Community S4E13 – Advanced Introduction to Finality

There’s always extra pressure put on an episode of television when there’s the possibility of it being the show’s last. Suddenly that single episode, prepared months in advance, is expected to act as both a compelling ratings hit, to encourage the show’s continuation, and as a well-rounded ending to give viewers resolution should the show not continue. It’s a tall order, and a hard line for any episode to walk — and that’s precisely the burden that was put on “Advanced Introduction to Finality” as it aired.

“Advanced Introduction to Finality” focuses on Jeff Winger completing his final credit and applying to gradCommuniy group graduate from Greendale. Unlike bigger colleges and universities, at Greendale graduation is a simple process of signing a paper — something not nearly grandiose enough for Jeff’s friends, who immediately offer to plan a graduation party. But Jeff is hesitant, much like he seems hesitant to accept the incredible offer to be made partner at his old law firm, complete with corner office and beautiful secretaries. It’s obvious to the viewer immediately, if not to Jeff himself, that his hesitation on both counts stems from the reality that he will actually — gasp — miss Greendale.

Unwilling to face the truth, though, Jeff pretends to be concerned for Abed, and tells Britta that he fears his graduation will send Abed into another spiral, like in “History 101.” Britta insists that she’s cured Abed with her “therapizing,” and points out that Abed hasn’t even mentioned “the darkest timeline” in ages… which gives Jeff an idea. While planning for his graduation party, Jeff pulls out a die to determine who is responsible for bringing soda, hoping to kickstart a timeline meltdown in Abed.

It works — soon we have Evil JCommunity Evil Jeffeff and Evil Annie entering the real timeline, trying to take over. Evil Jeff wants “lame” Jeff to take the job offer to restore balance, so he sets about alienating Jeff from all his friends by insulting and angering them. Abed realizes what’s happening immediately, and gets shot by Evil Jeff with a paintball gun that teleports him to the darkest timeline parallel dimension. There, he meets Evil Abed… who as it turns out is not so evil anymore, and instead offers to help Abed by providing him paintball dimension guns of his own.

What follows is essentially a war between the “real” study group and their darkest timeline counterparts, and as it comes down to Jeff vs Jeff, we learn what we should have expected: this is all a fantasy in someone’s head, but this time it’s Jeff’s fantasy. He must confront Evil Jeff in order to come to terms with both his own fear of leaving Greendale, and the reality that he is not the man he was four years ago, and therefore unwilling to take the job with his old law firm. With that mental block out of the way, he can attend his graduation party in reality, and take us home with a Winger speech about how much his time with his friends at Greendale has meant to him.

So how does “Advanced Introduction to Finality” stack up? Personally I thought it held up well — it was funny, with clever dialogue, and even managed, in Abed’s words, to “make paintball cool again.” It was a good cap to the chaCommunity Gradracter development Jeff has gone through over his four years at Greendale. It even ends on a nostalgic note, one final shot of the whole study group together, panning out to a poster for Greendale, “your path to a brighter future.” It was nice, and one of the few episodes in season four that I felt hit nearly all the right notes.

Had this been the series finale, however, I imagine there would be much to discuss about the emphasis specifically on Jeff. This episode is all about Jeff: Jeff’s graduation, Jeff’s anxieties, Jeff’s feelings towards his friends, Jeff’s career. We even spend the majority of the episode inside a fantasy world in Jeff’s head. Perhaps this is the logical counterpoint to the show’s beginning; after all, we met Greendale as Jeff Winger did, and in the beginning he was the clear focal point of the show. But as Community grew into itself, it grew into an ensemble piece, and ending the show with very specific focus on Jeff would be dishonest to the bulk of the series. As a series finale, “Advanced Introduction to Finality” would feel strangely myopic.

It’s fortunate, then, that Friday evening, one day after “Finality” aired, NBC announced that Community would return for a fifth season. With that announcement, “Advanced Introduction to Finality” is retroactively given some space to breathe, and relieved of the pressure of wrapping up the entire series. Where will the fifth season take the show, with Jeff graduated and Chevy Chase on his way out? It’s hard to say. But for now, the Greendale Human Beings limp one step closer to six seasons and a movie.

 

Missed the episode or want to rewatch?  Check it out on Amazon Instant Video.

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