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Recap / Community S 5 E 04 Cooperative Polygraphy

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After Pierce's unexpected passing, a team of investigators headed by the no-nonsense Mr. Stone, arrives at Greendale to submit the study group to lie detector tests before they can be considered for distributions under the will.

The Community episode "Cooperative Polgraphy" provides examples of:

  • Aesop Amnesia: Justified; the last time Pierce played mind games with the group, he was beaten up by Jeff and the group became awkward around him. This time, Pierce isn't alive to face these consequences, and he rewards his friends — most of them anyway— with gifts that they would like.
  • Ambiguous Disorder:
    Abed: Ok, you guys are changing your faces. Are you mad at me or hungry?
  • Armor-Piercing Question: The private inquest into Pierce's death is structured almost entirely around these...
  • Armor-Piercing Response: ...but it's inverted towards the end when everyone's bickering and Jeff angrily yells that they have to stop letting Pierce get to them like this — and Mr. Stone points out that he hasn't read out one of Pierce's questions in some time. Stunned, the study group are left to confront the fact that their transgressions against each other and the subsequent hurt feelings are entirely their own fault and Pierce cannot be blamed for them, and that they are ultimately not nearly as morally superior to Pierce as they always convinced themselves they were.
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  • Artistic License – Law: Justified. Jeff points out that the condition that Troy sail around the world is sufficiently unreasonable that it could probably be challenged in court. But Troy chooses to honor Pierce's wish and fulfil the task before claiming his inheritance.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Referenced when the group finds out that Abed put tracking devices on everybody to know where they are.
    Britta: We already live in a totalitarian surveillance state. Do you not read my status updates?
    Abed: But I'm not the Government. I'm your friend.
    Britta: That's what governments say, nimrod!
  • Blunt "Yes": Abed shows no shame in the things that he's done, and gives one of these in response to showering in Jeff's apartment and putting GPS trackers on the study group members.
  • Bottle Episode: The episode takes place entirely in the study room. Apart from Chang, no one even leaves the table once they've sat down.
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  • Break the Haughty: The episode is ultimately about Pierce using an opportunity to demonstrate to the study group that, despite their contempt towards him, in many ways they weren't as morally superior to him as they liked to believe... and that this doesn't make them completely irredeemable people, just as Pierce wasn't.
  • Brick Joke: Britta is now the proud owner of a used iPod Nano as of 2014.
  • Call-Back:
    • To "Spanish 101":
      • The cylinders contain Pierce's "hyper virile" sperm, in reference to Pierce's insistence that he suffers from a condition called hyper virility, wherein his sperm "shoot through the egg like bullets."
      • Pierce bequeaths a bottle of Glencallan scotch to Jeff, which he drank with Jeff in the episode.
    • Several to "The Psychology of Letting Go":
      • The Study Group is given an Energon Pod "containing" Pierce's energies, similar to the one Pierce had "containing" his mother's.
      • The Study Group are seen wearing teal ceremonial Laser Lotus robes, much like Pierce did during the episode.
      • Troy finally got to (kinda) eat a ghost.
    • To "Cooperative Calligraphy":
      • In addition to both being a Bottle Episode, the names of the episodes are strikingly similar.
      • Uncomfortable truths come out, and the group leaves stronger for it.
    • To "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking":
      • Pierce plays mind games on the rest of the study group as part of his last wishes before death, using his will as an excuse to do so.
      • Annie gets the exact same tiara that Pierce previously tried to bequeath to her, with Pierce's reasoning again being that she was his favorite.
      • Abed is not bequeathed upon, except for the obligatory semen.
    • To "The Art of Discourse":
      • In the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue, Britta is stated as being the proud owner of a used iPod Nano in 2014. Pierce bequeaths said iPod Nano to her.
    • Abed catfishing Annie is yet another example of her falling for an alter-ego of his.
  • Catchphrase: Chang mimics "Ha! Gay!" when Mr. Stone informs Jeff that he is gay, per Pierce's request.
