[There will be MAJOR SPOILERS for the latest episode of Community in this article]
With the exception of Abed's trip inside the metaphorical Nic Cage bee helmet, last week's season premiere of Community mostly concerned itself with setting a tone for the season. But as tonight's episode parodied murder shows with the campus going into lock-down because of the ass-crack bandit, it seemed like the Community of old - that is, until the very end.
If you haven't seen the episode and you are the dangerous sort that ignores SPOILER WARNINGS, then please accept our condolences because in the last few moments of tonight's episode, Shirley walked down a hallway to deliver the news that Pierce Hawthorne had suffered a heart attack and died off-screen.
Played by Chevy Chase through most of the show's first four years, the actor left the series in the middle of filming last season, but - because he already filmed it - was a part of the season finale and graduated with Jeff Winger (Joel McHale).
Chase popped up in a top secret cameo as a hologram in last week's premiere episode, 'Re-Pilot,' shocking audiences due to the nature of his departure from the show and his often rocky relationship with restored showrunner Dan Harmon, but now it seems that either Harmon, Chase, or both wanted one last send-off for the character.
As for the show, questions abound with regard to how they will deal with this in the coming weeks. On one hand, many likely feel as if they saw this coming and no one really assumed that Pierce would be a part of the show's future. Now that the character is actually dead, though, it seems likely that Dan Harmon will find a way to make his exit impactful.
Here's a brief synopsis for next week's episode from TV Guide:
A team of investigators grill the study group after Pierce's death in order to execute his will, leading the group to learn surprising things about one other.
So, clearly the show will grieve properly, but while that is commendable and probably necessary, one has to wonder if we really have seen the last of Pierce Hawthorne and Chevy Chase on Community - and it's not just last week's hologram cameo that inspires wonder.
Hawthorne does... or did have a penchant for faking heart attacks, and it's also worth noting that tonight's episode featured the return of Star-Burns, who had faked his death at the end of season 3. Is it possible that we're being played? With Community, something like that is always possible, but it seems more likely that this was it for the character. And if that's the case, it certainly seems better to offer fans and the show's other characters a bit of closure rather than nothing at all.
Pierce Hawthorne may have been an occasionally annoying, boring, and offensive character, but he was also a key cog in the Community machinery whose sageness was often undercut but occasionally well-used, and his impact will almost surely still be felt as the show goes on.
So, how do you feel about the death of Pierce Hawthorne? Are you surprised, did you expect it, and what about that last appearance on the show? It was great to see Chase play the role again, but did it take away from the poetry of him finally graduating at the end of last season ? Let us know in the comment section.
Community airs Thursdays @8pm on NBC.