Friday, August 10, 2012

2x09 "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design" (People Aren't Playthings)

"Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design"
Original Airdate: November 18, 2010

“What most people need to learn in life is how to love people and use things instead of using people and loving things.”

I won’t retract the statements that I’ve made in the past about Jeff Winger being a selfish character. From the very pilot episode, we understand that the former lawyer would do just about anything (including deliberately turn a group of people on one another) in order to get what he wants. He cheats and lies, and Britta calls him out on it. Britta, a woman whose self-appointed job was to protect the study group. But we watch, throughout the first season, as Jeff evolves. He grows from a selfish, jaded ex-lawyer to a sometimes-selfish, still-jaded ex-lawyer who tries. He doesn’t have to, you know. He could have easily spent four years at Greendale by himself, doing whatever he wanted without consequence or chastisement from others. But he chose the group, or the group chose him, or a little of both and for some reason he genuinely cares about these people. And caring, he realizes, is actually hard work. Jeff’s not perfect. He may have grown and developed slowly, but at the point of “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design,” he is far from the person he could be. In “Anthropology 101,” remember that Jeff denied the meaningfulness of his Transfer Dance kiss with Annie in front of the study group (and subsequently half of Greendale who was listening out in the library). In a gut-less move on his part, Jeff shifted blame to Annie for blurting out the information to the group in the first place. This visibly stings Annie, but at the end of the episode, she appears to have forgiven Jeff. Note that the key word in the previous sentence is appears. Annie Edison is a forgiving person – she is someone who is experience in life but not jaded in spite of it. She is trusting and loyal and sometimes naïve. But what she does best is bury feelings until they surface in unhealthy ways (see: “Anthropology 101,” for example). This episode is one that is seemingly light-hearted and fun – Jeff and Annie sleuth around Greendale and Troy and Abed built a giant blanket fort – but one scene packs a particularly powerful punch that leaves Jeff and the viewers reeling a bit. So is this an episode where Jeff does an about-face and begins to see the error of “blowing everything off” when it comes to his relationships with people? Though I wouldn’t go that far, I will say that this is probably the first time that Jeff realizes how much he has hurt someone within the study group and definitely the first time he realizes that his actions and behaviors – his selfish motives to protect his own reputation and status – can deeply hurt Annie.

But in case you were too busy being Inception-ed by the episode (a brilliantly written episode by the Emmy-nominated Chris McKenna!) and forgot the plot, let me refresh you! So it's Green Week at Greendale (remember the first year's fiasco?) which means that Annie and the rest of the Environmental Club are creating dioramas. The episode opens with her displaying the diorama to the rest of the study group proudly. I think it’s really endearing that everyone showed so much support for Annie’s diorama. They all look genuinely impressed (I mean, with good reason – look at her little car go!) It’s nice because at this point in the series, the group is so comfortable with one another and they genuinely CARE about one another that it doesn’t even seem strange to support someone’s diorama or celebrate Shirley’s niece’s first bubble bath. It’s oddly natural for the group to be this close. What’s difficult about a group like this, however, as we’ll see clearly in “Paradigms of the Human Memory” is that wounds hurt all the more the closer the bonds. And remember too what I said last week? In “Cooperative Calligraphy,” the group begins to function even more co-dependently than they had been up until that point. Which, of course, puts strains on relationships.

After Annie presents her diorama to the group, Troy and Abed discuss their own plans for the weekend. Since both of their classes have ended, they decide to start their planned sleepover early. Their big plan? Make a blanket fort in Abed's dorm room. Britta mocks the idea of a blanket fort and tosses her hair over her shoulder as she does so. I will say that people seemed to be a bit miffed at how… superior Britta sounded at the beginning of the episode, especially when mocking the boys for building a blanket fort. And yet, once again, this is a prime example of Britta’s characteristics in the second season. Admittedly, I’m not her biggest fan during this season because a lot of what she does and says comes off rather cold. But I think the point of her discussion regarding Troy and Abed is that she thinks of herself a certain way – grown-up and evolved – and yet, at the end of the episode, it’s clear that she isn’t above anyone in terms of growing up. Though she may be one of the older members of the group, age isn’t necessarily a reflection of maturity. I think part of Britta, too, just always wants to be “pro-anti,” as Jeff says in “Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts.” Sometimes, she just loves to be contrary. Whatever her motivation, her schemes and plans usually go awry, which help her (and others) to learn more than they would have ever learned in the first place.

