Let’s get the gimmick for “Heroic Origins” out of the way first, as it’s one of the least interesting parts of the episode. Abed—season four’s go-to character for ridiculously contrived pop culture themes—has been secretly spying on the rest of the cast and making a chart as to how they met and, with this, has come up with the theory that it was more than just happenstance that led them to be in the same study group, it was destiny. It’s an idea taken from Unbreakable, which meant the show did some kind of annoying comic panel-transitions for its flashbacks and also that Abed spent the entire episode talking about villains and heroes, none of which was terribly interesting or added much to the story. But oh well, that’s just how the show is these days.
Although the framing device was pretty middling, this did lead to a pretty interesting structure of flashbacks. Sure, the contemporary drama was mostly forced, but that did little to detract from the entertaining view of show’s past. It’s a surprise, really, that it’s taken this long for Community to show more of its cast’s backstories, and while this wasn’t the greatest way of doing so, those stories themselves were interesting. The ridiculousness of everyone coincidentally affecting each other’s lives so much in the past is hard to get past at first, but as the stories continue it becomes easier to stop fighting and just enjoy seeing what the characters were like before Greendale.
The main clashes occur between Annie and Troy, who as we knew before went to high school together, and Jeff and Shirley, who were both affected by the same stripper. Troy blames Annie for getting him off his star football track while Shirley blames Jeff for breaking up her marriage. These may not sound like terribly great stories, but intercut with the adventures of Abed, Britta and even “Pierce” and Chang, the sum of the whole is more than its parts. Plot-wise it’s very cleverly constructed, the only downfall being that it wasn’t terribly funny. It’s been the problem with Community all season, and is a pretty big sin for a sitcom, but while not full of laughter, at least this episode could be said to be vaguely humorous.
Despite being light on chuckles, the ending of “Heroic Origins” was affecting. A lot of the attempted humor derived from merely references to old episode of Community and minor, semi-forgotten character details, but the broader strokes of the end worked more than any of this. It even acted as a decent way of removing some of the noxious “Kevin” storyline from the show and gave Chang more humanity than he’s had since season one. This season has rarely hit emotional notes that are remotely believable, but finally some of this worked, perhaps because there’s a good chance that this was the second-to-last episode of Community. It was a strange episode, with a lot of stumbling and misfires, but the last act really was strong enough to make the rest of it worth sitting through.