Friday, September 30, 2011

3x02 "Geography of Global Conflict" (The Annie of it All)

"Geography of Global Conflict"
Original Airdate: September 29, 2011

It's no secret that my favorite character on Community is Annie Edison. I've said this before, but I feel like the reason is that I relate to her the most out of all of the study group members. I can genuinely empathize with her, because I feel like there are parts of me that are her - that crazy, neurotic little girl trapped inside of a young woman's body. I still watch Disney movies. I still crave to be praised by people around me as if they actually matter. So that's why this week was a spectacular episode for me - perhaps one of my favorites out of all three seasons. Be aware that I am a Jeff/Annie shipper, but even though this episode was about them, I will not be posting "OMG THEY'RE SO AMAAAAAZING AND YOU ALL NEED TO LOVE THEM." (I had my moments last night during the airing). The focus and purpose of this blog is to actually review the development of the show as a whole. That being said, there will be discussions about the Jeff/Annie dynamic, as it was an important factor in 3x02. Cool? Cool. Let's begin.

So we open last night's episode with Martin Starr, who I did not know because I never watched Party Down, as a PolySci professor. And here's where I will stop momentarily and discuss guest stars on Community. I'll be honest - I'm a spoiler junkie. And when I heard that the writers were planning on bringing in an assortment of guest stars, I was quite frankly a bit worried. But I think that Glee had scarred me from that. See, here's the thing with guest stars - guest stars are great. They are wonderful. Every show should (and usually does) have them at some point. In order for a guest star to work, however, they need to not take the focus of the show away from the main cast. And I think that for a lot of shows, that's the stumbling block. It's great to have someone like, say Katy Perry, on an episode of How I Met Your Mother. It's bad if she overshadows Neil Patrick Harris or Jason Segal in scenes, however (she never did though, and I liked her episode because of that). Also, I feel like shows sometimes try and bump up their ratings or viewership by throwing in completely extraneous guest stars (really, I'm talking to you Glee) just for the sake of having them. That hasn't been the case of Community, however. The writers and producers know how to use their guest stars to enhance the chemistry that the cast already has. (I had to sit and actually think that, yes, between the first two episodes this season, there have already been three guest stars, but it's not detracting from the group). Martin Starr did a fantastic job of fulfilling that role as a guest star.

So, back to our plot: as it turns out, Annie Edison has a new, younger protegee of sorts in who we will politely call "Other Annie" (or the less politically correct name, "Asian Annie"). As it turns out, little Other Annie is sort of like a shadow of Annie Edison's past. (I really hope she returns for later episodes, because I loved her character). Other Annie is being called on to answer questions in class (which she answers correctly, of course) and this doesn't sit quite well with our Annie. Throughout the episode, it's nice to see our Annie slowly unravel and delve into the crazy. But more on that in a minute. Now we'll discuss the apple of my eye this week: Britta.

I think that a lot of Jeff/Annie shippers dislike Britta. And I don't quite understand why, because I absolutely adore her. I don't, obviously, prefer her and Jeff together romantically, but I love when they have side adventures together because they're quite funny. But I digress - Britta Perry owned this week's episode. We know because of last week's tag that she finally committed to a major - Psychology - and this week was about her getting serious...sort of. As she walks with Shirley and discusses her new additions (a backpack, and highlighters), she receives a flyer about three people who have been imprisoned for protesting in another country. And, of course, Britta knows one of the girls. I'll pause here and say that the whole Britta storyline this week was awesome in its symmetry to 1x02. Let's take a step backwards in time and discuss some character development on Ms. Perry's part:

So, in "Spanish 101," we learn that Britta is an activist and she educates Shirley and Annie about anti-journalism violence in Guatemala. I think that the key in this episode is the fact that the audience realizes that Britta can talk a big game, and she really is so hilarious in that - she is actively involved in passively changing the world. Britta finally decides that instead of just yelling about causes to individuals passing by (which she does in 2x03, ironically enough), she's actually going to do something and participates in a silent protest that Annie and Shirley organize. Let's flash forward to 3x02, then. In this episode we realize that there is a part of Britta that wants to embrace that rebellious side of her (if for no other reason than to be noticed, because her friend in jail "has a Facebook page!") and defy authority for the sake of defying authority and proving that she hasn't lost her game. Really, it's a fantastic example of the kind of character that Britta is. Throughout the first half of the episode, she tests Chang's authority and eventually both she and Chang are confronted by Chang's security guard boss regarding their behavior. More on that in a minute.

