Friday, January 24, 2014

5x05 "Geothermal Escapism" (The End of an Era)

"Geothermal Escapism"
Original Airdate: January 23, 2014

When I was a kid, I moved around a few times. I remember, quite vividly, being an elementary school student and sitting in my class on the last day I would be there. Right before my mom picked me up, my teacher and the rest of my elementary school class gathered around my desk and handed me a present. It was a book – Where the Sidewalk Ends – and every member of the class, including my teacher, had signed it and wrote me a sweet note. It made me cry when I was handed it.

I just moved this summer and I still have that signed book in my library.

The fact of the matter is that moving is hard when you have roots somewhere. My biggest move was from Pennsylvania to Florida when I was thirteen. I hated everything about my parents’ decision to uproot us. I resented them. I was leaving my friends and the only home I had ever known up north. I thought I would never adjust. Looking back on it, I remember we moved down to Florida in September. In October, I was still instant messaging with my friends up north, sitting at home while I should have been trick-or-treating with people in my neighborhood. I tried desperately to cling to the last bit of normalcy I knew. I had said goodbye, but I hadn’t REALLY said goodbye and until I did, I couldn’t really come to terms with moving on.

I hate saying goodbye, but that’s what “Geothermal Escapism” urged us to do. It thrust us back into the crazy world of Greendale, where seemingly insignificant games acquire massive stakes within seconds and the games always somehow manage to teach you about yourself and life. Troy is preparing to leave Greendale, but Abed wants to spend the day sending him off in style. Namely, he wants the group to participate in one, huge game of “Hot Lava” with the entire school. It’s all fun and games until Abed reveals that the prize is a comic book valued at $50,000. Then, Greendale descends into madness quicker than you can say The Heart of Darkness. Britta, meanwhile, is insistent that Abed’s game and the group’s cheerful going-away party are just ways to deny the fact that Troy is really leaving. She needs to not just play therapist in this episode – she needs to play REALIST and remind everyone that they need to grieve the loss of their friend from the group just like they grieved Pierce.

I spent the majority of the episode believing Britta to be right: that Abed was really playing the game so that he wouldn’t have to face reality, as he’s done so many times before (remember “Contemporary Impressionists”? Or “Virtual Systems Analysis”?), but I was wrong. And Britta was, too. But that revelation will be explained and elaborated on once I’ve recapped the rest of the episode.

So hop up onto the desks and tables and chairs (you might want to bring your laptop or phone to finish this review) and head beneath the cut because the floor is lava!

Before I begin, please everyone thank Tim Saccardo and everyone else who worked on this episode. I cannot adequately express how wonderful, heartfelt, and meaningful it was. “Geothermal Escapism” is everything that I wanted for Troy’s send-off, as it provides closure for every character, humor and heart, and beautiful character growth and development. I know this wasn’t an easy feat by any means, so thank you to everyone who made this episode possible. It was truly a fitting farewell to Donald Glover’s time spent on this show and to his iconic character.

Troy’s “Bon Troyage” going away party (who wants to bet Annie used puffy paint on the banner?) kicks off with Annie presenting the present that the study group chipped in to buy for him – a universal translator. While the group celebrates and laughs, Britta warns everyone that they need to come to terms with Troy leaving and that it’s okay to be sad, too. What I love about Britta is this: everything she does comes from a place of love. She doesn’t launch into a psychology spiel because she wants to intentionally hurt her friends. She does it because she knows their tendencies. After spending five years with these people, she knows that they would rather lose themselves in a game of paintball or hours in a Dreamatorium rather than face the reality that someone or something is changing. And Britta’s perceptions ARE correct when it comes to the study group, but they’re not accurate when it comes to Abed. But… I’ll get to that later.

The dean interrupts Britta’s buzz-kill moment with an announcement: Abed is declaring a school-wide game of “Hot Lava” in order to celebrate Troy’s final day with them all. And the dean is obliging the request because of the fact that their friendship has been so magical to watch and has been an inspiration to and indicative of Greendale as a whole. It’s sweet and cute that the dean acknowledges how important their friendship is. And then Abed announces that the prize is a comic book valued at $50,000 and the entire school dissolves into a chaos reminiscent of “Modern Warfare.”