  • Cerebus Call-Back/Meaningful Echo: Abed's "Cool. Coolcoolcool" at the end of the episode is very somber.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Annie noted in the beginning that Abed spent a lot of time at the coffin and wondered if he was okay. But later in the episode, she realized that he was trying to get back the tracker that he planted on Pierce.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Implied example. Annie tells the study group that she drugged them to make them study harder for an Anthropology test. Anthropology was, in the words of the professor who taught it to them the whole year, a blow-off class where everyone got an A for showing up.
  • Comically Serious: Played with. Stone is a Consummate Professional during the entire will reading, delivering the most ridiculous instructions in perfect deadpan, and never reacting to the insanity around him. The tag shows that, when off the clock, he's far more energetic and talkative, raucously recounting the day's events, and revealing that he was deeply emotionally involved the whole time.
  • Condensation Clue: According to Troy, Jeff's bathroom mirror says "You're special" when fogged up.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Abed put tracking devices on the entire group so he'd know where they were at all times, claiming it was in case they got kidnapped.
    • Played with for Troy and Abed's doomsday plan - they have apparently have a couple of stashed bugout bags prepared somewhere, containing gold coins and condoms for the purposes of bartering for food and a way to safety. The plan does not account for any of the other group members however.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms:
    • Chang admitted that he hadn't just masturbated in the study room but "EVERYWHERE!"
    • A recurring aspect of the bequeathed gifts included sperm. It made some sense for Britta, by Pierce's standards at least (in case she ever got tired of her "lesbian" lifestyle), then less sense with each subsequent study group member until it was just listed as "obligatory sperm" for Troy.
    • Dehydration due to over-indulging in this turned out to be how Pierce met his end. And even worse, the only reason he was indulging in the first place was to produce the sperm that he bequeathed to everyone.
  • Death Equals Redemption: Deconstructed with Pierce. While the group tried to overlook his flaws in this episode, his last will reminds them who he truly was (a flawed Jerk with a Heart of Gold). When the group insisted that they continue with the test, Jeff pointed out that "respect for the dead is only a thing because the dead usually don't do any more damage".
  • Downer Beginning: The episode starts following Pierce's funeral.
  • Downer Ending: Troy decides to leave the group to sail around the world, find himself, and fulfill the terms to inherit $14.3 Million dollars of Pierce's estate. Not in that order of importance.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: In-universe - The Study Group tell Troy and Abed to stop saying "Troy and Abed are in mourning!"
  • Everyone Has Standards: Mr. Stone is portrayed as an Amoral Attorney, but he's getting increasingly uncomfortable at how Pierce's questions are bringing out the worst from his friends. It's no wonder he gets plastered in The Stinger.
  • False Reassurance: Shirley claims that her "Meat-fu" still isn't actually meat....legally.
  • Fate Worse than Death: When the study group reacts poorly to the fact that Troy and Abed's doomsday plans don't account for anyone except for themselves, Troy points out this as a reason:
    Troy: It's a doomsday plan, not a picnic plan! Do you really want to see the horrors we might have to endure just to get on a boat?
    Annie: I guess not.
    Polygraph tech: That's a lie.
  • Funny Background Event: In the scene where everyone is arguing about their flaws and talking over each other, Abed is visibly mouthing words, not actually saying anything, just to fit in.
  • Foreshadowing: Pierce bequeathing his fortune to Troy is hinted at throughout the episode:
    • Troy is the one to carry Pierce's Energon Pod into the study room.
    • Part of Troy and Abed's doomsday plan involves provisions they make in case they need to barter passage onto a boat. As part of his inheritance, Pierce leaves Troy a boat.
  • The Fundamentalist: Although her tendencies towards this diminished during seasons three and four, Shirley reflects this trope in a big way throughout this episode; she is revealed to be a frequent donor to a pro-life organisation, makes several condescending, dismissive and judgmental statements about the religions of other members of the study group, and freely admits that she believes the other members of the group are going to Hell.
  • Gender Flip: When the cast reunited in May 2020 for a table read of the episode during a COVID-19 benefit, Jim Rash replaces Lesley Tsina in the role of Mara the lie detector lady.
  • Greedy Jew: Shirley references the stereotype of the greedy Jew after Annie reveals she's been slightly overcharging Troy and Abed on rent to make a nest egg for them.
    Shirley: Annie, you should know better than to hoard money. That's a stereotype.
