Malcolm McDowell returns for this week's episode of 'Community,' in which Chevy Chase is absent and the gang gets down with a little Christmastime kidnapping.

I know I was in the minority on last week's puppet episode, "Intro to Felt Surrogacy," so perhaps "Intro to Knots" was a step down for a lot of you. For me, it was definitely a few notches above the puppet episode, but still not nearly as good as the Sophie B. Hawkins dance episode. (And when the hell is Brie Larson coming back?!)

This week, Annie invites Professor Cornwallis (McDowell) to the group's Christmas party in the hopes of changing their failing history grade. What she hasn't told anyone is that they aren't failing -- they're actually making a C minus, but Annie is determined to win valedictorian, and in order to do so, she'll need an A. When the professor starts acting like a pompous ass (are there British people on American TV who aren't pompous asses?) and threatens to give the whole group an F, Kevin/Chang ties him to a chair, where Jeff determines they should keep him until they can convince him to up their grade.

"Intro to Knots" is a relatively simple episode -- Abed wishes they were role-playing 'Die Hard' and enjoys the drama, Troy is adorably confused and bumbling as usual, the entire group goes from playing with to playing against each other and back again, and the whole thing gets a happy ending when Cornwallis confesses he's just a lonely old man. Given his brilliantly manipulative, albeit stereotypical and cartoonish, villain role, you'd think his reasoning at the end was little more than another ruse, but it just goes to show how basic this week's episode really is.

The only lesson seemingly constructed here is... well, it's nothing, really. Jeff gives a big speech when the group feels as though someone's betrayed them, noting that he'd forgive whoever did it because they must have forgiven him for screwing up their essay assignment. Overall, it's a harmless, fun episode, but with little character development and uneven jokes. One minute Troy is cracking clever to get away from chatty Britta, and the next he's making a butt joke. Up until now, I've felt as though Troy has been one of the only consistent characters in the post-Dan Harmon season, but tonight he seems confused, and the more I think about it, the more I feel as though the only reason Troy has been enjoyable this season is because he's so easy to write for. And maybe the writers think so too, enabling them to fall back on a lame butt joke because why not -- who would notice when Troy is so silly anyway?

The actor dynamic is still in top form, regardless of writing quality, and the energy the cast gives is enough to warrant tuning in each week -- at least until this season ends, at which point it's probably safe to assume there won't be another season to worry about. Notably absent this week was Chevy Chase, who, if you'll recall, had some issues behind the scene and walked off set. It's unclear if he'll be in the remaining episodes, though it's been pointed out to me that he does appear in some promotional materials, indicating we're not quite done with Pierce yet. Sadly, I can't say his presence was missed that much this week, especially when Dean Pelton pulled out a basket of kittens, but that quickly soured when Chang went back to being Chang, making his secret phone calls.

While "Intro to Knots" wasn't an episode on par with a couple of the mid-season eps, it was certainly preferable to the saccharine artifice of the puppet episode, which relied too heavily on a pandering gimmick, though both episodes feel similarly empty.