Friday, April 13, 2012

3x15 "Origins of Vampire Mythology" (You're Toxic, I'm Slipping Under)

"Origins of Vampire Mythology"
Original Airdate: April 12, 2012

A very wise secondary character once said, of the Greendale study group: "Your love is weird and toxic. And it destroys everything it touches." For the most part, I feel like we - as audience members - brush aside comments like that. "Oh, he's such a Todd," we reason. But it's something to really contemplate when it comes to our relationships with individuals. When does a relationship grow from needing someone to needing someone in an unhealthy way? I think that, if boiled down, this episode is all about the potential for toxicity in relationships - relationships between friends, people we have feelings for, and even ourselves. (Hence the Britney Spears lyrics in today's title.) It's also about how the people who are the closest to you can ironically be the most dangerous people FOR you, if you allow them to be. The fact of the matter is that anything (as I discussed in my "Contemporary Impressionists" review) in excess, can be toxic. Even the best relationships can go awry if we allow them to, especially if you depend on someone to the point of toxicity. "Origins of Vampire Mythology" really allows you to think about these characters and their identities both inside and outside of relationships. We get to see a very vulnerable and desperate side of Britta - one that we are not used to seeing. Pierce, too, is highlighted as the outsider once more. And we get a very interesting glance into Jeff's relationship with himself (and how that unconsciously is affecting his relationship with people around him.)

So, since I usually like to give you all a brief summary of the plot, why not start there? After our two-part pillow and blanket fort war, we're back to a positively established Troy/Abed relationship. And since those episodes already established how their relationship can be toxic, it's refreshing to see the pair back on solid ground throughout the episode. Jeff, too, seems relieved by this. As he watches Troy and Abed do a handshake, he genuinely says: "I never thought I'd miss it." Because, truth be told, he's softening up quite a bit this season, as a character. In terms of emotional growth and development, he has definitely become more in tune with his feelings. However, this episode (as well as with all of the post-hiatus episodes, it seems) highlights Jeff's insecurities and his ego as well.

The Dean enters the room to announce that the carnival is coming to town, which causes Britta to pay attention. As it turns out, she used to date a carnie named Blade (yes, the entire group does make fun of her for that) and he turned out to be the worst thing that ever happened to her... which is why she wants to see him so badly. Honestly, Gillian Jacobs won this entire episode for me. First of all, on a shallow note, she looked absolutely gorgeous. Second, like I mentioned earlier, I enjoy seeing a different, very vulnerable side of Britta. We get some sense as to why she was the way that she was with Jeff - what a desperate character Blade turned her into. And it's interesting, because everyone has someone like that in their life: a person you just can't shake, even when they hurt you. It's an addiction, as Annie says. There are only two real ways to rid yourself of the habit. You can: a) cut that person out of your life for good, or b) confront that relationship and either mend, salvage, or grow from it.

And there are two interesting moments regarding Jeff in the opening scene of the episode, which I think are important later on. First of all, Pierce calls Britta out on having the "King Arthur of bad taste in men," to which Jeff makes a face. Jeff prides himself (literally) on how wonderful he is as a person. Therefore, when someone cuts him down or takes something away from him, or is better at something than he is, he can't deal. Jeff doesn't like being thought of as anything other than wonderful. And as my friend Jaime and I were discussing last night (follow her on Twitter if you don't: @elspunko), it's clear that Britta is only attracted to men who are damaged (we discover later that Blade is quite literally and figuratively so). Thus, it stands to reason that Jeff MUST be damaged in some way, shape, or form in order for Britta to have been attracted to him in the first place. And this is what kills me about Jeff - the sheer irony is the fact that the very thing he thinks makes him so appealing (his vanity), is actually what makes him damaged.

The second interesting moment is when Shirley and Britta inform Annie that some day she'll experience the same thing that they did with a man - that she'll have someone in her life who she constantly runs back to, even though they're toxic for her. But what they don't realize (and what I think Jeff must slightly realize when he says "What does that mean?") is that she already does: Jeff. Something always pulls one or both of them back to the other. The reason that their relationship is so complex and damaged at this point is because they haven't actually resolved whatever is between them. So in order to attempt to resolve this (rather than discussing it), they fight whatever feelings they have and place distance between each other. But they're drawn to each other anyway, so that doesn't work -- they end up right where they started and continue a cycle of this. And (pardon me for jumping ahead momentarily), I think that Jeff realizes that he is Annie's "Blade" toward the end of the episode (and perhaps in the beginning a little bit as well - he looks away when Shirley discusses not being able to shake someone from your system.)

After the study group, Jeff and Annie are hanging outside of his locker, and he performs his mid-afternoon wardrobe change in front of her (stripping off his shirt). And, unbeknownst to him, Jeff's wardrobe change is not helping Annie become the type of person who can shake him from her system (and my argument is that she doesn't want to shake Jeff). But this is the kind of stuff that Jeff does that doesn't help Annie. So really, Jeff has two options: if he wants to help Annie, he can let her go or force HER to let him go (which I don't think he wants to do), or develop their relationship and move it forward (which I don't think he is ready to do).

