Paget Brewster, Ken Jeong, Alison Brie, Joel McHale, Danny Pudi, Gillian Jacobs

Will Community return for a seventh season? Maybe. Probably. Maybe.

If Dan Harmon has proven anything since Community began, it’s that he’s capable of effectively rebooting the show, whether the challenge is returning Greendale Community College to its former glory after a fourth season that evoked a giant mechanical spider, or rebuilding the bench after a series of high-profile cast departures. But that’s precisely why “Emotional Consequences Of Broadcast Television” works so well as a series finale, and makes such a strong case for moving forward with the “and a movie” portion of Community’s hashtagged endgame. There are infinite possible versions of Community, and if Harmon so chose, he could probably create a pretty satisfying version of the show with very few of the characters and elements historically associated with it. But just because Community could go on doesn’t mean that it should. College, after all, is about transitioning from one phase of life to the next. High school friends get left behind, and then college friends get left behind too. One by one, they all just fade away.

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“Emotional Consequences” puts Community’s uber-meta sensibility to good use by allowing each of its characters to pitch their own concepts for a seventh season. Community’s self-referential tendency can be maddening as often as its delightful, but here, Harmon and co-writer Chris McKenna have deployed it in an unimpeachable way. I’ve complained several times this season about the narrowed perspectives, how all of the characters seem to have taken on traits most associated with Jeff or Abed. “Emotional Consequences” is no different, as “let’s pitch season seven” is pretty much the most Abed thing ever. But placing each character in charge of their own version of the Greendale universe actually counteracts the character assimilation. With each new version, we’re reminded of how these characters are different, what perspective they bring to the Save Greendale Committee, as well as how they see the group and what they get out of belonging to it.

The result is reminiscent of “Virtual Systems Analysis,” or even “Horror Fiction In Seven Spooky Steps,” but with higher stakes for the characters and the audience alike. It isn’t simply an exercise in which laughs are derived from the characters’ disparate views of the world, they’re literally discussing the future of Greendale and those who populate it. Abed kicks off the pitch session with a scenario that breaks down “the formula,” a classically Abed take in which the characters plainly state their traits. “My set-up lacks awareness, but my punchline doesn’t know,” says Britta. “Abusively cynical one-liner dismissing everything you just said,” Jeff spits back. Abed even brings back Shirley to illustrate that pulling in the dearly departed characters won’t get the group back on track.

After calling Abed’s brain “fucked up” (the first of a few unprecedented F-bombs), Dean Pelton makes his pitch next, one in which Community isn’t The Walking Dead and a black person can join the group without having to step into the vacuum left behind by another. Shirley and Elroy make fast friends, and a third black guy sits glowering in the background. Naturally, Jeff takes off his shirt. The reviews are unfavorable: “Crazy and racist and terrible,” says Britta. But I’m not so convinced. Not-Troy looks like he might have something really important to say.

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Everyone’s being too literal, says Chang, who has a pitch in which a new character is introduced, the lovable, magical Ice Cube Head, who has an insatiable appetite for cell phones. But that isn’t true of Britta’s pitch, which reimagines Greendale as a sovereign, rogue nation with Britta as its prime minister and a Dean Pelton who is a proud member of the transgender community, and “not all this other stuff.” Britta even gets her very own, incredibly dour credit sequence, with the Community theme performed by the lead singer of a Tom Waits cover band. Even Frankie tries her hand at pitching, and… well, the pitching thing isn’t for everybody. Frankie Brittas her pitch even worse than Britta herself, though her soap-opera style theme is rather lovely.)

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Of the many pitches in “Emotional Consequences,” most of them belong to Jeff, who imagines scenario after scenario to delay having to deal with the reality that things are about to change once again. Jeff’s anxiety about growing older and accepting his youth is now behind him has become one of Community’s most reliable themes, and “Emotional Consequences” brings him further along with it than any episode before it. Annie announces she’s heading to Washington, DC for an internship with the FBI, and Jeff first imagines a worst-case scenario—a darkest timeline, if you will—in which he’s head of the Sustain Greendale Committee, serving alongside Leonard, Garrett, Vicki, Todd, and Scruff (Seth Green), an eccentric, bunny-earned billionaire who bought the school and gives Jeff his marching orders. Jeff fears each of them will escape Greendale’s ambition-draining clutches long before he will.

