Community Season 5, Episode 13 “Basic Sandwich (Part 2)”
Written by Ryan Ridley
Directed by Rob Schrab
Aired 4/17/14 on NBC
It’s easy to search for meaning in a Community episode: given the show’s uber-meta construction, it invites critical dissemination of itself in a very unique way. This includes episodes like “Basic Sandwich”, a story so bare-bones and un-Community, it almost feels as if Dan Harmon and company are teasing us, presenting us what appears to be a lot of loud, anti-climatic nothing, then simply dropping the microphone and walking off-stage. Yes, “Basic Sandwich” technically completes the season’s journey of Saving Greendale – but as “Basic Story” went out of its way to point out, the Save Greendale Committee had already saved Greendale. We knew Greendale wouldn’t become Subwaydale – and having that knowledge from the beginning casts both parts of the finale in a very different light.
Too often in our lives – both as people in the real world, and audiences in front of our television – we yearn for resolution. The big kiss, the happy ending, the definitive moment where it feels like a specific journey or chapter of our lives has completed. But there’s often no pleasure to be found in loud resolutions of stories: surprise twists and “game-changing” endings often disrupt what got people invested in stories in the first place. More importantly, these endings are really anti-resolutions, excuses for a show to justify its existence for another season, both in the eyes of viewers and executives.
The opening scene of “Basic Story” establishes immediately that these two episodes are designed as the Anti-Finale, a meta commentary on finales and the lengths they go to make ultimatums or convey a very specific, resolution-catalyzing emotion. And Harmon cleverly sets all this up with two non-stories: Greendale being sold and Jeff/Britta getting married: two things that will never, ever, ever happen in the canonical version of Community. It just won’t: Greendale’s identity is too important, as are Jeff and Britta’s individual personas. These are two things that Harmon will never sacrifice; and as “Basic Sandwich” continues, quietly reinforces that idea home in such subtle ways, there’s an argument to made they don’t exist at all.
On some level, I have to think this is the point of “Basic Story” and “Basic Sandwich”; the stories are so absurd and superficial, it’s as if they’re designed to fall apart under the slightest scrutiny. The idea here is that there’s no big ending waiting us, at the end of a TV series or part of our lives; sometimes, Jeff can save the day with his deep love for Greendale and the people he’s met there without making some kind of big speech. Abed can try and create a story all he wants, but there’s really no story there to be told: and whether it’s devilishly clever writing, or just a mix of laziness and exhaustion from the end of a long production season, it makes for an interesting – if not slightly disappointing – interpretation of “the journey is more important than the destination.”
And there are straight-up some parts of the episode that don’t work at all: the Jeff/Britta/Annie triangle that ran out of gas two seasons ago, the attempts to try and keep Chang around, and an overwhelming sense that nobody had any idea what to do with Hickey or Shirley in this finale (seriously, poor Yvette Nicole Brown. She was given nothing to do all season). In a lot of ways, “Basic Sandwich” ranks as the worst episode of the season, seemingly lacking in purpose and conviction for any idea except that Community shouldn’t be over yet.
It leaves me torn: on one hand, I really like that “Basic Story” and “Basic Sandwich” fly in the face of the trappings of season finales (especially sitcoms, which are generally required to maintain their status quo) – but the satire falls flat, an episode that revels in both its weird, niche humor, and the absence of emotional resolution in the season’s final moments (except “Ants Marching”… that was one joke that paid off real well, especially for real Dave fans). In a way, it makes me want one more season of Community even more, if only for an ending that feels more passionate and well… finale like (then again… isn’t that the whole point of the episode? I’m Icepting myself, it’s time to sign off).
– Abed: “This is our show. And it’s not over.”
– “I had 50 years of cocaine… but that only seemed to last me about 10 years.” “Oh, so the 80’s happened down here, too!”
– one random joke I enjoyed: the Dean choking alone, then spitting out what was lodged in his throat alone. Again, the dramatic swells of finales are often created by putting a character in mortal danger – if there’s a moment where this quiet satire hits its mark, it’s right there.
– Abed “developing” is pure gold – and he still has a girlfriend!
– I’d watch the shit out of Intensive Karen.
– most frustrating thing? Shirley not being in the room for Jeff’s big emotional moment – the series has gone out of its way multiple times to stress the importance of their relationship to Jeff’s personal growth (really the only thing the show’s ever done to make Shirley an interesting character who has purpose, next to the non-story of Shirley’s Sandwiches).
– hopefully I’ll see you Human Beings again next fall. Thanks for reading; E Pluribus Anus forever.