creator Dan Harmon called this week's episode "either the best or the worst thing to happen to TV," and after having watched "Virtual Systems Analysis," I'm going to say it falls in the former category. Almost the entire episode takes place in the Dreamatorium, the empty, gridded room Troy and Abed use to play out their fantasies (including Inspector Spacetime, a fictional spoof of Doctor Who
). But this time, after Annie slyly sets up Troy and Britta on a lunch date, it's Abed and Annie who spend time together in the magical room - resulting in a whirlwind journey into Abed's deepest insecurities.
Act 1: The Engine of the Dreamatorium
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Annie and Abed initially try to play Inspector Spacetime (Annie is "temporary constable Geneva" in the "much crappier H.M.S. 12" spacecraft), but eventually Annie figures out Abed is upset with her because she is messing with the fabric of the group. Abed reveals the "engine" of the Dreamatorium, which is a bunch of toilet paper roles taped together that actually represent a logical formula Abed uses to be able to simulate "any of the study group and even a half-accurate Chang in over 7,000 situations." Abed uses this complicated machine to prove Annie's meddling with Troy and Britta will be the downfall of the group by proceeding to reenact Troy and Britta's lunch. Annie, however, isn't buying it and she forces Abed to learn empathy by tweaking his engine, resulting in Abed (as the Abed we know) effectively shutting down.
Act 2: The Search for Abed
After Abed comes to, he appears (in the Dreamatorium) as Jeff, and he and Annie transport to the doctor's lounge of Greendale's hospital school (for some reason, the whole gang are doctors in the rest of the scenarios). Abed-as-Jeff acts like the superficial Jeff we know, without any of the heart. He tries to seduce Annie, but she wants to speak with the real Abed. Abed-as-Jeff says he's never heard of Abed, and so they search for him in the environmental bio lab, where Troy and Britta (again, played by Abed) are kissing. In another revealing string of Troy's weaknesses (similar to those exposed during the blanket war), Abed-as-Troy admits to finding Clive Owen attractive and being more turned on by women in pajamas than lingerie.
Still unable to find Abed, Annie ventures to the medical study room (which is just the group's usual study room), where she finds Shirley comforting Alzheimer's patient Pierce. After Annie presses Abed-as-Shirley about Abed's whereabouts, Abed-as-Shirley says, "Abed doesn't exist. Abed's been filtered out because nobody needs him," thereby revealing the heart of the matter. Annie and Abed-as-Jeff are then transported to the last night of their first year at Greendale - the night of their first kiss. Abed-as-Jeff gives up the "patient file" on Abed, which describes him as "a control freak with no empathy" and that "people bend over backwards to cater to him," a line Annie said earlier in the episode to Troy, unaware that Abed had heard her. When Abed-as-Jeff continues to insist that all Annie really wants is to get with Jeff, which is now possible with Abed gone, she finally blows up at him, shouting "I hate whoever you are!"
Act 3: Annie/Annie and Abed/Abed
Annie wants to be alone, but Abed executes simulation "Annie/Annie," and appears as Annie. The real Annie tells Abed-as-Annie that she/they don't actually love Jeff, but that they simply love the idea of being loved. When she realizes she can pull the same trick and act like Abed, she finally finds Abed (as himself), locked up in a metaphorical locker. Abed says that's where people like him get put when everyone's finally fed up with him; he's run all the scenarios, and none of them end up well for him. Annie explains that scenarios are like great science fiction - insightful, but inaccurate. She says that he's afraid of always being alone, which is something they all share, which means that they'll always have each other.
The study group all gather after their long three-hour lunch (after their biology class was cancelled) and it seems like this dark season might be looking up: Abed learned to adapt using the "elusive technique empathy," Troy and Britta had a good lunch, and Pierce managed not to sit on his balls (or not). Even the Dean had "the deepest conversation of my life" over the break.
As outside-the-box (or closet-called-Dreamatorium) this episode was, if you suspended your disbelief and allowed yourself to live inside Abed's intricate mind, you'll see it was actually a touching story about how even someone as seemingly unemotional and detached as Abed can be ruled by their insecure need to be loved. In fact, this episode proved that surprisingly, Abed is actually the heart of the group
. It was a risky approach, but the resulting virtual journey was worth it.
(Image courtesy of NBC)