In another pitch, Jeff imagines a Greendale in which everyone follows the same path he did in “Repilot” and accepts faculty or staff positions at the school, and they all hang out in the teachers’ lounge the way they once did in the study room. Jeff’s the dean now, while Pelton teaches “Intro To Deaning” or something. Chang and Abed teach math and television appreciation, respectively, while Britta fulfills her dream of being the worst as Greendale’s campus therapist. Annie’s back from DC and teaching criminology, but she’s Original Annie: “I’m grown up. And I’m hot, but not little-girl hot.” The group finds Jeff’s pitch adorably sentimental, but they’re not invested in making it real. Not only is Annie leaving for DC, Abed is headed to Los Angeles to work on a television show in which everything refers to something else. Jeff is threatened even further and bolts to take respite in the old study room, where he imagines himself settled down with Annie, a family man with an adorable kid named Sebastian. “Is this really what you want?” asks Dream Annie.

It’s an excellent question, and Jeff doesn’t have much of an answer. Jeff and Annie’s romantic attraction is an element that never seems welcome. It almost produces jamais vu; when Jeff and Annie get all goo-goo eyed for each other, it feels unfamiliar no matter how many times I’ve seen it. In “Emotional Consequences,” their relationship has its place. Like most of Jeff’s Greendale experience, his relationship with Annie has been about desperately clawing to keep some of his dwindling youth. To complete his emotional journey, Jeff has to recognize that he can’t piggyback on other people’s experiences to relive a time in his life when he felt happier, more fulfilled, and prouder of himself. Annie and Abed need to go out into the world, fumble around, and make mistakes. They can’t stick around just so he can feel like he isn’t the only one in a period of arrested development.

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Annie explains all this to Jeff in one of Harmon’s reliably poignant monologues, and they share a final (?) kiss before the rest of the group catches up to them. If I have a major quibble with “Emotional Consequences,” that kiss is probably the thing I’d single out. It works as fan service for those who have been ’shipping Jeff and Annie all along, but it somewhat blunts the impact of Jeff’s maturation arc. Of course Annie is going to be attractive to a handsome, charming older man like Jeff, but it’s up to Jeff to redraw the proper boundaries between them. Jeff has clearly come a long way, but he could have really demonstrated his growth by telling Annie to save her kisses until Troy gets back from his trip.

But the episode ends on a perfect note, with the remaining old folks gathered at Britta’s bar for drinks after Annie and Abed have left Colorado. “This is the show,” says Britta, toasting the others. Hell, it could be a show, and maybe even one as surprisingly lively as some of season six has been. But “Emotional Consequences” is built on the idea that life goes through phases, like television shows. Characters drift in and breeze out. There are bright moments and dark ones. Perfection doesn’t exist. The best thing to do is learn to roll with the changes, even if that means letting go of things before you’re ready.

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Stray observations:

  • Cool shot of Jeff choking a study room full of Abeds:

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  • Harmon’s really trolling his audience with the cracks about Marvel movies.
  • Abed: “Like a real TV executive I was letting you guys work your ass off because there’s no profit in saying no to an idea. Now that it’s time to commit, I have to pass.”
  • Can we talk about how fantastic Yvette Nicole Brown looks?
  • There was way too little Keith David in this episode, but he made his one bit with Brown count: “Y’know, hallelujah and church and singing and street wisdom.”
  • Britta: “If I had no self-awareness, I think I’d know.”
  • Abed’s version of Chang: “Lizard. Fire Hydrant. Obama. CHANG.”
  • Speaking of Chang, he’s legit gay you guys.
  • Something tells me the Ass Crack Bandit is about to strike the Nation’s Capital.
  • Interesting that the episode mentions South Park as a show that peaked after six seasons, given that this episode reminded me in so many ways of “You’re Getting Old.”
  • That tag was the darkest and most brilliant out of a season full of dark and brilliant tags.
  • Thanks for reading folks. I’ll be back next year. Maybe. Probably. Maybe.

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