Community-Basic_Sandwich
This story is not over.  If it does stop here, it will be because a major catastrophe will have prevented the real ending from happening.  And THAT’S canon.

Community goes meta basically every episode, but it doesn’t generally break the fourth wall, though it does lean quite hard against it.  The distinction here is that the human beings of Greendale act like they are characters on a TV show, but they don’t know that they are characters on a TV show.  In “Basic Sandwich,” Dan Harmon got as close up against that wall as he possibly could, reassuring fans that there is still more to come, even though that decision isn’t entirely within his control.  (I think there will be at least one more season.  The ratings aren’t great, but not really any worse than they’ve been.  There are just too many people invested in making the #sixseasonsandamovie prophecy true at this point.  If NBC doesn’t bite, I’ve seen rumblings that Hulu or other channels may be interested.)  Creatively, though, this decision was in his control, and I think he is invested in seeing this journey continue to the point that an asteroid would have to fall on him for it to end now.

As a regular listener of Harmontown and a regular reader/viewer of any interviews with Harmon, I have gotten a strong sense of Harmon’s philosophy, and I recognized several lines in “Basic Sandwich” as moments when the characters speaking them were essentially mouthpieces for Harmon.  Not that Community hasn’t already presented the Tao of Harmon plenty of times, but in this episode it was especially obvious and particularly special, because the Harmon stand-ins were talking to characters who were being audience stand-ins.  Take this moment of reassurance between Abed and Annie:

“Annie, look, I don’t know people.  But I know TV.  When characters feel like the show they’re on is ending, their instinct is to spin off into something safer.  In Jeff and Britta’s case, something that would last six episodes and have a lot of bickering about tweezers and gluten, starring them and an equally WASP-y brunette couple, with a title like Better With My Worse Half, or Awfully Wedded, or Tying the Knot, but “knot” is spelled without a “k,” or #CouplePeopleProblems-”
“Abed.”
“-and every episode you get to decide-”
“Abed.”
“who wins the fight by going-”
“Abed! Stop developing.”
“Sorry. The point is, this show, Annie, it isn’t just their show.  This is our show, and it’s not over.  And the sooner we find that treasure, the faster the Jeff-Britta pilot falls apart.”
“Got it. Thank you, Abed.”

Abed sells himself short here, because he has shown before that he does know people, and he knew Annie well enough to be able to tell her exactly what she needed to hear in this moment.  Perhaps what Abed means is that he doesn’t know people by means of people-to-people interactions, but by the lessons he has learned through watching TV.  Abed’s rattling off of potential spin-off titles gives this moment away as one in which he is essentially being Dan Harmon (who can come up with fake titles at the drop of a hat), and he is speaking to Annie as the audience.  When some people began watching Community in Season 1, they were turned off by it, because they didn’t want another sitcom centered around a typical bickering couple.  With the potential of Jeff/Britta rekindled this season, it is time for the response to that reservation to be stated again: if you don’t like the focus on Jeff/Britta because you don’t think they’re a good pair, well, Jeff might actually end up paired off with somebody else.  Or if you don’t like it because you don’t want the show’s focus to be romantic, well, it’s really about the entire group, anyway.

Annie serves as an audience surrogate throughout the episode, in one instance practically repeating verbatim what Jeff/Annie shippers have been yelling over recent developments.  Her cry of “You guys are ridiculous together!” may have been partially motivated by her own feelings for Jeff, but it is also not an uncommon opinion among their friends and viewers that Jeff and Britta’s constant sniping isn’t exactly the hallmark of the most romantic of relationships.  Her insistence that nobody even acknowledge their announcement paired with the Dean’s comparison of it to an hour-long episode of The Office also make it resoundingly clear that Jeff and Britta are being a distraction to a crazy scheme that might actually save Greendale.

Apparently, not everybody is happy with Community returning to the well of that old sitcom standby, the love triangle.  But Community has taken on so many old sitcom standbys and given them its own spin.  And its take on the love triangle is not the typical one.  Annie wasn’t even a part of the triangle in Season 1.  In Season 2, the triangle kind of existed, but because of information that remained hidden for a while, it played out with a lot of dramatic irony.  And then it was essentially no longer a triangle in Seasons 3 and 4.

Season 5, romance-wise, has been the year of rekindled feelings, or the realization of feelings that never went away.  By my interpretation, Britta has always been the safe choice for Jeff, the type of girl he has always pursued, while Annie has been the one he feels more passionately towards, so passionately that it scares him a little (or a lot), and he has never directly admitted it to anyone (though scenes that have taken place in his head or his heart have made his feelings clear to the audience).  Jeff has always felt protective of Annie, to the point that he wants to protect her from himself.  He worries about the influence he would have on her if he were to act on his feelings.  But in “Basic Sandwich,” she gets to show him with a Winger Speech of her own how positively he has influenced her:

“We were driven down here by sellouts with crappy values.  Since when do human beings decide which dreams are worthwhile?  Look at him.  He’s one of us.  We have to respect each other enough to let each other want what we want, no matter how transparently self-destructive or empty our desires may be.”

