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‘Community’ Review: “Geothermal Escapism”

Community Geothermal Escapism
NBC

On tonight’s all-new episode of ‘Community,’ it’s time to bid farewell to Donald Glover, as Abed prepares an epic going-away event for his best friend Troy on the eve of his departure from Greendale. Meanwhile, what should be a fun game for everyone predictably devolves into competitive madness in this fantastic apocalypse-themed episode. It’s the end of the world as Abed knows it, after all.

It’s only fitting that ‘Community’ would send Troy off with a big theme episode, so in “Geothermal Escapism” we get just that when Abed constructs a giant contest of “the ground is hot lava” at Greendale, making a childhood game of imagination into something highly competitive, with his most valuable comic book as the prize.

And for once Britta is onto something and her speculative psychology is on-point: Abed is merely using the game as an avoidance tactic … kind of. It’s not so much an avoidance tactic as the game itself morphs into a metaphor in real-time for how Abed is feeling about Troy’s departure — it’s the end of the world, as reflected in the apocalyptic, ‘Mad Max’ nature of Greendale, with the students split up into factions, impressively improvising their own mythologies and gang cultures. I’m especially fond of Hickey’s use of a big, industrial floor-waxing machine to demolish his opponents, and Troy and Abed placing themselves in a literal and metaphorical bubble to insulate themselves from danger.

But at the heart of everything is the hot lava itself, which represents Abed’s inability to let go. If he can throw himself into the hot lava and accept that Troy is moving on, and that Troy is doing what he feels is best for himself, then Abed can realize that it’s not so bad — the lava will disappear, and he’ll realize it’s actually not so painful once he hits the ground. It’s the fear of the unknown, of living a life without this person that’s been a constant component and source of happiness and comfort. Troy and Abed’s friendship is just like any other relationship, and Troy’s departure is basically like a break-up for Abed. The worst part of a break-up is the fear, the not knowing how you’ll live your life without someone who’s been such a major part of it for so long. The hot lava is Abed’s fear.

Some of my favorite episodes of ‘Community’ have focused on the relationship between Abed and Troy, and although season 4 wasn’t so great, I was charmed by the body-swapping episode and how it examined Troy and Abed’s co-dependency and the poignancy of such a tight bond. “Geothermal Escapism” provides a beautiful capper for their friendship, and I hope it’s not the last we see of Donald Glover on the show. With NBC’s recent hints that a sixth season is “quite possible,” it would be lovely see Glover at least make a couple of guest appearances should the show be renewed.

There’s so much sweetness and sincerity to watching Britta help Troy make a fake clone of Abed after he fake-dies, since it’s the only way that he can truly cope with Troy leaving. He has to compartmentalize his feelings, and although he faced his fears and jumped into the lava and found that the floor was just the floor after all, it’s still a floor that will exist without Troy in it, and it’s just a little too much sadness for Abed to bear. Even sweeter is Abed cloning Troy when he admits he’s scared to leave. Every single one of us has to find a braver version within ourselves to take over when situations become too emotional or overwhelming, a brave face we put on to face the world — and even someone like Abed, who normally seems emotionally removed, needs a fake clone version of himself to handle his best friend leaving.

I’m not going to lie: I cried a whole lot at the end of tonight’s episode. I think I was more emotionally unprepared for Troy leaving than Abed was.  But it’s such a beautifully executed and simple departure, and it allows Troy to say goodbye to everyone one at a time without trying to get too big about it. It is what it is. And if it weren’t for Levar Burton showing up as Troy’s escort for his big journey, I probably never would have stopped crying.

Goodbye, Troy Barnes. ‘Community’ won’t be the same without you, and that’s okay.

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