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Friday, June 22, 2012

2x02 "Accounting For Lawyers" (The Caring Epidemic)

Community: "Accounting for Lawyers"

"Accounting For Lawyers"
Original Airdate: September 30, 2010
“Caring about others, running the risk of feeling, and leaving an impact on people, brings happiness.” – Harold Kushner
I was an English major in college and therefore have always been someone who was fascinated by the written language. And one of the most fascinating things to me about stories, in particular, is to examine how far characters grow and change throughout the course of their narratives. There are those like Katniss Everdeen, who change in subtle yet poignant ways. And then there are characters like Mr. Darcy, who learn to change from the inside out – who don’t necessarily change as much as they recognize how to . Of course, there are always characters like Dolores Umbridge who refuse to change, who cannot change, and who never truly seem to learn or grow at all. Jeff Winger is the type of character whose growth seems to usually startle even him. He never plans ahead – he’s never been someone to dig into an emotional well and pour his feelings out to a group. When Jeff comes to realizations about himself – honest and true realizations – he is usually alone. Again, these epiphanies are usually quite non-miraculous, but the little things that Jeff begins to piece together in regards to his character from this point forth in the season grow and develop him into the person we meet in “Introduction to Finality” – a person whose heart is with Greendale and the six people he loves most in the world. 

So how exactly does Jeff become this person – this guy who isn’t afraid to tell people that he loves them, and who cares enough about Greendale to break back in and save it? It’s interesting because at this point – “Accounting For Lawyers” – in our story, Jeff seems to view Greendale much like he does later on, as a type of prison. He thinks it is a place that “feeds on his coolness” (as he so describes it in “Politics of Human Sexuality”). But what Jeff comes to realize, throughout the episode, is that the more he forces himself to remain the person he used to be, the more he realizes that he ISN’T that person anymore. And it’s something that, quite frankly, startles Jeff. He’s begun to get used to thinking of others and not himself. But now he is learning to CARE about others. It is more than that, though. He’s started to learn the beginnings of something that @elspunko mentioned to me when she helped take notes on “Introduction to Finality”: he is learning that the six people in his life currently care about HIM. And they want him to be happy (Annie insists that she’s happy Jeff found a friend), but also the best possible version of himself he can be.

But before we get to any of that stuff -- to Jeff realizing that he can be a better version of himself than he thought possible -- let's discuss the plot for this episode. It's evidently a few weeks into the semester and October. The dean sidles up to the study group's table in the cafeteria and informs them that there will be a pop-and-lockathon and encourages them all (or Troy, more or less) to participate in the event. The group initially looks bewildered by the prospect of this, but soon starts discussing their team names. Jeff, ever the cool and uncaring leader, leaves the table, and Abed joins him. While at the vending machines, Jeff runs into Alan Connor -- an old friend and co-worker from his former law firm. The introduction of Alan is something that I think needed to happen in the second season. The first year that we were introduced to Jeff Winger, he was struggling with accepting being at Greendale (re: “Football, Feminism and You”), but by “Pascal’s Triangle Revisited,” he seemed to have at least grown to tolerate being at Greendale and surviving his first year. When, however, Jeff’s past faces him, it’s easy for him to slip into old habits (as I’ve mentioned in reviews before). We need to remember that Jeff is a flawed human, and introducing him back into a world where he has power is dangerous. Because the bottom line is that Jeff lost all sense of power when he arrived at Greendale. In the pilot episode, Duncan refused to help Jeff cheat his way through school, noting that the tactics he used as a lawyer in the outside world could not serve him at Greendale. Jeff went from wearing expensive suits to sleeping in a dorm room to nearly losing a community college debate to Jeremy Simmons. Pride and power are vices for Jeff, and they go hand-in-hand. When Jeff loses power, he loses pride (and he does not do well when his pride or ego is wounded).

So Alan suggests that he and Jeff go get drinks and blow off Jeff's class, which the former lawyer readily agrees to. In the study room later on, the group watches as Chang performs a pop-and-lock piece, hoping to be included in their group for the dance-athon. (And in this scene, I love how much Chang/Britta hatred there was. Really, in the entirety of seasons 1 and 2, it's quite hilarious how much Chang hates Britta.) The group insists that they don't need an extra member because Jeff will be joining them. Chang doesn't believe this, based on what he's heard about Jeff hanging out with Alan again. Nevertheless, he leaves the room and the group discusses Jeff's newly re-discovered friendship. It’s endearing that the entire group is worried about the effect that Alan’s presence will have on Jeff. Even Abed (he says “we”) believes Alan to be a bad influence.

When Jeff re-enters the room with Alan, the study group seems less-than-thrilled, and Shirley gently reminds him that he needs to respect the group's time. Now, Jeff’s fallback – his natural response – is to use his words to manipulate others and to gain only for himself. In the study room, he asserts this when he talks to Shirley about being late. Jeff Winger is a good lawyer. He twists words and reads each individual that he comes into contact with in order to tailor his speeches. He’s a master at it, but he rarely – if ever – used his powers for good before he met the study group. And while Jeff revels in his former glory (because he missed this – the rush that he felt whenever he was able to twist words and phrases to his advantage), the study group does not act how they once did, back in the pilot and “Spanish 101.” They don’t marvel at Jeff’s abilities – they frown at him. Jeff seems undeterred, however, and leaves the room with Alan to get drinks. Remember the conversation that Troy and Jeff had on the football field in “Football, Feminism and You”? Jeff quipped that he was “locked out of [his] old kingdom,” implying the courthouse and being a lawyer in general. However, in this episode, Alan opens the door again for Jeff, providing him with an opportunity – perhaps the door had never been locked to begin with. So then, it begs the question: if, given the opportunity, would Jeff voluntarily stay with his study group or return to his old life? At the beginning of the episode, it seems like the former is the only option for Jeff – why would he voluntarily remain at a school when he could relive his former glory with Alan and people who adored him? And yet, there is a bit of hesitance in his voice before he agrees to go with Alan to the office party. Perhaps Jeff actually thinks before he responds, remembering the pop-and-lockathon. But quickly, Jeff’s ego is stroked, and he agrees to attend the party with Alan.

Meanwhile, the group is merely sitting around the study room table, still reeling from Jeff's earlier attitude. It’s funny to me that the study group cannot learn how to properly study – or chooses not to properly study  without every member of their group present. ( It’s also amusing to me that a few minutes ago, Annie was supporting Jeff hanging out with his old friend and then she suddenly chastises his choices.) The group discusses how Alan is a bad influence on Jeff, and Annie tries hard to think about exactly HOW she knows Alan. And then it comes to her, suddenly -- he was in Narcotics Anonymous with her. The petite brunette then remembers that Alan divulged something to the group, a secret about how he got a rival co-worker fired. And when Jeff re-enters the study room, sans Alan, Britta and Annie inform him of this. But since there is no proof that Alan admitted to getting Jeff fired, the group's leader doesn't believe it. Jeff also gets progressively meaner as the episode wears on. Keep in mind that the more time he spends around Alan and his old life, the easier he finds it to settle back into those habits. When we first met Jeff in the pilot, he would do anything to sleep with Britta, including turn the study group against one another. Though he may not be quite that cruel the second time around, Jeff certainly doesn’t think twice about insulting the people he’s grown closest to. And perhaps that’s what scares him, deep down – that this people are influencing him. There’s perhaps this part of him that WISHES he could turn off his feelings (as we’ll see later) and emotions. If he could flick a switch and NOT care, it would be easy. But the study group taught him the importance of being together and of supporting one another. And that’s something that, even if he tried, Jeff couldn’t forget because it’s burrowed into his heart.

Jeff then insults nearly everyone in the room and insists that his relationship with the study group is "co-dependent." And I think that it’s interesting that Jeff places himself in the victimized category. He insists that the study group wants to control HIM (when, of course, we’ve seen plenty of evidence suggesting the opposite to be true). To Jeff, breaking free of something is much better than admitting that you needed it (the group) in the first place. He’s done this before (“Environmental Science”), too. But I don’t think that the group wants to need Jeff – obviously, they NEED him to understand that his actions have consequences, which he still doesn’t quite seem to grasp at this point. They want him to be a better person, but that’s not what JEFF wants. And so, he sees them as the antagonist in their relationship, because Jeff would never admit to being wrong (at least, not at this point in his growth).  Jeff compares Greendale to a zoo in this season and to a prison in the next. Just something interesting to dissect – the idea that Jeff has felt trapped by the school and his circumstances, and yet – ironically – he is free to leave and yet keeps returning.

At the end of the conversation, Jeff leaves the room, insisting that he's going to attend his cool, former law firm's party instead of the pop-and-lockathon. Chang overhears and the group agrees to let him join their team, but there's a catch -- if the group wins, Chang demands that he be let into the study group. Without a leader to guide them or say no, the group (albeit still a bit terrified) seems to silently agree.