Britta approaches the pair and begs Annie to help her keep away from Blade. If he calls, she insists, she'll end up running to him. Britta also asks to stay with her, Troy, and Abed for the weekend in order to prevent herself from furthering her addiction to Blade. And, to be honest, it's been way too long since we have had a decent Annie/Britta storyline. I lament the fact that either of them hooked up with Jeff because it ruined their friendship. In season 1, they seemed to be the kind of women who were not super close but COULD be eventually. The opening of season 2, however, seemingly ruined all chances of that occurring. But I love t hat this season seems to redeveloping their friendship into one that resembles a sisterly bond more than anything else. They genuinely do care about one another, even though they pick on each other. My sister and I are seven years apart, which I presume is a little less than the age gap between Annie and Britta. Nevertheless, their bond does slightly remind me of the bond I have with my little sister - we both are polar opposites in nearly every way, and we pick on each other and spat and complain about the other. But at the end of the day, if I ever needed her or vice versa, she's STILL my sister.

And I love that this episode shifted the balance - we see how Annie is the one to help Britta out with her love life. It seems appropriate, given Annie's past (because we sometimes forget that even though she's young, she's gone through a lot more in life than we give her credit for), she knows exactly how Britta will respond to addiction.

While Annie is spending the episode keeping Britta away from Blade, Jeff is curious to get a glimpse of Britta's ex-boyfriend (one who caused her to become so jaded), so he takes Shirley to the carnival with him. The segments between the two of them are interesting because they're meant to give us light into Jeff's train of thought. The only way, he reasons, for Britta to be so affected by someone that isn't him (remember, Jeff's ego is the size of Canada) is if that person has something that Jeff doesn't. In Jeff's mind, it's the only logical explanation - not that Britta is attracted to damaged men, but that she is attracted to something that Jeff didn't have, and he has to know what that is. Because if there's one thing that we've learned Jeff can't stand, it's the idea that someone out there can do something that he cannot (hence why Jeff visits Rich at the end of "Asian Population Studies.")

At the carnival, there is also a Pierce/Chang storyline. I am admittedly not the biggest fan of either of them, to be honest. But this episode really shows how much Chang has evolved (he's no longer dependent on the study group this year) and how much Pierce hasn't (he's still just as insecure as he was last year). So Pierce decides to look outside of the study group for a best friend. And together, I have decided, Chang and Pierce could rule a very scary world.

Back at La casa de Trobed, Britta is beginning to crumble under her addiction. I think that, as much as it was for show in order to get her phone back, Britta does come to appreciate Annie a bit more toward the end of the episode. Annie's plan to get Britta un-addicted to Blade was to hide Britta's cell phone (which the blonde willingly gave to her at the beginning of the episode) and not give it to her. In the midst of this, though, Annie - being the crafty jackrabbit that she is - knows how Britta will react and that she'll crumble. So when the brunette hands the phone back over to her friend, she explains to Troy, Abed, and the dean (who is visiting in order to try and recruit Troy to the Air Conditioning School Repair Annex) that she switched Blade's number in Britta's phone with her own.

Jeff and Shirley are at the carnival and are attempting to discover what exactly it is about Blade that drew Britta in. And Jeff is so consumed with being the best at something, that he wants to be the best at being everything. He accentuates his flaws because (in light of Blade's), he looks better. And that causes him to feel better. I've heard it said that comparison is the enemy of contentment, and I think no one exemplifies this better than Jeff. He's the type of guy who cannot let anyone be more admired or fawned over than him. And even though it's terrible, he has to know what the flaws are in people who others admire more than him (like Rich) AND, in an interesting turn of events here, he wants to know what Blade's secret is in order to make a woman crazy. He can't stand the idea that someone out there has some secret knowledge of the universe that he doesn't possess - be it good or bad.

Shirley is fed up with Jeff's shenanigans, and leaves to go find Pierce. And I honestly felt bad for Pierce - no one, inside of the group or out, will remain his best friend. It's so bittersweet though because, just a moment before Chang and Pierce had their first "fight," Shirley announces that she's going to go find him.

Britta is texting "Blade" (who is really Annie), so Annie decides that she's just going to be mean to Britta (again, acting as "Blade"). Troy and Abed attempt to dissuade her, explaining that Britta is attracted to men who are mean to her. And it kills me that Troy, throughout the episode, cares so much about Britta. Perhaps he has always picked on her because he knows that she likes guys who are mean to her. But I think that - throughout this episode - he realizes he can't treat her like that anymore. Telling someone you care about them can be awful, because it can always backfire. But living a lie every day is so much worse than that because you're only facilitating a toxic relationship. And Troy would never want to be the Blade to Britta - he can't be that guy. And Troy actively decides NOT to be like that at the end of the episode. So when Britta's addiction to Blade finally spirals into levels where Annie cannot help, Troy takes Annie's phone from her and texts something nice to Britta.

(We don't know what he texts, and I don't think we're ever meant to know. But Annie discovers it later by yanking Britta's phone away.)

