Episode 210: Mixology Certification
210 — Mixology Certification
What marks Community as unique is that it is a post-cynical show. Community made its debut a generation after Seinfeld ushered in a generation of comedies that rejected the saccharine and the emotional; while it has always drawn from those shows, Community at its best is also heir to a long tradition of shows that impact the viewer emotionally. Community may not be blindly optimistic, but neither is its worldview myopic in the opposite direction; the study group instead affords us through its interactions a more nuanced view of human nature. Nowhere is this treatment of human nature more apparent than in Mixology Certification, the darkest episode of the show's first three semesters but also its most emotionally rewarding.
In Mixology, we see our characters at their most vulnerable. Time and time again, the members of the study group are separated from one another. This separation is almost immediately physically apparent, as the group first leaves Pierce behind and then splits into two. As the episode unfolds, we see emotional separation; the characters hide behind layers of deceit and mistrust, only opening up under the influence of alcohol, for they have no other means of support. Pierce, the oldest member of the group, is left alone just as he realizes that he no longer can be self-reliant. Annie, whom everyone perceives as the most diligent and organized, must adopt an alter ego to express her doubts about her own future thanks to the role into which the group has placed her. Abed, who has never been able to relate to people, must take stock of his ability to connect emotionally without the help of his friends, for whom his plight is concerning not at all. Shirley, who sees herself as the most righteous and upstanding member of the group, feels the need to go to extreme measures to protect that reputation rather than opening up to her friends. Jeff and Britta, who see themselves as the cultured and worldly members of the group, carry on a long and increasingly incoherent struggle with Troy as their proxy, indifferent to the effect it has on their friend or on the others. Meanwhile, Troy, who has been goaded into a rite of passage he does not expect and does not need, must learn to become a responsible adult all on his own, even as his erstwhile friends are ostensibly with him to celebrate his growth. It is Troy who asks how many lies he has been living; in reality, though, all of them have lies that they have been living, and the conflict between those lies leads to the stonewalling and emotional distance that pervades the episode.
The third act is where all the lies swim to the surface. Annie finds herself realizing for the first time how lost she is just as Abed is told that Stargate is better and that his opinion is meaningless by extension. Shirley is exposed as a drunkard, and as she leaves she discovers Pierce trying and failing to maintain his dignity. Troy discovers that L Street and The Red Door are the same bar and that none of the knowledge about life that he assume adults have really exists. One by one, the walls of separation are knocked down, so that nothing remains in the end but the group. The emotional fruition of the episode is in the last scene, when an alternative to said separation is revealed. Troy and Annie never talk about the issues that have been plaguing them, but they have no need to; beneath all the minutiae, the subtext of the conversation conveys everything that need be said. What is important is that they each have someone who cares about them; everyone in the group has each other, and none of them ever need to be alone. Therein lies the central, deeply resonant message of Community; being together makes us better people. It is only when we have other people that we can truly feel good about ourselves. Where so many shows of the last two decades have eschewed hugging and learning, Community embraces both, and never is it clearer or more rewarding than it is here.
- This episode is universally regarded as a triumph (for my money, it's the best episode of television I've ever seen), but it seems to have gotten an unfair reputation as not very funny. While the last act has very few moments that are played for laughs, the remainder of the episode consists of very funny people bouncing off each other, and the result is some of Community's most entertaining work. Alison Brie's turn as Caroline Decker of Corpus Christi, Texas merits special attention as proof that profound character moments can still be hilarious.
- Not only do this episode and Cooperative Calligraphy, my second-favorite Community episode, form the ends of the best three-week stretch that Community has ever had, but the two share a lot in common. Both are ensemble pieces that use the whole cast in concert, and both involve discord within the group. The two episodes complement each other perfectly; where Calligraphy is about how the group members view each other, Mixology is about how they view themselves.
- Season 2 was very weak for Shirley in general, but this episode is a highlight. Yvette Nicole Brown does a marvelous job with some very strong material; Shirley's overly cheery demeanor in the beginning takes on new meaning when the secret she hides is discovered.
- I don't think I gave that last scene enough credit, but words really don't suffice to express how beautiful it is. More is communicated in the subtext there than many shows are able to say in their whole run. "Greendale is Where I Belong" is used perfectly here; even as the conversation dwells on little things, the music is able to convey how vitally important all of it is. I wish Ludwig Göransson could score my life.
On the A.V. Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/digital-estate-planning-the-first-chang-dynasty-in,73676/#comment-647341661 (page 397)