Community Ep. 5.07 “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality” is a terrific, homage-free episode

community 5.7

Community Season 5, Episode 7 “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality”
Written by Dan Guterman
Directed by Tristram Shapeero
Airs Thursday nights at 8pm ET on NBC

Underneath the slapstick jokes, constant stream of pop culture references, and episode-long cinematic homages, Community is a show about friendship. It’s the simplest concept, often explored in the most intricate, complex ways through the show’s trademark Dinner with Andre and Apollo 13 parodies. “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality”, on the other hand, is the kind of Community episode mostly forgotten in seasons two through four, a half hour full of damaged characters turning to each other for consolation – and growth, akin to the spiritual successor to season two’s “Mixology Certification”, except with a much stronger focus on three characters (those being Abed, Duncan, and Britta).

What excites me about such a borderline-depressing episode of television is how masterfully the episode’s philosophies are conveyed; although there are a few Kick Puncher/Robo Cop nods with Abed, the majority of the episode is as straightforward as Community gets – which, believe it or not, is a good thing. There were times in seasons three and four where Community‘s reliance on pop culture crutches actually robbed the episode of its potential impact (like “Regional Holiday Music” and its Glee bashing, for example). “Bondage” reminds us that there are still human characters beneath the broadness of season four, and that there’s still plenty of emotional ground to tread in the episodes (and hopefully seasons) to come.

The highlight, of course, comes with Abed and Buzz – not only is it a terrific character pairing for the rest of the season, but it forces Abed to finally move forward as a human being. The biggest complaint of the Abed/Troy relationship (one the presence of the Dreamatorium points out in season three) is that Troy was always willing to indulge Abed, allowing Abed to stagnate as a human being, coddled into the worlds of make-believe and Best Friend Adventures where people don’t challenge each other to grow (even when Troy attempted, it ended up like “Early 21st Century Romanticism”: Troy being held back by Abed’s self-serving tendencies, the two of them bonding over a laugh while ignoring the more disturbing trends developing in their relationship.

Buzz’s no bullshit approach to life (“I watched my third wife die,” he notes to Abed) flies directly in the face of that; and for the first time in the series, we get to see Abed’s internal logic completely fall apart. It might be a simple thing, to have a new character tell an established one “no”, but that holds a different weight with Abed, who is normally guided into acceptance (or simply indulged) by the rest of the study group. Where the study group is transparent, however, Buzz is like a brick wall, forcing Abed (and by proxy, himself) to look at the miserable existences they find themselves in, eventually realizing they were blaming each other for resentments they were hiding in themselves all along.

This motif of self-reconciliation recurs through the episode (right down to Chang, who can’t reconcile his own reality, apparently – I still don’t get what the fuck that subplot was): Jeff has to realize he has some kind of feelings for Britta, Duncan makes his first steps towards being a decent human being (helping himself become less pathetic in the process), and Britta finally notices just how little she’s defined herself by her own actions, as opposed to the reactions of others around her (tying right back into the opening scene, when Jeff tells Duncan how to react to get Britta’s pants off). Unfortunately, there’s a lot of time spent on the Abed/Buzz fight (in order to really establish tension, thus making the resolution that much more effective), and some of these other subplots tidy themselves up a little too neatly at the end.

Instead of trying to distract from the glaring holes around the study table with fun adventures, lighthearted antics, and a heavy dose of meta humor, these post-Gambino (and Chase) episodes of Community have the opposite direction, getting smaller in scope and returning to the darker internal caves season four all but ignored for Scooby-Doo jokes and felt puppets. It might not be the hysterical, “Hey, I know what they’re making fun of here!” version of Community – but in many ways, it’s an important step forward from the show. Too many homages ultimately dull the amazing emotional effect they can have (“Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” or “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” anyone?), and I’m glad Harmon and his creative team realized this. Community feels born again, and episodes like “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality” display the huge amount of potential still remaining in the show. Most shows in their fifth season are losing their creative edge (ahem… Cougar Town); Community‘s continues to grow and grow, and the more character-centric it gets, the more excited I am for another episode.

 

— Randy

 

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