In fact, there IS something very “Modern Warfare” about Britta showing up, wondering aloud whether the school has gone crazy and nearly being “killed” by Duncan before she’s saved by Jeff and Annie. While Jeff scours for portable chairs (which are apparently four-legged diamonds) and Britta wonders – again – what happened to everyone at Greendale, Annie explains that Britta can either join their alliance or suffer the consequences, because she won’t last long. Britta’s sole purpose within the game at this point in the episode though is to talk to Abed. She believes that he’s cracked or is spiraling and she NEEDS to be there for him. She needs to fix him, like she tried to do in “Introduction to Finality.” And even though this was Troy’s final episode, the MVP for me was Britta. Here is this woman who once told Jeff that she is afraid she’s not compassionate, who keeps being told that she is a buzzkill and a dark cloud and yet she just keeps trying. She never lets the opinions of the people around her stop her from trying to accomplish a task she believes to be just and right.

I admire that about Britta Perry, because I would have given up a long time ago if I were in her shoes. I would have succumbed to the game (and let’s be honest, probably died during the first few minutes – balance is not my strongest skill) and let the group process however and whenever they wanted, forcing them to deal with the consequences of those decisions. And though not everything she does in this episode is compassionate, her motive derives from a heart that just wants what is best for the people she loves. Ironically, in attempting to get the group to acknowledge that Troy leaving makes them feel some sort of sadness or sorrow, SHE never has time to process the grief herself. Funny how that happens, right?

In the halls, Jeff and Britta and Annie have teamed up together to look for Abed. I’m not going to dive too deep into the Jeff/Britta/Annie of it all, but I will say that it’s taken us, what? Three years to get to the place where these three have a scene together without making it awkward or uncomfortable for any of the characters, the audience, and without bringing up romantic entanglements? I’m proud of you, writers. Look at how far you’ve come! As the trio drags chairs down the hall in a row in order to step onto them and avoid the floor, they’re ambushed by “the locker boys” who are lead by none other than Chang. (Don’t you just love how he seems to always be in charge of the outcasts during these games?)

The locker boys are set to attack until Troy and Abed show up and remind Chang and the boys of exactly who the bosses are. They practice their intimidation stance which apparently works on the locker boys and Chang because they flee. … Or perhaps the boys heard the oncoming noise of a vehicle because just then, Buzz Hickey approaches in a contraption that he made in order to mow down any oncoming students. And mow down he does – he nearly knocks over Britta (who is spared by Troy when he instructs her to jump onto a free chair), and takes out Chang as well as the locker boys.

Abed instructs Jeff and Annie to head for Shirley Island, while Britta yells at the young man to face his fears. He can finally deal with the pain of Troy leaving, she insists, if he just allows himself the opportunity and stops playing the game. Abed, instead of answering Britta or acknowledging her request, instructs for her to jump onto a trash can and for Troy to follow him. The both leave Britta alone, at the mercy of Buzz Hickey.

It’s sad, really, because Troy tells Britta that Abed knows best and that she complained too much and slowed them down. In a moment of weakness, he places winning the game (or at least spending as much time in it as he can) over listening to his friend. It’s not that I blame Troy either, necessarily, for this decision. It’s just indicative of how often Britta gets brushed aside by the study group because she babbles about psychology or tends to lean toward pessimism rather than optimism.

Alone on the trash can, Britta expects to “die,” but Hickey doesn’t mow her over. In fact, in a moment of humanity and kindness, Hickey explains that he’s really just interested in winning the money to help pay for his son’s gay wedding. So Britta joins forces with him, turning to the “dark side” as it were. The betrayal by Troy and Abed was her trigger – not only was she abandoned by her entire study group emotionally, but she was also left for dead physically within the game. Hickey – a near-outsider – spared her because he recognized the game for what it was: a game. He also recognized how wrong it was for the group to leave her out because she had a different opinion than everyone else. What I find interesting about the game is something I noted above when I put “dark side” in quotations. There is no true evil in this game. Unlike paintball where clearly Chang (“Modern Warfare”) and dreamy Josh Holloway/City College (“A Fistful of Paintballs”/ “For a Few More”) were the villains, this game really HAS no villains. Oh, sure, we can call Hickey and Britta’s team the “bad guys,” can’t we? But… are they really? Aren’t they just jaded realists? Aren’t they just people tired of being ignored and neglected and abandoned who want people to listen to them and accept their ideas?

(You think about that while we continue to hop onto chairs and tables, won’t you?)

Troy and Abed arrive at Shirley Island, which is oddly reminiscent of what Pierce managed to construct in “A Fistful of Paintballs” as a sanctuary for students (including, once again, Vicki and Garrett). Jeff and Annie made it there, too, along with numerous other students. But Abed announces Britta’s “death” at the door, and everyone mourns her fake death appropriately (see: not at all). Apparently, there’s something on Shirley Island that is legendary – an orb. Shirley pretends that she doesn’t know what he’s talking about and that her cafeteria island is a place of peace. Abed begs to differ and knows that it’s a place of trade – a Hob, as it were – and profit. While Abed presses for information on the orb, Troy intervenes and explains that he doesn’t want his last day spent at Greendale to be one where everyone hates him.