The firm that Jeff used to work at hosts a party and we learn that the firm is run by a man named Ted (played by a skinny Drew Carey). I really liked the introduction of Ted, because I think it provided a nice balance between Jeff and Alan. Ted is a seemingly (mostly) upstanding guy. He doesn’t want to make Alan partner because he knows that he’s spineless and skeevy, and to Ted, having some sort of character is more important than having the best win record. And I think that perhaps the reason Ted takes so much to Jeff is because he sees something more in him than Jeff can see in himself – he actually LIKES Jeff. (Of course, Ted is still flawed, so let's not forget that. But he's admittedly a lot less so than Alan.) Alan’s complete intentions were to invite Jeff so that he could do something that would serve his own well-being -- to get himself made partner (sound familiar?). The difference between Jeff and Alan is that Alan is willing to go to any lengths in order to get what he wants. Jeff, while still morally uncertain at times, at least draws a line in the sand between “good” and “evil.” And yet, he still doesn’t care that he’s being taken advantage of because – at that point – Jeff realizes that he’d do exactly the same thing.

The study group arrives at the party, thanks to Annie for getting invited by Alan (who takes an unhealthy and creepy interest in her). I love the lengths that the group is willing to go to for Jeff. We kind of got an indication at the end of the last season (with “English as a Second Language,” in particular) that they were willing to work their class schedules around his so that they could all be together. But here, the group is willing to sacrifice even more for Jeff. Britta informs everyone of the plan -- Abed, Troy, and Annie will break into Alan's office and find evidence that he is the one who got Jeff fired. Meanwhile, Britta, Pierce, and Shirley will stay at the party.  I think it’s also great that the group proves exactly how corrupt the realm from which Jeff hails actually is. They prove to him that the people he worked with weren’t good influences at all, and were basically morally bankrupt. But Jeff chastises the group because they’re decent human beings – he scolds them, and yet they’re proving the point that Jeff cares. If he didn’t care, he would let the group do whatever they want. Instead, he takes on the (begrudging) role as leader, and guides them. Elsewhere, there is a hilarious scene where Troy and Abed find the incriminating e-mail and Annie chloroforms the janitor. (I've seen the scene probably ten or more times and I STILL laugh hysterically.)

Back at the party, Jeff drags Pierce, Shirley, and Britta toward the exit saying that he is "distracted watching [them] mutate." Even if he doesn’t vocalize it, Jeff realizes that there is a distinct line between morally good and morally… well, not. And he recognizes that his law firm is not full of those who want to take the high road. He, within a few minutes, watches the group “mutate” (I choose to believe that Britta was the one person who was being sarcastic, but Shirley and Pierce seemed genuinely engrossed in their new found knowledge provided by Jeff's less-than-moral co-workers). And instead of just yelling or shoving them out the door without a second thought, Jeff explains WHY they were wrong – he takes the time to make sure that they remember WHO they are. And the group is about to remind him of the same thing. And even though he claims he doesn’t care, Jeff’s previous actions pretty much negate his speech. And he cares enough about the group to wish them well before they leave. He cares long before he can recognize the emotion. And that happens a lot, to be honest. Similarly, Jeff loves the group at this point, but can’t recognize that it is love that he feels until “Early 21st Century Romanticism.”

Annie, Troy, and Abed rush in (because they just chloroformed the janitor to escape... again) and Annie hands Jeff the e-mail that Alan sent to get him fired. Jeff then thanks the group for caring, but insists that he doesn't. The study group is rightfully floored by this news and watch as he returns to the party. Jeff approaches Alan, who then appears that he'll confess his wrongdoings to Jeff... but instead, pins it on someone else.  I think that the one thing Jeff realizes in the conversation that he has with Alan is that he could have very easily become THAT person. It wouldn’t have taken much to abandon all sense of moral code or direction of right and wrong and serve his own needs and desires at all costs. But Jeff has a conscience, as much as he hates to admit it. He KNOWS when he is wrong and hates owning up to it – but he usually does. Alan, however, does not. And it’s in this moment that Jeff sees Alan for who he truly is. And I think it’s also in this moment that Jeff begins to stop seeing caring as a weakness. Up until this point (“English as a Second Language,” again, is a good reference) Jeff has viewed emotions as somewhat of an Achilles heel for others. He thinks that he can separate himself from his emotions, but is learning that he cannot. And perhaps he’s beginning to see the little bits of sacrifice the group is willing to do for him even when he does absolutely nothing to earn or deserve it.

At the pop-and-lockathon, Chang has been dancing solo for five hours straight and is on the verge of collapse when the rest of the study group, minus Jeff, arrives to relieve him. Troy begins dancing, but is less-than-enthusiastic about it. And then Jeff enters and begins dancing with him. He insists that he wants to keep Alan around to use as leverage to get back into his old firm, but that he'd rather hang out with people "so cool, they care." The group joyfully rushes to the floor and hugs Jeff, effectively disqualifying the entire team from the competition, and preventing Chang from entering the group.

But, as Annie affirms, it doesn't matter -- no competition does, really. Because they're together. And they have each other. And really, they'll be okay.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- “I painted a tunnel on the side of the library. When it dries, I’m going for it.”
- Abed’s nuanced facial expressions are awesome throughout this scene. Props to Danny Pudi!
-  I forgot that they mentioned in this episode that Jeff cheated on his LSATs!
- “Okay. You’ve gone from precious to annoying.”
- “Any other meaningless conspiracy theories?” “Yes. Did you know that Go-Gurt is JUST yogurt?” (I always thought it was the weirdest thing to market Go-Gurt like it was something special. Also, I may or may not still be bitter because blueberry Go-Gurt left a stain on my Backstreet Boys “Millennium” t-shirt when I was a teenager.)
- “In other words, we’re not cool.” “I never said that. You may have heard it, I may have thought it, and it may be true. But I never said it.”
- “I wanna rub Purell on my brain.”
- Somehow I missed the part in the chloroform scene where Annie begins crying and accidentally wipes her nose with the rag with chloroform on it.
- I love how you can hear Joel say: “I rolled my ankle doing it” at the end of the episode. Also, Joel dancing in and of itself is hilarious.
- “Animals can talk, your heart is shaped like a heart, and the smell of pie can make you float.”

So there you have it, folks! Just a reminder that I am going to be on a much-needed vacation for the next two Thursday nights, which means that Thursday night re-watches and, subsequently, Friday blog-reviews will be on vacation as well! Join me on Twitter on Thursday, July 12th for "Basic Rocket Science" and then the review the following morning. Have a wonderful two weeks, everyone! :)

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Road to the Emmys 2012 (Or "Jenn's Slightly Narrowed Ballot")

you might be wondering exactly why i am updating now instead of my usually scheduled time. well, this is -- in fact -- not a community blog-review update, but rather an informal way for me to piece together all of the potential nominees for the 2012 emmys in their respective categories. since many of the categories have a plethora of well-deserved potential considerations, i figured that i would use this as a sort of ballot for me, personally. so, if you are interested to see who i think deserves to be nominated for awards, click below the jump!

now, the way that i determined who i’d like to be nominated is as follows: if it is an episode that is nominated, i’ve seen the episode (not necessarily the entire series itself. i.e. without having seen the entire series, i think the finale of house deserves an award.) if, however, when you get to the lead actor, actress, etc. categories, i have only nominated shows which i have watched more than one episode, and mostly consistently throughout this season (i’ve seen some episodes of season 2 of modern family, for instance, but not this season, therefore none of the cast is mentioned, etc.) okay? cool! here we go:

(note: now edited to contain the actual nominees! you'll see them highlighted.)

2x01 "Anthropology 101" (Jeff Winger, You're A Jerk)

"Anthropology 101"
Original Airdate: September 23, 2010

As a fan of Community, I feel like it’s my personal duty to introduce everyone and their cousin and their cousin’s sister’s hairdresser to this underrated and underappreciated show. I have three friends who are currently watching the series with me (all three in different seasons, mind you). When my best friend and I finished this episode, all she could say was: “… wow. Jeff was harsh.” And, to be honest, I hadn’t seriously contemplated exactly how cruel Jeff had really come across in “Anthropology 101” until I re-watched the episode with her. It is strange to read through the reviews of the last three episodes of season 1, to hear how much I praised Jeff Winger’s character growth… only to realize that, at the start of the second season, he was back to square one. It’s important, however, to recognize the significant developments that occurred between the end of “Pascal’s Triangle Revisited” and the beginning of “Anthropology 101.” At the end of the first season, Jeff had admitted that he wasn’t exactly sure whether or not he could evolve or know what he was, or who he was as a person. And he discussed this dilemma freely with Annie – he was open and honest with her about his insecurities and his heart. But then they kissed and it’s likely that both of them didn’t know what it meant or how to proceed. Evidently, Jeff had a conversation with Annie involving discretion on their part. There’s no need to be discreet about something unless there is something to be discreet about (just saying). Nevertheless, “Anthropology 101” kicks off the sophomore year by examining the deepest flaws in each of these characters, and exploring what happens when selfishness and competition alone propel a group of individuals. Where it leads them, of course, is into sheer chaos and dissension.

