Let’s just get this out of the way first: “Advanced Introduction to Finality” did not make paintball cool again. Granted, when Abed makes this proclamation, it is not meant to be completely sincere. This particular paintball outing is supposed to look amateur, as Jeff’s imagination is not as thorough as someone like Abed. Still, it could have been more entertaining. There is a way to portray something half-assed without doing a half-assed job at it, and this wasn’t it.

The poor action sequences are disappointing, especially considering how strong “Community” has been in that area otherwise. But the rest of this episode does have plenty worth recommending. Unusual for Season 4, “AItF” had a firm grasp of the themes it wanted to explore. It did, however, have an overabundance of matters to take care of, which was typical of that year. Although, in this case, it felt more like it was due to excitement about wanting to say so much rather than a lack of focus.

One of the major criticisms of this episode is that it wasted so much of what could have been the series finale on an unnecessary return to the Darkest Timeline. But the appearances of everyone’s evil doppelgangers here was never about fan service, but instead a legitimate exploration of Jeff Winger’s psychological state at a time of conclusion and transition that he had supposedly been eagerly awaiting since the beginning of the series. It would have been nice to have a journey that included everybody in their actual corporeal form, but Jeff’s mental vision of his friends still offered an interesting exploration of these relationships.

The opening shot finds Jeff perched looking out the window at his old partner’s office, which is matched nicely by the dream sequence ending with him looking intently at the die that he chose not to throw. But before confronting his future, he envisions a scenario in which the die was resting perilously on its side. He has finally made his way back to his old, cool lawyer life, earning it with more integrity than he had planned. His crisis is manifest in his face and within his subconscious: does going back to his old life mean becoming his old self?

The “man is evil” argument from “Debate 109” has probably stuck with Jeff more than he realizes. He has made many great strides at being a good friend, opening up emotionally, and just being a decent human being, but despite all that and despite his self-confidence, there is a part of him that feels overwhelmed by his fortune, like he believes he doesn’t quite deserve it all. That certain jaded argument just naturally appealed to him. Thus, while he had initially dismissed Abed’s insistence of a darkest timeline, it should not be too surprising that the idea of a “dark Jeff” running around made sense to him.

The crisis between good Jeff and dark Jeff plays out most significantly in his interactions with prime Annie and dark Annie. (While the episode refers to the versions of the characters from the Darkest Timeline as “evil,” I prefer calling them “dark,” because they are not strictly evil. Most of them don’t have goatees!) Wariness over the age difference stopped being Jeff’s reason for avoiding anything romantic with Annie no later than Season 3, and a deeper concern stepped to the fore: he was, and likely always had been, afraid that he wasn’t good enough for her – that he would corrupt her with his bad influence.

However, it also clearly comes across that Jeff believes if he were to open up to Annie and have her feel his beating heart, then that would be all she ever wanted. But he believes that he would just screw that up, or, that is, he believes that the version of himself deadset on returning to his old lawyer life would screw it up. He does not want that regression to happen; he is just afraid that it is inevitable.

All this worry is personified by dark Annie and dark Jeff amplifying each other’s evilness. But what is really evil about these two? They want prime Jeff to embrace his old life at the expense of his friends, which is not exactly great, but that message is somewhat undercut by the united front of the dark group as a whole. Jeff cannot even imagine that the worst version of himself would not be supportive of and supported by his friends.

Dark Jeff and dark Annie unnecessarily play up the creepiness factor of their relationship, but that is kind of the joke. While the age difference is a valid concern, the idea that Annie is literally a child is supposed to be ridiculous. Besides, Joel McHale and Alison Brie play these fantasy scenarios with such relish.

Annie and Abed are the characters best-served by Jeff’s fantasy, appropriately as they have understood him on a fundamental level more so than the rest of his friends. The meeting between prime and dark Abed specifically spells out the internal conflict that is taking place. Dark Jeff has become tortured by the idea that there is a good Jeff out there. Really, the actual conflict is the opposite: the real Jeff Winger is tortured by the idea that there is still an evil Jeff bound to sow his evil deeds upon the world. It is a decent enough treat at this moment to see Abed literally rendered as the shaman that Jeff always saw him as.

While the rest of the cast could have more to do in Jeff’s head, the graduation ceremony manages to get in a touching word for the whole group. The idea that Jeff is now speechless could have been anticlimactic, but its explanation is lovely. He has always used his rhetoric to get out of things, but now he does not want to get out of what he’s in. He has become so comfortable with expressing his immeasurable love for his friends, and this is all he needs to say at this moment.

Then Pierce bursts in and demands that he graduate before Jeff, which is fair enough. It could have been a drawn-out conflict, but instead it is just accepted. It is genuinely one of the better solutions to Chevy Chase’s lack of motivation in Season 4. And ultimately overall what is achieved does not quite meet the demands of a proper finale, but at least “Advanced Introduction to Finality” stays true to the values that have defined “Community.”

One Last Thing:
-Freed from the yoke of Changnesia, this episode features some of the most acceptable Season 4 Chang moments. His decision to hook up at Jeff’s party instead of bringing a date with him is a solidly paced piece of comedy driven by obliviousness. Later, his cry of “Friendship!” as he takes a paintball shot for Jeff earns a decent laugh, and unlike the rest of this episode’s action scenes, it is impressively directed.