    Annie: Was that anti-Semitism?
    Shirley: No! That’s sensitivity. It’s anti-Semitic to do things like that when you know full well you’re Jewish.
  • Her Code Name Was "Mary Sue": Mr. Stone has an idea for a movie about a polygraph test overseer that is so good looking people can't concentrate.
  • Holier Than Thou: Although she seemed to grow out of it in Season 3, Shirley returns to being this in this episode. Annie asserts that Shirley thinks the entire study group is going to Hell, which Shirley matter-of-factly confirms.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • Throughout the episode, as soon as one member of the study group gets self-righteous towards another for a wrong they are revealed to have committed, they are then immediately exposed as having done something similar. For example:
      • When it's revealed that Shirley sold "vegetarian" sandwiches to Britta that actually contained a "tofu substitute" that was heavily implied to be meat, Britta angrily lays into Shirley for never respecting any of the values she held sacred. Seconds later, it's revealed that Britta got high at the baptism of Shirley's son, and she proceeds to dismissively reject Shirley's sacred values.
      • Abed furiously denounces Annie for drugging them without their consent, pointing out that messing with their brain patterns is a big deal and he'd never do that. Troy then points out that Abed kinda has done that, since he created a fake persona to seduce Annie over the internet, so she would make pancakes more often. This is a bit of a double-whammy, since before Annie was revealed to have drugged the study group without their consent, she was angrily denouncing Abed for the violation of planting GPS trackers on them without their consent.
    • Chang delivers a whole spiel about how he's ready to tell the whole truth and leave nothing out. When his very first question is asked ("Have you ever masturbated in the study room?"), he removes his lie-detector, gets up and sheepishly leaves the room without saying a single word.
    • Shirley calling the lie detector assistant a judgmental bitch, seeing as she's in fact the most judgmental person in the room. Though this said, Shirley still has something of a point here.
    • Abed, Meta Guy that he is, points out the trend.
      Abed: I forgive you, but only to escape the established pattern of self-righteous indignation followed by immediate comeuppance.
      Stone: Mr. Nadir...
      Abed: 'Kay, guess it's happening anyways, you broke my heart.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Even from beyond the grave, Pierce uses this to try and prove Jeff is gay.
  • Irony: Jeff "The Liar" surprisingly isn't caught lying by the examiner at any point during the test. He may have done sketchy things, but he's honest about them (though he does try to deflect the question of his sexual conquest trophies, even that didn't involve any actual lying).
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Pierce. The inquest he puts the study group through is undoubtedly cruel, but the study group accept that he's making valid points that, for all that they looked down on him, they often weren't that much better. He also shows clear insight towards them.
    • Chang at the beginning, when he points out that the study group's grief and respect towards Pierce is contrary to how they treated him when he was alive.
    • Troy defends his and Abed's decision to leave everyone else out of their doomsday plan by pointing out that it wasn't like they were leaving them out of a picnic, and that surviving doomsday would end up being pretty crappy for all concerned.
    • Essentially everyone. They call each other out, justifiably, for their actions. However, each of them has done something to the rest of the group as well.
    • Shirley calling the lie detector monitor "a judgemental bitch" is rude and somewhat hypocritical — but at the same time, the monitor probably doesn't really need to point out when the group members are lying quite so quickly and intensely.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: This episode showed that Pierce was this full force. As his last wish, he put the group through a series of questions that displayed all their dark secrets to each other, dividing them up and realizing that they were Not So Above It All. But he also allowed them to come to grips with who they were and also left some very kind words for most of the group (aside from Jeff and Abed).
  • Kick the Dog: Pierce leaves no gifts for Abed apart from the sperm, and his Last Request involves separating him from Troy. Not "cool, cool, cool, cool".
  • Lie Detector: The episode's plot revolves around the group all being hooked up to one as they are forced to tell the truth (as the machine is never wrong).
  • Mad Libs Catchphrase: Troy and Abed ARE IN MOURNING!
  • Many Questions Fallacy: Pierce's first questions for Britta:
    Mr. Stone: In all your sexual fantasies about Pierce Hawthorne, none of them involved his murder?
    Britta: What? No.
