Warning: This article reveals a pretty shocking spoiler, so be wary!
Last night’s episode of Community seemed like a standard concept episode parodying the recent influx of dark detective dramas, until it ended with a shocking twist: Pierce Hawthorne, wet-wipes mogul, 14-year Greendale student and “expert faker of heart attacks,” had suddenly passed away. As Pipes-of-Steel Neil said on his radio broadcast, Pierce is survived by seven ex-wives, about 30 step-children, the Greendale student body, and the enduring hope that he recorded enough hologram messages to last us through the rest of the season. While we’re sure that the study group will take the time to process and grieve over the loss of their oldest friend, we feel it’s only appropriate to remember Pierce in our own way.
As we look back on Pierce’s time at Greendale and Chevy Chase’s tenure on Community, we remember the good times, the bad times, and the times that he went completely off the rails (which were plentiful). You will be missed by all of us, Pierce. Except Vicky. She still hates you, and your hologram still isn’t invited to her Halloween party.
Pierce and the Study Group
Always the most divisive member of the study group, he prided himself on articulating the things that nobody else was brave enough to say out loud. He was often brash, aggressive and offensive, although he would probably describe himself as being “streets ahead.” He was the natural antagonist within the study group, causing fights and making people uncomfortable, which resulted in him being left out of the group’s activities. Which would then, in turn, led to him becoming upset and attempting to destroy his friends’ happiness. But after he got over his pain pill addiction and discovered “Buddhism,” he managed to get that urge under control. He was there to insult and tease people, and then surprisingly step up at the last moment when everyone was depending on him.
He offered Troy a place to live when he got kicked out of his house. He helped Shirley overcome her fear of public speaking, invested in her business, and then dropped the lawsuit against her. He called in a favor with Susie B. Hawkins so that Britta wouldn’t be humiliated yet again. He wanted to give Annie a genuine inheritance when he pretended to be on his deathbed. He was a living example of all of the ways Jeff’s life could go wrong, and as such, was always there to advise him. Sure, he and Abed never really got each other, but hey, he saved Neil’s life in a game of Dungeons & Dragons. That counts for something.
When Pierce wasn’t being a surprisingly decent human being, he was busy being the best supervillain the show has ever created. Chang may have taken over the school, but Pierce bought Troy and Abed’s handshake and misused it, stole all of the elementary school’s flu shots so that he would become a living god, and pretended to be dying just to mess with everyone’s minds, and done it all in a way that was strange and hilarious in equal measures. No matter how many grabs for power Chang makes, or how many minuses Professor Hickey gives out or how many former students try and sue the school, Community will never again have a villain as completely unhinged and completely brilliant as Pierce.
The Empty Chair
Thus far, the fifth season has compensated for Chase’s absence with the excellent addition of Jonathan Banks as Professor Hickey, and the writers spent much of last season transitioning him from the forefront of episodes to the back, so that it makes his departure feel more natural within the show. However, without Pierce, all of the group’s antagonists must now come from outside of the group, which takes away the element of them learning to understand and accept Pierce despite him behaving in terrible ways. Pierce was also an asset in that it was hard to predict how he would react to events or remarks, or just how far he was willing to go in order to prove a point. He ran for school office purely as a way to enact revenge on Vicky for never lending him a pencil. He pretended to be on his death bed to teach his friends a lesson. He was a completely unhinged character, which meant the writers had every path open to them when developing plots.
Unlike some of the other insane characters that Community has, Pierce was able to be at the forefront of a plot, and go totally off the rails without becoming unbearable. He was a fully realized character, and the writers always made his motivations clear, which helped keep him from becoming a caricature. His crazy schemes and revenge plots helped make his moments of growth more poignant, and that balance is what drives Community as a show. We’re sure the show will continue to come up with wilder and wilder plots, but the loss of Pierce means that the show is losing a small piece of what made it so weird and wonderful in the first place.
Community has always excelled at poking fun at itself, and we have no doubts that the death of Pierce will be no exception. So far, they have done a great job at referencing his absence without having it drag down the episodes, and so we hope that things continue in that manner. We’ve mentioned the hologram before, we know, but it’s so perfectly in-character, that it would be great to see it pop up again to dispense life advice to the study group at random intervals. Pierce’s death is also ripe for call-backs and in-jokes, which Community and its fans love to sprinkle throughout every episode. Maybe someone in the study group can inherit his hairpiece, like Jeff did when he killed Pierce’s dad. Maybe he will be “reincarnated” as a vial of purple sludge that can sit in the study room with them. With a character as erratic as Pierce, anything is possible.
His Greatest Moments
Because this is Community, the only way to properly memorialize Pierce is through a “montage” of his funniest and most memorable moments. Insert your favorite poignant and topical television reference here, in your best Abed voice.
– Causing the greatest freakout of all time by introducing Troy to LeVar Burton when he knew full well that all Troy wanted was an autograph
– “You know, when I was 30, people used to wish I was dead to my face. Now, that was respect.”
– Coining and minting the “verbal wildfire” that is “streets ahead”
– His long-standing feud with Vicky over her never lending him a pencil
– On the paintball tournament prize being “TBD”: “If that’s what I think it is, I had it for a month in the ’70s.”
– Choreographing a ridiculous and over-the-top skit with Jeff for Spanish class that involved tiny sombreros, afro wigs, and a robot battle
– Joining and leaving Vaughn’s band, resulting in the classic songs “Getting Rid of Britta” and “Pierce, You’re a B“
– And his greatest moment of all: pretending to be Jeff’s dad and getting bodily dragged out of a car and beaten up
We’ll miss you, Pierce. Feel free to play yourself out.