Shortly after Troy and Abed leave to get started on their epic blanket fort, the dean enters the room and informs Jeff that he's been looking at the former lawyer's transcripts and has to audit the entire system because of a class Jeff claims to be taking that doesn't seem to exist. Jeff ardently claims that his class -- "Conspiracy Theories in U.S. History" -- is a real class he's been taking with a man named Professor Professorson once a week. So, we know at the end of the episode that the Dean approached Annie at the beginning of the episode – presumably after he received Jeff’s transcript – informing her that Jeff made up a class that didn’t exist. Now, this intrigues me on two levels. One, why would the Dean approach Annie? And two, why would it bother Annie enough to cause her to team up with the Dean for an elaborate scheme to teach Jeff a lesson? Annie’s the type of individual who is very academically driven. However, she’s not usually one to cook up schemes and be deceptive. Perhaps her feelings toward Jeff – toward being slighted by him – caused her to take up arms against him. Or maybe she was just so frustrated with his laziness, with his disregard for others (again, returning to his dismissal of their kiss as part of it) that she plotted against him with the Dean. She did mention that Jeff’s fraudulent class devalued her own credits. So maybe Annie is more like Jeff than she realizes – when Jeff takes action, it’s because things are directly impacting HIM. Whatever the case, Annie sets out to prove a point to Jeff. And whether or not he WANTED to learn a lesson is irrelevant because he does.

Jeff insists that the professor is a real person and takes Dean Pelton to see him (Annie follows suit). Now,  at the end of the episode, Jeff admits that “he’s not sure what lessons [they’d] managed to teach each other,” but I think that Jeff learns a lot more about Annie in this episode than he had ever bargained to. For starters, he realizes that Annie isn’t as naïve and disillusioned by him anymore as she used to be. The Annie Edison from the pilot episode, from “Spanish 101,” from “Introduction to Statistics”? That girl adored Jeff Winger – she thought that he was the cool guy. But Annie Edison in “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design”? She cares about Jeff, sure, but… she isn’t fooled by him anymore. And I think that this is the first example that we get of this (in “Digital Exploration of Interior Design,” Annie’s bitterness regarding the Transfer Dance kiss and everything that had been left unresolved is still present. She’s changed and grown because of the way Jeff treated her. And unfortunately (in my opinion), it isn’t all for the best. She’s tired of letting him get away with his behavior without any consequences. Quite frankly, she’s ready to take charge and make him change.

Dean Pelton, Jeff, and Annie arrive at Professor Professorson's office... which turns out to be a supply closet. Of course, Jeff is making the entire story up, so he plays along and attempts to convince the two others that he really IS surprised that an office doesn't exist. When Annie says: “Do you know what this means? That’s how stupid Jeff thinks other people are," she hammers in the points I made in the paragraph above -- Jeff is committing so much to a lie that he just believes others will blindly follow him. As a sidenote,  I like the subtle hints that are dropped in throughout the episode that there may be double-crossing at work. The Dean and Annie double-cross Jeff until he realizes (in Garrity’s “office”) that Annie helped the Dean plan the lesson. You can notice Annie’s subtle glance at Jeff in the hallway as he talks to “Professor Professorson.” It’s a nice indicator that she expected him to come clean in that moment, not play along with the lesson.

Someone DOES appear in the hall, however, and he claims to be Jeff's professor, introducing himself to the dean. When the man appears befuddled, Professorson explains that since he teaches night school, Dean Pelton likely doesn't recognize him. The professor then departs, instructing Jeff to read chapters in his book and insisting that he'll see him the following week in class. (Of course, all of this is a ruse in order to get Jeff to confess but, alas, Jeff Winger is VERY committed to this game.) The dean apologizes for mistrusting Jeff and departs, off to write more of his book about Dean Dangerous. Annie apologizes as well for being a bad friend and that is when Jeff comes clean -- he's never seen Professor Professorson in his life. One of my favorite things about the Jeff/Annie relationship is their ability to chastise one another, and yet not be MAD at each other. When Annie slaps Jeff on the chest in “Basic Genealogy,” he merely grins. And when she does it again in this episode after calling him a lying cheat, he just keeps grinning, as if it was the most amusing thing in the world. I really like this subtle aspect of their relationship because it shows that they have a friendship and can choose to be endearing without any awkwardness.

When Annie asks what Jeff is going to do, he says that they should grab lunch. She insists that she's serious and he replies that he is too. And then, Annie claims: “This is so typical – you’re just gonna blow off what happened.” Well there is a double-meaning if I ever heard one. A lot of the undertones in this episode, like I said before, are that of Annie being upset over Jeff blowing HER off – acting like she wasn’t important or didn’t mean anything to him. And I don’t think she wanted a spectacular confession, but I do think she wanted an explanation (or in the very least, acknowledgement that she was a person and had feelings). Additionally, I think this quote is a prime example of Annie’s slow-growing detachment from her idealism of Jeff. And Jeff, instead of acknowledging Annie (like he should have), merely told her to act “un-Annie” and blow off the notion of Professor Professorson too. The problem with Jeff is that he doesn’t remember his actions have consequences – that not everyone is like him and that not everyone WANTS to be.

Elsewhere, something that would traditionally be considered childish evolves into something spectacular that the entire campus becomes involved in. While Annie is trying to teach Jeff to grow up, Troy and Abed are learning that it’s okay to act like a child sometimes – people respond to the innocence of a blanket fort. But like everything else in this episode, actions have consequences and sometimes ones that grow out of hand.

