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 Tranny 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! :)

2 comments:

  1. I think you know a show is special when reading a review about a certain episode that is 2 years old (and that you've seen to death already)can just make you chuckle hard still at the sheer memory of the scenes, without having to watch them once again. Just reading about them and remembering and you laugh and you think, wow what a brilliant brilliant show.

    And yeah that kiss still does magical things to me. Its not even just the kiss, its the looks before, in between and after. Or the googly eyes as Shirley might put it! Joel and Alison did a superb job there.

    I actually really enjoyed Slatter in this episode and I honestly wouldn't have minded her coming back on the show, not as Jeff's love interest of course but as a natural enemy to Britta. Because it is the only time her character becomes entertaining really, because the way those two just bounce insults off each other is comic genius really, and while its always been said that Britta and Chang just hate each other, I think the hatred works better, works more naturally between Britta and Slatter.

    Thanks again for these reviews, I look forward to them every week!

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  2. I remembered when I marathoned S1 on DVD as my introduction to the show and squealing with delight at that kiss. And then texting my friend that loaned me the DVD saying "I WAS ROOTING FOR ANNIE THE WHOLE TIME."

    Yeah, I'm not a shipper at ALL.

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