What does it mean to call an episode of Community weird? A show that spent significant time talking about an existential emergency diarrhea incident on the set of Cougar Town has set the bar pretty high on weird. And yet, for an episode of Community, last night's episode, "Competitive Ecology," was odd — not because of Chang's film noir send-up story line, or because the study group spent yet another episode meta-navel-gazing at their own group dynamics, or because it wasn't funny, but because the whole thing didn't really come together. It was weird, because for a Community episode, it was sort of a whiff. (Others disagree. Perhaps you do too?)
To deal with Chang first: He's living in a storage unit behind the campus coffee shop and fucking a mannequin leg. So you know, being Chang. He's still very dedicated to proving his mettle as a campus security guard and desperate to begin "detecting" something. After Chang's security guard superior tells him for the umpteenth time that he needs to calm down, Chang's brain hops him into a film noir, which means he starts voice-overing his life and running an inner monologue that goes like this: "She was all dame the kind of legs that went all the way to her torso, the kind of arms that had elbows."
Because Chang is now playing Detective Chang-Marlowe, Lunatic, or whatever, he begins "investigating," giving Community a chance to make fun of absurd detective clichés. Chang gets obsessed with a matchbook from the Arizona Matchbook Company and becomes convinced it will connect to some larger mystery that doesn't exist, because in film noir matchbooks are always a really great clue. ("Arizona backwards is still Arizona backwards. Maybe I was crazy, or maybe I was finally sane.") Chang ends up ordering thousands of matchbooks from the same company, tossing them around like they're Benjamins in a nineties rap video, and making one of those freaky Beautiful Mind string displays on his wall, beginning to see the connections in the universe: These connections have something to do with Larry Bird and the all-time earth-stopping question, "What happened if Nicholson was a gynecologist?" (Universal cervix clampdown, but that's just one guess.)
All this is, of course, total nonsense, and that's the point: Chang is crazy. It ends with Chang accidentally burning down his back room hideout and that mannequin leg, and his security guard boss superior quitting. That leaves Chang as the only police keeping force in Greendale, a fact he greets with an evil laugh, like the one he used early last season when he imitated Gollum, and it seemed like the show might be making him a straight-up villain. They didn't and for good reason — Chang remains difficult to take when he's carrying his own story lines, and even worse when he's just an asshole. Hopefully, they're not heading in that direction again.
On to the study group, who spend the whole episode behaving like a bunch of twats. After a funny joke establishing that Annie is still way too young for Jeff or anyone who wasn't sentient in the eighties ("This is me and Abed as Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy." "Aw." "Who’s Nick Nolte?" "Aw"), the gang goes to bio class, where Dr. King asks about what happened to Legos: They used to be simpler. (Michael K. Williams is easily clearing sky high expectations in this part.) For their assignment, the class has to build terrariums, and Dr. King tells them to pair up with the person across from them. The study group members look across from them and see ... strangers, and because, they expended all their friend-making energies forever and always at the beginning of the show, this is the Worst Thing in the World. They immediately decide they want nothing to do with these people they don't know, and en masse go to Dr. King and ask if they can, instead, just pair off with each other ("We’re like a family, we love each other"). King says yes, they make their excuses to their new partners ("I need to catch up on Breaking Bad, so ... ") and pair off together. Pierce inevitably gets left out and has to pair with Big Head Todd, but the other six soon find their own pairings unacceptable. (Troy and Abed spend too much time together, Shirley is a creationist, Jeff does no work, etc.) So it's off to the study room to sort it out.
Because Abed is a computer, he creates an algorithm to give everyone a new partner, based on popularity. Jeff gets paired with Big Head Todd and freaks out, and then freaks out even more when he learns that makes him the fifth most popular member of the group, not the first. Shirley learns that she's the eighth most popular — that creationist thing — and then they spend all night yelling at each other about how much they do or do not like each other. In the way that Community, the show, is constantly looking at itself as a "sitcom" and thinking about what that means and how it can play off the genre, the group is looking at itself as a group. It can get exhausting. Finally, fifteen minutes before class is going to begin, Big Head Todd, Iraq War veteran and diabetes sufferer, spazzes out and gives the group the talking-to they deserve: "What is the problem with you people! I thought you were supposed to be friends. I thought you were supposed to love each other. Your love is weird!" Which it is. Of course, the study group doesn't listen to strangers.
After this all-night spite fest, the gang heads off to bio class — Hi, Magnitude! — everyone but Annie not having done the assignment. Their punishment? Dr. King makes them one lab group, with one grade. Annie falls off her chair, but at least they won't have to talk to anyone else for the rest of the season. Dr. King tells them he recognizes their kind from prison: They're the Mean Clique. They immediately prove him right. Having spent all night being horrible to each other and Todd, the group makes up over their one microscope by scapegoating him. Todd's the reason they didn't get along! Stupid Todd! With his big head! The episode ends with the camera on Todd, who can hear them because he's sitting one stool away, shedding a tear, communicating to us that Community's writers know the Community characters just acted like a bunch of jerks — but you still love them anyway, right? Fine. But it's hard to like them very much right now.