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Recap / Community S3 E04: Remedial Chaos Theory

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Just so you know, Jeff, you are now creating 6 different timelines.note 

The study group gets together for a housewarming party for Troy and Abed's new apartment. In particular, they bring attention to a piece of decoration they are very proud of: an Indiana Jones boulder escape scene diorama in the living room. After everyone has shown up, the group starts playing Yahtzee until the pizza arrives and nobody wants to go down to get it. Jeff suggests rolling a six-sided die to decide who gets to go downstairs, and Abed mentions that in doing so he's creating six different timelines (though it's actually seven if you count the "prime" timeline). They even come conveniently numbered by the order of the die roll they're associated with.

Just as Abed predicted, the die roll causes the episode to split into seven different stories depending on who went down to get the pizza.


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The Community episode "Remedial Chaos Theory" provides examples of:

  • Absentee Actor: This episode features only the study group, and thus neither Ben Chang, nor the recently promoted to the opening titles Craig Pelton appear.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: In the prime timeline, Abed catches the dice and calls Jeff "a devious son of a bitch" for rigging the game so he would never have to get the pizza. Jeff gives a roguish grin as the study group playfully calls him out for being classic Jeff. Despite Jeff banging his head and the gang calling it karma, he's amused on seeing them dance to "Roxanne".
  • Addiction Displacement: Baking is heavily implied to be one of several hobbies that Shirley took up as a replacement for alcohol. When the housewarming party ends in disaster in the Darkest Timeline, she goes back to drinking.
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  • Almost Kiss: Jeff and Annie come really close to kissing in Timeline 4, but they are interrupted and the moment is gone.
  • Alternate Timeline: Seven different timelines are explored during this episode. The difference is created by roll of a die that determined who goes downstairs to get pizza and misses a few minutes of the housewarming party, which creates various conflicts or bonding moments between the study group.
  • Amusing Injuries:
    • The darkest timeline version of Troy destroyed his vocal cord trying to eat the troll doll and now has to speak with an electrolarynx, but it's okay since this isn't the "real" timeline.
      Evil Troy: (deadly serious) Clearly, you don't understand anything about defeating trolls.
    • In the same scene, Jeff's missing arm is represented by one of his expensive suits having a tied-off sleeve.
    • We get to see Jeff hit his head on the ceiling fan multiple times.
  • Anyone Can Die: Pierce, one of the main characters, dies in Timeline 5 after being shot in the leg.
  • Awkward Kiss: ​Jeff and Annie come really close to kissing in Timeline 4, but they are interrupted and the moment is gone. In Timeline 6, the two successfully make out, only to stop when Annie mentions Jeff reminding her of her father. That creeps him out and points it out, plus he berates Annie for wearing too much lip gloss.
  • Bait-and-Switch: In the first timeline shown, Troy suddenly notices something in Annie's purse after she leaves to get the pizza.
    Troy: Uhhh guys, what does a pregnancy test look like?
    Jeff: (not looking up from something he's reading) It's like a thin piece of plastic with a thing on the end of it.
    Troy: (pulls a revolver from Annie's purse) Okay, so this is definitely a gun.
    • In the third timeline, after Troy catches Britta smoking a joint, he pulls out a cigarette case, opens it, takes out what looks like a joint and holds it to his mouth. It turned out to be a candy cigarette.
  • Beard of Evil: In the tag, Abed makes fake Evil Spock goatees these for the group since this is the "darkest timeline". Only Troy is willing to wear one with Abed.
  • Big "NO!": Troy screams a big NOOOO upon seeing the troll standing amid the chaos of Timeline 5. The reasons have to be seen to be believed.
  • Bottle Episode: Save for the final scene in the study room the episode takes place entirely in Abed and Troy's apartment. Ironically though, according to the DVD commentary it was one of the more expensive episodes because it took such a long time to shoot (as in, over six months with three different directors).
  • Brick Joke: Several, given the "alternate timelines" nature of the storylines. In the first few timelines, everyone who goes to the door to get the pizzas makes a point of noting what a creepy weirdo the pizza delivery guy was. So of course, when it's Britta's turn, she falls madly in love with him at first sight and they get engaged.
  • Broken Record: Just so the audience understands that we've left one timeline and gone back to the point where the timelines diverged, we hear the door buzzer and Abed explaining the creation of new timelines seven times. There are also several events that happen in almost the same way immediately after those timelines diverge (especially Jeff stopping Britta from singing and hitting his head on the fan when he gets up).