There’s this momentary flicker across Abed’s face as he echoes “last day” and we think, in that moment, that Abed hasn’t processed Troy’s departure yet. It would be customary to think that, given what we know about Abed’s desire for control, his hatred of change, and his prior behavior to the Troy-sized absence in his life. And I think that this episode was as much about Troy as it was about Abed, because you simply cannot have one experience grief and fear without the other also experiencing it too. And while we often think of Abed as being unable to process emotions – he, again, has a history of that – I think this episode shows how much we grossly underestimated him as a person with real, honest feelings. It’s some food for thought as the episode continues because at the moment Troy and Abed end their conversation, Hickey ambushes Shirley Island with his “chair-walkers.” And Britta.

Britta then gets real with the group (who is appalled that Troy and Abed left her for dead so that’s something at least) and she gets real quickly by telling the group that they’re coddling each other and refusing to face the reality of Troy leaving and that she is the only one acting like an adult. They’re attempting to prolong saying goodbye by hiding behind the façade of a game. She’s not wrong, for everyone except Abed, really. This is what the Greendale gang does best: they use games and shenanigans as escapist techniques. Jeff and Annie team up because they enjoy spending time together but can’t acknowledge their feelings. The group plays Dunegons & Dragons and paintball and goes on capers to they won’t have to face the scary reality that somewhere, deep inside, there’s something they haven’t dealt with yet, some emotion they’ve kept buried. They busy themselves with blow-off classes and pointless clubs to stay at Greendale because the outside world is scary and it rejected them and it KEEPS rejecting them. They feel safe with things like “Hot Lava.” They feel comforted. And if they keep playing those games, if they keep themselves at Greendale long enough, maybe they’ll be able to stop hurting.

Britta’s dose of realism (fueled by both the bitterness of being exiled and anger of being consistently ignored) hits the group inside Shirley Island, but they’re all hit physically by the chair-walkers shortly thereafter. Shirley fights back though, telling Leonard to pump butter out onto the floor so that the chair-walkers begin to slip and falter. Jeff and Annie find a pair of rolling chairs and a bunch of rope and – each person hanging onto the end – manage to lasso a few chair-walkers… and then Annie promptly falls onto the floor, inciting maniacal laughter from Britta and then a swift request for a duel from Jeff.

(Jeff and Britta then begin bantering and it’s honestly their best banter to date because Jeff is trying to be witty and Britta is trying to one-up him and failing, which only makes Jeff frustrated and befuddled.)

In the process of their duel, Jeff gets knocked to the floor and is disqualified from the game to the joy of Britta. Inside of the recesses of Shirley Island, Abed and Troy ask Shirley where the orb is so that they can save her sanctuary, but the mother reveals that the orb IS the island and pulls back a blanket to reveal what appears to be a giant bubble, inside of which Troy and Abed seek refuge in order to take down the remainder of the chair-walkers. Hickey slices into the bubble, forcing Troy and Abed to retreat into the hallway with Britta and Hickey trying to chase them down and force them to come to terms with Troy’s departure. Britta yells: “You can’t outrun your emotions!” as the group rolls on down the hallway.

After Britta jumps onto the bubble, Troy and Abed head down a flight of stairs and into the basement (Britta lands safely atop a door’s landing before they do) where things started to get emotional for everyone. As they climb from cabinet to cabinet, Troy insists that they just wait in the basement and take a stand there, rather than climb into the air vents at Abed’s suggestion. See, even TROY misunderstands Abed’s purpose in creating the game. He tries to gently coax Abed back into reality by insisting that “the game’s gotta end.”

And then, the knife to my heart happened: Abed, distraught, explained that to him this wasn’t a game and it wasn’t a way to pretend that Troy wasn’t leaving. Instead, it was a way to deal with him leaving. The floor was really lava because that is what Troy leaving FELT like to Abed. Everything around him was being upturned and everything was dangerous and the world was a scary place and no one understood him. Why would they? he essentially asks Troy. He’s crazy. He knows he is for believing that he could make everyone else see what he saw. Abed is emotionally processing his best friend’s departure and it is so heartbreaking because it is so real.

