Episode Title: "Digital Estate Planning"
Writer: Matt Warburton
Director: Adam Davidson
In some alternate timeline, "Community" was never pulled from NBC's schedule because it is the hit that it always deserved be, with blockbuster ratings and a network that appreciates it. But that's not this reality. In this world, "Community" will only get 13 new episodes next year and a banishment to Fridays where its lead-in is "Whitney." Really, NBC?! F***ing "Whitney"?!
And in a final indignity, NBC is burning off all three of the remaining season 3 "Community" episodes just so all of the episodes will count towards the May sweeps. Here at CraveOnline, we think that "Community" is something special. It is a truly great TV comedy that deserves to be celebrated as such. So, we'll be making sure that each of the final three episodes has its own review.
"Digital Estate Planning" picks up on a dark and stormy night (I'm assuming), as Pierce (Chevy Chase) drags his friends, Jeff (Joel McHale), Britta (Gillian Jacobs), Troy (Donald Glover), Annie (Alison Brie), Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) and Abed (Danny Pudi) to a Hawthorne Industries warehouse to meet with Gilbert Lawson (Giancarlo Esposito), the executor of Pierce's father, Cornelius Hawthorne (Larry Cedar) after Jeff inadvertently contributed to the man's death earlier this season.
This episode appears to take place either before or after the Chang (Ken Jeong) revolution at Greendale and the quest to rescue Dean Pelton (Jim Rash). That plotline is dropped entirely in "Digital Estate Planning," but in its place we get an incredible high concept episode. To put it succinctly, Pierce once had the nerve to suggest that his father invest in video games at the dawn of the gaming revolution in 1980. In response, Cornelius rejected his idea and spent 30 years having a custom video game built for Pierce to play alongside seven of his closest friends. Sure, he only actually has six friends, but Pierce insists that LeVar Burton is a "maybe."
Almost the entire episode takes place in the world of the video game, "Journey to the Center of Hawthorne;" which features graphics that look like a mixture of the old 8-bit Nintendo NES with some SNES 16-bit touches as well. The opening credit sequence is comically epic as it adapts the "Community" theme song and introduces us to the onscreen avatars that stand-in for the cast in this world.
Of course, Cornelius had a dark motive for creating all of this and he eventually appears in the game itself to explain that Pierce must compete against his friends to be the first to arrive at Castle Hawthorne in order to retain his inheritance. Think about that for a second. Cornelius had so much disdain for his son that he wanted to destroy any friendships that Pierce had by making them compete for his legacy against him.
Fortunately, the rest of the Greendale 7 are good… well, fairly decent people who resolve to help Pierce keep his fortune. But the same can't be said of Gilbert, who enters the game to steal the inheritance for himself after a lifetime of suffering in the employ of Cornelius. And to make maters worse, Cornelius is the only one who really knows how to play the game and he easily decimates all of them, forcing them to respawn at the beginning of the game.
When the Greendale 7 split up, the episode moves into instant classic mode with several hilarious sequences. Annie and Shirley end up in an odd bit of commentary about video game morality when Annie inadvertently sets the local blacksmith on fire and tries to put him out… with an axe before trying to hide his body. And it's the good Christian Shirley who hacks up the man's wife and looks around for other unfortunate family members to cover up Annie's crime. Meanwhile, Jeff and Britta find a potion shop where Britta practices the witching arts… or something as Troy and Pierce lose big at a gambling table.
Which leaves Abed with perhaps the most offbeat "Community" romance of all time with a non-player character named Hilda, who has no real personality of her own. But Hilda does have information on such a wide variety of topics that Abed is instantly smitten with her. When the dead blacksmith and his wife turn out to be Hilda's parents, Abed stays behind with her to help Hilda rebuild her life. Even Abed notes that Hilda has only a limited number of simulated emotions and moods, but he adds that he's "never felt this way" about anyone.
The remaining players have a memorable trip through the rest of the game, including stops at Gay Island, the Valley of Laziness and the Black Cave, where they are attacked by several fro-sporting Jive Turkeys that multiply. Yes, this is a very strange game, but the Study Group ultimately gets pretty good at it. Not that it matters when Gilbert rewrites the game rules to make himself practically invincible before he annihilates the study group once more.
Gilbert's cheating is so blatant that both Jeff and Pierce leave their seats to confront him before Gilbert drops a bombshell on them: Gilbert is Cornelius' illegitimate child and he was more of son to him than Pierce ever was. Also, Jeff and Pierce have to run back to their seats or else they will forfeit the game and let Gilbert walk away with Pierce's inheritance.
If you've ever seen "Breaking Bad," than you know just how great of a villain Giancarlo Esposito was as Gus Fring. In contrast to that iconic role, Esposito shows off some impressive comedy chops in this episode. But it's far more impressive when Esposito manages to make Gilbert sympathetic. When Gilbert finally reaches the end of the game, he encounters the big giant head of Cornelius, who wants him to sign an electronic waiver that would force Gilbert to deny his true heritage or else lose the Hawthorne inheritance.
Gilbert doesn't hesitate. He refuses to go along with the lie and the Cornelius avatar attacks him for it. Meanwhile, the study group discovers that Abed married Hilda and created a vast kingdom where the village once sat. The Hilda character has expanded her program so much that she can actually say that she loves Abed and give him an unlimited army of children who can build just about anything. And so they assault Cornelius with more advanced weapons than the game world has ever seen before Pierce delivers one of the final blows via an atomic bomb.
Then Pierce does something so profound and humane that it's almost wildly out of character. Pierce forfeits the game alongside the study group and he apologizes to Gilbert before openly acknowledging him as his brother. Pierce gives up his inheritance and he allows his newfound brother to symbolically kill their father in the video game.
Outside of the game, Gilbert is a changed man and the warmth he and Pierce share is actually quite touching. Before they all leave for celebratory drinks, Abed sneaks back into the computer and he downloads the game so that he can return to Hilda and their extended family. It's sad and a little sweet at the same time. But at least Abed is happy.
The high concept of this episode was very, very clever. But it wouldn't have worked without the emotional reconciliation at the end. At its core, "Community" has more heart and soul than almost any other comedy on TV.
And that is why we love it.