The instigators of this chaos are many, the prime ones – of course – being Jeff and Britta. In our previous character studies, we’ve recognized that Britta is (and has always been) insecure around women, and this episode finds her being popular in their eyes, because she “put her heart on the line,” like so many heroines in chick flicks do, only to be jilted by Jeff Winger. Both Jeff and Britta are selfish characters, and both are very proud. In spite of how much he has grown, Jeff remains unapologetic for the events in “Pascal’s Triangle Revisited,” and truly in his relationships with Annie and Britta in this episode (and every other character… Jeff is kind of a tool in “Anthropology 101”…), the lines he uses (“You embarrassed me that night, too” and “My stock around here is kind of plummeting” and “Every woman deserves to be with me,” etc.) indicate that his main concern is “fixing” things he has broken, not by owning up to his mistakes, but by making others apologize. Britta isn’t the only woman who is jilted by Jeff’s pride, of course. Annie too is brushed aside by him throughout the episode and dismissed as “a mistake,” when clearly there were more feelings and emotions involved at the end of “Pascal’s Triangle Revisited,” solely based on the pre-kiss conversation alone. But Jeff isn’t the guy who desires to make right in this episode – he is the one who desires to WIN. And thus, he and Britta compete to see who can remain the last person standing. They play emotional chicken with one another, using their newfound power and social standing to claim a nonexistent trophy, and all because they are too proud to admit anything otherwise.

Britta is intriguing in this episode because, while pride is a vice of hers, she allows power to dictate her actions. Ironically, she never chastises Jeff for the way that he acted at the dance until she learns of his kiss with Annie, but she reacts the very opposite way that Jeff did. While the aftermath of the confession provided Britta with power, and she used that power to her advantage, the presence of the confession elicited fear in Jeff in that moment, and he ran away. It’s something interesting, to compare and contrast Britta’s power with Jeff’s fear.

I'll return to the other characters momentarily, but realize that I don't find anyone in the episode innocent -- each one of the members contributed in some way, shape, or form to their destruction. But before we get to that, we'll discuss the plot of the episode. It's the first day of a new school year, and the episode opens with each study group member's morning routine, ending with Britta who is lying in bed, seemingly about to have a panic attack due to the day ahead. For those who don't remember, "Pascal's Triangle Revisited" ended with both Britta and Slater publicly professing their love for Jeff in front of the entire school. Instead of choosing between the two of them, Jeff left the dance where he ran into Annie and discussed his dilemma. And, in the moments that followed, the pair ended up making out.

I must say that I am quite proud of Britta (for a little bit, at least) in "Anthropology 101." She bravely walks into the school, knowing that she had embarrassed herself just a few months before. She remains tough. … until she gets embarrassed and runs away. But still, at least she showed up. That's more than most people would be able to do. She seemingly hides from girls who are gossiping about her while the rest of the study group enters campus. Pierce and Troy, as we learned from the first season's finale, are now living together and apparently Troy has created a Twitter account (@oldwhitemansays -- a parody of the "$#*! My Dad Says" account and show, for that matter) where he posts all of the offensive or absurd things that Pierce says. Annie and Abed walk in together, reading the account, and the entire group - sans Britta - meets up in the study room. They all hug, and when Annie maneuvers to hug Jeff, he looks at the group and pulls away.  The first instance that Jeff is more concerned about his perception than how he affects anyone else is when he attempts to squirm his way out of a hug with Annie (but only once he throws a glance at the group). It isn’t a stretch that Jeff and Annie would hug (Jeff just hugged Shirley, Abed and Shirley hugged, etc.), but Jeff cares more about himself and the way that he is perceived within the group (and outside of it, for that matter) than anyone’s feelings. At all.

The group then wonders whether or not Britta will actually return to school, since she didn't seem to call or e-mail Shirley and Annie back after they had made efforts to that summer. When Troy begins to get emotional, the entire group lapses into silence until Pierce asks if everyone had seen Toy Story 3, and then all conversation about Britta is forgotten. Well, until she pops up from behind one of the study room couches. She apologizes to Jeff and admits that she was only trying to compete with Slater during the dance and that things got out of control. When Shirley says that Britta has no need to hide from the group, the blonde points outside of the door and notes that she isn't hiding from her friends, but from the gaggling groups of gossipy girls (how's THAT for alliteration?) that seem to be following her. This made me think that I really would like to see a flashback episode where we get to see each of the study group members pre-Greendale. I’d love to see what Britta had been like in high school. We get glimpses of her insecurity around other women (that comes into play in both “Football, Feminism and You” as well as “The Psychology of Letting Go”) because of how she had been treated as a teenager, but it would intrigue me to know the extent of it. I believe it’s because she was spurned by women that she ended up being more comfortable with men and thus the object of more attention from them, which then spurred the hatred of her by other women, etc.

When Jeff speaks, it's not to accept Britta's apology or to apologize for running out on the dance, but rather to chastise her and let her know that he too was embarrassed, so the girls that are (seemingly) gossiping about her? Well, that's just karma.  And I had to wonder exactly what Jeff’s deal is with his coolness toward Britta at the beginning of t his episode, but I think it boils down to his pride and ego. She handed him an apology, which he didn’t earn. At the dance, the final glance before he left between them seemed to form an understanding – an acknowledgement that he was sorry, but he couldn’t choose. And yet, in this season’s opener, Jeff is insisting that Britta embarrassed him at the dance. Jeff’s pride and ego had been ruined during those moments. But here is where he has lost sight of the grand picture: while he suffered momentarily, his actions caused Britta to suffer more long-term consequences (or so she thinks, anyway). And this seems to be something that Jeff can’t quite come to grasps with in the episode – that his actions don’t just affect HIM, but the people around him as well (and usually MORE than they affect him).

(Britta’s desire to be desired by people, meanwhile, quickly overshadows the statements she made to Jeff about embarrassment, because she is about to use her newfound popularity to take advantage of embarrassing Jeff right back. And thus, the cycle of power and pride begins.)

When the study group decides to just walk to class and not discuss the transfer dance scenario further, Britta runs right into a group of girls who admit to idolizing her for speaking her heart. Just as Britta is about to correct them, one girl asks if the blonde would sign something for her, and Britta begins to realize that she MAY be able to reap benefits of her embarrassment. Jeff, overhearing, admits to himself that he doesn't like where that is going. Annie is just behind him, affirming his thought, but he steers her out of the middle of the hallway to discuss their kiss. During the summer, they apparently had a conversation about being discretion, which - like I mentioned earlier - there is really no need for, unless there's something to be discreet about. And I understand that he meant to be discreet about their kiss and to forget about it, but I'm wondering if there's something more that Jeff is just not saying at this point. Evidently, Jeff believes Annie to be a love-struck teenybopper (a theory she is not helping disprove by twirling her hair around her fingers and smiling) and reminds her that the "Pascal's Triangle Revisited" kiss was, in fact, a mistake. When Annie flounces away, Jeff watches her and mumbles: "I don't like where that's going."

Nevertheless, he must catch up with her eventually, because Jeff and Annie walk into Anthropology together and encounter student!Chang, who is also taking that class. I think it’s sort of adorable that Chang takes notes throughout the class and actually has his book open before the class even starts. (As a note: this episode and “Applied Anthropology and the Culinary Arts” may be the only episodes in the second  season where I actually really enjoyed Chang as a character). Once the class sits down, Abed explains to Jeff why exactly Britta has become a celebrity around women, and then the film student notes that he's going to try to make their sophomore year less relationship-driven, and more escapade-lead. Before Jeff can really grasp Abed's statements, Professor June Baur introduces herself to the class. Now, I absolutely love Betty White and think she’s the cutest, but I have to admit that June is probably my least favorite professor at Greendale. Oh, wait. I just remembered that Slater is a professor. Nope, okay. Second least-favorite professor then. And it’s nothing really that Betty did, but… I don’t know. There was just something off, perhaps with the chemistry between her and the study group. That's just personal opinion, so feel free to disagree with me. At any rate, she assigns the group their first project -- they will be split into tribes of no more than eight people, and will be given a box of nine tools. Their job is to discover which of the tools in the box is the most powerful.

Later, in the cafeteria, Jeff is approached by Chang, who subtly attempts to drop hints that he wants to be in their study group (and only joined so that he could do so). When the former lawyer attempts to order macaroni and cheese ("I DID eat all the macaroni. It's messed up he knows."), the lunchlady slams the container shut and insists that the macaroni just walked out on him... like he did to Britta. I don’t think that Britta necessarily considers what her newfound fame is doing to Jeff until he confronts her in the cafeteria and points it out for himself. And the reason, again, that he points it out is not out of concern for Britta’s well-being, but for his OWN popularity’s sake. He spent a year building up a reputation around Greendale, and his perks are beginning to fade because of her. It’s then that Britta realizes she has the upper hand in their scenario – since SHE was jilted, she is the victim. But, instead of sucking up the few days or possibly weeks that he may have to endure until things “blow over,” Jeff decides to take matters into his own hands. If he can find a way to make Britta the jilter, his power returns back to him. As long as they both fight for their status and pride, neither loses. Again: emotional chicken.

(As a note, the delivery of “HIGH ON MY OWN DRAMA?” is still the best thing ever.)