Let's backtrack to our A-storyline this week, and discuss our Annie versus Other Annie. Throughout the episode, we hear Jeff consistently praising Annie, albeit in a way that we've come accustomed to - "kiddo." Okay, let's backtrack even further now, and return to first season, specifically 1x09. The debate episode is the real hinge in the Jeff/Annie dynamic. Until this point, there had been subtle indications that the two cared about each other in a friendly way. But 1x09 established the tension that existed between them. And - if we're being honest - that tension hasn't been settled since. Here we first meet two of Jeff's defense mechanisms - a head pat and a "buddy." And I am really quite glad that they gave the explanation of such defenses in this episode so that there is no confusion. If there is one thing, just one thing, that Dan Harmon should be aware of, it's that his audience is astute. And shippers, perhaps, are the most astute out of them all. Maybe it's because we thrive on picking out little moments, dissecting them, and extracting meaning. A lot of the times, we are grasping at straws. Occasionally, we are right. This is one of those rare times.

You see, Jeff admits in this episode that he uses "kiddo" and head pats as a crutch - they are a way of telling Annie that he cares about her, without actually saying or acting on it. And if you re-watch seasons, the times that he pats her head or calls her "kiddo" are moments of tension between them ("Introduction to Political Science," "A Fistful of Paintballs," etc.) It makes sense because it's a way for him to distance himself from figuring out how he actually feels about her (also, it's very nice that we finally got Jeff admitting to feeling something - the Annie of it all isn't in our heads!). It's easy, that way. I was in love with this kid in high school who I used to call "kiddo" all the time. And I've done that with practically everyone that I have liked since then. Why? It's just easier than trying to decide what I actually feel for them.

Anyway, I'm digressing - we learn that Jeff thinks that Other Annie can't hold a candle to their Annie, and he gets quite defensive when the newcomer steals our Annie's idea to form a Model U.N. at Greendale. The confrontation between Other Annie, Professor Cligoris (would it be Greendale if we didn't have professors with names like this?), Jeff, and our Annie is fantastic. We get a moment where Jeff switches from the collective pronoun "our" to "my" when describing Annie. Our Annie - rightfully - looks proud at this. Turns out that Jeff volunteers our Annie to combat Other Annie in a "Model U.N. Battle Royale" moderated by the professor later on the next night.

Heading back to our Britta storyline, we learn that maybe Britta has grown up more than she thinks. Perhaps she's not the person that she once was - the one who would angrily protest things that she didn't even know about, get teargassed and then thrown into jail. Our little Britta is growing up. She's got a major now, and a backpack, and highlighters. And maybe she's starting to get some direction in life. But much like a parallel of our A-storyline between Jeff and Annie, she's afraid of losing what she is so used to. She's afraid that "growing up" means that she's no longer going to be the person that she was in the past, and maybe - just maybe - this means that she'll have to figure out who she is apart from that. And that's one of the biggest things that I hope this season accomplishes. I really want to see these characters struggling with who they want to become. And 3x02 was a perfect example of how I believe they're going to do that without losing sight of the heart and humor of the show. Because let's be honest - these characters are in their junior years of college. They don't have much time to figure out who they want to be anymore. They're forced with the inevitability that maybe they've already started growing up and just haven't realized it yet. But when they do realize it, that revelation alters how they think about the future.

So let's refocus on our A-storyline again: Annie, Jeff, Pierce, Shirley, Troy, and Abed are on Annie's Blue Model U.N. team, and they are actually doing quite well. That is, until someone farts and disrupts the focus of the team (isn't it wonderful how this is completely in-character for all of them?) Annie then throws a fit, the likes of which make look "Cooperative Calligraphy" look tame. The fit ends in her running out of the room, embarrassed (and rightfully so). Jeff confronts her in the library and Annie admits that she feels like such a child for throwing the tantrum. It is here that we get one of the best Jeff/Annie dialogues I think we have ever gotten:

Jeff: When you hate someone as much as you hate Annie Kim...or, when you feel the way I feel about you, the easy loophole through the creepiness and danger is to treat them like a child. "Chip off the old block" or "You're the best, kiddo." It's a crutch - a way to tell you how important you are from a distance. But now you're becoming this mature, self-possessed young woman and I can't keep patting you on the head or talking down to you.
Annie: But I like how close we are. I don't want to grow up if it means losing what we have.
Jeff: Well tough, Annie. You  have to grow up because the world needs more women like you. We can't keep doing this forever, kiddo.
Annie: ...can't we?

