dan Harmon that, cartoonish though they may be, these characters need to feel like real, changing, evolving human beings. So, they have to deal with major upsets in their lives much the way real people do, and the loss of Pierce is actually a pretty big deal. After all, his antagonism was arguably the crux of what’s generally regarded as the best season (Season 2). Killing Pierce off was sudden but seems far better than just vaguely saying he’s off somewhere, never to return to Greendale. It’s also a smart way to introduce the concept of losing one character so as to segue into the loss of another, as this is also the episode where we learn that Troy will be leaving us. Although the reason he’s doing so—sailing a ship around the world to fulfill the requirements allowing him access to Pierce’s fortune—is more than a bit ridiculous. Still, that the name of the ship, the “Childish Tycoon,” is simultaneously a nod to Pierce being a trust fund baby, as well as a reference to Donald Glover’s rap career is pretty darn clever. In terms of tone, emotions run high in “Cooperative Polygraphy,” but perhaps not quite as high as they did with this episode’s predecessor. Pierce’s will contains some particularly poignant personal statements, but most of them show up in the last few minutes. Mostly, this episode is just extremely funny. Walton Goggins, playing Pierce’s lawyer Mr. Stone, does an amazing straight man, having to read off all the ridiculous stuff Pierce has written down in his will with stony conviction (and the tag featuring him offers a hilarious and unexpected insight into his character). Troy, who’s felt sadly underused for the previous episodes, gets loads of great lines and Donald Glover’s delivery is as wonderful as ever. Most impressive is Abed, who is rarely my favorite character, getting one of the lines that made me laugh hardest: “When any of you chew gum, I wanna’ punch you. You may as well have submachine guns in your mouths. It vibrates my skull.” There’s also a lot of stuff about sperm right near the end of the episode, and what I’ve learned about myself is that if you mention sperm enough times in a row, I will laugh a lot. Also, maybe it was light on touchy-feely sappiness, but “Cooperative Polygraphy” does go hard for the dark, angry stuff. As he did in life, Pierce manages (through his lawyer) to get the study group at one another’s throats by revealing small, disturbing secrets about them. Turns out Annie once spiked everyone’s coffees with uppers to help them finish an assignment; Jeff keeps “trophies” of all the women he’s slept with (including a pair of Britta’s panties); Troy stole the signature secret handshake he does with Abed from a stupid internet video; and Abed has planted tracking devices… somewhere on all of the others. Yeah, that last one was a bit much for me. I mean, where the hell could they be? But the important thing here is the awesome way in which this episode makes it feel like Pierce is right there pulling the strings and pushing everyone’s buttons even without Chevy Chase present to actually push or pull anything. “Cooperative Polygraphy” didn’t quite reach the emotional catharsis that I think it was supposed to. The fact that news of Troy’s departure was delivered as canisters of Pierce’s frozen sperm sat there steaming away on the table perhaps undercut the gravity of the event just a tad. It also might’ve had something to do with the frankly absurd concept that he’s leaving to sail around the world on a boat. But the feats accomplished by this episode are hugely impressive. Namely, it demonstrated that this cast is so awesome and that these characters are so strongly defined that, with the right writing bolstering them, it’s still an utter delight just to watch these people do nothing but play off of one another for twenty minutes. Furthermore, these characters are so solid that one of them can be conjured into the room without actually being there. Troy’s gone after next week’s Community, but I’m sure his presence will be felt in episodes to come. And at least we know that the characters we get to hold onto are in good hands. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing!


4.5 out of 5