In Anthropology class, Jeff confronts Britta in front of the entire class and tells her that he loves her (to the utter dismay of Annie and joy of Shirley and the other women). And I love how utterly confused Britta is when Jeff says that he loves her, and also the fact that she turns around like she’s waiting to be Punk’d. But then, once it dawns on her that Jeff is attempting to take away her power from her so that he can retain his status, Britta gets (rightfully) angry. Because the only way now for her to keep her status is by returning Jeff’s confession and being “in love with him.” The moment that she begins to “love” him any less than he “loves” (loosely quoting, remember) her, she loses. And if there’s anything you should have retained from these 2,000 words so far it’s that both Britta and Jeff are prideful and competitive people. So he literally levels his gaze with hers and challenges her – she could set things back to right and admit (like she was about to do to her female groupies at the beginning of the episode) that she never actually loved Jeff, and was only competing against Slater. But she can’t do that. Britta likes the taste of power now. And she’s not about to give it back to Jeff to abuse again.

Jeff and Britta then kiss and it looks like it was the most awkward thing in the world for Joel and Gillian to film (but it's hilarious in its awkwardness). Jeff appears to be taken aback by Britta’s compliance with this. I think he was actually expecting her to give up, because he studies her with doubt for a moment. Britta, of course, is unrelenting. And the pair continue to compete with one another throughout the day, kissing and listening to an iPod (sharing earbuds) to see exactly who will cave first. Annie remains distraught and disgusted, and she has reason to -- Jeff DID, after all, kiss her back at the dance (pretty desperately, might I add). She's not incorrect to assume that it would actually mean something. Shirley, meanwhile, is discussing with a disheartened Abed that relationships can be seen as adventures. From this point forward, control-oriented Abed takes charge.

Back in the study room, the group is attempting to determine which of the nine tools is the most powerful (and Britta is playing with a funny little cootie catcher that has "Jeff" and little hearts written all over it), when Jeff comes in and kisses Britta. They both insist that they love each other and that they'd get married. When Abed hands Jeff and Britta the ring, you can see in their faces that they realize the competition could easily come to an end, so long as they each personally managed to grab the box first. If Britta grabbed it first, she knew she’d have the upper hand and that Jeff would have to say yes (and vice versa). Britta DOES manage to grab it first, and since Jeff will never relent to her in their game, he agrees to the "marriage" and kisses Britta. Shirley then reveals to the group that Jeff and Britta slept together during paintball. And then, everything comes out and it is honestly the most tense the study group has ever been and perhaps the most palpable tension I’ve felt watching a show. You can literally just feel yourself bristling at the remarks they fire back at one another in anger.

Remember that I said earlier I would not consider anyone to be innocent in the group? The reason that I won’t pretend that anyone in this episode is guilt-less is because every character contributed to the group’s dissension somehow. Annie’s flaws (he insecurities and naïveté) cause her to react irrationally and immaturely – to punch Jeff in front of the group and then to blurt out that they had kissed (everyone immediately expresses their complete shock and a tense silence follows). Shirley’s flaws and Abed’s flaws are noticeably similar in this episode (and I actually didn’t realize that they provide a nice set-up for “Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples” just a few episodes later), in that they both desire to control people and circumstances. Shirley is happy when she has an unrealistic sense of control in Jeff and Britta’s life – she loves when things and people react according to her plans. But she chastises Jeff when he acts outside of HER will and HER desires. Abed, in the same way, desires to control outcomes in order to make them the “best possible” versions that they can be (I use quotes because I use the term loosely). As we saw in “Virtual Systems Analysis,” control is an important thing for Abed and he never quite understands how to relinquish it, though at the end of this episode, he at least admits that he struggles with the issue. Pierce and Troy’s major contribution to the group dissension is the idea of immaturity – Annie is naïve (often to the point of delusion, but I think her character progresses significantly in season 3 in this regard), but Troy and Pierce are simply immature. Both of their intra-group spats have to do with feeling the need to prove themselves to the rest of the group and people outside of the group, at any cost. And that cost is often at the embarrassment of someone else.

(Oh, and I never noticed the little glare Jeff threw at Annie right before Abed’s team pinned the boutonniere to his shirt for admitting that they kissed. To be fair, Annie would never have had to admit that in front of the entire group if Jeff had been honest and upfront with Britta to begin with. Also, I never noticed that there’s an entire hallway of people just staring into the study room and watching everyone confess and yell. I wondered how Starburns knew about Britta and Annie.)

When Abed walks back into the room with a faux wedding party in tow, Troy reveals that the reason they are all tense and quiet is because Jeff made out with Annie. It intrigues me that Abed is actually surprised by the reveal of Jeff/Annie kissing. It doesn’t surprise me that Britta is upset, because I would probably expect her to be, even if she didn’t have any feelings for Jeff whatsoever (and of course, even more if she did). I think what stings the most though is Jeff telling Shirley that "men are monsters who crave young flesh" and was ashamed of the kiss with Annie (kissing is a two-way street, dude, and you definitely went for it the second time) and wanted to keep it a secret (re: “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design.”) We’ll compare the carelessness with which Jeff dismisses Annie this episode with the face that he makes when we re-watch that episode later on!

Abed asks where the two kissed, and Britta echoes his question. Annie is the one to own up to the kiss, and admits that it occurred after the transfer dance. This sets Britta off, (and again, I don't blame her) and she rounds on Jeff first and then Annie, snapping about how she "stole" Vaughn and then Jeff and how she "better not smile at that wall outlet or [Annie]'ll fry [her] tongue off!" And, though a hilarious line, this pretty much dissolves any hope of a Britta/Annie friendship in season 2. Troy is indignant and Jeff tries to pass the hot seat off to him by revealing to Pierce that Troy posts things on Twitter all day that the elderly man says. Pierce is upset by this and then Abed begins to gather his things and leave. Jeff snarks at Abed for not being able to discern life from television, and basically just tells the film student to grow up. Abed is silent for a moment before revealing that he DOES understand the difference between television and reality. "In life, we have this," he says. "We have you." And honestly, this is the ONLY person who actually affected Jeff in that entire conversation.

It's the following day in Anthropology and the study group refuses to even sit together at the same tables. (Remember that one time in “The Science of Illusion” where Pierce wailed: “Let’s never let Jeff divide us again”? Whoops.) Jeff is forced to sit next to Starburns, who has heard about the group's falling out. After sleeping with Britta and making out with Annie what more could Jeff have POSSIBLY gotten out of the group anyway? And when Starburns makes his remark, I think something strikes a chord within Jeff – what more COULD he get out of the group? It’s something that, inherently, seems like a selfish question (because it is). Starburns recognizes that Jeff came into the group with the sole intention of getting something for himself. But what Jeff realizes is that it wasn’t really about what he could take from the group, but what they gave to each other.

So Jeff stands in front of the class and reveals that the most important tool wasn't any of the ones in the box -- it was respect. Because without respect, things happen, he insists. And it's interesting to see what word each of the group members becomes associated with in this speech:

  • Competing - Britta
  • Exploiting - Annie (this one is still a tough one for me to understand, particularly because I don't feel like Annie exploited Jeff or their kiss in any way -- she was just being honest and wasn't trying to gain anything by doing so.)
  • Humiliating - Troy/Pierce
  • Controlling - Abed
  • "without each other" - Shirley (which is an interesting one to think about too, and perhaps the sweetest one because that's the person who the camera lands on when he admits that they all need one another)

And in the sheer celebration of taking everything as a metaphor, if you combine all of the tools within the box (if you combine every member of the group and their pride, egos, and insecurities), you get a deadlier weapon than any one individually! But see, that's not the episode that Professor Baur was actually looking for -- when you combine all nine tools in the box, you get a deadly weapon resembling a crossbow. And she uses that to attack Jeff, who then passes out.

Once he comes to, Jeff sees the entire study group standing around him. As it turns out, they all decided that Jeff had the right answer -- respect was something they all needed to focus on and remember. Annie admits that she thinks Jeff is gross (and Jeff says that's awesome, but I think it's used to show how self-deprecating he is because HE thinks he's gross -- he calls himself a "gross, jaded adult" in "Introduction to Political Science," and I think Annie's words struck a chord with him somewhere), and Abed apologizes for trying to control everyone when there was something great in front of them all along -- a crazy Anthropology professor.

Chang approaches the group and asks if he can be let in, and the group says that they had been through a lot but that they'll think about it. In a surprising confession, Jeff admits that they'll let him in eventually (psychic, are we, Jeff? re: "Asian Population Studies"), because really... what CAN'T this group handle together?

(The answer, I think we all know, is "nothing," so long as they are - in fact - together.)

Additional de-lovely aspects of the episode include:
- That's a boss Zefron poster, Annie. (Things like this are why I love the show. Continuity, for the win!)
- They have a trapeze club at Greendale? I want to join!
- “Hey, did you guys see Toy Story 3?” “Yes, oh my God!” “Hey.” “Hey, Toy Story – I mean, Britta!”
- “What should we call you? Student Chang?” “Two credits into a Music major Chang?”
- “You will also have to make a diorama.” “Ugh.”
- My favorite Yvette Nicole Brown delivery to date is probably the: “I don’t understand. Is this you being me-ta?”
- “Is there ANYTHING you didn’t win that day?”
-  “Anyone object to us being referred to as donuts? Anyone?”
-  Shirley’s little “Helloooo!” when Jeff wakes up is the most adorable thing ever.
- “Is there any room in this pocket for a little spare Chang?”
- The tag is reminiscent of the Spanish rap, and therefore my favorite.

