The series hit its Season 5 stride with “Cooperative Polygraphy,” an episode centered on our dysfunctional study group and the secrets they hide from each other. It’s the funniest of the season so far, as Pierce reaches out from his death to torment his old buddies into further bonding, as he was so well known to do.
The episode’s title is an obvious callback to Season 2’s “Cooperative Calligraphy,” as is its format. Once again, we find ourselves strictly at the study table. Pierce’s lawyer (performed brilliantly by Walton Goggins) arrives with a team of lie-detector scientists to determine who among the group, if any, was involved in Pierce’s death. So begins a series of questions that pokes at insecurities, secrets and lies, each member of the group forced to come clean if they wish to claim their inheritance. Who knew Troy stole his and Abed’s secret handshake from YouTube? Or that Annie once drugged the group with amphetamines? Apparently, Abed has been tracking each member of the group with GPS for years. Chang has done it everywhere.
While last week’s David Fincher-inspired hunt proved that the show still has what it takes in terms of high-concept parody, “Cooperative Polygraphy” does the same for what is the heart of the series: comedic dialogue between the cast. There’s little “plot,” and the episode keeps it simple. It’s strength of character that makes this week a success, and each has their moment to shine – such as Shirley and her resentment toward a particular polygraph technician.
Though the episode had as much laughs as any of this season yet, it was by far the most tender. It put to rest the spirit of one beloved character and began to wave goodbye to another, namely Troy. Pierce clearly favored Troy above any other in the group, and it shows in Pierce’s bequeathment of millions of dollars to Troy…if only Troy is able to sail Pierce’s yacht around the world. Troy agrees, setting up Donald Glover’s departure from the show to pursue his rap career – the name of the yacht sounded familiar, eh? Next week is Glover’s last episode on Community.
It might have been easy for the writers to simply drop Pierce Hawthorne in as inconspicuous a manner as possible – particularly given the way in which Chevy Chase left – but here they showed their respect to a favorite character who will be missed by fans, bringing back his spirit (and sperm) for closure. It was a chance for Pierce Hawthorne to provide his signature role and function to the group one last time. On one hand, he pestered them yet again with bigotry and chauvinism, but he was also able to teach them about themselves and each other.
Community’s farewell episode to Pierce’s spirit was a pivotal one for the series, and the writers made the right choice in focusing on the group and the interactions between them, as opposed to their more unique hijinks. “Cooperative Polygraphy” showed they still have it where it counts in terms of great character relationships, and is a standout episode that, while sad in some ways, is able to put to use the very thing that made the show great in the first place: community.
[Photo via Justin Lubin/NBC]