“Intro to Knots” is actually a pretty good summation of the quality of season four so far. At times it’s great. At other moments its disappointing. But most of the time it’s just plain old boring.
The fact that this episode is a “Christmas episode,” an episode type Community has excelled with in the past both with the claymation special and the musical episode, only highlights the show’s obvious decline in quality. The episode is essentially another incarnation of “Cooperative Calligraphy” (also known as “the bottle episode”). In both episodes, the study group finds themselves stuck in a room with the knowledge that one of them is a traitor, only this time instead of the mystery of a secret pen-thief, it’s the mystery of who untied the hostage history professor (a premise which takes just over half of the show’s run time to set up) keeping them at each other’s throats. “Cooperative Caligraphy” was a landmark episode for the show that represented a turning point for the study group. It was the point where they realized and accepted that each member of the group was a flawed person who would inevitably make mistakes and a big part of being a member of a community was being willing to let those mistakes go, to forgive and forget.
The theme was even dealt with as recently as last week in “Intro to Felt Surrogacy” where the group reaffirms their commitment to accepting each other’s flaws. Last week it worked mostly because of how self-contained the episode was and because of the availability of the whole puppet shtick to lean on. This week, however, the theme was not only repetitive and unnecessary in terms of where the characters were in their development, it was also poorly executed. As mentioned before, it takes forever for things to get going, and when they finally are, Jeff just throws the message out there in one of his less impressive speeches. It felt more like something the characters themselves knew all along and had just been forced to forget just so they could have some kind of conflict, and thin conflict at that.
Besides the problems with the show’s second-hand message, there was also a laundry list of problems going on in the sidelines of the episode. As with the hotel scenes in “Conventions of Space and Time” (my own personal low point of the season), I still don’t understand why Annie suddenly has a major school-girl crush on Jeff. In previous seasons, there has always been sexual tension between them, but it always had a comedic effect whenever it was referenced because of her age. Additionally, I’m not sure if the writer’s think they are being ominous with Chang’s “mysterious” phone calls, but whatever it is they think they are doing, it’s not working. The fact that Chang is faking his “Changnesia” is boring and a waste of what has actually been a pretty hilarious turn for his character. Chevy Chase’s absence was introduced in the least subtly way possible. The out-of-the-blue reveal that Cornwallis was actually faking being tied up because he’s just that lonely, was not only unbelievable but also unnecessary. Speaking of unnecessary, what was up with the Dean just showing up with kittens. I mean, I get it: kittens are cute and people like them, but the writers didn’t even try to give them an excuse for being there. He literally just walks in with a basket of kittens–just because.
None of this not to say there weren’t good things in the episode. Donald Glover as always makes things funnier just because he’s the one who says them, and he had several amusing one liners this episode. Abed’s commitment to his Die Hard bit was pretty funny, especially when he sees broken glass on the floor and immediately takes off his shoes and socks. I also enjoyed the “dark timeline” bit on the tag, even if it was just as randomly introduced as the kittens and also poorly edited together for some reason. Jeff’s delivery of his lines “I may not have a right arm, but I am armed with what’s right” and “I wish you were even younger” might have been the greatest things I’ve seen yet this season. But there’s no avoiding the fact that “Intro to Knots” is a big step back for a season in the middle of a rebound. Let’s hope next week is a return to form.