I was convinced that next week I should re-watch and review "Accounting For Lawyers," so that is exactly what we will do! Just so you are aware, this will be the LAST episode re-watch and blog-review that I do for two weeks -- I will be on vacation (in Italy!) from June 28th to July 6th, so our next review after that will take place on July 12th when I review "Basic Rocket Science." Have a great weekend everyone! :)

Friday, June 8, 2012

1x25 "Pascal's Triangle Revisited" (Evolving, Knowing What You Are, and Knowing Who You Can Be)

"Pascal's Triangle Revisited"
Original Airdate: May 20, 2010

I just learned this past week when I was researching it for the blog-review what exactly Pascal’s Triangle is. (I see those judging stares – I was a Creative Writing major, remember?) Thanks to a website, I got a very succinct explanation of the mathematic phenomenon: “Pascal's Triangle can show you how many ways heads and tails can combine. This can then show you "the odds" (or probability) of any combination.” And that’s when the significance of the episode title really struck me – this is, of course, the first season finale for Community, and it highlights a love triangle between Britta, Jeff, and Slater. The episode also features a background story of Annie and Vaughn (the latter of whom will be transferring to a school in Delaware), and Troy and Abed (the former of whom has no place to live and attempts to convince his best friend that they should move in together). I’ve mentioned before one of the beauties of a sitcom with a group of individuals as the focus of the show is that there are often a number of combinations character and pairing-wise to play around with (nothing comes to mind quicker than Friends). But what if we take a step even further back and just focus on a single character? What if, for a moment, we contemplate the ramifications a few seasons later in “Remedial Chaos Theory” when the group realizes that with a single roll of a die, everything can change, depending on how they respond? I think that this is the central theme in “Pascal’s Triangle Revisited,” to be honest – it’s this notion that these characters have distinct choices with real consequences. Television shows are often great at masking the consequences of decisions by suspending our disbelief. And we accept this pseudo-reality: we recognize oddities in shows that would not be present in real life and disconnects between fantasy and our world. What this episode depicts, then, is the idea that when we choose to do something (or not to do something), there are always consequences, both positive and negative. “Pascal’s Triangle Revisited” shows us the different ways that Jeff can interact with people (how many combinations can he form? It’s like a love… square by the end), and that Troy has different relationships with different people (Pierce and Abed), and that Annie can as well (Jeff and Vaughn). And ultimately, there’s a question that is left unanswered: what’s the right choice? And is there a right choice?

If you were too distracted from receiving your "All 5 Dances" t-shirt and forgot what this episode was about, never fear, because I am here to help! "Pascal's Triangle Revisited" is the season finale of Community's freshman season, and one that - appropriately - begins with the last day of the semester. Jeff Winger pulls up in his battered Lexus (remember that last episode Chang took a keytar to the car) and jovially greets everyone he comes into contact with. Since he is the central character of the show, it would be a travesty to discuss this episode without covering the character growth that Jeff Winger has experienced since the pilot episode. Now, in hindsight, Jeff is still not as mature as he will become in season three (and arguably at the end of that season, he’s not perfect – he still has a lot of maturing to do still, but is at least on the right path). Jeff is pretty cheerful, hailing his first year at college to be a great one (and he returns to this notion later on in the episode). What’s intriguing is that Jeff absolutely abhorred Greendale and all that it represents (a prison, punishment, etc.). He places value on people only because of what they can do for HIM and turns the study group on one another merely for a shot at Britta. But even if he isn’t fully aware of his love for the study group, and even if he continues to make mistakes and act selfish, Jeff Winger in the season finale is not the same person that he was when the series began. It’s noticeable progress, but not unbelievable. Again – Jeff’s flaws have not been erased, but merely unearthed and dealt with (and those that haven’t have been reburied and will surface again later in the series).

Anyway, Jeff encounters Vaughn, who greets him pleasantly enough (for someone who used to hate the group) and Annie tells Jeff to wait and that she'll walk with him to class. While en route to the study room, the pair encounter Dean Pelton (who leaps out of the bushes a la Annie in "Football, Feminism and You"), who mentions that there is a final school dance for the transfer students and that Britta is nominated for Transfer Queen. 

Back in the study room, Abed is entertaining Troy and the rest of the group, but when Pierce attempts to make a joke, the entire group falls silent. When Troy doesn't laugh, he then asks what happened between the two of them -- they used to be closer than they are in the finale. I really like that Pierce addresses the dynamic between him and Troy. It’s intriguing because Pierce and Troy are so similar in a lot of ways. They both have the same juvenile sense of humor, and sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if Pierce/Troy would have continued to be the dynamic as intended. Also, there's a nice undertone of jealousy toward Abed and Troy's friendship that will resurface in "Remedial Chaos Theory," in a few seasons. But since Troy/Abed is the dynamic, it’s interesting to explore their arc in the finale. I was always told to what Abed echoes in this episode – live with someone who you are friends with, but whose friendship wouldn’t be altered by fighting. What’s endearing is that Troy’s perception of their friendship (and perhaps the reality of bickering with a best friends) is so simple that he cannot fathom the idea that two people who are friends would be separated. It kind of epitomizes the relationship that Troy and Abed have though – Abed is usually stoic and undeterred. He’s the type of person who calculates outcomes and events. But Troy is different – Troy is type of person who is optimistic and believes in doing whatever it takes and going to whatever necessary lengths to preserve friendships. Like I noted in my review of “The First Chang Dynasty,” Troy is a self-sacrificial person and the type who would rather try and fail than not try at all.

Jeff and Annie enter the study room, barely containing their glee ("everything's cooler when cameras are spinning!") as they inform the group that Britta has been nominated for Transfer Queen. The blonde seems to detest the idea of being named queen of anything, but Annie is excited and a bit jealous. Britta’s character arc throughout the season is also an interesting one to explore. Initially slated to be the leader of the study group, she relinquished that role to Jeff when he joined and instead became the heart of the group – Britta Perry was the type of person who fought for causes she knew nothing about, because fighting was noble. And of course, one of the most important things to know about the blonde group member is that she is just as competitive as Annie is. Much like the “Twin Beds” episode of How I Met Your Mother, where Ted and Barney decide that they love Robin just because she is with someone else, Britta jealously competes with Slater throughout the episode in an attempt to prove herself. And really, this has been Britta’s mode of operation throughout her entire character arc – one of the first things that the audience learns about the blonde is that she dropped out of high school because she thought it would impress Radiohead. She’s insecure, but won’t admit it because she wants to prove that she is tough. In “The Science of Illusion,” she goes to great lengths to prove that she is not a buzz kill. In “Advanced Criminal Law,” she attempts to prove to herself that she is worthless. … does anyone else see a pattern? Britta needs to feel validated as a person and cannot find the “right” way to do so.

In their therapy session, Dunan suggests that being nominated for Transfer Queen might actually be a good thing (which Britta still cannot accept). As Britta leaves her last therapy session for the semester, Chang enters, insistent on getting Duncan to help him cheat his way through school as a student. Duncan laughs in the man's face (and there's, of course, the obvious parallel between the pilot and the season finale with people asking to cheat their way through Greendale). 

In the hallway, Jeff is still jovially greeting people... until he runs into Michelle Slater.  See, what I don’t like about Slater (besides everything) is the fact that she is the one who caused Jeff to take steps backward in his progress. Right up until “Basic Genealogy,” Jeff had been growing as an individual. In fact, at the beginning of the episode, he was ready to introduce Michelle to his family. And then, she dumped him and he resorted to his old ways because of his hurt. Before that point though, Slater ironically DID make him become a better person, or at least gave the audience evidence that Jeff could be in a committed relationship with someone else. Slater tells Jeff that she handled their break-up poorly and that she misses him. And let’s remember that Slater, too, is just as jealous as Britta is. Because she placed a toy down, when SHE feels ready to pick it up again, she decides to. The focus wasn’t on Jeff at all – it was about the fact that SHE missed HIM that caused her to do something. And I’m proud that Jeff did not act like a little boy running back to her. He’s mature.

At Abed's kegger, Troy attempts (again) to move in with Abed, but the film student seems intent on evading the question and merely walks away, leaving Troy puzzled. Jeff and Britta are sitting on Abed's bunk bed, the former discussing how they won't see each other all summer. I have to admit, even though I am not a fan of the Jeff/Britta romantic dynamic, the scene in Abed and Troy’s dorm room was endearing because of how Jeff made an effort to be nice. And truly, throughout the entire episode, he tried hard to spare Britta’s feelings (which is reminiscent of how this season was). But Britta is guarded and – much like Jeff and Annie – selfish. Britta, however, is selfish because she has the need to protect and guard herself, which is different than Jeff and Annie’s selfish behavior. Professor Slater then Brittas the entire scene by showing up (for no reason at a college party... yeah, you see why I don't like her?) just to say hello to Jeff. And I love that Jeff barely looks even fazed that Slater is there. And here’s the difference – because Jeff actually CARES about Britta. Say what you want about their relationship in a romantic sense, but first and foremost, he cares about her as a person and has grown to over the season. And Britta cares about Jeff. Whether or not she was doing this because of her jealousy toward Slater as a person (or otherwise), she – I think – feels a need to beat someone which would give her some sense of purpose and some feeling of proving her worth. Which, you know, is exactly what Duncan said at the beginning of the episode to her.

