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Community Recap: What the Hell?

COMMUNITY -- "Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality" Episode 507 -- Pictured: (l-r) John Oliver as Dr. Ian Duncan, Joel McHale as Jeff -- (Photo by: Adam Taylor/NBC)

“Bondage” did so many things well that it’s difficult to pick a single place to start. I think Britta’s interaction with her old group of former radicals cut to the core truth of the episode the most, though. The thing is, we all contain multitudes, different versions of ourselves that we tend to break out depending on the situation. The me my closest friends know is a far cry from the me that goes to, say, his 15-year high-school reunion. Ahem … or, you know … doesn’t. But the version of Britta that she herself is always trying to recapture with her pseudo-activist antics is a previous version — maybe a less enlightened one — a version 1.xx, and the very people she remembers so fondly first praise her, and then alienate her. And it’s easy to relate to the situation from both angles, which is part of what made “Bondage” so compelling an episode: We all pine for days past, through rose-tinted glasses, when we were a bit younger, dumber, more carefree.

We all also have that one buddy who never quite got beyond that pining feeling, and when that one girl mockingly tells Britta to “fight the power,” it’s dickish, but it’s also kind of … well, right on. She’s beyond “Banksy-ing” cologne billboards; she’s actually raising serious money and helping people, and Britta’s dorm room stick-it-to-the-man ethos isn’t just misinformed, it’s pointless and tiresome. And it’s hard to watch Britta get made fun of, because she’s part of this group that we’ve been watching grow and evolve together for years, but at the same time, Community has never been a show that shied away from letting its characters learn hard lessons, and if it had been, none of its characters’ growth and evolution would have carried the significance that it did.

This was definitely an episode full of harsh truths. Perhaps Abed is a tad spoiled by Troy’s previous indulgences and could benefit from being stood up to. Maybe Buzz is a terrible cartoonist. Duncan most certainly has been a horrible friend to Jeff (although, in fairness, that precedent was kind of set in the pilot with him scheming on Jeff’s car). And Chang has always been a ghost of sorts, right? Okay, well maybe not that last one, but I did appreciate the random side plot with Chang in an otherwise pretty heavy episode. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like there weren’t some well-earned laughs, but “Bondage” wasn’t about the laughs, so much. We’re coming to the end of our fifth semester with a group that had a lot of reservations and neuroses about being community-college students in the first place, and while some moved on, for good or bad, this episode was about helping a few of those key characters (and maybe one of the new … old … ones?) to level up in terms of their attitudes and self-awareness. Maybe Britta will be able to turn some of her psychoanalysis inwards and change some of her prefixes (pseudo and quasi into full-on and qualified). Perhaps Abed’s revelation that his lack of substance isn’t a punch line will make him follow through on his idea to partner up with Buzz (and GOD, I hope so; their back-and-forth tonight was electric. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Danny Pudi not only interact extensively with someone whose name doesn’t rhyme with fanny blubber, but do so in a way that isn’t in Abed’s vaguely spectrum-ish monotone.)

The episode starts off with a somewhat sinister tone, with Duncan cutting to the chase and essentially telling Jeff that he wants him to wingman Britta into his bed. This leads to a great exchange in the study room: Jeff: “Feels good to help!” Duncan: “God bless you!” Annie: “… Cool, so, 7:30?” Alison Brie wasn’t given much to do this week, but that put me in smile town, as did she and Shirley directly post-titles talking about the “corporate hive-mind,” then immediately deciding to go to McDonald’s. Low-hanging fruit? Perhaps. Don’t care.

Chang’s phone-call-cum-theatre-performance-cum-who’s-the-actual-ghost story line definitely had me scratching my head, but it was just random enough (and short enough). Again, I’m really digging the limited-doses approach they’re taking with Chang this season; I think it’s a much more effective use of a character who is easy to overdo.

I absolutely loved Abed and Buzz together, especially with the revelation that they’ve both been working so hard on things that are inauthentic because they don’t reflect either of their actual life experiences, yet together, these strange bedfellows could actually make something that, if not original, is at least genuine. It’s been a while since we’ve gotten acerbic, calls-it-like-he-sees-it Abed (“For destroying your duck cartoons? The ones you’re ashamed of?” Jeez, Abed), but I think it’s fitting. Abed is more a creature of habit than anyone else on the show (the cause of his tantrum? missing his screening of Kickpuncher), and Troy’s absence is still very fresh and raw for the character. We’ve had the whole length of the Olympics to give Glover’s departure time to set in, but at Greendale, Abed needs a new buddy, and fast.

Once Buzz lets him know he’s definitely going to miss his movie, Abed goes off the rails: “Your cartoons are monuments to joylessness, nervously assembled jokes based on nothing from your life, or anyone's life. You're furious at me for being creative because you want to be able to create. You have all this rage and shame and loneliness — which I don't even know how to feel, much less understand — and you decide to put what on paper? A duck.” And ultimately, Abed may as well be speaking to himself. He reveals later that Troy would laugh at all the cop stories he wrote, when he didn’t intend for them to be funny, which makes his work just as full of crap as Jim the Duck. Harsh truths.

Some heavy stuff, but also some really funny stuff:

— Abed: “They shouldn’t have redesigned the costume. Keep your heads in the sand if you want.”

— Jeff: “Have fun circling my former lover, waiting for her to ... cry. I tried to make that sound good, but, uh, that's what you're doin'."

— Duncan: "Now you're going to go pull a Dane Cook in one those three movies he was in about Dane Cook getting laid by accident. Only, it's not a Dane Cook movie, Jeff, because this time, someone's watching. ME, your friend, Britta's Jason Biggs."

— Jeff and Duncan at the bar at the end was very sweet, and I thought it was a nice touch that they got dueling injuries trying to prove to one another that they can whittle. Aw.

— “Bullets just kinda kill you. Are you quoting something? Can I use that?”

— I enjoyed Annie’s line about “pulling a lot of focus lately,” and Shirley’s reaction: “Speak for yourself.” For some reason, it reminded me of the season-two episode where Annie and Britta are trying to out-activist one another, and she mumbles, “Oh, yeah, you’re both SO different. Skinny bitches.” Hee!

— This episode’s tag was amazing! Duncan and Dean, rarely seen together, trying to avoid an awkward moment over lunch plans, breaking down and revealing their biggest insecurities about being excluded … good stuff. R.I.P. Troy and Abed in the Morning, but hello Dean and Duncan Over Tacos?

Photo: NBC/2013 NBCUniversal Media, LLC