  • Call It Karma: Annie in the prime/real timeline, when Jeff hits his head on the ceiling fan.
  • Cassandra Truth: A metaphysical example:
    Abed: Just so you know, Jeff, you are now creating six different timelines.
    Jeff: Of course I am, Abed.
    [Throws the die; creates a new timeline.]
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Literally, Annie's gun which is shown off in timeline 1 only to go off in another (third act).
    • The Indiana Jones temple replica. In each timeline, Abed catches the boulder before it goes over the table... until the timeline where Troy gets the pizza and the boulder causes Disaster Dominoes.
  • Chekhov's Army: The Study Group from the Darkest Timeline become recurring antagonists in Seasons 3 and 4.
  • Confirm Before Reveal: Troy looks through Annie's purse when she goes to get the pizzas and finds an odd object. He asks Jeff to describe what a pregnancy test looks like. Once he realizes the object isn't a pregnancy test, he pulls it out of Annie's purse and reveals she has a gun.
  • Continuity Nod: Several.
    • In the aftermath of Timeline 5, Shirley becomes an alcoholic again and Annie goes to a mental ward after a nervous breakdown, not unlike her addiction to pills back in high school.
    • In the tag, Troy and Abed are watching Inspector Spacetime, introduced in the season premiere.
    • The flag that the study group designed for Greendale in Basic Rocket Science can be seen in Troy and Abed's apartment.
    • The refrigerator resembles the vending machine that Troy and Abed had gotten stuck in.
    • Among the apartment's decor is a movie poster for Kickpuncher Detroit.
    • Abed's "suggestive eyebrows" make a reappearance.
    • Annie is described as a good nurse, a phrase previously used in "Epidemiology".
    • In the first timeline, we discover that Annie keeps a gun. We learned in last season's episode "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design", that Annie carries a gun due to her apartment's neighborhood being dangerous.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: When Abed busts Jeff in the Prime Timeline for devising a system to never get the pizza, everyone finds it Actually Pretty Funny, including Jeff himself. They unanimously nominate him to go get the pizza. Jeff accepts this without complaint.
  • Critical Failure: Abed calls attention to the fact that the darkest timeline came about because Jeff rolled a 1.
  • Dance Party Ending: The prime timeline ends with Jeff going to get the pizza downstairs. Thus Britta can start singing "Roxanne" and everyone starts dancing.
  • Dark Is Evil: In The Tag, everyone is wearing black, reflecting that they are (a) mourning Pierce's death, (b) the results of the darkest of the seven timelines and (c) the timeline that Abed suggests should be the Evil Twin-filled Mirror Universe.
  • Disaster Dominoes: Timeline 5. Troy hurriedly leaves the apartment for the pizza delivery — he dislodges the rolling boulder from the "Raiders" set model which lands on the floor — Annie trips on it and falls into the coffee table, smashing Pierce's bottle of overproof rum — Pierce jumps up from the game table in panic and Annie's purse hits the floor — a gun inside it fires, shooting Pierce in the thigh and hitting an artery — as the others frantically try to stop the bleeding, Britta steps out of the bathroom, and as she gapes in alarm the marijuana cigarette she's smoking falls and ignites the rum. Eventually, one is dead, one is driven mad from guilt, one lapses into chronic drunkenness, one's larynx is destroyed, one loses an arm in the fire, one thinks they should invade the Prime Timeline, and one dyes a strand of her hair blue.
  • Downer Ending:
    • The end tag displays the aftermath of what happened in Timeline 5. The characters mourn Pierce's death and they become evil.
    • Timeline 6 ends with each member save for Abed having either awkwardness or genuine hatred of one another (and also implies that the group wouldn't be friends if not for Abed).
  • Drugs Are Bad: Done subtly. The final timeline, where everyone ends up the happiest, is one of the few where Britta doesn't sneak into the bathroom to smoke weed.
  • Erudite Stoner: Britta smokes a joint in almost every timeline. In Timeline 3, she is very perceptive of the root cause of turmoil between Troy and Jeff.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change:
    • In the tag set in the "darkest timeline" where Pierce is dead, Annie went insane, Shirley is drunk, Troy lost his larynx, Jeff lost an arm and Britta...
    Jeff: Britta, you put one wash-away blue streak in your hair and I lost an arm.
    Britta: Exactly! Life got dark!
    • Jeff's hair in the tag is notably unkempt (well, more so than usual) and starting to prematurely grey from stress.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Jeff rolls a "1" on the die for Timeline 5 (the timeline where Troy leaves to get the pizza). In Dungeons and Dragons, a "1" represents a critical failure, and this turns out to be indicating how this will be the "Darkest Timeline".
