Episode 12: Heroic Origins
By: Carlos Uribe
Community is a show about the senior year of a group of friends attending Greendale Community College.
Community has always been about a group of broken people who come together and change for the better. The study group has always been made up of deeply flawed human beings who became friends. They have encouraged themselves to improve so that they could be considered respectable by society. There is Jeff, the former lawyer who had lied about getting an undergraduate degree. He might have represented clients in court but he lacked the ethics that the legal system is supposed to stand for. There is Shirley, a righteous Christian who worries she's a bad mother and has a wild she she's ashamed of. There is Britta, the political activist who didn't really stand for anything. There is Annie, the perfectionist who resorted to drug use due to the stress. There is Troy, the popular football player who doubted his own intelligence. There is Pierce, the old man who was looking for a group to love him even as he didn't know how to do that himself. Finally, there was Abed, the nerd who lived through pop culture and had trouble relating to other human beings. A group of misfits that found themselves at Greendale Community College. They were able to overlook the flaws of the other members of the group and be there for each other. All of these characters know themselves in the present but their past is pretty important as well. Who they were is crucial because there can't be any character development without a starting point. The first season introduced us to these characters and they have gradually changed as the series went along. This is an episode that takes us back to them as Abed goes through their backstories to show how the characters were all connected before they formed the study group. It's making fun of all the superhero origin stories (Unbreakeable to be specific) where everything is shown to be connected.
The series had already shown that Jeff and Shirley knew each other as kids in that foosball episode. It's one that gets referenced this week but it doesn't factor into Abed's Quilt of Destiny. We already knew that Troy and Annie had gone to the same high school since that was established in the pilot. That does factor into this week's episode as the two learn how they impacted each other's lives. The general backstory of the characters has always been known so this episode just takes that and finds ways to connect them. I'm not entirely sure if this was necessary. The pilot had begun with Jeff forming a study group so that he could impress Britta. It was an action of his own free will and we've been following this group since. To suggest that his whole life had actually been building up to that point removes the power of his agency. This is no longer just a study group formed by a guy hoping to impress a blond but one created by destiny itself. This episode basically gets rid of free will and an element of randomness in order to bring in the idea that they have an origin story that brought them together. I'm not entirely sure this trade was really necessary for the writers to make but it's one the writers chose to go with. Is this a good or a bad thing? I think that's going to be up to the viewer. I like the idea that everything happens for a reason. It's probably one of the reasons that I believe in God. I can understand why Shirley would think that the higher-power who brought them all together was God. On the other hand, I'm not sure that this is what Dan Harmon meant when he created these backstories. He's not the head writer anymore and I understand this is a new version but so far it has managed to remain respectful to his intentions. I'm not sure that the same can be said after watching Heroic Origins. They didn't just develop the characters a bit but they changed their history.
The connections largely make sense. I'm not going to name them all but suffice it to say that they're largely within the realm of possibility. It would make sense that these characters could have intersected in this manner. Jeff was a lawyer so he could have easily represented the stripper that Shirley's husband slept with. Abed would be the kind of person to scare kids away from watching the Phantom Menace. The way that Troy and Annie inadvertently changed each other made sense. There are a few that the series stretched. There seems to be an implication that Britta had rescued Annie's Boobs from an experimental laboratory. She claims to have sold him for some guacamole or something but how did the monkey end up in the pet store for Troy to buy? It doesn't make much sense. There was also a weak explanation as to how Magnitude found his “pop pop” to the point where revealing the truth actually ruined the catchphrase. Some things are best left unanswered. The connections were solid and I did find myself laughing. It wasn't consistent but there were quite a number of bits that I liked. I must also approve of the comic book visual transition from the flashbacks and the modern day. All in all, Heroic Origins managed to present a solid accounting of how the backstory of the characters were actually intertwined.
I would have to say that the weakness of the episode was Chang's journey. It was strange. This episode reveals that he is talking with someone on the other line of the phone, the Dean from City College. The two are working together to bring down Greendale Community. Chang actually gets his chance when the Dean hands him a lease to the school. If the Native Americans don't get this letter then they'll turn the community college into a casino. It's a bit racist but it's largely to set the whole school's existence at stake. Chang does end up sending the letter by the end when Abed realizes that there was a link who convinced the whole group to attend Greendale: Chang. Abed officially invites Chang into the study group. Here's where it gets a bit wonky. First, Abed acts like he didn't even know Chang had amnesia. That was a bit odd and took me out. The second is that Chang gives up his plan for revenge and joins the study group because it's all he wanted. He decides to send the mail because he belongs. That just felt like a sudden conclusion to the whole Evil Chang plot. There was no real character journey but a sudden teleportation from where he was to where the writers decided he should be. It felt very rushed and hurt the emotional ending.
Heroic Origins is a good episode of Community. It could be more consistent with the jokes and I'm not sure it was an episode that should have been made. I understand having the need to to feel like it's all a part of a larger plan but it might go against the vision of Dan Harmon. The connections themselves were solid albeit confusing when it came to Annie's Boobs. The biggest problem actually lay with Chang's decision to ditch his revenge plan when he thinks that he's been accepted for who he is despite all he's done. That's not a bad place for him to end up at but they just skipped a whole process so that it didn't feel earned.
The song that ended the Pilot happens to end this episode, faintly in the background. That's actually a pretty nice touch.