When Community lost Chevy Chase, I don’t think many people were distraught. That’s not Chase’s fault, but rather the writers’ (including, maybe even especially, Dan Harmon), who turned his character into a lazy caricature long ago. This week, however, sees the departure of one of the most talented performers in the cast: Donald Glover, who has made Troy Barnes so much more than the idiot jock persona he misleadingly represented in the early days of the series.
“Geothermal Escapism” (2014):
The episode opens with a going-away party for Troy, who is set to travel around the world and inherit a ton of money from the late Pierce Hawthorne. Britta, despite wrapping it up in psychobabble, makes a great point about how everyone is avoiding the fact that Troy is leaving. Abed epitomizes this, as he makes the Dean declare floor-is-lava across the campus, with the winner gaining a comic book issue worth 50,000 bucks. Britta is livid, but the announcement of the prize drives people into insanity in pretty much the exact same way as the paintball episodes.
Yeah, so this is basically another paintball episode. The structure is the same, the humor and style as well, and I seem to be the only one sick of these episodes. The writers have been here, and even if it’s good fun, it still feels run-of-the-mill this point.
Anyway, Britta is participating in order to find and attempt to bring Abed into reality, but is attacked by Ian Duncan. Jeff and Annie come to her rescue, and she decides to join them in order to survive and find Abed. The group subset finds tons of stray chairs—an integral part of survival—only to find it’s a trap set by Chang and his army of “Locker Boys.” Fortunately, none other than Troy and Abed come to save them, showing that everyone is so into this game that Britta is by far the sanest.
Then, to drag this episode out of complete redundancy, Buzz Hickey shows up with a massive tank, prepared to seriously mess everyone up. Troy and Abed abandon Britta, which gains her Buzz’s sympathy, and he balances his dedication to fake-killing everyone with a comment on how the game is making monsters out of everyone. Jonathan Banks really does have some of the best comedic timing in this show, and he added at least some dimension to this familiar territory.
Troy and Abed show up on Shirley Island, where Jeff and Annie already are hanging out, in basically a carbon copy of Pierce’s hideout in season two’s paintball episodes. Abed plays hard and straight with Shirley, but Troy is hesitant to piss off all his friends on his last day. Abed’s response clearly indicates he’s not willing to accept that this is Troy’s last day, returning us to an idea done before: Abed can’t cope with reality and thus pretends blah blah blah. Talk about old hat. Luckily, we don’t get much time to dwell on this, as Britta has joined Hickey and the leftover Locker Boys as a fake biker gang intent on fake-killing everyone.
An action sequence ensues, which is sufficiently entertaining but still so familiar that it doesn’t stick all that much. Jeff, Annie, and Shirley get knocked out. Jeff and Britta have an extended dialogue where they try to intimidate and trash talk each other, rehashing previous dialogue from episodes that did it in less concentrated doses. It’s actually funny in less concentrated doses, but maybe I’m just being picky and cranky at this point.
Troy and Abed barely escape in a human hamster ball, although Hickey slices it, forcing them to escape into a basement with Hickey and Britta en route. Abed tells Troy that this isn’t a game to him, and he sees lava, which is charted territory for Abed’s character and not terribly surprising or effective. Britta knocks out Hickey, who is in this for the money and doesn’t realize the extent to which Abed is affected; Abed recognizes that he has to fake-die by falling into fake-lava in order to end the game and come to terms with Troy’s departure.
What follows is a bit…muddled. Abed is fake-dead, and Troy takes the blame. Britta offers a suggestion of fake-cloning him, playing into the fantasy, and fake-produces a fake-clone that is able to deal with Troy leaving due to his lack of the original Abed’s “wild emotionality.” Troy admits he’s scared to leave, so Abed suggests making a fake-clone Troy, one who is confident and able to leave.
Coming back to reality, Troy says goodbye to everyone, with a touching moment for each of them: he tells Britta he loves her, and asks whether he was better at sex than Jeff (“I’ve never had worse,” she responds); he and Annie bond over their friendship, one that they missed out on in high school; he tells Jeff that he hopes to be as cool as him, and Jeff responds that he’s never even left Colorado; he thanks Shirley for being so kind and loving, and moreover a straight badass in several ways; and him and Abed share a lovely hug with the emotional breakup left in the subtext.
Troy’s boat arrives with its fellow shipmate, LeVar goddamn Burton. Troy and LeVar head off into the future, and after a stinger in which Troy gets to finally ask all the questions he’s always wanted (“Why don’t they call it Planet Trek? You never go to a star. Not one episode”), we leave the sendoff to Glover and his unforgettable time spent on the show.
“Geothermal Escapism” is not a stellar episode, and most of the emotional stuff is so familiar that it doesn’t have much effect. Troy and Abed’s departure logically is dolled up in fantasy, but the been-there-done-that feel of it and familiar dialogue concerning Abed’s inability to confront reality take away from the singular concern at the heart of the episode. There’s humor, action, and entertainment, but nothing that we haven’t seen before, leaving “Geothermal Escapism” sufficient but not particularly noteworthy.