Troy begins to see what Abed sees – he pictures the bubbling lava beneath his own feet and turns to Abed just as the filmmaker says: “I don’t think the lava goes away until you stop leaving.” And goodness, if that wasn’t the most emotional punch to the gut ever. I barely relate to Abed. I’m, as I’ve said many times, Annie Edison. I’m emotional and driven and a perfectionist. But in this moment, I saw what Abed saw too because I had been there. I saw packing up my boxes before I left for college and I saw that Where the Sidewalk Ends book and I saw the faces of my best friends as we said our goodbyes before I moved away. I saw and I felt all of what he felt in that moment. The lava is and was palpable. And it doesn’t stop existing until we either learn to embrace it for what it is, or we stop leaving and stop moving.

And Troy realizes that, but he also knows that the only way he can help Abed is if he stops being his own person. And he cannot do that. At that moment, however, Hickey and Britta burst in and Troy frantically explains that the lava is real to Abed. Britta, bless her, quickly and quietly realizes the significance of this. She recognizes her error the entire day and in that moment is both empathetic and also extremely upset. But Hickey is uncaring and topples the cabinets over, causing Abed to leap and cling onto a pipe above the floor. (Britta promptly pushes him down and watches then as Troy and Abed deal with the former’s departure.)

Troy insists that Abed grab his hand and that if he does, he won’t leave. It’s an amazingly sentimental statement because Troy is terrified, too. He’s scared of losing his best friend and he’s scared of sailing the world by himself. He’s afraid to leave his friends and I think there’s a large part of him that plays the game because he wants to remember Greendale as an absurdly silly, fun place. He doesn’t want to think about the pain. But just then, Abed vocalizes a thought: he thinks that he was wrong before, that maybe the lava doesn’t exist because Troy’s leaving but because he - Abed - cannot let go of his best friend. I can’t express how beautiful this moment is because it’s Abed coming to an emotional revelation by himself. It’s him recognizing the fact that HE needs to be the one to let go of Troy. And so… he does. Abed lets go of the pipe that he’s holding onto and falls to the floor, “dead.”

Troy and Britta are both stunned, the former angry with the latter for the way she misunderstood Abed. But even Troy admits that he only understood the film student “a little.” It’s a painful reality for both of them, but more so for Troy who feels responsible for the pain that Abed dealt with during the game. Britta assures Troy that they can figure out a way to fix Abed, perhaps not in real life… but maybe in the game they can save him. So the two begin to bounce an idea off each other – they’ll “clone” Abed. They then begin their elaborate fake plan (and Britta is actually rattling off some pretty impressive terminology) to bring a new Abed back from the dead and… it works. What’s most impressive though is the intricate care and compassion in which Britta treats their task. She doesn’t scoff. She doesn’t roll her eyes. She honestly does her very best, down to recreating beeping noises, because she knows that this isn’t a game. She knows what the game means to Abed and HE is the most important thing to her.

The regeneration works, and the cloned version of Abed rises from the lava. And the cloned Abed admits something: he may be able to let Troy go. Because when Abed fell into the “lava,” he fell into his fears and insecurities and he was brought back out of them by the love of two devoted friends – a love he’ll never lose because he knows now that they care so deeply for him that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to help him heal as they try and grieve themselves. And Troy actually learns from Abed, too: he falls into the “lava” in order to wash away his fear of leaving. No one has to be afraid anymore.

Troy and Abed “clone” themselves and it’s really significant – they fall into the “lava” as their old selves (those scared, insecure people) and the ones they send back out to face the unknown and brave the uncertainties and say the goodbyes? They’re “clones” of themselves. In a blog post a while back, I said that one of my favorite How I Met Your Mother moments was when Ted said this:

Look we've all been searching for the five doppelgangers, right? But eventually, over time, we all become our own doppelgangers, you know, these completely different people who just happen to look like us.

What “Geothermal Escapism” teaches us is the lesson that “Doppelgangers” taught Ted: eventually we all become doppelgangers of ourselves. Our circumstances change us. People change us. Love and friendship and loss change us. And eventually we become different people on the inside, who still happen to look the same on the outside.

After Troy falls into the lava and emerges as his “clone,” he takes a moment, alone, to glance around the study room one final time before meeting the Greendale five out on the steps of the library. Troy then makes the rounds and says his goodbyes to each member of the study group. Britta babbles until she stops herself, worried that she Britta’d her goodbye with Troy. She calls herself the worst (“Course Listing Unavailable,” another Saccardo-penned episode) and Troy counters with: “You’re the best and I love you.”*

* I began sobbing at this part during my re-watch because DARN you gas leak year for ruining Troy and Britta completely (I’m more bitter at this than Jeff/Annie), but bless you, Saccardo, for redeeming them with ONE episode.

