Over the course of its two seasons and change, Community has done a lot of silly stuff. They've had not one, but three paintball-themed episodes. They've had their very own zombie outbreak. They've been locked inside a malfunctioning 1980s spaceflight simulator. This past week's episode, "Remedial Chaos Theory," took things to the next level with a plot involving multiple timelines created by the roll of a die. It's a classic bit of Community weirdness that managed to provide everything from Pierce bleeding out from a gunshot wound to the introduction of Evil Troy and Evil Abed (complete with goatees...well, felt goatees).
But then things got really weird. Attentive fans noticed some things in both this and the previous week's episode, "Competitive Ecology," that lead them the theorize that the multiple timelines introduced in "Remedial Chaos Theory" might not be limited to just that one episode. Things didn't seem to add up between the two episodes, and references seemed to be occurring out of order. Troy and Abed's new apartment is number 303...first introduced in the fourth episode of season three, or episode 304. Did it mean anything? Were the Community writers setting us up for some grand mangling of the time-space continuum down the line? Could the Community we were going to be watching for the rest of the season actually be unfolding in one of the alternate timelines?
Well...no, actually. It all comes down to matters of production pragmatism. After hearing the rumors and conspiracy theories spreading across the interwebs, Community creator Dan Harmon took to his blog to explain things. In a post titled "Fine, we're geniuses but not EVIL geniuses,", Harmon explained that all the seeming inconsistencies could be traced to the simple fact that the two episodes in question were -- intentionally -- aired out of order. Originally "Remedial Chaos Theory" would have aired third, followed by "Competitive Ecology." As Harmon points out, this would not only have avoided any budding conspiracy theories, it would have avoided placing two "normal" episodes with Chang B stories back to back.
Unfortunately, as you might guess, shooting and editing an episode with multiple alternate timelines is quite a bit trickier than shooting an episode revolving around arguments about biology lab partnerships. They needed more time to get "Remedial Chaos Theory" polished and ready, so they swapped the order of the two episodes. Simple as that. Here's an excerpt from Harmon, putting the matter to rest and explaining that while the Community writers may sometimes play games with us, they'll always play fair:
It aired out of order because it was a bitch to edit. I’m sorry it’s not more complicated than that, but I’m sure glad the explanation isn’t more sinister. The “real” timeline -- that is to say, the one which the NBC TV show Community will continue to track -- is the timeline you see mapped at the center in those awesome transitions created by Channel 101’s Duncan Brothers. That center, or “prime” timeline, is the one in which Abed catches the die, exposes Jeff as a selfish hooligan and the group sends him down for the pizza. That is the “real” timeline. And when we were not in it, I did everything I could to make it clear. As much fun as we want to have, we never want to confuse you or lie to you. We just don’t consider that a right that we have. I hated that stupid "The Killing" show on AMC after the first five minutes; don’t show me someone discovering a body but then reveal that the camera was somewhere else and it was a pig. That’s dumb. That’s not storytelling, that’s a parlor trick and an abuse of power.
So there you have it. Case closed. I'm sure that will officially put an end to all related Community conspiracy theories.
Unless...that's exactly what Harmon wants to happen...