Friday, April 6, 2012

3x14 "Pillows and Blankets" (All's Fair in Love and Pillow War)

"Pillows and Blankets"
Original Airdate: April 5, 2012

We write our own histories, for better or for worse. We make decisions every day that determine what happens minutes, hours, and even years from now. One decision can alter our circumstances and the circumstances of those around us. Words and actions go hand-in-hand in determining this, of course. But the beauty of life is that people need each other. No matter how far apart we stray from companions in life, we physically need someone beside us in order to survive. People weren't meant to do life alone. We need (pardon the pun) community. Sometimes we forget that - sometimes we need reminders like an epic pillow fight to bring us back to the reality that life is too scary to be alone or to be at odds with the people we genuinely care about. And truthfully, this episode is great in that it's one of Community's finest hours writing-wise, as well as development-wise for Jeff, in particular. Something we forget, often times (and that I try to remind both you and myself of during certain episodes) is that the study group doesn't make up the entire population of Greendale Community College. And I think that - especially during this season - they're beginning to realize that the actions and events that occur within their study group actually impact the people around them outside of the study group as well. Because of Troy and Abed's fight, the entire school is forced to choose sides, being pulled into a war, of sorts. And really, the events that occurred during the previous episode play a key role in the plot of "Pillows and Blankets," not only in the Troy/Abed story, but also in our newest Jeff/Annie story. The lesson that Annie attempted to teach Jeff in "Digital Exploration of Interior Design" was that he uses his words selfishly, expecting that speeches will be spun and utilized to serve his own purposes. And we'll get to this momentarily, but it's refreshing to see Jeff's change of perspective regarding this.

Were you so enthralled with the war documentary style that this episode was in that you completely forgot what the plot was about? Let's take a brief refresher, then! As we know from last week's cliffhanger episode, Troy and Abed are at odds over building a pillow fort or a blanket fort. But really, we have to remember that this isn't actually what their fight is about -- it's centered, instead, on the idea that Abed wants control and Troy wants control, and also is becoming increasingly frustrated with having to always babysit Abed. (Don't forget that this is the heart of their rift, because I'll be coming back to it later on.) We saw, at the end of "Digital Exploration of Interior Design" that Starburns flung a pillow into the air, causing part of Troy's blanket fort to collapse. That began an all-out war between the two sides.

Now, admittedly, I'm not much of a History Channel/PBS buff. I'm the kind of girl who would use that channel as... say... a sleeping aid. History was never much of my passion in high school or college, but that doesn't mean I appreciated this episode any less (in fact, it's now ranked #2 of this season for me, falling behind the untouchable "Remedial Chaos Theory" in my book). The entire episode was modeled after Ken Burns' "Civil War" (and it doesn't take very long for you to catch the historical documentary references). While a lot of Community's homages or parodies may often seem over-the-top to some, I find them refreshing, so long as they have a purpose and aren't used for the sake of having them. This episode really exemplified, to me, how to do an homage/parody effectively. Take notes, other television shows! (And bravo, Andy Bobrow!)

I'm going to momentarily discuss Jeff, as he is confronted by the dean early in the episode to remedy the feud between Troy and Abed, and essentially set rights to everything once more. If Jeff has learned one thing throughout the course of his 2+ years being friends with these individuals, it's that making stuff up off the top of his head seems to appease everyone. Except, as we're beginning to recognize, Jeff's hastily-spun and nearly-only-half-true speeches aren't sitting as well as his friends as they used to. In the pilot, he had the entire group eating out of the palm of his hand (with the exception of Britta). Flash-forward to "Asian Population Studies," in which Jeff manages to only convince half of the group that Chang should join the study group over Rich. Flash-forward even further to "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps," in which Jeff's blatantly sugar-coated "scary story" (meant to appease everyone so that they could all go to the Halloween party) convinced no one. So Annie is right -- Jeff's speeches, a lot of the time, are not heartfelt. Truthfully, he uses them to gloss over problems and get annoying people off his back. However, he will learn that his magical charm (or what he thought he once had) does not work in the Troy/Abed conflict.

Jeff confronts Troy and Abed in Dean Pelton's office, and doesn't manage to solve the rift. "You're children acting like grown-ups," he chastizes. "I mean, that's fine. Just don't pretend it's anything other than that." And see, here's where Jeff makes his first mistake -- he doesn't understand the root cause of Troy and Abed's strain, and perhaps no one apart from the two of them do (that's my argument, at least), and this is what is difficult. Everyone else perceives it as just a pillow fight that goes awry because two goofy guys had a disagreement over the placement of pillows and blankets. But, as we learned last week, the rift between Abed and Troy runs much deeper than that. It's about the fact that Troy constantly has to take care of Abed. And he enjoys doing that, to an extent, because he's his best friend. But Abed cannot understand the fact that he needs to trust Troy - that he NEEDS someone to look out for him. And thus, the heart of their rift.

