This post contains spoilers through the May 3 episode of Community.
One of the reasons I tend to prefer Community’s rarer emotionally precise episodes to its high-concept episodes is that while I trust that the show cares deeply about the characters, when it takes on cultural forms, the show usually has more to say about the forms themselves than the ideas that animate and give life to them. Last week’s Law & Order episode, for example, touched on the power that we give the cops, but it’s more about replicating the fact that pop culture cops hit things in interrogation rooms than in exploring what it means that they do. In addition to feeling weirdly rushed and formless, this week’s episode had elements of that same issue when it came to Chang’s takeover.
When Dean Pelton’s initially running through Chang’s list of requests for the security squad, it’s a quick runthrough of the War on Terror: “Cool new uniforms, like that. Power to enact martial law, not so much Indefinite detention. pepper spray. Involuntary cavity searches. No soft serve?…I’m sorry, Chang, this stuff is too extreme. This is a community college, not an inner city high school.” It’s kind of funny, but it’s mostly the same old flip joke about Dean Pelton missing what’s important and Chang being self-important. Same with Jeff’s declaration at Starburns’ funeral that he’s achieved “Acceptance that this place, this Fallujah of higher learning, is a prison from which none of us will ever escape.” It’s the same sort of overreaching statement he always makes (though this one is an unattractive comparison), only this time the conclusion is bitter rather than superficially uplifting.
The thing is, there is an interesting story to be told about small men who amass great power in secret, like the ones who actually implemented some of the things Chang wants Dean Pelton to give him power to do. Hopefully this rushed setup will give later episodes some time to deal with Chang’s psyche in particular and how what these power grabs mean in a real way. Chang’s not wrong when he complains that “That’s the problem with you civilian suits. You want results, but you don’t want to see how the sausage gets made.” And Dean Pelton’s not the only man to sign papers wile saying “Just promise me you’ll use restraint.” Better get that part of things in writing.