  • For Want of a Nail: Annie finds a brick at the very beginning of the episode, which becomes the catalyst of the different timelines (since the pizza guy can't come straight to the door). Each timeline is considerably different depending on who had to go to fetch the pizza.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Jeff's line "I don't like being the bad guy any more than anybody else!" In the Darkest Timeline, all of the group (including Jeff) become evil.
    • In the first two timelines, Britta gets indignant after Abed comments that the bathroom smells weird after she uses it, and he asks her what she was doing in there. Abed wasn't being socially awkward: Britta was smoking weed in the bathroom.
  • Freudian Excuse: In Timeline 6, Shirley eventually admits to Britta that the only reason she bakes excessively is that she feels excluded by the rest of the study group, and baking is her way of feeling needed and included. Unfortunately, this means that Jeff's plan to confront her excessive baking by colluding with everyone to refuse to eat what she cooks unwittingly works to validate her fears of being left out.
  • Funny Background Event:
    • In the tag, Troy and Abed are watching Inspector Spacetime, introduced in the season premiere.
    • In the prime timeline, when everyone is dancing, you can spot Pierce taking the troll doll out of the trash and throwing it out the window instead.
  • Golden Ending: The prime timeline. There may be no shipping, but there’s also no conflict. Britta sings her song, Annie decides to move in with Troy and Abed, Pierce throws away the Norwegian troll doll.
  • Good Samaritan: Annie, who we learn had to apply a tourniquet to a stabbing victim outside her apartment.
  • G-Rated Drug: Shirley's baking problem is treated by Jeff the same way as drug addiction.
  • Happy Ending Override: Spoofed with The Stinger showing off the grim aftereffects of Timeline 5: Pierce died from his gunshot wound, Annie went mad with guilt and had to be institutionalized, Shirley's alcoholism has relapsed, Troy destroyed his voicebox after trying to eat the flaming troll doll, Jeff lost an arm in the fire, and Britta put a blue streak in her hair.
  • Held Gaze: Lampshaded by Shirley, who calls the group a bunch of horny toads making googly eyes at each other. Like in Romantic Expressionism, another set of glances go around, starting with Jeff/Annie and then going from Troy/Britta and ending with Troy/Abed (who does his eyebrow thing again). On top of that, several of the alternate timelines have Jeff and Annie staring schmoopily at each other and every time they do so, Shirley excuses herself to check on her pies.
  • High-Pressure Blood: The fountain of blood coming from Pierce's leg spreads right up into Shirley's face. Likely justified by the bullet having hit an artery.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • Discussing Shirley's 'baking problem':
      Jeff: I don't like being the bad guy any more than anybody else.
      Britta: ROXA—
      Jeff: [Brutally] No.
    • Jeff is adamant that Shirley is "not allowed an identity around baking!" Given that we learn in this episode that Jeff keeps his toiletries locked up in a safe, which one way or another suggests incredible vanity, he's probably not the best person to be making decisions about what other people are allowed to base their identities on.
    • Britta says Abed asking what she was doing in the bathroom isn't dignified, then immediately does a very goofy song and dance routine when the pizza arrives. Though it turns out it because she just got done smoking some pot.
    • Seeing as Britta sneaks off to smoke pot, Shirley isn't the only one with a baking problem.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction:
    • Troy claims to be a grown-up man when chatting to Britta in the bathroom. Then he pulls out his candy cigarette.
    • In Annie and Shirley's timelines, Britta admonishes Abed for asking her why she smells weird so soon after leaving the bathroom, claiming that it isn't dignified. Less than a second later, Annie/Shirley returns with the pizza, causing Britta to break into an excitable childlike dance and manner of speaking.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Pierce claims his Eartha Kitt story comes up organically but he actually brings it up in each timeline regardless of the topic at hand.
    • Subverted when, in the Golden Ending, the story does come up organically, but someone cuts him off two words in.
  • Instant Turn-Off: While Jeff and Annie make out, Jeff is greatly turned off when Annie tells him that his protective instinct reminds her of her father.
  • Irony:
    • In Timeline 5, Troy rushes out of the room to get the pizzas in order to ensure he doesn't miss anything. He not only consequently goes on to miss the most chaotic, action-filled and destructive of all seven times, but in rushing out the door he accidentally triggers Abed's Indiana Jones boulder model, which initiates the entire Disaster Dominoes process. He is thus directly responsible for everything he ended up missing directly because of his eagerness not to miss anything.
