Dan Harmon once warned that season three of Community would be the series’ darkest season. Whether or not his words came to fruition is up for debate, as is the overall message and quality of the show, post season two. But, that’s beside the point. Community has made it to her six-season mark; all that remains now, in the words of Abed, is a movie. So, as we wait for news on what, if anything, comes next for Greendale, it seems like a good time to take a look back at season three; a season which many believe changed the tide of the show.
Was it supposed to? That’s a question for Dan Harmon.
Season three is notable for moving the characters around in ways the show hadn’t before; we saw more of Troy and Abed living together, Annie moved in with them, and, suddenly, the Greendale Seven had a place to convene that wasn’t the study room or the school. And within that magical apartment, where so many strange and wonderful things seemed to happen, was the Dreamatorium.
The Dreamatorium. Was it really a machine of dreams? Or did it serve a darker, more insidious purpose? It seemed to create a fair share of nightmares for Abed and the group within the confines of the third season.
Let’s take a look. This is the Dreamatorium… what it is, what it did, and what we learned.
The Dreamatorium is a non-negotiable part of any two-bedroom apartment.
We’re first introduced to the Dreamatorium by accident: Annie, trying to be more loosey-goosey and go with the flow, attempts to find more blankets for the blanket fort. In what is inevitable and accidental foreshadowing for the later pillow fort/blanket fort war (they had one in their apartment; we should’ve known!), Annie instead stumbles upon the one and only Dreamatorium. Entirely devoid of furniture, the Dreamatorium is a VR playroom with no VR equipment. While Annie may be upset about its existence, she did sign the lease; the Dreamatorium is on there, fair and square. And in crayon.
Feel free to use the Dreamatorium to detox.
In a Dreamatorium session too intense for our normal, unprepared eyes, Troy and Abed go balls to the wall in one last mission before going to Shirley’s wedding rehearsal. Emerging in unitards draped with streamers (Troy accessorizes with the ivory toupee of Pierce’s dead dad), the two chide themselves for being improperly dressed before having a completely regular handshake. Considering the noises coming from the Dreamatorium moments prior, it’s safe to say that what went on in there is probably best left to our imaginations.
The Dreamatorium runs on a fragile engine.
It may look like cardboard tubes and some duct tape, but that’s only to the untrained eye. The engine is actually a very complex system used by Abed to simulate real-life experiences with the rest of the study group. This suggests that Abed uses the Dreamatorium for more than just fantasy situations, but that’s another point. What’s important is that no one should ever touch the engine, lest they want to face the consequences.
Messing with the engine will literally break Abed.
This is a very Annie thing to do, quite frankly. Most of Community can follow at least the subplot of “[someone] tries to help, which makes everything so much worse.” Is this her fault? Is it the fact that everyone around her is equally unhinged? We just don’t know. What we do know is that Annie’s attempt to teach Abed empathy (by putting thoughts of other people before thoughts of himself) immediately and tragically backfires. None of this would’ve happened if Troy hadn’t gone on that date!
The Dreamatorium: “It’s a locomotive that runs on us.”
Most of the episode “Virtual Systems Analysis” focuses on Annie trying to right her own wrong and fix the Dreamatorium (and with it, Abed), only to discover one critical piece that had been missing all along… her own empathy for Abed. The Dreamatorium may have been broken, but that doesn’t mean it was entirely right to begin with. Without breaking it, Annie and Abed may have never discovered how far they’d been flying past each other. As Annie reminds Abed, the simulations in the Dreamatorium are just that, simulations or, as she puts it, science-fiction.
“2001. Did we get A Space Odyssey?” she asks. “No. We got snowboarding at the Olympics.” This is a powerful metaphor for friendship. It makes more sense in context.
One quick warning: The Dreamatorium can be a bridge between timelines. Use with caution.
Britta, in an attempt to help Abed, has a therapy session with him inside the Dreamatorium. What would’ve normally been a hilarious misstep in Britta’s “career” as a therapist instead catapults us into the season three finale. There are only two ways to dimension travel in Community: With a red phone booth, or in the Dreamatorium. Britta somehow manages to bring Evil Abed into the regular timeline, creating chaos for the rest of the study group. So, a normal day for Britta, really. It’s probably best to keep her out of the Dreamatorium.
While the Dreamatorium was disassembled at the end of season three for the most part, a small one still exists in a linen closet within the apartment. Just in case…