I honestly loved every second of this episode. For me, it was perfect.
What I appreciated the most about this season 4 finale was how it functioned as a mirror to how the show started. In the beginning, Jeff was anxiously trying to run back to his sleazy lawyer job and, as a natural reflection to being that guy, doing and saying whatever he could to get what he wanted. He formed the study group, after all, to go after “Hot Blonde Spanish Class”. But the study group became more than just names and faces. They became people and friends and family…
…and Jeff had to face leaving not only its safety, but having to confront his former self.
In Remedial Chaos Theory, when he rolled the die he was trying to get out of something. In this episode, when he rolled the die, he was trying to get out of something too – this time the pressures of what Abed might label “an impossible situation”. How do you leave when part of you wants to stay? How do you go back to who you’re not anymore?
Evil Jeff is easy. Evil Jeff does what he wants without any consideration for the rules (Evil Jeff wants Evil Annie to be even younger after all.). To return to his old job, he would have to become that Jeff again, turning away from everything his Greendale Family has given him all these years.
Some might say that it’s unlike Jeff to be the one to carry the Darkest Timeline narrative. But I think that in this episode it was fitting. Most of Community‘s story lines are outrageous, but, within the fine stitchings of the Dean’s Gone with the Wind(ows) outfit and the blueprint complexities of pillow forts and blanket forts, it’s Greendale’s version of reality. But the craziest story lines, the ones that manipulate time and space, are usually Abed’s, accompanied by his various Companions. So for me, the true line between reality and fiction on Community is the ultimate fiction – science fiction. It made sense that it was Jeff who had this crazy Darkest Timeline narrative running through his mind and not Abed’s. The Jeff we first met could never have let his imagination run amuck like if he was in the Dreamatorium. He’s only known how to be this way because of Abed and Troy. It’s driven him crazy over the years, but as Basic Human Anatomy (aka “Freaky Friday”) recently showed us, he’s also come to understand its need for both Abed and Troy. And, for once, it was him that needed it.
Part of why I love this, is because we got to travel through Jeff’s mind, we get a glimpse of how Jeff sees the other characters, some of it through “good” Jeff’s eyes and actions and others as interpreted by Evil Jeff’s actions.
Abed: In previous seasons, when Abed needed to escape into virtual landscapes, Jeff was always the sarcastic and cynical voice of reluctant assistance in those moments, even as he became better at “playing along” as the years went by. I think Jeff needing to “go Abed” on this one was kind of wonderful because this time, he needed to rely on Abed to help him find his way out. Although this was all running through Jeff’s mind, he couldn’t get out of it without Abed taking the charge. In fact, he needed the strength of two Abeds to reconcile it all and not let the evil side win. I also wonder since there was no real Evil Abed, if perhaps in Jeff’s mind he doesn’t think there could be one.
Dean: At some point, the Dean is crying his eyes out in a wedding dress after Evil Jeff tells him terrible things, so terrible that the Dean would push him away (“How DARE you!”). Although he’s dismissive of the Dean at times, what Evil Jeff tells the Dean are things that good Jeff knows are the Dean’s insecurities and fears. We know through this that “good” Jeff would never tell the Dean these things, that while Jeff can at times be mean and callous, he accepts the Dean for whoever he is, including his penchant for thematic costume changes and, reluctantly, a particular spot of Jeff’s chest.
Chang/Kevin: And while the Dean would probably not mind something more than acceptance from Jeff, Chang/Kevin has emerged as always desiring just that – to be accepted in the study group. Having had that happen in Heroic Origins, we get a lovely moment in the Darkest Timeline Battle: Jeff envisions that Chang would “take a bullet for him” in the name of “friendship”. Talking about Chang – I see what I did there 🙂 – it’s hard not to check this against season 1’s Modern Warfare, where Chang is the one rolling out the big guns in the end against Jeff, even willing to carry a paintball bomb into the fight. That Chang would have handed Evil Jeff another gun.