So basically, Troy secedes from "New Fluffytown" (I love when this show references past episodes), and creates Blanketsburg. Abed then renames his pillow fort Pillowtown. At the end of the conversation with Jeff, nothing is resolved and - instead - Troy declares that Abed must surrender before midnight, which the film student does not agree to. And it appears that war is on everyone's hands. And you all should note closely the division of the study group on Troy/Abed -- Annie, Jeff, and Britta stay "impartial" for the most part. I think that it's hilariously in-character of Pierce to choose Troy over Abed. Though he has had moments with the latter, it seems like (given "Remedial Chaos Theory," at least) Pierce was upset at Abed, and jealous for taking Troy away from him. I think that Pierce genuinely enjoys being around Troy... well, until Shirley gets promoted, in which case, Pierce switches sides. But notice, via Shirley's text message, that it seems like Britta is mostly on Team Troy. And, given Annie's subtle text message to Jeff later on, it seems like she supports Troy. It's intriguing and a bit sad that no one in the study group willingly sided with Abed - Pierce only did so in order to spite Troy.

There are a few major battles that occur throughout the episode, much like during an actual war! There's a six-minute long fight in the library between Blanketsburg and Pillowtown. There is then a Battle of Big Bulletin Board, in which Pierce is physically (and emotionally) injured. Meanwhile, throughout the course of our war, Annie - who is acting as a nurse to the wounded students - and Jeff are texting back and forth. Jeff gives a motivational speech to rally the troops of Blanketsburg... and then gives the exact same speech to Pillowtown. Annie is initially proud of him for taking a stand, until she realizes what he's doing (because he really just wants to get out of class, so he's fine with the war lasting as long as possible). And there's some irony in the fact that, in "Football, Feminism, and You" Jeff uses the phrase "profound, but technically meaningless," which I think sums up the theme of his speeches, no? They rouse people up... so that they can do what? Serve Jeff's agenda? Feel better about themselves without actually changing?

Jeff then gets compared to Ferris Bueller, and I think there's something to be said about that -- in a way, I am surprised that I haven't thought about this before. In fact, in "Documentary Filmmaking Redux," Jeff claims that he will always go the extra mile to avoid doing something (kind of like how Ferris elaborately feigned illness in order to skip school for a day). And truthfully, Ferris and Jeff are both likable characters who charm their way into the lives of others. It's intriguing to me that I've never actually made this comparison before now.

The war begins to take a turn for the dangerous, as Troy recruits Chang and his child soldiers, who begin to demolish Pillowtown forces. Meanwhile, in the infirmary, Annie has ignored Jeff's text messages after he reveals that, yes, he really just used his speech to stir up both sides. And I love that Jeff genuinely takes an interest in Annie throughout the episode, not that he usually doesn't. But, since last week highlighted the dysfunction in Jeff and his ego, it's endearing to see him actually care about someone other than himself. And it's even more endearing to watch how hard he tries for that petite brunette's affection.

So he confronts her in the infirmary after she's failed to respond to his text messages (he knows she's ignoring him and wants to know why). But it's interesting that he picks up on this -- interesting because he didn't seem to pick up on the subtle hint that she dropped last week about still being upset over their kiss and his dismissal of it (and subsequent lack of apology). And yet, because she ignored his text, he notices and decides to confront her. I think that this kind of exemplifies the idea that maybe Jeff needs more clear-cut signs that someone is unhappy with him. Not responding to his text message causes him to take notice (which is an ironically small thing to take notice of, to be honest).

Annie then explains her reasoning -- "Your words don't mean anything," she claims. "They're just things you say to get what you want." And I think that Annie finally came to the realization during the last episode that Jeff's speeches don't hold very much water. He's the kind of person who can masterfully craft words, but it doesn't mean they fix things. And he can spin lies together, but it doesn't mean that life gets any better or that relationships are resolved. And I think HE realizes this during the episode too. When Jeff claims that all conversations are basically meaningless words, she quips: "Then maybe you should just shut up," which Jeff looks completely taken aback by. Annie is never usually upfront and honest and that direct. He's used to the Annie who will blindly believe the stuff that he's told her for two year. Not this Annie.

The young woman then asks if Jeff keeps a journal -- if he writes things down that aren't meant for anyone else (intriguing because the moment Jeff walks into the infirmary, Annie is writing in her own journal). She wants him to use his words for the sake of using them - not to get anything, not to be noticed, but just for himself.

Jeff then asks: "If I write stuff down in a Hello Kitty book, will you like me again?" (Anyone else find this adorable? Anyone? Bueller?). She rolls her eyes, and walks out of the room. The grin that he gives her and yells: "I'll take that as a yes!" is also adorable.