Back at the carnival, Jeff is driving himself crazy. And he's done that from the beginning of this season, whenever he attempts to "discover" something that is missing in his life. He needs to know how to be the best at everything. He needs to manipulate people so that they will love him. But, if the past two years have taught Jeff anything (and I think they have), it's that you need to be who you are. Because relationships are messy enough as is. When you drag in unrealistic expectations and lies and trying-to-be's, they become toxic.

Jeff actually discovers why Blade is the way that he is and shows up at the apartment after the carnival with the news. Right before this, however, Troy dejectedly walks into the blanket fort (after Britta proclaims that "Blade" was a loser) and Britta, upon learning that she wasn't really texting with Blade at all, decides to run to the carnival to seek him out. Jeff though, explains that the reason Blade is the type of person he is, is because ten years ago, a spare bolt from a Ferris wheel flew off and embedded in his skull. This damaged the part of his brain that felt shame.

Then, Jeff delivers an interesting speech, just as Britta decides to go to the carnival after Blade: "No, woman," he insists. "None of us have to go to anyone. And the idea that we do is a mental illness we contracted from breath mint commercials and Sandra Bullock. We can't keep going to each other until we learn to go to ourselves. Stop making our hatred of ourselves someone else's job and just stop hating ourselves."

And though this speech was intended for Britta, I think Jeff was speaking to himself as well -- I think that this is Jeff's realization that he is like Blade, at least in some way. It sums up the heart of the toxicity of relationships - the fact that people don't deal with what they have going on in their own lives, so they drag their baggage into relationships. There's this moment, after Annie smiles at Jeff, I think he realizes that there IS one woman he's affected in the way that Blade has affected Britta: Annie. And I don't think he wants Annie to ever become like Britta. But the one thing that you can notice, as Jeff adverts his gaze and looks away, is that Jeff and Blade will never be completely alike -- Jeff, in that moment, felt shame.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
- Dan Harmon wrote this episode. So  I applaud you, sir. It was a fantastic episode.
- "She'll be comin' around the mount-dean when she comes!"
- "She invoked friendship to undercut the laugh and we're STILL laughing. That's how funny it is!"
- Why don't we have more Pierce/Shirley high-fives? Can someone explain that to me?
- "Uh, Andre much?"
- I need a Dean/Troy/Annie/Abed storyline every week, please.
- "And, left unattended, I WILL end up doing him like a crossword."
- "Annie, subdue your guest."
- "You're the opposites of Batman!" "You don't know what that MEANS!"
- That's a boss Zefron poster in Annie's room.
- "What's wrong, Annie? You came out of the bedroom smiling and then your smile faded as you leaned against the door."
- "She was born in the 80s. She still uses her phone as a PHONE."
- The tag was golden.

Next week, we get to spend a whole lot of time with Annie and Abed in the Dreamatorium in an episode called "Virtual Systems Analysis." Until then, folks!

(And, just as a shameless plug for me personally: my first book is available on for purchase!)


  1. I didn't catch that moment of shame until you pointed it out on Twitter. So I went back and rewatched it. Several times. And you hit the nail right on the head. I also think once Jeff DOES stop hating himself so much, he CAN be the man Annie deserves. The fact that he showed some shame about his behavior shows that.

    Also this: "So really, Jeff has two options: if he wants to help Annie, he can let her go or force HER to let him go (which I don't think he wants to do), or develop their relationship and move it forward (which I don't think he is ready to do)." You, my friend, are brilliant.

  2. Wow, this is absolutely one of the best reviews I’ve read on this, or any other, episode. I just happened upon your site, but it is now bookmarked. I loved your point on the toxicity of the relationships between Jeff and Britta, and Jeff and Annie especially. I can’t wait for lunch with my coworkers here at DISH, every Friday we get together and watch the latest episode of Community on my friend’s iPad at and talk about it, and I’m curious to see how they felt about the episode…everything at the apartment was GOLDEN, especially when the Dean got there, but I think we’re finally going to see something come from the Troy/Britta dynamic that’s been slowly building since they took dance together in Season one. I can’t wait for next week, and I’m going to make coming here a part of my post-Community experience. Thanks again!

  3. I wasn't as in to this episode as some of the others—until the end. It felt a little clunky and the Pierce/Chang dynamic seemed like a throw in. Actually, a lot of Pierce's interactions this season are pushing him to the background and making him even more one-dimensional. Perhaps that is intentional. Still, it pulled me in at the end. This show takes chances and works hard to layer deeper meaning underneath comedy situations. It has a lot of heart. That came through in the final scene.

    The one joke that had me rolling: "She was born in the 80s. She still uses her phone as a PHONE."


  4. "There's this moment, after Annie smiles at Jeff, I think he realizes that there IS one woman he's affected in the way that Blade has affected Britta: Annie. And I don't think he wants Annie to ever become like Britta. But the one thing that you can notice, as Jeff adverts his gaze and looks away, is that Jeff and Blade will never be completely alike -- Jeff, in that moment, felt shame."

    And then I crumpled into a heap on the floor, and wept until my lungs felt like sandpaper.

    You just DESTROYED me! God, that was good. Jeff and Annie are unhealthier for me than for each other, of this I am sure.

  5. You are WAY too good at this, my dear :) Brilliant!