Follow TV Tropes


Recap / Community S3 E04: Remedial Chaos Theory

Go To
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.


Has a YMMV page.

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

  • Actor Allusion:
    • Downplayed, but Danny Pudi is apparently a huge fan of Yahtzee even off the set.
  • 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".
  • Almost Kiss: Jeff and Annie in Timeline 4.
    • Subverted in Timeline 6, where the two successfully make out, only to stop when Annie mentions Jeff reminding her of her father.
  • Alternate Timeline: Seven different ones are explored during this episode.
  • 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.
    • Advertisement:
    • We get to see Jeff hit his head on the ceiling fan multiple times.
  • 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.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Played for Laughs; while everyone else more-or-less laughs off the fact that Jeff was manipulating them in order that he wouldn't have to get the pizza and considers making him go down for them a fitting punishment, Pierce seems genuinely offended and outraged by it.
    • Abed does not react well to Shirley's suggestion that they should have her (admittedly very unappetizing) home-baked pizzas instead of getting them delivered like had already been arranged.
  • Big "NO!": Troy upon seeing the troll standing amid the chaos of Timeline 5. The reasons have to be seen to be believed.
  • Bloody Hilarious: Happens to Timeline 5 Pierce when he gets shot in the leg.
  • 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.
    • Annie literally 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).
  • 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-Back: "Duh-doy!"
  • 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.]
  • Cerebus Syndrome: Timeline 5 as it gets incredibly dark by the end. But this is still successfully Played for Laughs by it having Refuge in Audacity turned Up to Eleven for its events. Also, since it's an alternate timeline, as far as we can know it never happened.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Literally, Annie's gun which is shown off in one time line (first act) only to go off in another (third act).
    • Another is 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.
    • Really, it becomes more of a Chekhov's Armoury if one considers the boulder, the gun, the high-proof vodka, Britta's joint, and the troll doll each as their own Chekhov's Gun.
  • Chekhov's Army: The Study Group from the Darkest Timeline become recurring antagonists in Seasons 3 and 4.
  • 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, Regular!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.
  • Comically Missing the Point: In the third timeline, when Troy catches Britta smoking a joint in the bathroom.
    Britta: Uh, I'm washing my hands!
    Troy: Good, then I can come in.
  • Critical Failure: Abed calls attention to that fact that the darkest timeline came about because Jeff rolled a 1.
  • Dance Party Ending: The prime timeline has this.
  • 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.
  • Did I Just Say That Out Loud?: Britta in Timeline 6. Blame it on the pot.
  • 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 (see above). Also 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).
  • Erudite Stoner: Britta in Timeline 3 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 is also notably unkempt (well, more so than usual) and starting to prematurely grey from stress.
  • For Want of a Nail: All based on a dice roll.
  • Freudian Excuse: In Timeline 6, Shirley eventually admits to Britta that the only reason she bakes excessively is because 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, Regular!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.
  • Gasp!: Annie, the first time the buzzer goes off.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: In the canon storyline, when everyone is calling Jeff out on his manipulation for not getting the pizza in the other storylines, according to the closed captions, someone in the group called him an "asshole".
  • 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.
  • 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 more than anyone.
    Britta: ROXA—
    Jeff:: [Brutally] No.
    • Related to this, 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.
  • In Spite of a Nail: See "Out of Order" on "Competitive Ecology". Despite neither event taking place in this episode's true timeline, in seems that at some point Pierce tells his Eartha Kitt story and Shirley catches Britta getting high.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • Killed Off for Real: Pierce in Timeline 5 after being shot in the leg.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!:
    • A downplayed example. Annie removes the brick propping open the apartment door because she reasons that it might allow undesirables to enter the building. Abed points out that it was also what was allowing their guests to enter the building without someone constantly going up and down to the door to let them in. Furthermore, the fact that the brick isn't there to let the pizza man come up kicks off the die roll that creates the seven different timelines.
    • Also downplayed: Jeff colludes with the other members of the group to secretly refuse to eat the food that Shirley bakes in order to get her to confront her excessive baking. In the timeline where this is revealed, Shirley storms out angrily. In another timeline, Shirley reveals that the only reason she bakes so much is that she fears that the other members exclude her and baking is her way of feeling included. Jeff's plan unwittingly validated Shirley's insecurities.
    • Jeff stopping Britta from singing along to "Roxanne" turns out to be a mood killer for the party.
  • Nightmare Fuel: In-Universe, Pierce's Norwegian troll doll literally gave Troy nightmares when it was placed outside his bedroom at Pierce's.
  • "Not Important to This Episode" Camp: This episode features only the study group, and thus neither Ben Chang, nor the recently promoted to the opening titles Craig Pelton appear.
  • Off the Wagon: Shirley 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?
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Averted big time in Timeline 5 when Pierce only gets shot in the leg and dies, with the pressure at which the blood is coming out (high enough to hit a standing Shirley in the face) indicating he was likely hit in the femoral artery and bled out almost instantly.
  • 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 hucks 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: Pierce mentions 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.
  • Reality Ensues: The Stinger shows off the grim aftereffects of Timeline 5: Pierce died from his gunshot wound, Annie went mad with guilt, Shirley became a drunk, Troy destroyed his voicebox after trying to eat the troll, Jeff lost an arm in the fire, and Britta put a blue streak in her hair.
  • "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: Several, given the nature of the episode, but the most notable is Pierce finding an opportunity in every timeline to mention how he had sex with Eartha Kitt in an airplane bathroom. And Jeff hitting his head on the ceiling fan.
    • Also worth a specific shout-out in the opening scene: "Troy and Abed's new apaaartment!"
  • Sarcasm Mode:
    Jeff: Of course I am, Abed.
  • Schrödinger's Gun: In a literal interpretation of the trope, the gun only goes off in Timeline 5.
  • 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 HoYay.
  • 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.
  • Split Timelines Plot: No less than seven are ultimately created, depending on who is chosen to go get the pizza.
  • Squick: In-Universe, Annie comparing Jeff's protective nature concerning her to her dad after they just made out in Timeline 6.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Super Reflexes: Abed catching the die in midair is much more impressive when you consider that he did it after coming to the conclusion that the group shouldn't fight against the chaos of the universe, and that Jeff was manipulating them so he wouldn't have to get the pizza. Furthermore, he had roughly 3 seconds to come to these revelations.
  • Take Another 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 1940s.
  • Vapor Trail: Britta accidentally causes a fire in Timeline 5 this way.
  • Watching Troy Burn: Troy in the darkest timeline, followed by a Big "NO!".
  • Wham Line: Abed telling Annie "You should move here!"
  • Word of God: The theory that “Competitive Ecology” was aired out of order on purpose because it was actually “from the timeline in which Abed gets the pizza in Remedial Chaos Theory isn't correct according to Dan Harmon.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: