Community: “Cooperative Polygraphy”- Another Excellent Outing
A few seasons ago, in an episode entitled "Cooperative Calligraphy," the study group was confined to the study room while they searched in vain for Annie's missing pen (and, more importantly, spent the half hour exposing secrets and fighting amongst themselves, thereby showing that the group had changed little despite assertions to the contrary). "Cooperative Polygraphy" marks Community
's second foray into the realm of the bottle episode, and it is just as successful as its first.
Rather than remaining tethered to their seats in search of a pen, this time the impetus for their stationary imprisonment is Pierce's final attempt to mess with the group - one last chance to tear them apart and expose their transgressions (and one final opportunity for Pierce to call Jeff "gay"). Following Pierce's funeral, the group returns to the study room, contrite and discussing how much they will miss Pierce (cue Chang's spot-on assessment that none of them actually liked Pierce, which draws the expected nay saying responses and denials- perfectly setting up the remaining half hour). When Mr. Stone (an excellently cast Walter Goggins) arrives and tells the group that Pierce's will indicates that an inquest into his death should be opened to determine if the study group killed him, everyone but Jeff is game to honor Pierce's final request.
Of course, Pierce wants the group hooked up to a lie detector to make sure they all tell the truth - after all, the group would never actually lie to each other, right? It turns out that despite spending five years together, everyone still has plenty of secrets left (as well as plenty of lies they have told over the course of that time to expose). And Pierce's questions, while sparking some major truth telling, are simply the spark that ignites the fire of honesty that emerges.
Despite being the looked down upon by everyone he once considered his friends, Pierce certainly managed to observe what makes the group tick. He found out that none of them actually truly trusts the others (except poor Troy, who is often far too trusting), and that there are still plenty of prejudices that exist amongst the friends. He also knew that asking certain questions would spark even more fighting among the group, once again creating the chaos he relished while alive (because while the remaining members of the group all have their faults, Pierce hated being thought of as less than the group - and this final test gave him one last opportunity to gloat at their combined inability to outsmart him).
As with the best Community
episodes, the zingers fly fast and furiously, and the tension appropriately builds until Jeff tries to blame Pierce for their fighting one more time. Mr. Stone's comment that Pierce hasn't actually asked a question in some time is sobering. Once Pierce's game has yielded all the bickering it can possibly achieve, the real point of the will is revealed: Pierce has left each person something. And, just as Pierce knows what will anger the group, he also knows what will make each one happy. He compliments everyone, bestowing truly lovely gifts (as well as some of his sperm, which I'm sure will be appreciated as well). We see, for one last time, that beneath his gruff (and racist and sexist) exterior there was a pretty nice guy. It is a fitting send off to Pierce, and a strong set-up for next week's swan song for Troy.
-- I liked the use of Chang this week. He's a character that needs to be used sparingly, and I think Harmon knows that now.
-- I was less happy to see no Dean. Granted, the Dean and Pierce never really interacted, but I missed him.
-- The gift to Troy of the boat "Childish Tycoon" sets up Troy's exit nicely. By sailing around the world, it allows for Donald Glover to return in the future, should that be possible. Nice name choice for the boat, too, as "Childish Gambino" is Glover's rap persona.
-- Hearing each of the compliments Pierce left for the group (even his comment that he never actually understood Abed, which we all knew to be the truth) was wonderful. They each fit perfectly with the relationship Pierce had with the character, especially his fondness for Annie and his fatherly affection for Troy.
-- What this episode really shows us is that the group, despite various claims that they've become better people, still have a lot of growing left to do. Each character still maintains the essential flaw at the core of their character (Jeff is vain and narcissistic, Shirley is judgmental- despite claiming to be a true Christian, Abed takes actions without trying to understand their impact on other, etc.). But, unlike at earlier points in the series, the characters now recognize that these are problems they each possess. Which is certainly progress.