These last two episodes of Community have set the bar high in terms of “story volume.” Next week I won’t expect less than a couple dozen story lines/alternate realities. (What if Magnitude had won that election?!) “Horror Fiction” offered up seven different stories, eight if you count the main one: Britta asked the study group to fill out a psychological survey a few episodes ago, and the results show that one of her friends is deeply disturbed and might be a serial killer in the making. Rather than address the problem directly, she throws a Halloween pre-party/Michele Norris–on–Errol Morris listening party, and tells a spooky story as a way to investigate everyone’s reactions. Do they side with the killer? The victim? No one in particular?
But rather than show us the story straight, Community establishes a neat little game for “Horror Fiction” to play, in that Britta’s story resembles the way she’s probably telling it. The killer in her tale doesn’t just have a hook hand, he has a “hook hand-thingy,” and the rest of the dialogue is a reductive explanation of the flimsy plot that killed the two lovebirds. To Britta, it’s not important that the story be compelling or fit neatly into the horror genre, only that it involves a murderer and that it’s over quickly, so the real-life creep can be identified.
But this is Community, a world of pop-culture obsessives who regularly miss the forest for the trees and wear Civil War costumes when it’s not Halloween. So the gang is less concerned about answering Britta’s questions (not that they know yet that a potential murderer is running amok) and more concerned with creating a tale that best exemplifies why each individual group member likes horror stories. Remember all that character-development stuff? It fell by the wayside for some good clean Community fun — seven terrifying tales, told through seven different lenses. And you’d think Shirley’s would be the tamest, right? Well, Community is full of surprises.
In the interest of keeping everything straight, I think a “list” format for this recap is in order. So “list”-en up, y’all!
• Jeff and Britta make out in Britta’s story, and when a mysterious noise is heard outside the car, Jeff goes to investigate but claims he’s entitled to sex upon his return. Britta screams as Jeff gets stabbed with the hook-hand thing, “I was right!” A casual feminist even in the fantasy world.
• Abed didn’t care about the characters, and was of course the first group member to demand that the story follow specific horror tropes. His version has a smarter lead who rents a cabin — “because it’s not the fifties, so we don’t have to park a car and neck at inspiration point” — and gets comforted by Britta’s “shiny hair and facial symmetry.” Everything is calculated, like the optimal moment for the couple to kiss and the fact that Abed brought a radio with him to listen for danger. (He listens to an entire song on the radio before the news comes on, because in Abed’s hyperlogical mind, he wouldn’t turn on the radio right when the news happened. Troy hums the song along with him.) No one dies; they simply call 911 on their fully charged phone and stand back-to-back holding knives. HORRIFYING ly mundane.
• Annie promises to deliver a really scary story, but goes the poor man’s True Blood route and has herself star in a vampire drama where the monster (Jeff) merely wants to learn how to read. And when he tries to get frisky with her neck, she transforms into a werewolf who feeds not just on vampires, but “selfish” vampires. Her gruesome epilogue, detailing the horrible things that werewolf does to the vampire — while he’s still alive to feel it all — just demonstrates how repressed Annie is. Start a blog, girl!
• Troy doesn’t want to be outdone yet again by Annie, so his story promises to be even more terrifying, but much like the show’s beloved weekly Troy and Abed moments, it showcases how effortlessly those guys play off each other. In Troy’s tale, he and his fellow top gun pilot (“the best of the best”) are in need of help, and evil doctor Pierce sews them together. Leave it to Troy to realize this gives him and Abed psychic powers, which they use to knock Pierce out, sew his butt to his chest, then give him feet for hands so he can’t even play with his newfound booblike chest implants. Troy will go to unprecedented lengths to prove his awesomeness.
• Pierce feels slighted, so his story is horrifying only in that it involves having sex with all three ladies in the group, enjoying “postcoital Brandy,” then knocking out mugger Troy with his penis. My eyes! The goggles do nothing!
• Now comes the really terrifying stuff: Shirley’s tale of righteous indignation against those who don’t accept Jesus Christ. The gang (notably sans Pierce, who I presume is already dead in this scenario? IS THIS THE FINAL TIMELINE FROM TWO WEEKS AGO?!) is being all sin-y with their “drugs” and “pot bongs” when the plagues are unleashed upon the world. The rapture has arrived, along with it a devil Dean with a full schedule of post-rapture activities, including Pilates! (“Pilates is a demon that eats your genitals.”) Shirley comes down from heaven and refuses to save the heathens — how un-Christian of you, Shirley — and everyone’s chainsaw-ed to bits. See? Bible stuff: Amiright?
Six out of the seven stories are over with only two thirds of the episode remaining, which leaves time for the gang to ponder what they just heard. “Horror Fiction” was a window into the most disturbing impulses of each character, and the realization that they share a specific craziness sets them even more on edge. The lights flash off for a second, and when they come up, everyone’s brandishing a weapon, including Troy, who’s stuffed pencils into his knuckles like Wolverine taking the SATs. Jeff tries to calm everyone with a brief but heartwarming story (where Chang is the murderer, and only kills because he feels unloved), but this only serves to push the characters even further over the edge.
The beauty of “Horror Fiction” is in the way it chooses to end — the episode was essentially a character study, and the conclusion is one bait and switch after another, layered until it’s an even darker tale of its characters than before. See, Jeff admits he took his test randomly, which could account for the psychotic results. Then Annie notices that Britta put the tests in upside down — she “Britta-d” the results — so they run it again and see that, actually, they’re all crazy. Except one person. And though the group is okay with merely the knowledge that one of them isn’t crazy, the show lets us in on the secret in the most Twilight Zone way possible. It’s Abed who’s sane. Abed. If he’s okay, then what does that say about everyone else — about all of us? I think I need some of the Army’s taco meat to sort this one out.