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Saying goodbye to a beloved character is never easy, but it makes things hurt just a bit less when the farewell is handled as incredibly well as this. When the announcement was made over the summer that Donald Glover would be departing Community five episodes into the fifth season, we were all saddened by the thought of Abed having to exist without Troy. And, quite frankly, Troy has always been the one truly likeable character on the series. His innocent confusion is endearing rather than grating, and his constant optimism is always able to shine some much needed light on the often sarcastic study group. So, his goodbye episode had to be huge and amazing to celebrate the great character that is Troy Barnes. And boy was it.
Naturally, the central core of the episode is built around Abed’s difficulty in saying goodbye to his best friend. And when Abed is unable to process the events around him, he invents some sort of game or conceit to help explore those difficult emotions (such as the claymation Christmas episode). Here, it’s a campus-wide game of Hot Lava. Much like with the paintball episodes (the good ones- not the horrible paintball resurrection of last season), the “fun” game quickly dissolves into a hellish world. The episode provides a bevvy of pop culture references, and it certainly hits the right comedic notes. But the major highlight of the half hour is what we learn about Troy, Abed, and (most surprisingly) Britta.
The incredible friendship between Troy and Abed has been one of the backbones of the series. The pair are often responsible for the show’s best (and most out there) gags, and the chemistry between Donald Glover and Danny Pudi is extraordinary. The thought of breaking the pair up was hard to fathom and even harder to watch. But, as with season four’s “Basic Human Anatomy” (which saw Troy and Abed “switch bodies” to allow Troy to avoid breaking up with Britta), when one of the pair is dealing with a particularly hard emotional change, the other is there to help shepherd his buddy through. This time it was Troy’s turn to help Abed.
It was pretty clear from the beginning of the episode that Troy would need to realize that Abed was in pain over his departure. But that didn’t make it any less poignant to see the realization dawning on Troy’s face that there is nothing he can truly do to protect Abed from his departure. Saying goodbye to a friend is an important part of growing up (and, after all, the trip around the world was couched as a chance for Troy to become a man). On a show that can veer into the meta quickly, Community rarely forgets that the most impactful and touching lessons can be the most universal.
The other really awesome part of the episode is its treatment of Britta. Next to Annie, Britta is the hardest character to write for. There isn’t much for her to do beyond advocate for ridiculous causes or Britta everything up. And she’s often the group’s punching bag. So it is a really cool change to see her actually on target about Abed’s reasons behind the Hot Lava game (granted, I don’t doubt for a second that every viewer was aware of the reasoning behind the game, but still- it’s Britta), while the rest of the study group becomes seduced by the madness sweeping the school.
Her selfless desire to help Abed at the close of the episode is a nice play on her usual selfish need to diagnose various maladies and receive validation. Working alongside Troy to “clone” Abed, and trying to understand what might bring him back from the “dead” presents a nice juxtaposition to her actions in “Basic Human Anatomy,” which saw her trying (and failing miserably) to get Abed to admit that he was uncomfortable with Troy and Britta’s relationship (when it was really Troy having the difficulties). Britta will still be a screw up and still maintain her misguided belief that she is the best psychologist in Colorado, but it was great to see her step beyond that image and do some real good.
— I will admit that I teared up a bit during Troy’s final set of goodbyes. Apparently “Come Sail Away” makes me teary, just like it does for Troy.
— It was great to see Levar Burton back (one final gift from Pierce)- and that clone Troy is able to talk to him. And, really, why is it called Star Trek when they only ever visit planets?
— One of my favorite pop culture references has to be Chang leading the “Locker Boys” dressed suspiciously like Rufio from Hook. Rufiooooooo!
— And Chang’s same sex crush is Nathan Fillion? Lucky for him Fillion will be appearing later in the season.
— I’m interested to see how the group’s dynamic changes without Troy. There is going to be an entirely empty side to the study room table now. Will someone join the group?