Community: Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality

"Have fun circling my former lover waiting for her to cry. I tried to make it sound good but that's what you're doing."

Jeff and Duncan clash over Britta, Abed and Hickey bond and Chang may be seeing ghosts in an uneven episode of Community.

In this episode, as often happens in sitcoms, the runtime is split between three distinct plots - or, as is increasingly the case as episodes get shorter and shorter to fit more adverts in, two distinct plots and a few connected scenes masquerading as a C-plot. (I swear, soon sitcom episodes will only be 10 minutes long). As can happen with this sort of episode, especially when the plots don't really come together all that much, I felt quite differently about each thread, to the extent that I find it very hard to say how I feel about the episode as a whole.

I really liked the A-plot, which centred around a sort-of-lust-triangle between Jeff, Britta and Duncan that's been in the background for a long time, but rarely brought front and centre. Duncan can be creepy in his attraction to Britta, but he stayed just the right side of keen but not stalker-y in this episode, to the extent that I really felt for him as he slammed the steering wheel in frustration. I also like Jeff and Britta together a lot - unusually for me, I have no preference between Jeff/Britta and Jeff/Annie, as I'm pretty invested in both pairings and I think both have great chemistry (Jeff/Annie used to have more chemistry, but too much teasing and messing about with darker timelines has toned that down over the years). I'm quite happy to follow a slow-burn romance between either couple - though I do sort of wish the show would pick one and go with it rather than continually teasing both.

Ultimately, though, this story wasn't about either man and Britta, but about Jeff and Duncan. It's been great to see Duncan back this year and the show has never really explored the brusque, frequently self-serving but certainly enduring friendship between the two in any depth. It seems a bit strange that Britta started talking about not having any friends when, clearly, the study group/save Greendale group/whatever are her friends, but if that's what it took to get Jeff and Duncan to play out that scene with Bill Nighy and Gregor Fisher from Love Actually, fine.

The barely-a-C-plot was bonkers and featured only It, the Thing Of Which We Usually Do Not Speak, as Chang may or may not have spent his evening performing to an audience of ghosts. To my great surprise I actually liked it. Really liked it, though in a different way to the A-plot, which was much more serious. Maybe it's just my love of ghost stories, coupled with the fact that Chang is at his most bearable when he's performing ('Celebrity Pharmacology' is still his best episode by far, with 'Environmental Science' second). But I laughed a lot, and there was just the right amount of this totally ridiculous story that it didn't overstay its welcome. That may just have been me, though, as it was completely mad.

So far, everything is sounding pretty good. But for me, the problem with this episode isn't just that I wasn't so keen on the B-plot. The problem is that I really, really hated the B-plot, to the point where I actually felt uncomfortable watching it. It started out badly for me because unlike a lot of fans and critics, I really don't like Hickey. Everyone else seems to be enjoying him, but I'm afraid I just find him unpleasant and abrasive, and not in an amusing or endearing way. But even leaving my preconceptions about the character aside, watching him handcuff Abed, a fully grown man and a vulnerable adult to boot, to a cabinet to 'punish' him made me feel deeply, intensely uncomfortable.

Characters in sitcoms take petty vengeance for another character damaging their things all the time, but the way Hickey behaved here seemed really sinister to me, not to mention illogical. He complains that no one stands up to Abed, but Abed isn't Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory - with the exception of a weird phase in season three, he rarely forces people to do things his way. He just does things his way and people may or may not follow. Abed didn't make everyone wear pyjamas during the day, they did that because they wanted to (certainly in season two, and even in season three people seemed willing to go along with it, not doing it to please Abed). Hickey thinks Abed is spoiled, but insisting on punishing someone with the express purpose of making them suffer because they were thoughtless seems far more spoiled to me. Not to mention, it's a miracle Abed didn't end up having another breakdown at being forcibly restrained without Troy around to rescue him. Hickey's behaviour was ridiculously irresponsible, even by Community's standards.