The reason that this dialogue is perfect is because we've established something between these two characters that had been previously subtext. We have had evidence that Jeff cares about Annie, and obviously that Annie looks up to - and cares about - Jeff. What's great about this episode as a whole is that it's forcing characters to stop hiding behind their crutches because it's easy. "Relationships are complicated," Jeff said in "Asian Population Studies." And for him, it's easier to use that as an excuse for not addressing his feelings, period. He's taking the easy way out in calling Annie a cute little nickname, and pretending like it's under pretenses of being a big brother or a father to her. But what they realize in this scene is that they both have to grow up. For Annie and Jeff, this both is unfortunate because with addressing a relationship, there's automatically the potential for it to fail. Annie is comfortable with what they have, because moving forward means that there is a potential to lose everything they have built up - all the walls and subtext included. But I'm glad that it's Jeff, this time, who admits that they can't keep tip-toeing around things. Those sort of games have expiration dates, and they've reached theirs. Both of them know now what Jeff means by calling her "kiddo" - they can't go back to just being that, because it's creepy. It's weird to call someone a kid when it really means that you have some sort of romantic feelings for them.

This season seems to be all about exposing the characters and their wants and their desires moving forward. And to me, that's exactly where this show needs to progress to. I love the group shenanigans that they encounter. I love episodes like "Basic Rocket Science" and "A Fistful of Paintballs." But the hard reality is that they're all learning to address what they've previously buried behind those facades. Because things like that - those fun, awesome moments - are great, but they have to move on. They won't always be able to play a game of paintball or Dungeons & Dragons in order to escape the life that's outside of those four study room walls.

And perhaps that's reading too deeply into what this episode was about, but I don't care. I know that I may have mentioned last week that this season has a different feel to it. And it's not a bad feel, by any means. It's something that we're not used to, much like what these characters are going through - unfamiliar territories in relationships and life. Quite frankly, I am glad we are along for the ride with them.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- "Hello." I will never hear this song or "Gravity" the same way again. Thanks a lot, Hermione!
- Troy swapping out Annie's cup in the cafeteria had me laughing. For a solid minute. I have no shame.
- Britta's rant in the study room was A+++
- Annie's first outfit was insanely cute. I want it.
- Why is it that it has become a stereotype in sitcoms for nerdy characters to wear huge glasses? 
- Britta eating the paper was hilarious. Britta wearing the dress of Barbie dolls was hilarious. Britta doing anything this episode was hilarious.
- Troy's Southern accent. I can't even begin to articulate how much I loved it.
- GARRETT. AND VICKI. Thank you.

Next week we have our first swap of the season - they're airing what was originally supposed to be episode 3x04 as 3x03: "Competitive Ecology." Apparently this episode has everyone attempting to pair up for a Biology assignment. It sounds like a bottle episode, but a promising one! Until then, kiddos. ;)


  1. Good summary. This episode was all about identity. Britta is in the process of changing her identity (backpack, highlighter, picked a major, etc.) and finds it challenged by hearing about her protester friend and struggles with that aspect. Annie has been growing beyond her hyper competitiveness but regresses because Other Annie's presence challenges how secure she is in that, and Jeff's identity has been increasingly defined by how he interacts with the group, so a threat to Annie is a threat to Jeff and he fights back.

    I don't think you are reading too deeply into this show. I think the show's writing is why there is a pretty rabid fan base following it(myself included) even though it's not getting wider viewership.

  2. So, would we consider this Annie's "expulsion day" episode? Just as Troy was then a man, is Annie now a woman?

  3. A Fistful of Paintball's might be a better "expulsion day" episode, as Annie has a significant moment of maturation (she breaks from her naivete/tolerance of Pierce). I would say that this episode is more transitory; Annie and Jeff are realizing that Annie's changing and are apprehensive of what this will mean.

  4. Hey Jen. Can I call you Jen? I assume I can since you have a blog dedicated to Community, making us besty's.

    Good read and I hope you keep going.

    I have nothing to actually add to the discussion by the way.

  5. False alarm, I do have something to ask.

    How close do you think Chang and Britta got to a full on S&M session?

  6. Thanks for the comments, everyone!

    Matt: This whole season seems to be about identity and it's really good because I feel like that's the next "right" step for the characters.

    Vivalana: I concur!

    Anonymous 2: Haha, you may most definitely call me Jen(n)! As for your other question... I legitimately have no idea. If the show were an hour long, maybe we would have an answer. ;)

  7. Great review! I love my Jeff/Annie moments but Britta stole the show. And I agree with anonymous - that was definitely my thought process as well.

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  9. great review! it is great that you explained the Jeff and Annie conversation because i saw on tumblr that a lot of people didn't quite understand it (i did though :P)