Community Episode Review: “Basic Email Security”

[Originally published on]

The Sony hack was a giant catastrophe that raised some pretty interesting questions about privacy. As we all remember, a massive amount of internal emails from Sony were made public towards the end of last year, in part as a response to the studio’s film about North Korea, The Interview. Just about everyone was outraged when Sony cancelled the release of the film, as we generally believe that freedom of speech should apply even to speech that we might find tasteless or offensive. At the same time, we all indulged in the juicy details of the leaked emails from Sony. If the hackers were threatening our personal emails, we probably would be protesting The Interview‘s release to protect our own data.

At least that’s what this week’s episode of Community suggests. In “Basic Email Security,” a group of hackers leak the lunch lady’s private emails, which everyone has a great time reading and making jokes about. But then the hackers threaten to publish more emails, including those of our main characters, unless a comedy performance by a racist, offensive comedian is cancelled. Britta convinces the group to stand up for freedom and refuse to cancel the performance, and they all agree to not read each others’ leaked emails.

Of course, everyone reads each others’ emails (except Abed), and the group very quickly turns on each other due to the information revealed. This episode is kind of a sequel to what can be called the “Secrets Trilogy,” the first being “Cooperative Calligraphy” in Season 2 (which Abed dubs the “golden age”) and the second being “Cooperative Polygraphy.” Technically “Intro to Felt Surrogacy” is kind of part of that, but since that’s from the gas leak season, Abed doesn’t bother to mention it.

In all of these episodes, secrets revealed force the group to turn on each other and become aggressive and paranoid. But beyond just secrets, this time the group also gets glimpses into how they’re talked about when they aren’t around, like Frankie finding out the group had an email chain taking bets on her sexual orientation. The group is kind of learning the same lesson in all of these episodes – that they’re all equally messed up and they shouldn’t judge each other or pry into one another’s lives – but it’s still super fun to see the group interactions here, especially with the addition of Frankie and Elroy this time.

Hammering home the point of the episode, nobody in the school really cares much about the comedy performance, with only Fat Neil showing up. But as soon as the hackers threaten to release everyone’sdata, the entire student body comes storming along to end the performance. We’re all for not caving to those who threaten freedom of speech until we’re the ones being threatened, in which case we’ll cave pretty quickly.

Aside from all the interesting political commentary of this episode, something Community rarely gets into, this is just a really fun episode of television, and a good follow up to the “Cooperative” episodes from earlier years. Although this one isn’t a bottle episode, “Basic Email Security” brings the whole group together due to some major conflict, allowing them to hash things out and come out on the other side with a better sense of one another.

Other highlights

-Britta was absolutely on point this episode, and this has been a pretty great season for her in general. She’s definitely a character that was at serious risk of turning into a one note stereotype after all the “Britta’s the worst” jokes, but in this episode she’s the driving force behind the group’s actions, and she takes a firm stance that makes sense and isn’t ruthlessly mocked. Go Britta!
-In this episode we get the return of the hilarious Craig Cackowski as the police officer, who has been around for quite a while but the group doesn’t really acknowledge too much. “Just gonna keep the cop you’ve known for five years at arm’s length”?
-When the cops get a threat from the hackers, they assume it’s legit “because that’s just where we’re at.”
-Officer Cackowski tries to make conversation with everyone by going off asking if everyone’s excited for Avengers, and when everyone stands up to show their support for Britta’s cause, Chang assumes they were all standing up to go see Avengers.
-The first amendment is so important it was the first one they remembered to add!
-Abed: “Someone has to be the last one to stand up and now that someone isn’t me.”
-The Dean is with the group, but not publicly. “I will always have been with you secretly.”
-After being criticized for the way he dresses, Elroy comes in with more up-to-date clothing: a plain black t-shirt with “2015” written on it.
-I love the way Abed is totally behind in the argument, being the only one who didn’t read the private emails. Maybe Britta’s test in Season 3 was right and Abed really is the only sane one.
-Elroy is making a game about female time travelers, so he’s been secretly making 3D models of the girls’ bodies.
-Chang emails Jeff everyday ranking Annie and Britta in terms of hotness. Jeff doesn’t respond except for one time, when he agreed that Britta is hotter. The shippers should enjoy that one.
-Amazing meta Chang moment: Elroy and Frankie are surprised to learn this was once a study group and Chang was their teacher, and he adds that “frankly I haven’t been well utilized since.”
-I also love the last scene of the episode, where everyone desperately tries to wrap their brains around the implications of what happened and what the theme of the episode is.
-Finally, what’s the deal with everyone at Greendale using email as their primary form of communication? What year is this?

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