In “Basic Sandwich,” Community doesn’t devolve into learning how to toast black forest ham subs as part of Subway University’s (Eat Fresh!) curricula. So ‘sandwich’ is probably a metaphor for the study group’s feelings.
- Director: Rob Schrab
- Writer: Ryan Ridley
- Cast: Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Alison Brie, Yvette Nicole Brown, Jim Rash, Ken Jeong, John Oliver, Jonathan Banks
Episode Title: “Basic Sandwich”
The treasure hunt continues apace, with the Dean finding a Drama Initiative-like 16mm film on the school’s elusive founder. He was trying to build a robot with the capacity for human emotion, and used gold as a conductive element. There are literally pieces of 8-bit hardware hidden somewhere in the school. Hickey finds the original blueprints, and the gang initially tries to search behind a wall marked ‘XX’ on the whisky bottle of Greendale’s first offensive Native American mascot. All it leads to is an electrical fire, but Abed finds the trap door in the underbelly of the school. Hickey, the still-electrocuted Duncan, and Shirley stage a tea party as a distraction for Chang and the school board goons. The rest of the gang descends into cobwebbed tunnels and bickering. Jeff and Britta’s plans to marry seem increasingly ill advised; but Abed comforts Annie that this isn’t just their story, but the whole group’s story and it isn’t over yet. They find the mad scientist and his computer lover Rochelle. After a brief confrontation, he offers to give the group his land deeds and leftover millions in cash to save the school. The school board goons, Richie and Carl (yes, they have names), crash the rescue attempt, and traps the group below in order for the Subway deal to go through. But Rochelle can override the lock, given a strong enough emotional trigger. Jeff thinks about each of his friends in turn, and his combined love for all of them forces the door open. Subway isn’t a fan of confrontation, just good sandwiches and good prices, so the deal bottoms out. Richie and Carl warn that the school is still on the bubble and no one in power has any incentive to save it. But friends, that’s our normal lives until the NBC upfronts, or as the Dean puts it, “a Wednesday.” Greendale has been saved for now, and that’s what matters. Dave jams in the cafeteria for everyone!
- Analytics and Feeling: In the show, in the group, and especially in Abed, there’s a rich dramatic tension between emotion. The characters’ goals and desires, their relationships and Community’s ethernet-speed report with story structure, generic conventions, and pop culture history. The humor always has some amount of both. Those are the poles in this particular comedy universe. So the computer that feels is an especially apt goal for Greendale’s original founder. But “Basic Sandwich” also did a fantastic job of having that sense of tension for our character and the show overall. Would Season 5 succumb to simply an aggregate of gags from Season 2? Would it keep indulging in the fond fan fiction of Season 4? The episode finds that balance between the insane treasure hunt and the stakes everyone has in Greendale and each other.
- Meta-commentary and Belonging: The meat of last week was Jeff and Britta dealing with the loss of Greendale in a more adult manner. This episode offered a truly mature way forward for Abed and Annie. Not as a couple. That would be, firstly, a contrivance; and secondly the significant glances between Annie at Jeff and Jeff at Annie were not lost on us. But the way forward engages them both to seek what’s best for their friends, not just for themselves. The scene in the hallway between the two of them, and Annie’s final star on the blackboard, are a mission statement for the season and the show going forward.
- Subterranean Architecture: While we liked all the sets and the feel of Greendale’s ’70s basement, we didn’t sense the tropes of a pulpy treasure adventure, nor was our mad scientist quite as whacky. To be fair, he ran out of his 50 years of cocaine 20 years ago. For once, the generic conceit Community’s playing with took a back seat to straight-up interpersonal dramatics. It never felt like more than a plot ex machina. But that’s probably a good thing.
- Race and Age in Sandwich Design: One last time, we sigh wistfully at you, Community, for side-stepping Shirley and giving Yvette Nicole Brown absolutely nothing to do in that interrogation sequence. The show’s had flashes of brilliance about how to better utilize Shirley, but not really this year. Remember when she basically king-pins everyone over those chemistry text books? Even that was old ground.
Eagle eyed viewers, or those with basic access to Wikipedia, can note that Dan Harmon had exactly one writing credit this season (the premiere). So why have we kept celebrating Harmon’s return and Community’s new lease on life? Because apart from all its many callbacks and episode structures, this season has been about linking Greendale to the characters’ sense of family. It’s redefined them both. Greendale was often an oppositional force, and now it’s very clearly a home. And homes are worth fighting for, you just naturally find the secret trap door to buried treasure. So well done, Community. See you in Season 6, or at the asteroid that destroys everything first.
What did you think of the season finale? Let us know in the comments.