This review contains spoilers.
5.4 Cooperative Polygraphy
After last week’s high-concept David Fincher take-off, Basic Intergluteal Numismatics, the fourth episode of Dan Harmon’s concerted series revival retreats to the study room, for a long scene that plays out as a bottle episode right up until the end credits tag.
The tone is notably more subdued this week too. At the height of last week’s Ass Bandit foolishness, a bombshell was dropped; Level 5 Laser Lotus and all-round old man Pierce Anastasia Hawthorne is dead. We catch up with the study group as they return from his Reformed Neo Buddhist funeral, with a terrific opening line from Annie about how she’s never been to a funeral with so much beeping.
But even from beyond the grave, Pierce is stirring up trouble amongst his friends. Guest star Walton Goggins arrives as Mr. Stone, tasked with setting up an inquest into Pierce’s death. He asks to the group to submit to a lie detector test, in order to see if any of them might have murdered the moist-towlette kingpin.
Naturally, it’s all a set up for him to screw with his friends, and let loose some of the embarrassing secrets he was privy to during his life. The incentive in this particular post-mortem mindgame? Each of them could potentially have a slice of Pierce’s estate, valued at $20 million, but only if they truthfully answer every question he’s left for them.
At first, the revelations are no more serious than the fact that Troy and Abed have been piggy-backing on Jeff’s Netflix account (and that Abed disagrees with Jeff on the relative merits of The Grey) but they steadily become more embarrassing and upsetting for the group.
Alex Rubens is a new addition to Community‘s writing team, and his first solo credit for the series speaks well for the new blood they’ve brought in alongside the old guard. Like the best of the series, Rubens’ script is deceptively complex, giving Pierce’s character a proper send-off while also ushering in pivotal developments for some characters and still bringing the laughs consistently all the way through the episode.
We’re still seeing most of the characters around the table being written more closely to their original conceptions, as opposed to the Flanderised versions of the previous two seasons, and that pays off nicely here.
Even if this episode (like so many in the last couple of years) fails to find anything interesting or new for Ken Jeong to do as Chang, there are still some fitting callbacks to Jeff’s near-gross emotional distance, Annie’s proclivity for pharmaceuticals, and one particularly harsh reminder of Shirley’s religious passive aggression.
But arguably, the star of this one is Abed. He’s absolutely unashamed by most of the dirty laundry being laid out, even when Troy outs him for Catfish-ing Annie under the false identity of an Olympic pole-vaulting hopeful so that she’ll be happier at home, and Stone informs the group that he has tracking devices (“If it makes you feel any better, you’ll never find them”) on all of them.
But it’s the way he reacts to everything with his BFF Troy that really drives the episode’s final emotional gut-punch home. From discovering that their patented handshake was borrowed from a blog to realising that he’s about to lose his best friend, Danny Pudi plays it in typically understated form, but completely steals the show.
Because the punchline to Pierce’s final mindgame is that he bequeaths $14 million worth of shares in Hawthorne Wipes to Troy, and sends him off on a mission to travel the world. We’ve known that Donald Glover wasn’t long for the show for the last few episodes, since it was lampshaded with the Zach Braff gag in Re-Pilot. As it turned out, Harmon and his team have actually written out two characters in one go.
If there’s a problem with the episode, it’s that it feels like a slightly too neat way of writing Glover out, but then we doubt he’d have the same reservations as Chevy Chase about a possible return in a sixth season (or a movie!) As mentioned though, it’s bolstered beautifully by Pudi’s reaction, which is both consistent with Abed’s social discomfiture, and their Tumblr-fuel bromance.
Elsewhere, the whole group are bequeathed with cryogenically frozen flasks filled with their late friend’s semen, the production of which is eventually revealed to be his cause of death. But for my money, the most wonderful callback of the episode comes with Britta’s other bequest- a used iPod Nano full of “music to take life less seriously by.”
If you look back to the Animal House-inspired ending of season 1’s The Art Of Discourse, Britta’s tag proclaims that in the year 2014, she will be the proud owner of an iPod Nano. I doubt Harmon planned it all along, but it’s a lovely Brick Joke that will forever change the way you see that gag when you re-watch that episode. It’s not quite the Beetlejuice gag from season 3’s Horror Fiction In Seven Spooky Steps, but it speaks beautifully for the general quality of the writing on this episode.
And while Walter Goggins does feel a little underused in a mostly deadpan role, this is really an episode in which the regulars shine – so far, this season has been about re-defining the show after “the gas leak year”, but Cooperative Polygraphy finds the ensemble doing what they do best – talking and quipping about their fragile relationships with one another in the study room.
The next episode is potential classic high-concept material, as well as Glover’s swansong (for now) as Troy, but after the last few weeks, episode four really shows how the show is back at its best, making witty and emotional comedy out of six (nee. seven) friends sitting around a big table. Ahead of next week’s inevitable insanity, it’s good to see both Troy and Pierce have one last episode like this.
Oh, by the way, six words for next week? The floor is made of lava. Can it be Thursday now, please?
Read our review of the previous episode, Basic Intergluteal Numesmatics, here.
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