‘Community’ Review: “Virtual Systems Analysis”
With last week’s abrupt dismissal of the Troy and Abed feud, it looked as though ‘Community‘ was done examining the depths of Abed for the time being. With “Virtual Systems Analysis,” we see that is clearly not the case, and this episode is currently in contention for best of the season alongside “Pillows and Blankets.”
Abed has always functioned as both the show’s meta commentary on itself and other shows. In the first and second seasons it was mostly a way for Dan Harmon and Co. to acknowledge their forebears while providing the mechanism necessary to take familiar tropes and turn them in a new, clever direction.
This season has seen the most meta incarnation of Abed yet, and particularly this week’s episode, which finds Annie trying to set up Britta and Troy (oh, how that union needs to come to pass already) and distracting Abed by making him take her to the Dreamatorium, the place where Abed and Troy went to de-whimsfy themselves in “Urban Matrimony and Sandwich Arts.”
In the Dreamatorium, Annie discovers a closet with the engine that fuels the room. It’s made up of odds and ends like a laundry basket and a tissue box, and atop the structure is a container labeled “Abed.” Abed has a very high prediction rate and can conceive of every possible angle for every scenario that could play out. Annie suggests that Abed take the box for other people and place that at the top, letting other people’s feelings come first, before his own. It’s a familiar conceit that was touched on at the beginning of the Troy and Abed feud, in that Abed is unable or unwilling to consider the emotions of others and relies too heavily on his logic.
The episode is an absolutely brilliant look at writing and creativity, and what makes the creative mind work. Abed seemingly stands as a proxy for not only writers, but Dan Harmon himself. He notes that he becomes extra sensitive when entering the Dreamatorium, or the place of creativity. And this is true of all writers. When we sit down to write, we let our personal lives and emotions influence our output, placing us in a highly emotive state that at times can feel almost as destructive as it does constructive. It is both a way to flush these emotions out while working through them. And thus the episode is also sort of reflective of Harmon’s own issues with being unfiltered, and the recent problems involving cast member Chevy Chase, which ultimately resulted in a rather touching and honest post on Harmon’s Tumblr blog.
“Virtual Systems Analysis” is about the ways we project ourselves in our writing, and in this instance, onto the characters we create. As Abed flits around the Dreamatorium inhabiting the different members of the study group, he is playing them as he sees them, imbuing them with his own perception.
This week’s episode is also about the way we project onto the shows we watch and discern meaning from our own experience, though the meaning within the show is only truly defined by the person who created it. We can never know his perspective, and so — beautifully — we find what we empathize or identify with and craft our perception. We will all process this episode differently, just like we process our lives differently — just like Annie and Abed have different ways of coping with their experiences.
When you create a character in a work of fiction, you’re also fitting them with pieces of yourself. In this scenario we have the nurturing, caring, and empathetic Annie, and on the other side, the emotionally removed, overly-rational Abed. Both characters represent two sides to a basic coin, and they are united in the end by their mutual realization that they both play out scenarios expecting different result each time.
While Abed plays these scenarios and figures the too-familiar outcomes, what he’s really doing is hoping that it will end differently, but he gets so caught up in the act of running these scenarios that he doesn’t understand that he can change the outcome — not just by being aware of it, but by changing how he plays a part in it.
Annie, on the other hand, realizes that she keeps running the same scenario with the egotistical Jeff, hoping that she can get him to stop being selfish and love someone else — namely her. If she can accomplish this, she feels that she will be loved forever because she has taken the most difficult, self-involved human and made them selfless.
And so I must retract my assessment of last week’s episode. While I thought that the show was becoming redundant with the Jeff and Annie storyline, I see now that it ultimately had a point: we were supposed to notice that the outcome was the same week after week. Annie keeps trying to open Jeff’s heart, and every time it seems like she’s made some progress the episode ends with Jeff back at square one, having not learned a damn thing.
For the second week in a row this show is about projecting onto other people what we need to change about ourselves, and understanding our own flaws as we see them reflected in others. It’s been an insightful two weeks — here’s hoping for a few more.
Bonus: In the end stinger this week we get the anticipated return of Troy and Abed in the Morning! I’ve missed this.
“I don’t usually support lunch because it’s unfair to breakfast.”
“I use comparisons to Hitler to win arguments on the internet at the drop of a hat.”
“I didn’t get ‘Inception.’ I didn’t get ‘Inception!’ So many layers!”
“Cool cool cool. Pop culture. I’m on a TV show.”