The war between Troy and Abed's forces is getting intense -- Team Pillowmen has created a secret weapon (Pierce covered in pillows from head-to-toe) to take down Troy's army. The battles are growing more and more intense, and Troy's forces discover an e-mail from Abed, sent to his troops, highlighting the weaknesses in Troy as a leader and a character. And I think that the most heartbreaking thing about the entire episode is how Troy and Abed both know each other so well that they can highlight the weaknesses of one another. Troy's biggest fear as we learn (and really have known for a while) is that he is afraid he isn't smart enough. Another callback to "Remedial Chaos Theory" is the fact that Troy is insecure about himself as a leader because he compares himself to Jeff. He fears that people won't take him seriously. And Abed perceives this (and Troy's emotions) as weakness.

But, for however heartbreaking that was, Troy's text to Abed is even more so. The young athlete goes straight for the jugular -- he calls Abed out on his mental issues, as well as the fact that the only reason Troy claims Abed will never have another friend is because no one else will have the same level of patience Troy had with the film student. And that's so heartbreaking to me, because the fact is that these two individuals love and care for one another and UNDERSTAND one another so much that... there's no one apart from them who could have been able to pinpoint all of that.

Jeff, taking Annie's advice to heart, notices that the war between the best friends is getting out of hand. Rather than just a pillow fight, it has escalated into a battle of hurting one another's feelings. And Jeff is genuinely attempting to resolve things, not for his sake, but for their sake. And he recognizes that it is, for once, not all about him. ... there is a problem with this, however. The issue that Jeff encounters is learning that, when you attempt to assist other people, sometimes your good intentions do not end the way you anticipated they would. When you're not controlling or manipulating the situation, people are free to choose whether they make up or not.

Troy and Abed choose to not make up. In fact, they decide that, come dawn, the two forces will battle. The leader of the losing force will have to move out of the apartment. Dawn comes and the Pillowmen and Blanketeers face off in an epic battle (though she is not used much in the episode, Shirley is perfect. Also, she continues to have her giant purse around her shoulder during the battle.), in which it appears that Troy's forces are winning. However, the battle is interrupted and called to an end by Dean Pelton who announces that the World Record representative will not be coming to Greendale, so there's no reason for the pillow war to continue.

Everyone disperses, apart from Troy and Abed who continue to hit one another with pillows for hours. "The war has no more reason to continue," the narrator announces. "And yet, it does." I will admit that the only thing I was a bit disheartened by in the episode was the resolution of the Troy/Abed conflict. But perhaps it's because Jeff and the rest of the study group doesn't actually know the root cause of their disagreement. No one among the study group members had any idea that Troy and Abed's wounds go much deeper than deciding to build a build a blanket or pillow fort. So I suppose, in a way, their resolution makes sense. Still, the fact that they don't want to stop fighting because they know it's the last thing they'll ever do together is heartbreaking. Abed doesn't actually ask Troy if he is interested in the friendship hats... he says "We might be interested." Which, again, the only quip I have against the episode is that it doesn't seem like Abed has really grown or learned anything -- he's still deciding things for Troy.

Nevertheless, Jeff makes one last attempt to selflessly resolve their conflict and actually goes to the dean's office to retrieve Troy and Abed's "friendship hats." And then, the episode ends with Jeff actually taking Annie's advice to heart. He writes in a journal about what he has learned, and how he realizes he would do anything for his friends. And it displays immense character growth in Jeff as someone who loves and cares about the people in his life, to the extent that he will do anything to help them.

(But there's irony in the fact that Jeff rips the "personal" page out of his notebook to show off to the camera... well, Rome wasn't built in a day. But it's progress!)

Additional de-lovely aspects of the episode include:
- "It was awesome. But also... it wasn't?"
- "If there's one thing I've learned at this place, it's that a film crew means disaster."
- "I'm giving you an all tomato. Meaning, you have to give me the whole tomato. Or else." It's like Joey Tribbiani and his "moo point"!
- "Do people GO to classes?"
- Somehow, like the dean, Britta manages to steal every scene she is in. But since part 1 was Britta-heavy, I didn't mind her absence as much during the second part of the episode.
- "Just because something is in black and white, doesn't mean it's good."
- "They were later nicknamed the Changlorious Bastards. ... like 'Inglorious Bastards' but with 'Chang' instead of 'in.' ... I don't get it either."
- Birthday cake, birthday cake, unicorn, woman's shoe.
- The tag killed me dead.

Next week we are onto an episode called "Origins of Vampire Mythology" which centers around the gang attempting to keep Britta away from her ex-boyfriend. Until then, folks! :)

1 comment:

  1. I kinda agree with you about the Troy/Abed resolution. I am glad that they're friends again, but I don't think it's going to be happily ever after for the two of them. Not just yet anyway. We still have Evil Abed to deal with (I hope), and Troy is still being approached by Vice Dean Laybourne. Like I said, I'm glad Troy and Abed are friends again, but as individuals they still have a lot to deal with coming up.
    As for Jeff, I think this was one of his finest moments. The fact that he went back to the dean's office for the friendship hats shows a lot of growth on his part. I'm pretty sure season 1 or even season 2 Jeff would just fake it for Troy and Abed's benefit.
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