Annie is chatting with people in the hallway when Vaughn approaches her and gives her good news -- he's been offered to play on a hacky sack team... but the school is in Delaware. Annie looks crestfallen at the news. Later, at the Transfer Dance, Annie informs the study group of Vaughn's good news and explain that she's going with him for the summer (Jeff looks pretty intrigued). Annie, however, then pulls Jeff aside to inform him that she's not just going to Delaware for the summer -- she's transferring there with Vaughn. And Annie is another character who has the opportunity to make choices that will affect her future. Her decision to move to Delaware and transfer schools is seemingly out of character with the Annie Edison that we had come to known the entire first season. Just the episode prior, Jeff explained that Annie wasn’t a child for having feelings, and in the finale, the young woman laments her careful and precise decision-making, so she decides to throw caution to the wind and leave the very group she strove so hard to preserve in the first place. She's trying hard to change the things about herself that she doesn't like (her cautiousness). The reasoning that she gives Jeff for her decision is that she claims that she “doesn’t want to be that person anymore” and wants to “live in the moment.” But it’s interesting to contemplate – do you ever think that Annie really planned to leave Greendale?

At the refreshments table, Jeff is approached by both Britta and Slater.  What’s ironic is that the women – both of them – resort to childish tactics in order to “win” Jeff so that, in the end (and perhaps even at the beginning), it’s not even about Jeff at all. It’s not about loving him or caring about him (not the way that he cared about either of them – Jeff Winger is the adult in this situation, folks), but about seeing who can tug the hardest on the toy  before the other lets go. The women compete against one another for the rest of the episode.

Elsewhere, Pierce confronts Troy about their relationship. I like the little Pierce/Troy moment interjected in the episode. It’s endearing, given what will happen a year later, to see Pierce call the group his family. He’s trying to look out for Troy (albeit in an offensive way) and his well-being and attempting to preserve ultimately his relationship with a person he used to be friends with. So he asks the young man to move into his mansion, and Troy seems to contemplate this. He finds Abed in the study room and explains Pierce's offer -- Abed insists that Troy SHOULD move in with Pierce, that way their relationship as best friends won't be altered. (It’s even more endearing that Troy believes the solution to the fact that he and Abed would fight and divide their stuff with a masking tape line if they lived together was to simply not buy masking tape in the first place). And it’s sweet that Abed’s refusal to let Troy live with him stemmed from the fact that he wanted to preserve their friendship.

Back at the dance, Shirley and Britta are in the bathroom and Britta admits that she "thinks she's winning" (which Shirley assumes means Britta thinks she is winning Transfer Queen, but what the blonde really means is that she's winning against Slater). Shirley then informs the blonde that she needs to communicate with Jeff because Slater has a head start -- they already slept together. Gillian’s face right after Yvette says: “They slept together,” is the best face EVER. At the end of the conversation, Britta doesn't seem entirely convinced that she and Jeff need to converse.

Vaughn and Annie approach the group to say goodbye because they are leaving to drive to Delaware (or at least to an airport and fly to Delaware). Annie’s goodbyes to the group are sad, if only because of the fact that no one besides Jeff knows the truth about her transfer. And it makes me wonder if Jeff’s comment to her is what she wanted to hear in order to justify staying at Greendale – that she will be missed and that he wanted her in the study group. Because, like she mentions later, what would have happened if she had left with Vaughn? What would have happened if Jeff had chosen Britta? Or Slater? What if he had just left the dance altogether and gone a different route, and not run into Annie? What if he had still run into Annie and then returned to the dance?

Slater then discovers from Duncan that Britta and Jeff slept together, and she confronts Britta, insisting that her rendezvous with Jeff was nothing more than a pit-stop in something "real." Britta retorts that Slater was the pit-stop. And with each jealousy, the rivalry between Slater and Britta intensifies to the point where they have gone from strained and sardonic to downright catty with one another. The more and more time Slater and Britta spend around one another, the less and less mature they become. Therefore, the desire to “win” intensifies and the women begin to pull out all the stops to make it possible. Slater leaning over to kiss Jeff prompts Britta to use one trump card she knows exists in the female arsenal – the “I love you.” 

And then, the entire dance -- including Slater and Jeff -- grows silent. 

After minutes have passed, Troy approaches Jeff with one of the most hilarious deliveries ever, explaining: “Heyyyyy, man. How’s it going? Don’t shoot the messenger, but everyone at this dance is kind of waiting for your reaction to all this.” And I think @TweetingKerry mentioned this in her picspam of the episode, but it’s kind of adorable to me that – in spite of the stuff that Jeff is going through at the moment – he takes time to ask what’s wrong with Troy. (The athlete found a giant cookie at the refreshment table and had been eating away at it ever since). Jeff seems to weigh his options and then approaches Britta (who is still standing with a microphone in the middle of the room). He approaches her and says that he's flattered, then asks: "You love me?"  Instead of reiterating her confession, Britta does the same thing that she did in “Modern Warfare” – an evasive maneuver meant to get Jeff to confess (and in her case, cause her to win) feelings before she does. Again, Britta is guarded. And she wants to win against Slater. And Slater knows this too -- she knows that Britta now holds all of the cards and in order to level the playing field, she too needs to confess her love for Jeff. So she does.

I think that the person I feel the worst for in this scenario is Jeff. The poor guy just wanted to spend the last day of school looking forward to summer vacation. And, in spite of the fact that he could have easily been selfish, he tries to spare both women embarrassment. Well, as much as possible. And I think that Britta feels remorse for what she put him through (evidenced in the way she looks away before Duncan comes onto stage), but I doubt that Slater does. The entire cafeteria wants Jeff to choose between Britta or Slater, but he can't make a decision. At that moment, Duncan drunkenly walks onto stage and begins rapping, taking the pressure and focus off of Jeff, who then takes the opportunity to sneak out. And when Jeff leaves, Slater looks thoroughly disappointed while Britta looks like she actually understands – it’s not as if she was expecting him to return her confession; as long as neither of them won, that meant Slater didn’t either.

And now we come to one of the most analyzed moments and perhaps most vulnerable moments for Jeff and Annie as characters. We learn that Annie still plays this scene back over in her head (see: “Virtual Systems Analysis”), but it’s very telling for both of them. Either one of them could have very easily NOT been in this moment – there are any number of ways that the Transfer Dance could have ended, but none of those came to fruition, and instead, Jeff and Annie found themselves talking to one another. I enjoy how open Jeff is with Annie and vice versa. The woman admits that she couldn’t leave and realized that in the moment, Greendale was where she belonged. Jeff confesses everything to her, including his feelings for Britta and Slater, knowing that she actually understands. He respects her and her opinion and often finds himself drawn to her for advice. 

And here’s where things begin to get interesting – the show set up Annie as “another option” for Jeff. The audience would be blindsided, then, when the tiny brunette came out of nowhere (well, not entirely nowhere -- there were hints throughout the season). But Annie, I believe, really represents the balance between who Jeff was and who he wants to be. He wonders aloud whether or not you should try to evolve or just know what you are. But… there’s a third option that Jeff doesn’t consider until after the moment Annie and him kiss: there’s knowing where you’ve been and where you want to go, and growing from there. Annie allows the best of both worlds – she constantly encourages him to be a better person, but knows who he is already and still accepts him because of it (“Basic Genealogy” is a prime example of this). Both characters assert the idea that they wish they could live multiple lives and make different choices in each timeline to wait and see how they would each pan out. It’s intriguing that both Jeff and Annie understand one another on this level.

Then, right after Annie and Jeff hug... something happens. Annie looks up at him and they begin to move closer to one another (Jeff seems a bit confused at first, but doesn't pull away), and they kiss. It's a short kiss and nothing quite monumental. However, there’s the moment after they kiss where Annie stands back and kind of balances on her toes a bit, hands behind her back. And she looks up at Jeff with uncertainty, wondering exactly what will happen next -- how exactly will THIS outcome play itself out? Jeff, then, just looks at her. And the only way that I can really think to describe it is that he’s seeing her for the first time – the last time they kissed, it was school-related. But this? This was unprompted -- this was real -- and he doesn't know quite what it means, but it only takes a moment for Jeff to respond.