Ostensibly, she is making the case that saving Greendale isn’t worth taking advantage of Russell Borchert, Greendale’s first Dean (a barely recognizable Chris Elliott, who, with a full beard, crazy curly hair, and thick glasses, looked more like Marc Maron than himself), and that they should just allow him to keep living underground with his beloved computer, Raquel.  It would only be right, seeing as how they’ve been living their lives indulging each other’s craziness.  With a preponderance of the reaction shots on Jeff during this speech, it is clear what else Annie is also talking about.  She loves Jeff, and she loves him enough to say that even though she thinks he and Britta are ridiculous for each other, she is willing to allow him to make that decision.  She is also talking to herself, allowing herself to still have the feelings that have brought her a lot of pain.

I have seen some people characterize Jeff’s proposal to Britta as a selfish move, which I don’t see.  I think in a moment of panic he really thought that decision was best not just for himself, but for everybody.  For much of this season, Jeff has been freaking out about the current state of his life.  I have wished that we could have seen more direct manifestations of this than we have gotten, but the past few episodes have made it clear just how scared he has been.  So, selfish? No. But cowardly? Absolutely.  Jeff finally reveals how much passion he has been bottling up when he offers a “blast of human passion” to shock Raquel’s mainframe into a cold start.

The passion that Jeff provides could have been that which he has for the entire group, or that which he has just for Annie.  I know I may be biased towards seeing it as the latter, but I think there were certain clues that make that the right interpretation.  I’m assuming that Jeff guesses what everyone is thinking (as opposed to actually reading their minds).  He doesn’t respond to what the Dean or Britta, but with Annie, he actually initiates their “conversation.”  The mainframe doesn’t start up gradually, but rather, it responds only after Jeff looks at Annie.  One could argue that the build of his love for each group member contributed even though it didn’t show right away.  Either way, Jeff thought it was his feelings for Annie, as he nervously looked away from her when everybody turned around.  Perhaps it was his passion for the whole group, but it was also his passion for Annie a little (or a lot) more than everybody else.  The perpetually noncommittal Community still didn’t commit to any romantic decision, but it did allow itself to say as much as it definitively could by indirect means.

With all this discussion of the romantic subtext, I haven’t really gotten around to discussing the actual plot, which was basically non-stop effervescence.  I must admit here, though, my one problem with this episode was its lack of Shirley, who really didn’t have much to do all season and remains the one main character Dan Harmon continues to struggle to figure out what to do with.  She did manage to make the most of her screentime this episode, getting in a good zinger at Hickey about fighting at City Hall, for one.

The whole Goonies idea of an adventure falling into the group’s lap, instead of having to go find one as usual, tracked well.  Although, it must be said that even though Abed usually has to impose a pop-culture framework on the plot, it’s not like Greendale is lacking in adventure.  But the point is made that with this story coming to them, it is clear that these stories are not going to stop coming.

Ultimately, the search for Russell Borchert allows Community the show to re-state its purpose.  Borchert disappeared underground because he worried that the rise of computers would lead to “emotionless eggheads” at the top of society doing their best to get rid of all feelings among the so-called “idiots” at the bottom.  Borchert strikes me as the hermetic version of Dan Harmon.  They both rail against the cold logic of the system, and even though they are both logical, they both know in their guts there has to something more than that.  A singular focus on logic leads to a soul-crushing standardized formula for everything.  Amazingly, though, after decades of computerization, it is the Russell Borchert’s of the world who have been proven right.  I actually teared up when Britta offered the cat video as proof that humanity isn’t hopeless.  Never before has a troll-filled comment section looked so beautiful.

With the re-emergence of Russell Borchert, and with the study groupers confronting some of their deepest feelings, Greendale is not only saved, but reinvigorated.  As a season finale, this was my favorite thus far.  As a series finale, it wouldn’t kill me, but there’s more to this story. #sixseasonsandamovie #BOOYAH A

And now, the bullet-point portion of the review:
-The tag was well-trod territory, of the sort we’ve seen more often on 30 Rock than Community.  Bu it was perfectly updated to 2014 levels, with “Depends On What Fails” serving as the perfect tagline.
-“Am I thinking what you’re thinking?”
-“Today’s now is yesterday’s soon.”
-Russell Borchert invented the 9-track cassette and was an anti-deodorant activist.
-“What the hell’s your penis look like?” “Obviously a cluster of buildings, so let’s all have a big laugh at the freak.”
-“Oh, look, it’s Jeff Winger, Fun Police, here to pull over our smiles, cause our mouths have tinted windows.”
-“Married?  We’re gonna need way more doves than this,” says a freshly electrocuted Duncan.
-“That’s right.  We got names.”
-“It’s only as dangerous as whoever invited you.”
-Alison Brie sounded like she slipped into a bit of a Valley Girl accent when Abed told Annie he thought she was about to start a kiss-lean.  “I was not.  That would be, like, so totally grody.”
-All the 70’s-era details were delightful (basketball cards with white people, “Open the Door” by the Secret Doors, Donald Sutherland vs. Elliott Gould).
-When Borchert is revealed, the music sounds like that from The Thing.
-Jeff loses track of how big he’s getting (meta).  The Dean doesn’t.
-“I think I’m just mentally ill.”
-“You know what? You guys can have my food and water.” Annie is awesome even when she sounds defeated.
-An example of true perfection: Chang dropping his sunglasses while interrogating Hickey and Shirley