In the final act of “Basic Email Security,” Abed identifies the episode as the culminating installment of what could be called Community’s “Secrets Laid Bare” trilogy, which began in season two with “Cooperative Calligraphy,” then continued in season five’s “Cooperative Polygraphy,” both of which get shouted out through pithy log lines. That bit of dialogue almost acts as an apology for “Basic Email Security. It’s an admission that, like most final chapters of trilogies predicated on character continuity and format repetition rather than a three-act structure, the episode almost has no choice but to be slightly disappointing. At the risk of saying something that can’t be taken back, “Security” is Community’s The Hangover: Part III or its The Matrix Revolutions. It certainly does more justice to this show than either of those films did to their respective franchises, but the result is still yet another season six Community episode that feels not quite right.
Though “Security” is a faint echo of the rapid-fire confessional that made “Calligraphy” and “Polygraphy” classic episodes, this is the Community template most worth revisiting at this point in the show. With Elroy and Frankie having joined the group and the newly expanded role for Chang, a proper initiation ceremony is in order. There’s no better way to be inducted into the group than having your darkest secrets exposed for the others to judge, and in doing so, Matt Roller’s script continues the process of shading in the still unfamiliar characters. The biggest revelation is the group’s speculation about Frankie’s sexuality, a question that’s never fully addressed, but provokes Frankie enough to ensure it’ll be revisited down the line. It’s also revealed that Elroy is lonely, though that comes as far less of a shock.
While the illumination of Frankie and Elroy is helpful in the long run, “Security” is not the easiest episode to swallow. It exemplifies the biggest problems that have plagued season six: the fuzzy emotional arithmetic and lack of clear character motivations. Greendale’s crisis du jour is a campus-wide email hack that immobilizes Dean Pelton’s computer, with the hacker demanding the cancellation of a performance by controversial comic Gupta Goopti Gupta or face the dissemination of all of the group’s private emails. Everyone is all too happy to negotiate with the terrorist in order to spare themselves embarrassment and ridicule, but Britta takes a stand for free speech and rallies the group behind her, including an initially reluctant Jeff.
After several episodes in which Annie acts as Greendale’s resident schoolmarm, it’s a nice change of pace to see Britta as the one leading the charge to stand up for their privacy and free speech rights, though it’s surprising that the group was so receptive given the absence of mustard on her face. Really, it’s surprising that the group was receptive at all because no one in their right mind would volunteer to have their email exposed, especially after the public shaming the “hot” lunch lady (a.k.a. the “hot lunch” lady) receives.
Jeff’s support for the plan is completely out of left field. Though he later betrays to Elroy his ignorance of the scope—he thinks it’s just his scarcely used Greendale email at risk—it’s a stretch considering how justifiably creeped out Jeff was upon finding out Dean Pelton was spying on his emails in “Studies In Modern Movement.” There’s been widespread character drift through season six, but nothing quite as dramatic as this. With the possible exceptions of Annie, who is self-righteous enough to convince herself she has no secrets to expose, and Abed, who bruises people’s emotions out of reflex, it’s hard to believe anyone in the group would rush to provoke a malicious hacker, especially Jeff.
Still, while the getting there was rather bumpy, the group shouting match over the information revealed in the email leak was lively and hilariously random. Bizarre, minute character details is something Community does incredibly well—did you know Pierce once had sex with Eartha Kitt in an airplane bathroom?—and “Security” is no exception. The solid emotional beats that have been largely missing this season reappear somewhat, as Frankie admits she writes letters to her dead sister as a journaling device, and Elroy copping to a lengthy correspondence with a Virginia family who thinks he’s their cousin. (Elroy is also reluctant to talk about his actual family, which like Frankie’s sexuality, is a thread that will conceivably get picked up later.) Paget Brewster and Keith David continue their hot streak, particularly David who lands the episode’s biggest punches. (“Riselle is like a daughter to me!”)
“Security” concludes with the gang back around the big table, its dynamic largely unchanged by the day’s events while the campus devolves into chaos. When a show has gone through as many sweeping changes as has Community over the years, familiarity generally breeds comfort not contempt. But it’s not just that the show is doing what it’s done before; it isn’t doing it quite as well.
- “Intro To Felt Surrogacy” probably fits somewhere in the “Secrets Laid Bare” series, but unsurprisingly, “Security” acts as though it never existed. Which is fine by me, because I absolutely loathe that episode.
- Meta-humor about how superfluous Chang is are hit-or-miss for me, but these landed. “…and frankly, haven’t been well utilized since.”
- Is it me or is Fat Neil kind of handsome all of a sudden? The facial hair makes a world of difference.
- Britta has a FLIP PHONE.
- This is an episode where I really wish Shirley had been around.
- “Daybreak” is back!