And then he kisses her.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
-  I miss Vaughn.
-  “I finally get to click send on so many ‘I told you so’ e-mails.”
-  “It’s not a Jane Austen novel. We have cell phones.”
- “What’s more empowering than a woman in a crown?”
- I ship Troy/giant cookie.
-  One of my favorite outtakes is the scene where Donald accidentally says “Pierce asked me to move into him.”
- “Who has your car keys?” “They’re in the taco meat.” #communitycontinuity
- “Oh, I’m sorry. I have to go. I just won a contest for being hot.”
- Whenever Gillian wrinkles her nose, I find it absolutely adorable. Also, Joel’s face in the cafeteria scene where Britta makes her confession deserves its own Emmy. Let's be honest.
- “I’m sorry. Do you have a patent on loving people?” (This will be the ONLY time I quote Slater.)
- Duncan is my hero for saving Jeff the way that he did. We also need more Duncan/Chang stories.
- The Jeff/Annie kiss is still my favorite thing.

All right, folks! Next week we will be moving onto season 2! We're kicking things off with a review of "Anthropology 101" so be sure to head over to Twitter for the re-watch live-tweet session on Thursday night and then come here for the review on Friday morning. Until then, have a great weekend! :)

Friday, June 1, 2012

1x24 "English as a Second Language" (Of Disney Faces and Growing Up)

"English as a Second Language"
Original Airdate: May 13, 2010

Remember how I mentioned last week that most of the characters on Community are fundamentally similar but externally different? I feel like this theme aptly applies to “English as a Second Language” in terms of both Jeff and Annie as characters. It is not hard to argue that Annie Edison is a driven character – she plans and organizes her life into neat little piles, and when things happen that shake her systems, she panics. Interestingly enough, Jeff is fundamentally similar to Annie. I mentioned in my “Football, Feminism and You” review that both Jeff and Annie are characters who thrive on being in control. Jeff enjoys the taste of power and manipulating things and people, while Annie is terrified of things she cannot control and this causes her to exert more control in life. In “English as a Second Language,” Jeff insists on maintaining his own plan: he desires to get out of Greendale within four years, and no more. If it were up to him, at this point, he would graduate in three years and ditch the study group. He does, in fact, assert that he’s not at Greendale to “schedule around BFFs.” (And how different this is from the Jeff Winger a few years later). But both characters work and strive for their goals, and both characters are (arguably) a bit selfish in those pursuits. But it’s interesting to compare a self-proclaimed slacker like Jeff Winger and the studious Annie Edison and realize that they both are driven by different motives, but are equally driven nonetheless.

So, let's break down the plot for this episode, shall we? It's nearly finals week at Greendale, which means that the study group will no longer be together next year if they don't take a class together. Annie assumes that everyone was preparing to take Spanish 103 in the fall (and everyone but Jeff decides that since they originated as a Spanish study group, this would make logical sense). The self-proclaimed leader of the group claims that he has already fulfilled his language credit with two semesters of Spanish and can't afford to take extraneous classes if he wants to graduate within four years. Annie seems crestfallen -- she had assumed that everyone would stay together and take a class in the fall. The rest of the group agrees. And there are a few things to note that are interesting about the opening scene. First, there's a good little Britta moment in the opening when she asks if making a comment about the dean's PA system would result "in another Avatar situation." I love that at this point in the series, people are still lovingly teasing Britta for her faults (the Avatar situation), rather than blatantly making fun of her. Even though I admit that Britta Perry does kind of have a revolution from self-appointed study group leader to group-appointed buzz kill, she IS endearing in how hard she still tries for the group and fights for them. Even in this episode, when Britta becomes abrasive to Annie, she immediately feels a sense of remorse and returns to a sweet-natured voice. This is quite unlike the Britta Perry that we see in, say, “Cooperative Calligraphy.” By season three, I feel like the blonde has toned down a bit and she and Annie have returned to “normal” in terms of their friendship. At this point in the series – this, being “English as a Second Language” – nothing major has happened between Jeff and Annie to cause a rift in the women’s friendship (though this will soon change). Again, it’s a pity that they had to fall apart because of Jeff. Anyway, digression.

Also, what’s interesting is that the rest of the study group is behind Annie – they all assumed that they would spend the next few years together as a group. Jeff, apparently, is still more concerned with making his reservation for one on May 23, 2013 (which is a Thursday, by the way and would have been the series finale… if we move back to Thursday nights at some point) than he is about keeping friends. And really, Jeff’s evolution and story are the forefront of this television show, so I expect to see him evolve. What I didn’t expect was for him to recognize the idea that he needs the group more than they need him (see: “Remedial Chaos Theory”).  It’s endearing (and a bit sad) how much Annie attempts to persuade Jeff to take Spanish 103 with the rest of the group. It’d be easy (and understandable) if she was excited about the five other members joining her in the fall – surely Britta, Abed, Troy, Pierce, and Shirley taking the class would be enough. But for Annie, it’s not. She wants everyone – including Jeff – to stay with her. For Annie, it is once again about a sense of control. She has this desperate notion that if they all stayed together, life wouldn’t be so bad or unbearable. And that’s not inherently a bad thing, to be honest. That’s why we all long to take college classes with at least one friend and why we usually don’t enjoy going to parties where we don’t know anyone. It’s the longing for familiarity that drives us. And in Annie’s case, sometimes it drives us to do selfish things. 

(But even the rest of the group has a limit – 6 A.M. classes aren’t anyone’s cup of tea and they grow silent when Annie mentions that this is the time Spanish 103 will be meeting. Heck, even I wouldn’t stay with my friends for that.)

Later that day in Spanish class, Annie is literally so desperate to keep the study group together that she’s willing to try and find a class that they can all agree on, even if it's not Spanish. Furthermore, she is trying to work around Jeff’s schedule in order to be together. Again – it’s this notion that doing life with the study group is much better than doing it alone. Furthermore, doing life with the group together is much less scary than being thrown back into community college without anyone there to support you. Jeff claims that he's not  "big on planning ahead," and yet there's inherent irony in this -- the entire episode is spent emphasizing the fact that he plans to escape Greendale in four years and nothing will deter him.

Annie finds a class at noon -- Anthropology -- and points at each group member, asking if they'll join. Britta is the first person to agree to take Anthropology. And I think that everyone needs the study group for various reasons. You can hear Abed briefly say the line “you guys understand me,” when Annie discusses how much she likes their study group. And I think that the group is exactly what Abed has needed throughout the years at Greendale for the same reason that Pierce needs the group – they will never really be excluded. Even when Pierce does villainous things and even when no one can seem to understand Abed’s behavior, the group still accepts them. For Britta and Troy and Shirley, their need for the group circles around comfort and familiarity. Britta isn’t the type of person who seems like she makes friends easily, so the group is literally home for her. Shirley, we know, had a group of women that she studied with before but they kicked her out. I think she realizes that she is welcome and safe from that experience with her current study group. And Troy? I think Troy needs to feel important and valued – he needs a place to “fit,” and since football didn’t quite work out as well for him as he might have hoped in high school, the study group is his comfort zone and his place of significance.

Jeff continues to emphasize that he's not going to plan his schedule around the group and has to take a full load of classes to graduate in four years. Britta makes the claim that they'll stay friends no matter what. And Annie makes a valid counter-point to Britta’s argument. Anyone who has ever moved or graduated from anything recognizes that this is a fallacy – you will only stay friends with people you make an effort to stay friends with and ONLY if they also make the same amount of effort in regards to you.

Chang enters the classroom and dismisses everyone else so that he can have a private conversation with Jeff.  The Spanish teacher then admits that he falsified his faculty credentials, and asked Jeff how he could have prevented being caught. He additionally admits that if anyone finds out about him faking being a Spanish teacher, the entire class will have to retake Spanish and their grades will be invalid.  I think it’s interesting that they chose to parallel Jeff’s pilot arc with Chang’s for this episode (and I suppose for subsequent episodes). It makes it interesting because Chang very quickly comes to terms with being fired. He actually embraces the benefits of it, thanks in part to Annie, I presume. Jeff spends (arguably) the next two years STILL trying to come to terms with being disbarred and at Greendale before he comes to some sort of epiphany in “Introduction to Finality.” It’s intriguing to see a character who we’d normally think of as less appealing and likely to learn lessons actually ACCEPTING his failures better than Jeff. At the end of the conversation, the audience realizes that Annie's recorder -- the one that she uses to record notes for all of her classes -- was on and has captured the entire conversation.

Now admittedly I have never SEEN Good Will Hunting, so half of the episode’s story arc was lost on me. There's an entire sub-plot of Troy being able to miraculously fix a broken water fountain and a sink. He is approached by Jerry (our good friend from season three!), who tries to recruit him to become a plumber. I do think that it’s interesting that Jessica (@MetropoLois) noted the longevity of the Troy-as-a-repairman storyline, wondering if this is the longest-running storyline in the series. Nevertheless, the first time that Troy is approached by Jerry and another plumber, he flees.

Annie is listening to her notes in the library, when she comes across the confession from Chang to Jeff in the Spanish classroom. Annie chooses to utilize (and abuse) the information that has been given to her. Like I have said before, Annie is a selfish character. We often forget this though because of how big her doe eyes are and how many skirts she wears. But she’s proven on multiple occasions that she can be just as crafty as Jeff. He wounds her with this information earlier in the season in "Football, Feminism and You," and in this episode, he will fault her for the same thing. Annie evidently brings this information to the attention of Dean Pelton, who informs the Spanish class that Chang has been let go thanks to an anonymous tip. Annie then asks if the group will have to retake the class. The dean surprises her, however, when he insists that he won't make them do such a thing and will just bring in a substitute. Annie’s manipulation, then, backfires. She never intended to make the group suffer, that much is evident. She had always hoped that their grades would be invalid and they would have to spend the next year together. She didn’t anticipate suffering through stress with the group to pass their final. 