Pierce: I’ll take a moment now to just talk about Pierce. At first I was a little disappointed here as Pierce seemed like his same old self, and I really loved him in Herstory of Dance and in Economics of Marine Biology. But now that I think about it, I really think it’s very significant that he graduated – and “before” Jeff. We know that Pierce has spent a long time trying to accomplish things and never fully succeeding. But in his recent ability to make more than passable and doable banners in 25 minutes, coupled with the knowledge of him taking several classes over again, it’s likely that underneath all that, he knows more than he lets on or gives himself credit for. And I’m glad that this is how Pierce leaves the show – with a long-awaited and longed for sense of accomplishment.
Annie: I wondered a bit at how Abed’s vision of the darkest timeline would align with Jeff’s – the part of Evil Jeff and Evil Annie. While Annie has grown up a bit (and I’ll try to tread lightly here for the many “Jeff and Annie” fans), the show has always carried with the potential “Jeff and Annie” pairing, a thin layer of taboo. In their first kiss, she was labeled (and acted like) a teenager and later labels him as “creepy”. In Geography of Global Conflict, some confusing mix of fatherly/brotherly protectiveness and romantic interest. In Remedial Chaos Theory, Annie brings up a reminder of her dad as they kissed in one of the timelines. There’s an attraction there and Jeff’s always been conflicted. But meanwhile, Annie has grown up (even including the events of Conventions of Space and Time)…and we see this recognition in the invasion of the Darkest Timeline in Jeff’s mind. Evil Jeff takes what he wants and a part of Jeff has wanted her. Evil Annie would want Evil Jeff because she hasn’t taken the time to grow up. But real Annie has grown up. She’s still a perfectionist and crazy competitive, but she’s more focused and driven in a (mostly) healthier way. Real Annie is intrigued that their evil counterparts have sex, but her relationship with Jeff is deeper than that and grown up from school girl crushes and attraction….whatever it might be. That physical intrigue, once enough, is not enough anymore. She deserves more than that and they’re both better than that.
Shirley: I’ve loved Jeff and Shirley’s friendship in this series. There’s never been any romantic entanglements to complicate them that way (’cause you know, she intimidates him sexually), so I love the up’s and down’s of their friendship and how each has helped each other grow. After all, they bonded together over gossip like girlfriends in Social Psychology. Shirley’s helped Jeff be a more humble person and he’s helped her be a more confident person, like in Comparative Religion when he wouldn’t fight and then she relented for them to go all right in. In my one-single watching of the finale, what I remember about Shirley is that she came up with idea for a sandwich cart and that she shot her doppelganger with a “no fuss” attitude and some advice to get help. And so I see in that, how Jeff sees Shirley and how she’s grown. She’s no longer this struggling single mom, trying to learn business, and as fixated on her husband. She’s no longer aiming all over the place and not being sure where she needs to shoot at or for. She is no longer just defined by her family roles and her marriage status. She has a business. She is innovative. She is a strong person. In Jeff’s mind, you do not mess with Shirley.
Troy: As for Troy, he had some of the best lines in this episode, but I loved his scene in the Darkest Timeline against his doppelgänger Where Shirley was direct, Troy was clever and cunning. In Jeff’s mind, Troy’s smart and strategic. Sure, he still comes up with things like the “Troy-jan Horse Sandwich”, but he’s no longer a dumb football player jock who stands where he’s told to; he leads and calls his own plays…and he wins.
Britta: As for Britta, we see both sides of her “Britta” the timeline battle, which was funny, but at the same time, there’s a mark difference to the “Britta-ing”. Evil Britta does something ditzy and gets paint on her. Real Britta is standing up for herself – literally – like she has too often stood up more for others, animals, and her gender in the past. But maybe – just maybe – it was Britta that was the only one who could start the Timeline Battle because it’s Britta that pushes Jeff forward, to move past things, to grow. Before the “darkest timeline” began, he reached out to Britta for help. We saw her help him before, at Thanksgiving, but it was accepted by Jeff with reluctance and he was still making “Britta” jokes a few episodes later. But in this episode, they were seeing eye-to-eye and Real Jeff was seeking Real Britta for advice, instead of seeking her…
…which goes to show you how far we’ve come with how this wonderful craziness began.
I am so glad to have been on this journey with these characters…and I’m really hoping that there’s still more craziness in the horizon.
Six Seasons and a Movie!