Community: Journey to the Center of Hawkthorne

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NBC's clumsy handling of Community's third season came to a head during last night's three-episode dump, including the season finale.

By itself, the first of the three ("Digital Estate Management") would have made for a fine standalone episode, and easily one of the best of the season. This is probably why NBC stuck an episode of 30 Rock between it and the two final episodes.

Yeah, probably.

Despite expulsion and Chang's tightening grip over Greendale, the gang accompany Pierce to a warehouse where his dead father's assistant Gilbert (Giancarlo Esposito) tells him dad designed a video game for Pierce, per his wish for video game money in 1979. It's called "Journey to the Center of Hawkthorne," and the first player to reach the Cornelius's throne wins Pierce's inheritance. It's like Scott Pilgrim meets Dig-Dug.

It's a terrific episode, more so if you're a gamer. It's the little touches, like Pierce's avatar running into a corner, or Annie and Shirley inadvertently killing the blacksmith and his wife. And then there are Cornelius's own bigoted in-game creations, like the Lazy Forest (with tacos) or Gay Island (with cock and balls). But the best part was Abed's romancing in-game character Hilda and creating an army of child slaves. His own child slaves.

The study group team up, of course, and help Gilbert win the game. Gilbert is Pierce's half-brother, as it turns out, though of course their father never admitted it. That done, it's time for margaritas.

The first of the final two episodes was "The First Chang Dynasty." The gang wants to free Dean Pelton from Chang and his newly fascist Greendale, but Officer Cackowski informs them they can't go within 50 feet of the school. Troy approaches the Air Conditioning Repair Annex for assistance and Manny offers their help...for a price: Troy's enrollment in a/c school.

The gang refuses to let Troy do it, so the only other option is an Elaborate heist, the high point of which is Jeff and Britta as "goth magician" Ricky Nightshade and his assistant. I really think Joel McHale tries to get his shirt off every episode, like Matthew McConaughey. The plan fails, then succeeds, then fails again. In the end, and in order to foil Chang's plan to blow up the school and destroy all record of his crimes, Troy agrees to enroll in a/c school, where he is welcomed with open arms by Vice Dean Laybourne (John Goodman).

And finally (and fittingly), it's time for the actual season finale, "Introduction to Finality." Dean Pelton announces that Greendale has agreed to put Shirley's sandwich shop in the empty cafeteria space, which causes instant friction with Pierce, who wants to co-sign because he provided all the funding. They split. Annie is annoyed Jeff just wants to get his degree and not get involved. She splits. And Britta splits because it's Abed's first therapy session. Meanwhile, Abed has a visitor. Evil Abed, who is bent on turning the current timeline much, much darker. His (verbal) evisceration of Britta, like a bearded Hannibal Lecter, is a thing of beauty.

Laybourne shows Troy around the Annex, which has more in common with a Masonic temple than a trade school. He also shows Troy their...bible(?) and explains his belief that Troy will become "The Truest Repairman" ("The Truest Repairman will repair...man"). Unfortunately, Laybourne is almost immediately killed in a routine a/c repair, leading to Manny's promotion. He dismisses Troy from the school, but Troy has other ideas, and challenges Manny to a contest in the Sun Chamber, basically a hot box where two repairmen attempt to fix their respective air-conditioning units before dying of heatstroke.

Meanwhile, Pierce takes Shirley to court. His lawyer Alan (Rob Corddry) is the guy who ratted Jeff out and got him disbarred. This probably motivates him more than Pierce intended, though in reality, all Jeff has to do is goad Pierce into telling exactly three racist jokes. Unfortunately, Alan is now head of the firm, and he tells Jeff to throw the case. Doubtful. This is Community, which for all its usual wit and stylistic genius is still generally as sappy as Full House.

Evil Abed is thwarted by Jeff's courtroom heroics, Troy defeats Manny (did anyone else notice Dennis's take on Dr. Dealgood from Beyond Thunderdome?), and Troy is now the messiah of the a/c Annex. In a final montage, which almost feels thrown together after news of the series' renewal, we see: Jeff beginning to search for his father, Dean Spreck plotting a war on Greendale (with Chang looking on from the air vent) and the disassembly (and smaller reassembly) of the Dreamatorium.

A mere fourth season likely won't be enough for Community fans, though aside from Troy's new story arc, it remains to be seen where they're going to go from here. Dan Harmon is also ready for more, as the hashtag "#sixseasonsandamovie" greeted viewers as the show ended.

Nice as it was to have three episodes in one night, it wasn't an ideal way to end the season. Ordinarily I'd say NBC should've spread them out to maximize advertising, but then, Community's ratings have been trending lower since the second half of this season. Given that, expecting three more years -- and a feature film -- seems a bit of a stretch.

What would The Truest Repairman do?

Best Evil Abed Action:

Either popping the kid's balloon (what's a kid doing at Greendale?) with a cigarette or his turnaround on the desirability of being the center slice of a cheese pizza.

Out-of-Context Quotes:

"I guess there's no hug button."

"It's time for your reward, brother. Now get in there and kill our dad."

"Not a lot of people get a second chance. Just you, and probably Obama."

"Do you know how long someone as sarcastic as me would last in prison? Suuuch a long time."

"Swamis can't drive! They're Indian!"

"This is my Limpken wrench. There are many like it, but this one is mine."

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