There was an attempt of sorts to draw the different plots together at the end with a loose theme of friendship and by the end of the episode Abed and Hickey have bonded. However, besides a very loose theme of male friendship (with Annie and Shirley notably sidelined) there wasn't a lot of connection here. What we ended up with was, for me, two thirds of a really enjoyable episode and one third something I personally had a really negative reaction to (I had similar feelings about everyone tying up Professor Cornwallis in 'Intro to Knots' - clearly I am only OK with forced bondage when Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Chandler from Friends is involved). Still, if Chang can become bearable perhaps eventually Hickey will as well - though I don't see it happening any time soon.

Bits 'n' pieces

 - When Abed was working on his costume alone, staring at Troy's empty seat, I missed Donald Glover so much it almost physically hurt.

 - Shirley went all meta as she observed she hasn't had much focus lately - hopefully that's a sign this situation will soon be remedied.

 - I loved the tag with Duncan and the Dean, which was a perfect maelstrom of awkwardness. Can't the Dean and Duncan replace Pierce and Troy without needing Hickey?

Quotes

Duncan: Have you met the women that do like me, Jeff? Neither have I, but trust me, they're bad people.

Duncan: You have feelings for Britta, you disgusting monster!

Abed: I'm yelling! I'm yelling! I'm yelling!

Duncan: The stupid steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car.

Duncan: How about we have these drinks, and then not have sex with anyone, together?

Annie: Chang, you cannot be on the committee if you're going to be actively insane.

Two plots I liked a lot and one I really hated. Two and a half out of four ghostly theatre-goers.

6 comments:

Billie Doux said...

clearly I am only OK with forced bondage when Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Chandler from Friends is involved. LOL, Juliette. :)

I think I loved the tag with Duncan and the Dean better than the rest of the episode. Even though I do like Jonathan Banks as Hickey.

ChrisB said...

What this episode brought home to me is that Abed without Troy feels wrong. Like Juliette, I was so sad when Abed was staring at Troy's chair and then wandering the halls by himself. The sense of loneliness was palpable.

I do not, NOT, want Abed and Hickey to be the new twosome. I like Hickey all right, but not enough. I agree that his actions this episode left me feeling very uncomfortable.

Rishabh Sawhney said...

I was hoping Jeff and Abed bond more. I always liked the way the two of them play off each other. They, along with Troy had some of the funniest scenes in community are the end tags with the three of them in season 1 and 2.

Juliette said...

I'm so relieved it wasn't just me who found that plot uncomfortable!

sunbunny said...

I don't adore Hickey, but he is growing on me. I tend to get extremely claustrophobic/crazy when someone or something is preventing me from getting out of a place, so yeah I wasn't a fan of Hickey handcuffing Abed. It wasn't as big a deal for me as it seems to be for you Juliette.

To Chris's point - I actually like the idea of Hickey and Abed as friends. Hickey might be able to bring Abed just a little closer to earth and Abed can introduce some magic into Hickey's drab, dismal life.

Every time we get any back story on him, I find myself monumentally depressed. So much bad stuff has happened to him, and yet it's so ordinary. It's not like pirates kidnapped his parents when he was a child or something. He's had a half dozen careers and hasn't been wildly successful at any of them. He's unhappy with his current situation. He's in financial straits. He watched his wife die. It's all stuff that is at once extremely tragic and totally realistic. I think his uber normal self tempers the zaniness of the rest of the group nicely.

Oh! And I really appreciated Annie's warning to Chang that he can't be "actively insane" and in their group. Looks like we're keeping It back to his season one persona, which is by far the least obnoxious.

Freeman said...

By far my favorite part of this episode was seeing someone stick it to Abed, as extreme as the attempt may have been. Really with Abed the extreme seems to be the only way to talk to him. I just really don't like Abed, and I kinda hope Hickey sticks around to kinda lasso him in every once in a while.

The subplot with Chang was hilarious, especially with that last Shining reference.