Doctora Escodera is introduced and she speaks fluently in Spanish to the class, who -- obviously -- cannot understand a word she is actually saying. (For the record, my Spanish 201 professor never made us speak completely in Spanish in her class. I think she reserved that right for the third year students. Thank goodness. I HATED talking in Spanish aloud.) She informs the class that they will be taking a final designed for students at their level. The final will cover the entire textbook. This sends the class into a much-deserved panic.

Jeff, Troy, and Abed are walking from class and again, Jeff notes that HIS four-year plan will be thrown off if he doesn’t pass the exam. Even though we forget it, he and Annie are both insistent on making their plans a reality – these two plans just happen to clash throughout the episode. They’re not mutually exclusive (initially, at least). Abed then perks up when he hears a Lexus' car alarm going off -- it is Jeff, as it turns out. Chang is using his keytar to bash in the windows and the hood because he assumed that Jeff tattled on him to the dean. Jeff insists that he didn't do that because it would only result in his own demise. The two end up fighting on the car and are tasered by Troy and Abed's security guard lookalikes moments later.

Troy’s arc is very important in a few years, and it’s interesting that the original excuse that he gives Vice Dean Laybourne when he turns him down is that he wants to enjoy spending time with Abed. In "English as a Second Language," Troy’s excuse is that he wants to learn and to study and to know stuff. Even so, back in the first season of the show, Troy still had loyalty and integrity that manifests itself in the season 3 final episodes. He believes that it is important to stay true to your word and to do what is important to you. He doesn’t want to take the easy way out – he wants to be more than who he was when he came to Greendale. And by his third year, he really comes to accept this.

In the study room, the group is preparing for their final. In all actuality, they realize that there's no way they'll be able to pass and will likely have to guess the entire exam. Jeff admits with resignation that they'll likely have to take Spanish again next year. And now to the interesting part: Jeff is VERY perceptive of the fact that Annie makes a different noise than the others sitting beside him -- namely, while everyone groans at the thought of having to retake Spanish in the fall, she just hums. None of the other study group members seem to notice (and they all are quite easily thrown off-track when Annie distracts them). But Jeff remembers, perhaps, how crafty Annie can be. How she was pretty good at being selfish when it came to Troy.

(And I never noticed Pierce’s slight flicker of disbelief from Jeff to Annie. I really do adore that Annie is his favorite, even at this point in the series.)

Jeff’s examination of Annie begins with him accusing her of being “obsessed” with the idea of the group being together for their sophomore year. He claims that she would do anything to keep the group together, which is essentially true. We’ve seen what happens when good motives lead good people into bad territory. Annie’s motivation isn’t inherently bad, but it is fundamentally selfish (as are Jeff’s motives for keeping his distance from the group). And I can honestly say that this is the only time besides “Cooperative Calligraphy” where we have really seen Jeff get ANGRY at Annie. And the reason that he is so frustrated with her is, once again, because Jeff only cares about things and events when they directly impact HIM. Annie’s desire to keep the group together conflicts with his desire to graduate in four years. The two cannot, in Jeff’s mind, co-exist peacefully. So instead, he vents his anger and frustrations (perhaps, too, his pent-up frustration about BEING at Greendale in the first place) and blows up at Annie. Even more than that, he encourages the group to disown Annie, essentially. And this actually works, for the most part. Annie insists that she was just trying to save the group (and really, Jeff does something a bit crazy in “Biology 101” in an attempt to “save” the group too, so chew on that for a bit), but Troy, Abed, and Britta label her as psychotic because of it.

In spite of the group’s accusations, they DO come around quickly when Annie makes her Disney face and begin to apologize, but Jeff forbids it. When Jeff notices that she's using her Disney face, he snaps at everyone to close their eyes and not look at her. (Pierce actually keeps his eyes cracked open during the exercise Jeff instructs. Another reason that I love the Pierce/Annie dynamic.)  Annie actually begins to fight back against Jeff, which is different for her because she usually never argues. However, Jeff treats her like a child and insists that she should just grow up. That is, after all, what thinking about potential consequences for your actions and then not doing those actions is, Jeff argues (which… well, if that’s what being an adult is, Jeff may not qualify). And I keep saying that Annie has selfish motives, which is perhaps unfair to her – I believe she DOES have pure motives, but the way that she attempts to pursue them is selfish.

Annie, upset and angry, storms out of the room and says that she hoped their group would amount to more than just passing hello's. When the rest of the group watches her sadly, Jeff is quite harsh: he insists that Annie only wants to cause personal drama and that they all “need to beat her.” (It’s hilarious though that not even one minute out of the room, and Jeff already needs to consult Annie on how to study.)

The group falls asleep at their study room table and wakes up with a jolt to the PA system announcements from the dean. They all prepare to take their exam and Jeff warns everyone to not even try to contact Annie. Abed and Troy then have a discussion -- Abed overheard Troy and Jerry in the bathroom the other day, discussing his future as a plumber. Troy continues to insist that he doesn't want that life, and wants to stay in class. Abed then paraphrase-quotes Good Will Hunting and says that the best part of his day is when he looks at Troy's seat and -- for a moment -- sees that it's empty. Essentially the gist of the paraphrase was that Abed wants Troy to do something with his life and to be happy, and he hopes that he'll find that, if it's not at school. The whole thing just upsets Troy, though.

In Spanish class, it's only a few minutes until the exam and Pierce notes that Annie is nowhere in sight. Ignoring Jeff's instructions, Shirley texts Annie who says that she is going to make things right, starting with talking to Chang. The only time that Jeff mobilizes and does something that isn’t for himself is when one of his study group members is threatened. I’ll continue to argue that he is most protective of Annie and Abed, but I believe he’d do anything for ANY member of the group (Pierce included), and proves this later on in the series. He needs the group more than he realizes in the first season, to be honest, and his need for them and acceptance of his love for them only grows from there. So the entire group leaves the exam, determined to save their friend. Starburns then, noticing an attempt to avoid the exam, mobilizes the rest of the class (chanting "We love Hannah!") and they leave as well.

(Also, Jeff's so worried that he kicks down a door. Just saying.)

As it turns out, the screams that the group heard from behind the door were part of a feature on Chang's keytar. He insists that Annie getting him fired was the best thing that happened, and Annie notes that Ben will start taking classes and maybe work on his music. The group then returns to the exam, and afterwards, Annie stands outside pacing back and forth. Once Jeff is done, he joins her and they both note that the exam was actually pretty easy. Annie and Jeff’s hallway conversation ranks as one of my favorites, namely because it exemplifies how the pair usually manages to apologize to one another when they’ve been (knowingly) in the wrong.  Jeff still interestingly thinks of himself as a bad guy (and he continues to throughout the series, in spite of how good he is) and as unfeeling. He doesn’t want Annie to become jaded like he is (or claims to be; see: “A Fistful of Paintballs”). He wants to protect her and grow up, but make sure she doesn’t lose sight of who she is.

Jeff notices that Annie is dressed more formally than usually and says that she doesn't have to wear things like that to look like an adult. Annie slips and admits bashfully that she was going for more of a professor thing, to which Jeff is momentarily taken aback. The pair both realizes what Annie said and its implications, but drop the conversation once the rest of the group exits the exam. As the group walks down the hallway, he notes that if they do miraculously pass Spanish, they'll have to find a class together to take in the fall.

Jeff’s callback to Annie earlier in the episode is endearing because it shows that he really does want the group to stay together, for better or for worse. Because who else will he be able to do life with?

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
-  “Spoiler alert.” “You mean nerd alert.” “Alert nerd!”
-  “… and now, crickets!”
- “Okay, well I haven’t said a single word in this entire conversation and I find that outrageous.”
- “If an Asian man says he’s a Spanish teacher, it’s not racist to ask for proof.”
- “And why is she teaching Spanish if she’s a doctor? Go cure something.”
- Truth be told, it’s not accurate that if you guess on multiple choice questions that you’ll be right 25% of the time. At least that's what I was informed of in college.
- “Someone make her a dude so I can punch her.”
- “Now she’s going to make the Disney face. Her lip is gonna quiver and her eyes will flutter but they won’t actually ever close.”
- “Uh, I can’t wake up Pierce. Is this gonna take an unexpected turn?”
- I think it’s adorable that Annie knows exactly what Jeff will say when she texts Shirley.
- “You don’t like it? I was going for more of a professor thing.” “What? Why?” “What?” “Nothing.”
- The tag is a nice wrap-up and also funny because Pierce ironically saved the study group!

All right, folks. Next week we are headed into the final episode of the first season -- "Pascal's Triangle Revisited"! So join me on Twitter at 8PM EST on Thursday night for our re-watch and then check back here on Friday morning for the review! :)