This week’s episode is a busy one, juggling no less than four plotlines. The primary concern is Dean Pelton’s pursuit of a “whale” (nice bit of Vegas jargon there) — a gloriously unmotivated potential student from a fabulously wealthy family, and thus a possible source of income for years. The Dean plans to dazzle the dope with their snazzy facilities and friendly presentation, but he quickly realizes that strippers and free stuff are what it’ll take to land the whale. Annie goes along, because it’s all for the good of the school, right?
Jeff, meanwhile, has been taxed with keeping Pierce off-campus (he gets jealous of attention being lavished on other rich students); they head to an old-school barbershop for a shave, a brandy, and a bit of bonding. Troy and Shirley head to P.E., which Troy expects to ace, only to discover they’ve signed up for P.E.E. — physical education education, i.e., how to be a gym teacher. And Abed takes a throwaway reference to a fraternity far too seriously, quickly launching and recruiting for the “Delta Cube” frat.
In the season’s third episode, “Conventions of Time and Space,” the flurry of plotting (it also had four storylines going) kept the pace tight, but made for a rather shallow experience. “Marine Biology” doesn’t feel as rushed as that episode, though there’s just as much going on; the construction is sturdier this time around, and when they stop to take a breath, they’ve earned it. And while the more explicit callbacks to earlier seasons have heightened the flaws of weaker episodes, the appearances of supporting characters like Neil, Leonard, and Magnitude (“a get!”) were more than welcome here.
Because he is so often the object of derision for both fans and those involved in the show, it’s worth taking a moment to acknowledge the fine work of Chevy Chase this time around. Jeff’s initial reaction to his offer for their outing landed a nice early laugh (“Thank you for opening my eyes to two new stereotypes”), and Pierce’s barber shop reflection of a time when “men were men and women were sex cooks who did laundry” worked in a way that his dialogue often hasn’t this year — writers will get so stuck on the racism and misogyny that they forget to make it wincingly funny on top of that.
But most impressive was Chase’s genuine hurt when Jeff’s true mission was revealed; he played the scene straight, and effectively, making this some of the best acting he’s done on the show. And anyone with an even passing affection for Chase (no matter how dinged up it may have gotten over Community’s run) surely couldn’t help but smile at his dialogue about country clubs, as visions of Caddyshack’s Ty Webb danced in our heads.
Overall, a decent episode — a couple of weak spots, and the Troy/Shirley plotline is slightly underdeveloped, but all things considered, one of the best of the season.