    Mr. Stone: But you have had sexual fantasies about Mr. Hawthorne.
    Britta: No! What kind of question is that?
  • Meaningful Echo: To "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking" - Both episodes feature Pierce bequeathing gifts to the Study Group, the key difference being that in "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking" he's doing it from his death bed whilst faking being ill out of spite, and "Cooperative Polygraphy" has him doing it as his final wish following his death, and his gifts are much more sincere.
  • Meaningful Name: A meta example. Pierce's boat that he tells Troy to sail around the world on is named Childish Tycoon. Donald Glover left the show to continue his career as Childish Gambino, the rapper. It also works well in-universe as the name for Pierce's boat, as Pierce himself wasn't particularly mature.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • The group came to believe that Pierce created all that conflict so that they would believe they weren't that much better than him, or better off without him. Then Chang came in and announced he masturbated everywhere.
    • The last scene before the tag ends with the study group sitting in silence, devastated by the fact that Troy's leaving. The Tag has Mr. Stone being hyper in a bar, surrounded by the silent group. It's more than a little jarring.
    • Pierce's final question to Britta provokes one for the study group. She's clearly expecting to be hit with more uncomfortable revelations, and is genuinely moved when his last question in fact addresses how he always believed she needed to have more faith in herself. Then, he bequeathes her a canister of his sperm.
  • Never Speak Ill of the Dead: Why the group don't want to say anything bad about Pierce (at first). Jeff later defies this, stating people only do this because most dead people can't mess with you, which Pierce is doing.
  • Noodle Incident: Several are shown throughout the episode as the group's dark secrets are laid out.
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: After Britta takes offense to Pierce's attempt to get her admit that she had sexual fantasies about him, Mr. Stone states that he's reading the questions exactly as Pierce wrote them.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: The study group reach the conclusion that Pierce exposed their darker secrets in order to demonstrate to them that, for all their pretensions and contempt towards him, ultimately they were no better — or worse — than he was.
  • Not So Stoic: Mr. Stone remains very stoic through the majority of the episode. But the Tag at the end shows a glimpse at his true personality when he gets drunk and lets loose.
    "I was lying the whole time. This is me! This is the real me! I'm artistic!"
  • OOC Is Serious Business: Just how serious Troy's decision to accept Pierce's posthumous challenge to sail around the world by himself is underscored when Annie pleads with Jeff to say something to Troy to change his mind, and all Jeff can return with is:
    Jeff: ...I'm speechless.
  • On One Condition: Troy has to sail around the world for a year, alone, to inherit Pierce's shares in Hawthorne Wipes. Lampshaded by Jeff when he mentions that Pierce was to have such a Bait-and-Switch clause in his will.
  • Pet the Dog: Pierce's final questions to Britta, Shirley, Annie and Troy. Averted with Abed and Subverted with Jeff, who got insulted but still got a rather nice gift
  • Punny Name: Benjamin Franklin Chang.
  • Race Lift: Two in the 2020 table read benefit special.
    • As mentioned in Gender Flip above, the Caucasian Jim Rash replaces the Asian-descent Lesley Tsina as Mara the lie detector lady.
    • Mr. Stone is played by the Caucasian Walton Goggins in the episode. In the 2020 special, he's played by Chilean Pedro Pascal.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Donald Glover's withdrawal from the show was the reason why Troy had to be written out of the show.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Some of the groups' misdeeds count as this. Such as Britta getting high at Shirley's son's baptism.
  • Riddle for the Ages: It's never explained how Pierce knew all this confidential information about the group.
  • Running Gag:
    • The lie detector test monitor yelling out "Lie!" whenever she catches a member of the study group in a lie, and the study group — who feel that she's a little too quick to do so — getting increasingly frustrated with and abusive towards her as she does so.
    • In true Pierce fashion, his last words to Jeff were another gay joke.
    • The study group receiving canisters of Pierce's sperm as part of their inheritance.
    • In the table read version, Dan Harmon reads the stage directions - and whenever they refer to Stone (played here by Pedro Pascal) as "the man" someone is going to add "-dalorian". Eventually it results in Pascal delivering a a few lines in the Mandalorian's voice.
