community-cooperative-polygraphy

“Cooperative Polygraphy” is an epic episode of Community, insofar as it is chock full of references to past episodes.  Many thanks to other Community fans on the Internet for pointing out the ones I did not pick up on right away.  A LOT of people noted that part of the freeze-frame epilogue from “The Art of Discourse” came true, as Britta became the (presumably proud) owner of a used iPod nano.  (Others noted that if this means this episode takes place in 2014, then that 3-year-gap that has been cited existing between Seasons 4 and 5 is making less and less sense.)  The reveal that Annie drugged the whole group in preparation for the Anthropology final is especially hilarious if that is in reference to the final from “Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts,” the most farcical moment from a patently farcical class.  Going even deeper, Troy’s attempt to inhale Pierce’s life vapor perhaps fulfills his wish to “eat a ghost,” which he made in “The Psychology of Letting Go” – the episode that introduced the post-death rituals of Pierce’s religion.

But the episodes that “Cooperative Polygraphy” responds to the most are “Cooperative Calligraphy,” “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking,” and “Intro to Felt Surrogacy.”  “Calligraphy” is the obvious antecedent here, what with the rhyming titles and shared study room setting.  But “Polygraphy” is more low-key (or less high-key, as it were).  It doesn’t call attention to itself as a bottle episode, unlike the former “Cooperative” episode.  For my money, a pure bottle episode is one that not only takes place in one location, but also one in which the characters are trapped.  In “Polygraphy,” the study group was bound by circumstance to remain in the study room, but not to the degree that they were in “Calligraphy” – one character leaves and then comes back, after all.  The tensions do run high in “Polygraphy” (as they typically do typical Community), but not to the ripping-off-clothes degree of “Calligraphy,” perhaps the most tension-filled episode of the series.

“Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking” is the closest narrative parallel, as that Season 2 classic also saw Pierce playing head games with the specter of his death hanging over.  Between these two, there is a clear progression of significant difference.  Pierce’s premature bequeathals were mostly meant to punish his friends.  His actual bequeathals were genuine and thoughtful, though preceded by head games that he still could not resist.  Pierce never became the kindest friend to any of these people, but he did become a friend whose friendship ultimately could never be in doubt.

The closest thematic parallel is “Intro to Felt Surrogacy,” an episode I enjoyed more than most fans; I even declared it the best of the season – though I have since backed off that opinion.  The major problem with “Felt Surrogacy” was its sense of incompleteness.  Because the study group’s secrets from that episode were all revealed in the final act, there was no chance to resolve the problems presented by them or come to terms with them in any meaningful way.  It feels like Dan Harmon had a similar reaction upon watching this Season 4 episode.

I do not know what Harmon’s exact thought process about Season 4 has been, but I know he has not dismissed it outright, and watching “Cooperative Polygraphy” makes me feel like I kind of do know what he was thinking in this case, because it episode basically directly solves the problem of “Felt Surrogacy.”  The revelation of secrets is the whole narrative thrust of “Polygraphy.”  Community demonstrates the wisdom of caution by showing friends that even when they are perfectly comfortable in their friendship, it is important to consider that there still might be secrets lurking that could deeply hurt their friends.  This is not to say that they might as well end their friendships, but rather, something along the lines of, perfect is the enemy of the good.  That is, if you have already accepted your friends with all their imperfections, you should be able to also accept any previously unknown imperfections.

And oh my God, Troy is leaving.  The circumstances that are drawing him away are random, but also ultimately perfectly appropriate.  Once again, I must extend credit to the rest of the Community fandom for providing examples of how Troy does indeed have the heart of a hero: he was the one who took charge in “For a Few Paintballs More,” and he risked his life by going back among the infected in “Epidemiology.”  Troy’s life did not look as bad as everyone else’s in “Repilot,” so he would be spinning his wheels more than anyone else if he were to remain at Greendale.  No doubt there will be something missing in the heart of the show after the next episode, but at least there will be a way to check up on him occasionally, now that we know about Abed’s tracking devices.