    • In six of the seven timelines, Pierce latches on to any feeble pretext to bring up the story of the time he had sex with Eartha Kitt in an airplane bathroom, justifying it by claiming a natural opening appeared in the conversation. In the seventh timeline, a natural opening does actually appear when Troy compares Jeff to an airplane bathroom — but Pierce is cut off before he can reveal the story and doesn't get another chance.
    • Pierce, in one timeline, derides Annie's gun as a "lady's peashooter." Said peashooter kills him in Timeline 5.
  • Jerkass Realization: In Timeline 6, after Troy sincerely thanks him for having let him stay in his mansion last season, Pierce clearly feels awful about his troll doll "gift" and tries to stop Troy from opening it, with him instead trying to offer Water Piks and other actual presents to make up for it while the two are wrestling over the "present." It unfortunately doesn't work, and Troy angrily lashes out at Pierce upon seeing what the present is.
  • Jump Scare: Done in-universe in Timeline 2.
    Shirley:: Excuse me for being the only married woman in a group of horny-toads making googly-eyes at each other!
    Jeff and Annie: Googly eyes?
    The rest of the group turn to look at each other.
    Pierce holds the Norweigan Troll behind Troy just before he turns to Pierce.
    Troy: D'oh!!!
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Pierce terrorizing Troy with the troll doll in Timeline 4, with him then following that up by calling Abed crazy to his face.
    • Jeff repeatedly shutting down Britta's attempts to sing along to "Roxanne" in all but the prime timeline, and even then that was only because he wasn't physically in the apartment when it happened.
  • Killing Your Alternate Self: Evil Abed hatches this plot upon deducing they occupy an evil timeline: go back to the "prime" timeline, kill their counterparts, and assume their normal lives.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: Defied by Jeff:
    Jeff: Shirley just had a mental breakdown.
    Pierce: More like a mental-
    Jeff: BAKEdown, I know, I didn't say it on purpose!
  • Libation for the Dead: Evil Shirley pours one out for Pierce. May he "Rest In Pierce".
  • Love at First Sight: Britta and Toby the pizza man. When Britta goes to get the pizza, she immediately brings him up and says thy got engaged.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: We never find out if the alternate timelines truly exist or if they're just part of Abed's imagination. Later episodes with the Evil Study Group leave it ambiguous as well, although the latter suggests it's Jeff imagining them instead of Abed.
  • Mile-High Club: In six of the seven timelines, Pierce shoehorns in his story about having airplane bathroom sex with Eartha Kitt.
  • Mirror Universe: Parodied by "Evil Abed" in the "darkest timeline," with him even making felt beards for everyone to complete the look.
  • Missing the Good Stuff: In Timeline 5, Troy has to go get the pizza, saying "I'm gonna go as fast as I can so I don't miss anything! He comes back to find Pierce shot, the apartment on fire, and generally everything having gone to Hell in a handbasket.
  • Mood Killer: Troy & Britta and Jeff & Annie bond in Timeline 3 since Pierce isn't there trying to be the center of attention.
  • My Significance Sense Is Tingling: In the final scene, Abed in the prime timeline, while watching TV with Troy, somehow senses the birth of "Evil Troy" and "Evil Abed" in the "dark timeline". Abed doesn't know what the feeling is though and dismisses it as "nothing".
  • Nightmare Fuel: In-Universe, Pierce's Norwegian troll doll literally gave Troy nightmares when it was placed outside his bedroom at Pierce's mansion.
  • Off the Wagon: Shirley turns to alcohol yet again (after toning it down) in the evil timeline tag.
  • On Second Thought:
    Abed: Tonight we offer something far more than boobs and billiards.
    Jeff: What?
    Troy: One word, two syllables.
    Jeff: Don't say "charades."
    Troy and Abed: Yahtzee!
    Jeff: ...Is charades off the table?
  • Pet the Dog: While Pierce doesn't get up from the table and just happily watches his friends (minus Jeff) dancing and singing to "Roxanne" in the prime timeline, he takes the troll doll "gift" he was going to give Troy and Abed and chucks it in the trash, which is then followed by him taking the doll out of the box and throwing it out the window.
  • Pizza Boy Special Delivery: In Britta's timeline, she falls in love with the pizza guy and decides to get engaged to him when she returns to the apartment with both him and the pizza. Nobody else shares the same sentiment, with Annie even calling him creepy in her timeline. Pierce says something similar in his timeline, lampshading that all the good-looking pizza delivery guys must have gone into porn.
  • The Pratfall: Annie pulls off a magnificent one that would have made Pierce proud in Timeline 5. Well, that is if she hadn't accidentally shot him while doing it.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Timeline 6 has a few: Britta's downplayed version has her calling Shirley a "pie-pusher" and says "You push pies to get love!" Shirley counters herself with calling Britta a "Godless hippie skank" while snatching her pies from her. The worse one, however, is reserved for Pierce, who after gifting Troy a creepy, nightmarish troll figurine out of jealousy (although in this timeline he feels guilty after Troy earnestly thanks him for giving him a place to live and he tries to prevent him from opening it), calls him a "sick, twisted, sad old man" and wishes him to die alone.
