by Thom Yee
5×04: “Cooperative Polygraphy”
For those of us who have stuck by Community over these long and, sometimes, arduous five years, we should all feel grateful that, even though we weren’t always laughing, even though we weren’t always in on the joke, even though we weren’t always happy, we’ve really… really learned a lot from watching it. Like what bottle episodes are.
Even more than last week’s episode, “Cooperative Polygraphy” is an incredibly insular episode of a show that’s proven itself to be almost invulnerable to the prospect of gaining new viewers. It’s an episode that commits the cardinal sin of tell, don’t show, but it does it in such an introspective and understanding way that, if you’re deeply invested in these characters, it still draws hysterics.
After so many faked heart attacks and insidious plans, there’s a part of me that remained unconvinced that Pierce was really dead at the end of last week’s “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics”. But after “Cooperative Polygraphy” got so much meaningful material and overarching story progression in telling the execution of Pierce’s will this week, pulling the ol’ switcheroo on Pierce’s death would really undermine the overall integrity of the show. Despite its liberties and elasticities with realism, Community is still a show built in a realistic world on a realistic premise.
Truth be told, Pierce is a character I never really got. I guess part of that is that I’ve never found Chevy Chase funny (I always skipped the last day of school before Christmas mostly because I didn’t want to watch Christmas Vacation again), but even more than that, I always felt like the writers never had a proper handle on the character. Despite being racist, he was never very egregious; despite being messed up and evil, he was never that bad; and despite being the oldest, he was never very wise. But it’s Jeff’s monologue this week that really showed me what Pierce was there for: to show us that none of us are that much worse (or better) than anyone else. We all have things we believe about ourselves despite evidence to the contrary, and we all have things we need to believe about ourselves, damn the evidence to the contrary. Or at least that’s the truth that I chose to take from the episode.
The genius of “Cooperative Polygraphy”, particularly given the goings-on behind the show and the resultant dismissals, firings and rehirings, is that it gives new meaning, respect, and even heightened levels of sentiment to a character and a show that [admit it] we’ve all gotten just a little bit tired of. It’s actually an episode that makes you feel a little bit better about Pierce, Community, and possibly even yourself after having watched it. The show may have ended on an overtly sweet note that both came out of left field and felt absolutely right even as it gave the the inevitable out we had all been dreading to Donald Glover’s Troy, but it’s surprising how genuinely uplifting it was overall.
And all it took were the kindly words and honest reflections of a racist, messed up, evil old man.
Community “Cooperative Polygraphy” final score: 9.5
Items of Note:
-I really like how Chang’s more-or-less converted back to his season one form — sarcastic, unaffected teacher who hovers around the study group without being part of it.
-Jeff after finding out that Troy and Abed use his Netflix account: “Is that why my review of The Grey is always changing?”
-“Adrian Grody”. God I love Annie.
-Troy accepting Pierce’s challenge: “Pierce was a crazy, old coot, yeah, but… I think he knew something about me that even I didn’t know until now. Because he’s offering me something I’ve been searching for my whole life: Millions of dollars. And… being a man or… whatever he said.”