He then turns to Annie, who reminds Troy that in high school all she ever wanted was for him to notice her and now counts herself lucky to have been able to get to know him. But Troy disagrees – he wishes he wouldn’t have been so stupid in high school, because then he would have had four additional years of friendship spent with her. (She hugs him. I cried more.)

Troy and Jeff have always had a bit of a complex relationship. They’re both alpha males and Jeff doesn’t always do the right thing, while Troy has the heart of a true hero. But Troy’s always seen past Jeff’s faults and embraced him as both a leader and a role model. And as he departs, he tells Jeff that he hopes he can make his friend proud. Jeff looks around for a moment before he leans in and admits to Troy that he’s never stepped foot outside of Colorado. By sailing around the world, Troy’s much cooler than he is. (I cried some more at this, too.)

And then Troy tells Shirley that he appreciates how she always looked out for him, while Shirley thanks him for putting up with the boring, old mom of the group. Troy is flabbergasted: Shirley is AMAZING and he tells her so as he hugs her. (I cried again.)

Finally, Troy approaches “clone” Abed, who notes that he “cloned” Troy with some DNA from a homing pigeon. He pauses and composes himself for a moment before explaining that this means he may find the compulsion within him to come back. (I sobbed.) The two then hug (I sobbed harder) and Troy heads onto the boat, but not before vocalizing that Pierce stipulated in the will that someone else would sail with him to ensure he didn’t cheat.

That person, as it turns out, is Levar Burton (Troy’s eyes bug out momentarily) and as Troy heads onto the boat, a version of “Come Sail Away” (“Why am I crying? Did I listen to ‘Come Sail Away’ by Styx again?” – Debate 109) plays over the scene. Spoiler alert that you probably already saw coming: I sobbed. And I sobbed during my re-watch as Abed looks out at Troy’s departure with tears forming in his own eyes.

The hardest part of moving on is remembering that you’re inevitably leaving something behind when you do. It’s that moment you turn around in the car and watch your home and family and friends fade into dots in the distance. It’s the echo of an empty bedroom. It’s the moment your parents finish helping you unpack and hug you goodbye at college. It’s the song on the radio that plays when your best friend isn’t there to sing it with you. It’s that feeling inside of you that you get when you utter an inside joke and the only one who would laugh with you is in another city or country.

Goodbyes aren’t easy, but they’re not without purpose. It’s cliché to tell someone that when one door closes, another one opens. The way I see it, life is more like a hallway lined with windows and doors, all of which are open and all of which are inviting. Gentle, warm breezes float in from behind white, billowing curtains. Some rooms are farther away than others, but none are closed. Everything is open – everything is waiting.

And the purpose of a goodbye is really so that you can say hello – hello to something greater and wilder and better, as long as you take the risk and walk toward it. As Troy sails away from Greendale, I can’t help but think of all of those open doors and windows waiting for him. I think maybe, just maybe, that’s something to smile at.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
  • This was such a stellar episode for Gillian Jacobs and for the exceptionally talented Donald Glover. I've always been a fan of Britta, but Gillian just absolutely nailed every emotion and scene in this episode. And Donald was nothing short of spectacular in his swan song, being both hilarious and also extremely touching. Additionally, this was one of Danni Pudi's strongest episodes to date. You utterly felt for Abed and I have never truly felt more emotionally connected to Abed than I did in this episode. Brilliant job, you three. Absolutely brilliant.
  • “My self-published novels are not going to publish themselves.”
  • "Do you think this game has gotten out of hand?" "Eh, it feels normal enough for a school who's on 911's blocked caller list."
  • Chang’s same-sex celebrity crush is Nathan Fillion who – SPOILERS – we will see next week!
  • “I get it. I lived in New York.”
  • Lee’s British accent surfaced!
  • "Está muerto para siempre" "What?" "Qué?" "STOP!" "Para!"
Well, folks, that is it. We are now down to the Greendale Five, which doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? Nevertheless, the season continues next week with “Analysis of Cork-Based Networking,” also known as Guest Star-a-Palooza! Annie plans the midterm dance and with Hickey’s assistance, navigates the complex political system of Greendale’s staff in the process.

Until then, folks! :)

1 comment:

  1. This was an astounding review. I loved the personal touches and emotional honesty on your part. You ably captured every complexity of the episode, even some I hadn't considered. I majored in English, and I WISH I could write something as accomplished as this. Well done.