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: The plot demands that Annie's gun goes off after her purse falls down. Apparently, the safety being on doesn't mean a damn when the Rule of Drama is afoot.
  • Room Full of Crazy: The episode's creation resulted in a minor Real Life version, apparently.
  • Running Gag:
    • Pierce finding an opportunity in every timeline to mention how he had sex with Eartha Kitt in an airplane bathroom.
    • Jeff hitting his head on the ceiling fan.
    • In the opening scene: "Troy and Abed's new apaaartment!"
  • Sarcasm Mode:
    Jeff: Of course I am, Abed.
  • Ship Tease: Troy and Britta have a heart-to-heart in the bathroom in Timeline 3, Jeff and Annie have moments in almost all of the timelines and even make out in Timeline 6, Abed/Annie slightly gets this in the prime timeline when he invites her to move in with him instantly, and Jeff/Annie, Jeff/Britta, Britta/Troy and Troy/Abed share googly eyes in Timeline 2. And of course, everything to do with Troy and Abed's apartment is awash with subtext.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Abed has a model of the boulder scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark in his and Troy's apartment.
    • Word of God has stated that the whole episode was inspired by Run Lola Run.
    • The group plays Yahtzee!.
      Jeff: Is charades off the table?
    • In the "darkest timeline," Abed determines that the study group are now "evil versions" of their prime timeline counterparts, and creates felt beards and moustaches to complete their more villainous "identity."
    • The DVD commentary claims that the CGI sequences showing the die-roll creating new timelines were based on the cosmic schematics shown in Time Bandits.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The song "Roxanne" by The Police (which plays on an iPod speaker in six of the seven timelines) becomes this in Timeline 5 during the chaos that erupts with Pierce being shot and the apartment catching on fire and in Timeline 6 where the study group's relations have taken a turn for the worse.
  • Split Timelines Plot: No less than seven are ultimately created, depending on who is chosen to go get the pizza. "Remedial Chaos Theory" centers on the main cast attending a housewarming party; when the pizza man arrives, they roll a die to determine which one has to get it, with results ranging from awkward to happy to outright disastrous.
  • Status Quo Is God: In the prime timeline all the conflict, Ship Tease and Character Development (well, virtually for the lattermost) of the other timelines is avoided. (Although, The Tag makes it look like the dark timeline actually made it into canon. Think again.)
  • Stealth Pun:
    • One of the sources of tension throughout the episode is what is described as Shirley's baking problem. In several of the timelines, Britta also has a bit of a problem with getting baked.
    • Whenever "Roxanne" by the Police comes on the iPod stereo in all but the prime timeline, Britta begins to sing along, but is bluntly ordered not to by Jeff. Essentially, he's acting as the behavior police.
  • Take a Third Option: In the true timeline, Abed grabs the die before it hits the table, noting that A: too much of their lives is run by fate already and B: Jeff is a conniving son of a bitch for using a method that ensures he'll never have to get the pizza.
  • Too Good to Be True: Jeff fails to notice something off about the club he's received an invite to:
    Jeff: Look at this place. It's like it was designed for me.
    Abed: It was. I made that in Photoshop and mailed it to you a month ago so you'd keep tonight open on your calendar.
    Jeff: There's no such thing as Single-Malt-Platinum-Boobs-And-Billards Club?! [Realizes] Oh. I guess I never said it out loud.
  • The Unsmile: Abed pulls an absolutely terrifying one when he and Troy open the door for Annie and Britta.
  • Values Dissonance: Invoked; Troy and Abed discuss a handbook they consulted for advice on how to act as hosts for their party. The first piece of advice was "dress to impress". The second was "avoid touchy subjects like 'the Negro problem'". Turns out it was written in The '40s.
  • Vapor Trail: Britta accidentally causes a fire in Timeline 5 this way.
  • Watching Troy Burn: Troy in the darkest timeline comes back to a burning apartment while blood sprays from Pierce's wounded led, followed by his Big "NO!".
  • Wham Line: Abed telling Annie "You should move here!"


Video Example(s):


Annie Has a Gun

Troy looks through Annie's purse and finds an odd object. He asks Jeff to describe what a pregnancy test looks like. Once he realizes the object isn't a pregnancy test, he pulls it out of Annie's purse and reveals she has a gun.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

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