A Community Notification For This: S1E25, “Pascal’s Triangle Revisited”

“Pascal’s Triangle Revisited” originally aired on NBC Thursday night, May 20, 2010″

One of the dirtiest little secrets of Community is that it never quite sticks the landing. Other than the series-ending “Emotional Consequences Of Broadcast Television”, i can’t think of another finale from its run that leaves me feeling more satisfied than when i started it. “For A Few Paintballs More” is probably its best regular-season finale, but even that one fails to reach the sublime heights of the penultimate “A Fistful Of Paintballs”. “Introduction To Finality” and “Basic Sandwich” are both fine episodes in their own right, but end up hampered by the weight of lore, and their obligation to awkwardly wrap up longer arcs that never really got off the ground. And then “Advanced Introduction To Finality” is just an all-around embarrassment that feels driven by pure spite, almost like it was some kind of misguided attempt to irreparably taint the brand forever.

That leaves “Pascal’s Triangle Revisited”1, which ranks somewhere in the middle of the pack as far as Community finale rankings go. Not a bad episode by any means, but far from being the most memorable, and riddled with attempts to imbue it with “finale” vibes. Like Abed repeatedly turning off the lights to the study room, trying to find the right one-liner to go out on, it just keeps throwing more and more status quo-upending stuff at you until by the end, it’s not clear what you’re supposed to be invested in anymore, or why. If it could have just picked one central conflict to focus on, maybe it could’ve avoided this sense of confusion, even if it didn’t quite provide the closure that it was seeking.

Then again, maybe the fact that the show continually teetered on the brink of cancellation during basically its entire run can account for some of its unevenness with crafting finales. Never knowing for sure whether they’ll be back again for another season must have made them want to play all the cards they could, while they had the chance. Certain developments in this episode feel a bit fast-tracked, while others feel almost as if they were pulled out of a hat2. In its attempt to involve each individual study group member in a meaningful conflict going forward, “Pascal’s Triangle Revisited” ends up losing sight of why they’ve even stuck together all this time, making them seem like less of a chosen family and more of a set of dysfunctional accomplices bound together by a mutual codependency. They’re not not that, and later episodes would explore the underlying pathology of their shared connection more effectively, but a first-season finale seems like an especially strange time to start exploring this dynamic.

Or maybe the uneven nature of this finale has more to do with the fallout from “Modern Warfare” still reverberating. Having already pulled the trigger on Britta-Jeff, and proceeding to spend the next episode ignoring it, they end up struggling to come up with a twist that could top it. Michelle Slater wanting to get back together with Jeff? Britta professing her love for Jeff in front of the whole school? Annie going to Delaware with Vaughn? All of this stuff essentially comes out of nowhere, which makes it that much more difficult to buy into. Of course, Britta and Jeff’s hookup landed so elegantly precisely because it took place during a paintball game that redefined the series as well as the world of the show, in a masterful sleight of hand. A tough act to follow, to say the least. It’s not so much that this should’ve been another concept episode, but more that it doesn’t offer much else to hold our attention, so we’re kinda just awkwardly waiting around to see how they’re gonna resolve things.

Alright, it can no longer be avoided — let’s talk about Jeff and Annie. How did something so ill-advised keep cropping back up, to the point where it was somehow STILL the protagonist’s core dilemma in the very last episode of the show? Someone must have really wanted this to happen. Everyone involved seemed to realize it was a really, really bad idea, from the characters themselves to the writers, yet they never seemed able to put it to rest entirely, continuing to milk it over the years for everything from joke fodder to contemplative moments to increasingly uncomfortable fantasy sequences. Beyond the questionable nature of the relationship itself, what’s most frustrating about the decision to end the episode on this note is that it essentially recycles the same story beat from “Modern Warfare”. You know you’re in trouble when “Jeff Winger makes out with someone” starts to feel like a go-to move.

It’s unfortunate the last episode has to sour things this way, because otherwise this first season has generally been a genuine joy to revisit. Looking back, Community developed exactly the way i hoped it would upon viewing the pilot — and in a lot of ways i could never have predicted, of course. While i can be sympathetic to those who feel the show got too insular and in-jokey over the years, those criticisms decidely don’t apply to this season, which finds Community at the most welcoming it will ever be. Greendale always made me feel like i was already accepted from the start, and i can only lament there weren’t more people who felt that way at the time. The continued existence of streaming models seems to have hyperinflated the value of beloved legacy shows like Friends and The Office, and if it’s too much to hope for that Community will ever accumulate a comparable-sized audience, at least this seems to guarantee there will still be a place for it on our screens and in our hearts.

NOTES/QUOTES

⁃ End tag: Abed’s video yearbook, not featuring a whole bunch of Greendale students who paid good money only to find out they’re not even in it. Somehow functions better as a season-ending wrap-up than any of the plot contrivances from the actual episode

⁃ John Oliver’s back! Feels like Ian Duncan hasn’t been on this show since its earliest episodes, and he promptly enters into a feud with Chang that continues into the following season. They always seemed to want to do more with the character than they were able to, as he drifts in and out of “recurring guest” status over the years

⁃ My review of “Romantic Expressionism” may have erroneously stated that Vaughn made his final appearance there, when it was really in this episode. While this can easily be written off as a careless mistake on my part, i think it also speaks to how unnecessary it was to have him appear onscreen in this one. It’s also the last we’ll ever see of Professor Michelle Slater, who was presumably needed back at her home planet

⁃ As a trans person, gotta say i’m super not thrilled the episode makes a big running gag out of the dance being named after a transphobic slur. Netflix kicked Chang’s dark elf to the curb, but this one doesn’t matter, i guess. If i’m taking something positive away from the whole thing, it’s that there’s no way in hell a show would do something like this today without facing massive backlash so…. yay?

⁃ And that’s gonna be it for Community season one. Thank you so much for taking this trip with me. Writing about this show is my favorite thing that i do here, and just knowing that people are reading and responding, whether it’s 5 of you or 50, makes it more than worth my time. i’m taking a little break from this feature for now and planning to return for Community season two in July. Thank you, thank you, thank you

GARRETT: It’s called “chillaxing”! Duh!

ANNIE: i can’t believe i made it through my first year of college. i finally get to hit send on so many “i told you so” e-mails

SHIRLEY: i’m taking the boys on a trip. Money’s tight, so i hope i can convince them for one more year that motels are tiny little theme parks

TROY: i hope he transfers to hell!

BRITTA: i’ll save you some time. He listens to you talk for a year, then recommends a makeover

CHANG: i will find a loophole…. then i’ll kill you

TROY: ….Am i Black Boobs?

DEAN (slow-dancing with a Dalmatian): Do you believe in soulmates?

BRITTA: Jeff needs a girl who doesn’t just not wear underwear because Oprah told her it would spice things up. He needs a girl who doesn’t wear underwear because she hasn’t done laundry in three weeks. He’s been to Flavor Country now. They should retire the table we did it on

TROY: My friendship with Abed is a giant cookie!

STAR-BURNS: Bring Conan back!

DUNCAN (rapping): i’ve got a real big penis and i drink lots of tea

LEONARD: What a year. Only two pregnancy scares