‘Community’ Open Thread: Dark Pasts

This post contains spoilers through the Dec. 1 episode of Community.

Given the worst-case scenario that this is the second-to-last episode of Community that we’ll ever see, I want everything that we have before the end of the year to be perfect, both to go out on a glorious note and, in the case of cancellation, to mock NBC on the way out the door. It would have been hard for any episode of the show to follow up the last one, which I still believe will be a perfect coda of the series of it comes to that. And while this episode did one thing I liked, I don’t think it entirely worked.

People — including me — have expressed frustration about the way Shirley’s character has been portrayed this season, as she’s turned into an even more moralizing and judgmental character than she was previously, sacrificing the bits of interiority she’s been given as the show’s most perennially short-changed character. It’s tough because there have always been interesting things there. We know that Shirley was, at one point, if not an alcoholic, a drunk, and that she had tremendous anger issues over her divorce. Tonight’s episode was, however silly the engine of revelation, a valuable look at how far back that anger extends. Once, Shirley was a rejected, heavy little girl, and then she redefined herself as a wife and mother, only to have that identity smashed, too. Is it any wonder she clings to piety as a way to hold herself together and her pain and anger within as much as possible? When Shirley condemns things like foosball, or “Like out of town weddings with receptions that are in the same place in everybody’s rooms!” I have the sense that she’s speaking from experience. And if you’ve been some place really bad, “nice” might actually seem like a higher value.I really would have liked to see an episode that genuinely focused on that tension. Instead, Shirley’s issues got mashed up with with yet another recapitulation of Jeff’s daddy issues. Whether it’s Jeff’s search for a game that’s “Just masculine enough without having to throw or catch,” a pants-wetting incident that forced him to “change schools. I changed everything. My clothes, my hair, my personality, because of you,” Jeff’s stories feel repetitive. But when Shirley tells Jeff — and us — “you don’t know me,” it actually feels true, and I care about it.

And I was let down by the Annie-Troy-Abed storyline, which once again showed us that Annie can be ruthless — though not as ruthless as when she turns out to be a surprisingly expert chloroformer — that Abed’s brain works on an inverse Occam’s Razor, and that Troy can get cringing under pressure. That said, “She was a Rockette. She married a count. He was blind. He loved her for her mind,” is a pretty awesome line. But I can’t think of college students who stick with the same passions and patterns as long as these three have. Britta isn’t the only one who needs to find a major and start moving forwards towards something if these students are going to graduate in four years. Even if they’re going to take five, we’re at the halfway point. It’s time for some new dynamics to start shaping up.