Episode 206: Epidemiology
Epidemiology: Community: Season 2, Episode 6
Monsters crawl out of our subconscious, giving shape to our amorphous fears and insecurities. By giving these fears form, we can then place them in a narrative to triumph over, and exorcise them from our souls. Our most ancient literary traditions are little more than tales of the struggle to overcome the monsters prowling at our subconscious.
Although a curious thing happens with monsters. They become detached from their original context and their original metaphors. Vampires might represent a parasitic aristocratic class in the 1800s, but two centuries of time later they are simply generic monsters. For zombies, this decoupling has happened only relatively recently. When George Romero created the zombie (as this review is about Romero zombies, as opposed to other types of zombies, he is the creator), it represented a very specific critique of American society. The world of the zombies was roughly divided into three parts, the protagonists who are simply people trying to cope with their new situation, a hostile class of plutocrats attempting to secure their own resources and territory, and the zombies themselves, brainless consumers.
Romero was very clear in his critique of capitalism in America. The protagonists were hammered relentlessly by brainless consumers on one side, and sociopaths selfishly seeking their own gain on the other. And in true Romero fashion, it was a situation that quite literally killed everyone. This metaphor has remained strongly tied to zombies, fromResident Evil's perspective on the insanity of corporate profiteering at all costs, to Shaun of the Dead's view of how menial jobs reduce all those who have them to the status of zombies. It is only fairly recently that zombies have made the transition from a specific subconscious fear to being simply generic monsters. The Walking Dead, for example, has no concerns about representing larger aspects of society.
Greendale is a society unto itself, and Community is less concerned about showing the fundamental forces of the society of an entire nation, instead it chooses to focus on how the small scale forces of Greendale reposition those who attend it. Often the focus of these episodes is Jeff, whose inherent cynicism and self-interest, tend to make him uniquely resistant to Greendale's charms. But every single member of the study group has been forced to look into the mirror and realize that who they are is not who they were and either embrace their present self, or attempt to backslide. Britta did it in "Geography of Global Conflict," Shirley in "Urban Matrimony and Sandwich Arts," and Troy in "Epidemiology."
Prior to arriving at Greendale, Troy was the most popular kid in his school. Quarterback, Prom King, noted party animal, person who caused all the women to swoon. Arriving in Greendale realigned his path. He was average and unimportant, and began, by accident, to explore an identity outside of his "cool" persona. The opening of the episode is designed to show just how far he has fallen. When approaching two women, he has no game, no skill and they find nothing about him desirable. It is a debacle that, after some coaching from Jeff, leads him to reassess his life and attempt to return to his formerly cool persona.
This is, of course, a complete failure. His "Sexy Dracula" costume is far, far less cool and certainly less attractive than his Ripley costume. It looks exactly like what it is, something he cobbled together in a public bathroom. Clearly Troy can't even regress to his previous self anymore, it is merely a matter of accepting this fundamental truth.
The zombies are, quite literally, the mass of Greendale students attempting to make everyone a part of it. It works as a perfect externalization of Troy's internal dilemma. Does he give up his persona and join Greendale, or maintain it and escape? At the most crucial moment of choice for him, when trapped in the basement where escape is an actual possibility, instead, he fully commits to Greendale, telling Abed, "I love you." Instead of finding freedom, he finds the Dean and reenters the library intent upon saving everyone, a plan which initially fails miserably since it relied upon cardboard armor. Thematically he had to become a zombie, completely, fully and totally surrendering to Grendale, even as he saved the school from the zombies.
This episode manages to be a pitch perfect zombie movie. From the initial infection that everyone thinks is weird, but unimportant, to moving from multiple spaces that are thought to be "safe" but ultimately are compromised, to the ridiculously simple goal (turning the thermostat down). It is almost funny how easily you can streamline a zombie movie to the point where it is only 22 minutes long.
- Once more every character's costume is a reflection of their personalities, insecurities, and roles I've already talked about Troy, but Britta is a shapeless and yet adorable T-Rex, Jeff is wearing a David Beckham costume that he picked just so he could wear a nice suit, Abed is an Alien, Annie is wearing something girly, innocent, and a little naughty, Pierce is wearing a captain Kirk costume that he thinks is cool, but is actually only cool in an ironic hipster sense. Chang is dressed as Peggy Fleming, and he seams to have only chosen that costume just to prove everyone at Greendale is secretly racist. Shirley is Glenda the Good Witch, but they all think she's Miss Piggy, which reflects the fact that the study group often seems to not be able to understand Shirley. I'm not certain if the Dean has any larger ideas behind his Lady Gaga costume, other than that, of course, the Dean would like Lady Gaga.
- ABBA is the perfect score to a zombie movie. It really does work perfectly.
- That scene with the cat is a classic horror movie parody.
- George Takei is awesome.
- I love how seamlessly Jeff goes from zombie texting to just regular texting.
- "Better have a plan B!"
Notes from the commentary
- Originally the music was supposed to be "Ghostbusters." I am glad they changed it. ABBA was the most expensive and they basically spent their entire music budget on getting it.
- According to Dan Harmon, there is an African-Americans tradition to refer to all vampires as "Dracula."
- They think Rich is an asshole for locking himself in with them while infected, but not Britta, because it is something that Britta would do.
- Ken Joeng's favorite moment in the whole series is the zombie hamster attack.
- The cat was a joke Dan Harmon wanted to write for fifteen years. He put it in a draft ofMonster House.
***In addition to having a weird expertise in Vampires, I also have a weird expertise in zombies. If anyone cares I can write a rundown of the genre. Originally this was about twice as long and involved talking about almost every zombie movie ever made. As well as Beowulf for some reason.***