One of the main problems (if not the main problem) with Pierce was figuring out his allegiance to the study group. Was he friend or foe? And that question only leads to another: Why would these people what to hang around someone so casually sexist, bigoted, immature, and divisive?
In “Cooperative Polygraphy,” Pierce’s manipulations come from beyond the grave. After returning from his funeral, adorned in garb honoring his bizarre religion, the study group is subjected to polygraphs administered by a straightforward investigator (Walton Goggins of FX’s Justified). He wants to figure out if one of them murdered Pierce before they can be considered for distributions under his will. The episode is similar to “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking” from season two, complete with talk of inheritance and bequeathments and Pierce manipulating the group into bickering with one other.
This ends up being a classic (and very funny) Community bottle episode, with all the action taking place in the study room. The questions asked by Mr. Stone (and written by Pierce) offer the greatest amount of laughs (and a little sadness toward the end), having every character reveal awful secrets to each other with every question being more invasive (Abed implanted tracking devices in everyone in undisclosed body locations. Annie once drugged the group), perverse (Britta had sex in a church. Jeff once stole her underwear), and hurtful (Troy and Abed catfished Annie. Troy stole the signature handshake he shares with Abed) than the next.
It was pretty much like having Pierce there without him physically being there, aside from his “essence” in a canister. The character’s development never moved much beyond Chevy Chase’s brand of wiseguy, juvenile humor (despite the arcs involving his father or Shirley’s sandwich business), and he usually had little else to do. Chang, who’s similar in his questionable allegiance, at least isn’t a necessity to the dynamic of the group or to even appear in each episode. Pierce’s behavior was always chalked up to him being an old, out of touch eccentric who actually valued the group’s friendship, and we got a really well-played moment from the cast near the end as Mr. Stone reads off everyone’s bequeathments and what they represented.
The episode ends with the stage set for Troy’s departure. Pierce leaving is something the show can and has handled; there are always the canisters of sperm he died while making. Donald Glover (fantastic in this one) won’t be as easy to replace, and I fear the show won’t be able to replace that kind of an ab-lib master and major presence on the show. It alters the Abed character as well, and it remains to be seen how he’ll adapt to his best friend potentially gone to sail the world in Pierce’s boat to inherit his millions and become a man. Glover and Danny Pudi’s chemistry on the show is something that grew and developed from the very early stages of the show (hitting its sweet spot in the great season one Halloween episode), and breaking up the duo takes away a source of good comedy and friendship.
Troy and Abed are in “mourning” indeed.