Friday, June 22, 2012

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


"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.
- "MY WHOLE BRAIN IS CRYING!"
- 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! :)

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