Community S4E10 – Intro to Knots

As an episode, “Intro to Knots” was hard to tie down.

It begins with the group celebrating a Christmas party off-campus, at Jeff’s apartment. Annie arrives first, with several bags, and takes it upon herself to redecorate, which causes Jeff to remind her that they’re not playing house. As the rest of the group arrives, Annie breaks the news: she’s heard from a friend that their group history paper got a failing grade, and so she took it upon herself to invite Professor Cornwallis to the party, in the hopes that they might smooth-talk him into giving them a passing grade. Knowing that he needs a passing grade on this paper to graduate early, Jeff convinces the group to play along. In fairness, it’s not unbelievable that Cornwallis might be swayed by some buttering-up — last episode, after all, revealed how he’s been preying on Annie. (Ew.)

Things go haywire when Cornwallis arrives and Jeff learns that their grade was not an F, as Annie led them to believe, but merely a C-. Annie, obsessed with grades and shooting to be valedictorian, can’t handle a C- on her transcript. Uncovering the group’s plan, Cornwallis tells them he’ll change their grade down to an F, and in an attempt to help, “Kevin” ties Cornwallis to a chair. The rest of the episode takes the form of a battle of wits between Cornwallis and the study group, as he tries to break down their morale and convince one of them to release him. It’s a history lesson, he says; empires are strong when theyScreen Shot 2013-04-19 at 12.45.49 PM are winning, but crumble from within at the first threat.

This is the closest “Intro to Knots” gets to real success. Some of Cornwallis’ typical “villain monologuing” techniques are interesting, and he uncovers some tensions in the study group. Jeff and Britta’s history makes Troy uncomfortable. Annie isn’t the best candidate for valedictorian — Shirley is, and Annie’s shock to learn this offends Shirley. Cornwallis reveals that Jeff is personally responsible for the group’s bad grade, since he failed to do his portion of the assignment. The group decides they would rather be united in their failure than fractured apart, and Cornwallis caves, deciding to give the whole group a C+.

There are funny moments, including some of Cornwallis’ villainous line delivery, but the would-be message of heartwarming group solidarity never quite lands. It may be the fact that this Christmas episode is severely misplaced in April, or it may simply be the side-effect of a lacklustre fourth season overall. It’s worth noting that this is the first episode which doesn’t feature Pierce, and his absence isn’t felt at all.

Then there’s the episode’s bizarre tag, which takes place in the “darkest timeline” alternate fantasy of Abed’s. In it, we see a one-armed Jeff get Annie acquitted of various violent crimes, and then the two make out, cackling. When Darkest Timeline Annie asks if he’s bothered by the age gap, Darkest Timeline Jeff says “I wish you were even younger.” What exactly I’m meant to think of Jeff and Annie’s relationship at this point is beyond me. While I’ve never enjoyed it, it seems every subsequent appearance of the pairing places more and more emphasis on the huge discrepancy in life experience they have. Annie’s immature schoolgirl crush on Jeff, lately demonstrated by her desire to play house, is made more disturbing by the implication that he might return it. Showing them together in the “darkest timeline” seems like it should logically imply the writers have driven the final nail into the coffin, and yet somehow I find myself doubting this is the last we’ll see of Jeff and Annie.

Likewise, Troy and Britta’s relationship continues to be inexplicable. In the third season, when Troy and Britta began to have noticeable tension, I liked the idea of them getting together. Troy’s laid-back attitude seemed like a nice complement to Britta’s go-get-’em approach to life. The fourth season, however, has neither shown us how these two came to date nor demonstrated why they continue to date. We never see Troy and Britta actually enjoying each other’s company — we see them rolling their eyes at each other’s interests, be it Inspector Spacetime or feminism. When Cornwallis plants the seeds for Troy to be jealous of Jeff and Britta’s past relationship, it’s hard to see why Troy cares, since he barely seems interested in Britta himself.

In the end, “Intro to Knots” falls into a pattern that is becoming all too familiar in Community‘s fourth season: not terribly bad, but not particularly memorable, either. And with only three episodes left in this season, it seems unlikely the show will be able to salvage itself from its newfound mediocrity.

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