Community season 5 episode 5 review: Geothermal Escapism

It's time for one of Greendale's traditional 'last man standing' games as Community says goodbye to one of its students...

This review contains spoilers.

5.5 Geothermal Escapism

“I didn’t know that going-away parties could be so much fun. I should leave all the time…” 

Bon Troyage, Donald Glover! With proud pocket translator owner Troy Barnes sailing away in pursuit of millions of dollars, (and being a man, or whatever Pierce said) Britta rightly fears that the group will channel their sadness and anxiety into their usual avoidance tactics, resulting in frivolity and carnage.

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Sure enough, Abed sets the tone early on. In the wake of paintball and pillow fights, the natural evolution of the college’s chaotic hangouts is for Abed to declare that the floor is made of lava.  Greendale being Greendale, everyone accepts this, and the school quickly descends into something resembling post-apocalyptic society. Because it wouldn’t be a proper Greendale send-off if it didn’t involve a campus-wide children’s game that got wildly out of hand.

As is traditional, the students and faculty are roped into the madness by the promise of a prize for the last man standing- a mint-condition comic belonging to Abed, valued at $50,000. No standing on books or bags, the dead can’t talk and there’s no coming back as a lava monster, forcing Britta to play the game if she wants to get through to Troy and Abed about their feelings.

Here’s an episode that feels somewhat torn, in a good way. Firstly, it’s another huge game where the imaginary stakes become higher than the financial reward. As in the paintball and pillow fight episodes, the widespread high-concept madness provides an ample opportunity for Greendale’s supporting players to shine. 

Leonard, Garrett, Star Burns and Magnitude are all present and correct amidst the Mad Max-flavoured anarchy. John Oliver’s Professor Duncan also has a brief, typically hilarious turn, disappointing Britta with his primary strategy of pushing girls into imaginary lava instead of helping her reach out as a mentor in psychology. 

But it’s Jonathan Banks who immediately sets about earning his stripes as a regular, as his Buzz Hickey powers around the corridors on a fire-extinguisher-powered floor-wax-mobile, bellowing down a megaphone at the other competitors as he bids to grab the prize to help pay for his gay son’s wedding. Even though the whole objective is to stay out of the make-believe magma, Banks is on fire here, and he once again proves what a brilliant addition to the cast he is. 

As usual, the alliances and strategies taken up by the student body lead to some fun moments, with chairs, lockers and a big inflatable hamster ball all making for creative floor-dodging tools, with a couple of nice pop culture nods too (the aforementioned Mad Max homage, and a later moment with Abed that mirrors the end of Alien 3.) It’s not hugely different to previous episodes featuring campus-wide carnage, but if it’s ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

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Secondly though, once we’ve got past the fun stuff, this is Troy’s send-off. It’s curious that the previous four episodes haven’t made the most use of Donald Glover, given his already abbreviated presence in this season. Apart from his comedically traumatised state in Basic Intergluteal Numismatics, he’s almost seemed underused at times. 

For a little while, it appears as if he’s playing second fiddle to Britta and Abed here too. Gillian Jacobs is on terrific form, clearly relishing the kind of Britta-centric episode that we seldom see as her domineering psychoanalysis actually comes to good use for once. Her finest moment comes while swapping bravado with Jeff, as the two of them duel it out with plungers and argue over the semantics of a knock-knock themed bon mot (Pocket translator says: “Who’s there, bitch?! Floor! Floor!”) 

As for Abed, the whole thing is his idea, so of course the lava is real to him. It all comes together in the third act of the episode, as Britta gets the two buds to talk things out. Buzz makes an astute observation about Abed being used to getting his own way, an idea which has been explored to better effect in previous episodes, but it still leads to a touching scene that finds both friends confronting their fears – Abed and his separation anxiety, Troy and his nerves about travelling – and ending the game. 

The final scenes could have been an echo of season three’s The First Chang Dynasty, which ended with a temporary separation as Troy was press-ganged into the air-conditioning repair school. Once again, he’s saying goodbye to each of the study group in turn, but happily, there’s actually a sense that he’s matured since then. He’s leaving for a reason that is more real this time, and at the very least, his goodbyes convince him that he’s surpassed alpha male Jeff in most of the important areas. 

It’s a lovely grace note to have Pierce also bequeath LeVar Burton, Troy’s hero, as company on his boat journey. Granted, the end credits tag tells us that the Star Trek: The Next Generation actor probably isn’t prepared for the onslaught of questioning from the guy who couldn’t even speak to him without crying last time around, but we must draw a veil on their adventures at sea, at least until an inevitable minisode is produced. 

If Community does fulfil its mantra, and go on for another season and a movie after season five is done, I would be surprised if this marks Donald Glover’s last ever appearance on the show. This isn’t a final send-off as much as a fond farewell to the character, having Troy leave for reasons that can only bring him back more developed if Glover should choose to return. I mean, he didn’t even start crying for no reason in this one, and that can’t stand. If we’ve seen the last of Donald Glover crying in this show, then I’m going to cry. 

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Even if Geothermal Escapism feels a little divided between the funny stuff and the character development, and borrows lots of familiar beats from previous episodes in the process, it gives us quite enough closure to be getting on with. As well as sending off another regular, the episode keeps enough focus on the scope and talents of the remaining cast and supporting players to keep our faith in a Community that gets on without Troy and Pierce.

It does leave us with a burning question too – if Chang’s same sex celebrity crush is Nathan Fillion, (as he revealed before falling to his imaginary death), how’s that going to play when Captain Tightpants guest-stars in the show later this season? And like that, there’s already reason to look forward to more Community as it presses on.

Read Mark’s review of the previous episode, Cooperative Polygraphy, here.

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