  • Schmuck Bait: "Gay murderer says what?"
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: Chang promptly gets up and leaves upon being asked if he'd ever masturbated in the study room, much to the Study Group's horror. He then returns to clarify that he didn't just masturbate in the study room, he masturbated everywhere.
  • Ship Sinking: Abed creates a fake online persona to engage Annie in an online relationship for the sole purpose of getting her to make pancakes more often. She is not pleased when she finds out, and Abed is far more invested in the breakfast than Annie's emotional state.
  • Shout-Out: Supposedly, a Level 16 Laser Lotus can see blurple.
  • The Sociopath: Subverted. When one of the questions obviously tries to find out if Abed is a sociopath, the others get worried looks and are relieved when Abed's answer proves it false.
  • Squick:
    • In-universe - the girls have this initial reaction upon learning that Jeff keeps "trophies" from his conquests; it ramps up when Abed asks why Jeff doesn't just buy panties if he likes collecting them, and Jeff responds "They have to be won in battle."
    • Also in-universe, none of the group seem particularly thrilled to be bequeathed samples of Pierce's sperm as part of his inheritance.
  • Survivalist Stash: Troy and Abed are prepared for a Zombie Apocalypse. At a designated rendezvous point they buried bags filled with gold coins and condoms just in case they need to bargain their way onto a boat.
  • Take That!:
    • Abed refers to polygraph tests as "the pie fights of cop-drama" and Jeff follows up that they're "the acupuncture of the legal system" due to their being inadmissible in court.
    • Abed doesn't think The Grey deserves four stars, and keeps changing Jeff's Netflix review of it.
    Jeff: I like Liam Neeson!
    Abed: Then send him a message about the roles he chooses.
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: A variation, Pierce's questions anticipate Britta's denial that she's ever had sexual fantasies about Pierce, and Jeff's denial that he's gay.
    Mr. Stone: Are you gay?
    Jeff: No.
    Mr. Stone: Are you sure?
    Jeff: Yes.
    Mr. Stone: Gay murderer says what?
    Jeff: What?!
    Mr. Stone: I'm instructed to inform you that means you're gay.
  • Thieving Magpie: Jeff—who told Britta that her panties were stolen by a hawk.
  • Wham Line
    Troy: I'll do it.
    • Also, to a lesser extent:
    Jeff: Guys, we have to stop letting Pierce get to us like this!
    Mr Stone: Mr Hawthorne has not asked a question in some time, Mr Winger.
  • What an Idiot!: In-universe, this is Annie's reaction when she tries lying about not knowing Troy and Abed were still using Jeff's Netflix account without permission whilst hooked up to the polygraph reader.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Considering the Study Group are subject a polygraph test, there's a lot. In order:
    • Britta to Troy and Abed for only tailoring their Zombie Apocalypse survival plan for the two of them & leaving the rest of the group to fend for themselves.
    • Jeff to Troy and Abed for continuing to use his Netflix account for free rather than get their own.
    • Troy and Abed to Annie for overcharging them on their portion of the rent.
    • Britta to Shirley for replacing Tofu with "Meatfu" to cut costs at Shirley's Sandwiches, but continuing to offer it as the vegetarian alternative.
    • Shirley to Britta for being "higher than usual" on marijuana at Ben's christening.
    • Britta, Annie and Shirley to Jeff for keeping mementos of his conquests as trophies, including a pair of Britta's panties.
    • Abed to Troy for lying about creating their handshake, when he instead took it from a video on the "Fun With Friends" blog.
    • Everyone to Abed upon finding out he had them all tagged and monitored by GPS.
    • Everyone to Annie for drugging them so they would study harder for an Anthropology exam.
    • Annie to Abed upon finding out he had created a fake profile on Facebook purely to seduce Annie, as when she's in a relationship she makes pancakes for breakfast more often.
  • With Friends Like These...: Instead of heartwarming final messages, Abed just gets another insult and Jeff gets a bottle of scotch and one last gay accusation. And sperm.
  • You Are a Credit to Your Race: In Pierce's final message to Shirley, he tells her that she's not only a credit to her race and gender, but to the entire human race. Shirley is visibly touched.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Pierce's final message to Britta.