Back in the study room, Annie is attempting to unlock the wheel on the cart that is housing her diorama when Jeff enters the room. I think it’s adorably endearing that Jeff read Annie’s eleven text messages and yet STILL came to the room to help her move her diorama – she said that she could do it herself, but he knows her better than that. He knows that she wants him to help her. And this is ironic to me because if Jeff can pick up this subtle hint, why not the ones she drops regarding their kiss later on in the series? Anyway, Jeff’s not, remember, an ENTIRELY selfish person. He genuinely cares about Annie (as evidenced a few moments later when he tackles her to protect her). He’s misguided though, in his actions a lot of the time. And he treats Annie, in particular, in a way that seems to regard her as someone who will always be there for him. That’s not to say that Annie will suddenly or abruptly disown Jeff as a friend without due cause, but… Jeff takes her for granted. He believes she’s always going to be around, but that’s simply not the case. Still, it's adorable that he won't do work for his fake conspiracy class, but will help her wheel a diorama to a fair.

Annie informs Jeff that she's done a little snooping and found a faculty directory. Professor Professorson, as it turns out, doesn't really exist. The man's name is actually Professor Wooley and he DOES teach night school. So why would someone who was a professor pretend to be Jeff's phony teacher? Annie doesn't know, nor does Jeff but the former lawyer is tired of doing work for his ultimate Winger blow-off class. He gets a phone call, then, with a garbled voice warning him that Annie should stop snooping, lest things get... explosive. And that's when Jeff connects the dots -- the car on Annie's diorama won't start and she's jingling the keys. So, to protect her, Jeff tackles her. Let’s take a moment to backtrack and remember the double-crossing that will take place. I’ll hold onto the belief that up until the “office” scene, Jeff doesn’t know about Annie and the Dean’s plan. That would then mean that everything up until that point had been planned out. Which means that the phone call and tiny car explosion were planned by Annie. Why is this significant (if it is true)? The way that Annie knew Jeff would be on board with her plans to go to night school (all the while, remember, to teach him a lesson) was if she was in danger. The moment after Annie is tackled is the moment he decides to take action. Remember what I said earlier – how Jeff only seemed to be invested in situations and take action when they impacted HIM? Well, here is your exception to the rule. I don’t, however, think she actually believed he would do something like tackle her to the ground to protect her. (You can definitely tell that Annie WANTS Jeff to go to night school for whatever reason because of her smile at the end of that scene.)

The pair heads to night school, and begin searching for Wooley, just as Troy and Abed's blanket fort becomes the hottest thing around Greendale since chicken fingers. Even Leonard wants in on the action, stealing blankets from his son to give to Troy and Abed. In night school, Jeff and Annie search through various classrooms, coming up empty. In fact, there seems to be no one at night school at all. Eventually, they run into a startled Professor Wooley, who informs the pair that he's teaching math. When Jeff and Annie ask to sit in, the nervous professor agrees, but then bolts, running down the hallway at the first chance he gets. Wooley flees into the blanket fort (which has now consumed nearly the entire school) and Jeff and Annie lose the professor in the midst of their chase scene and ask Troy and Abed for help.  I love that Troy and Abed help out Jeff and Annie without even questioning why they are in a chase scene. It’s, again, a testament to how the group has grown to really know and accept one another, in spite of (and perhaps because of) absurdities.

Britta, someone who chastised the idea of the blanket fort initially, is discovered in the Turkish district, quite content with a man beside her. (One of the things that I find interesting in retrospect is the fact that even though Jeff and Britta were secretly hooking up at this point in the season, it didn’t seem to make much difference in their Greendale and outside-of-Greendale lives.) Troy, Abed, Jeff, and Annie continue their chase for Wooley through the fort and eventually catch up with him right in the middle of the Latvian Independence Day parade (November 18th actually being Latvian Independence Day!), and Jeff tackles the professor and demands an explanation. So Wooley leads Jeff and Annie to his office.

All right. Here is where things begin to get interesting. So for my clarification (before we get to the crazy double-crossing scene), here’s how I believe the episode took place: Dean Pelton and Annie realized that Jeff was faking a class and hatched a scheme to teach him about the errors of his ways. It would have all gone according to plan, too, if Jeff hadn’t noticed that Professor Wooley was actually Sean Garrity (and that he was quoting “Dean Dangerous”). Off-screen, I believe Annie told Jeff that she and the Dean had plotted together, causing Jeff to call Dean Pelton and ask him to conspire against Annie (which was agreed upon). However, instead of conspiring against Annie, Jeff and Annie agreed to team up and teach Dean Pelton a lesson instead about the error of HIS ways (pitting them both against one another). Good? Good. Jeff, Annie, and Wooley decide to teach the dean a lesson so they hatch a scheme to show him the error of his double-crossing ways. How will they do that? Through the use of prop guns, of course!

The following scene is one of my favorites from any episode, so let’s recap how the next few moments in this scene are about to go down: Annie shoots Garrity, as planned. And the dean shoots Annie, as they both planned originally – before Jeff knew about their conspiracy against him. Jeff shoots the dean (as planned between him and the dean and as Annie just recently found out about – Jeff and Annie were in on everything post-office scene together, in my belief), causing Annie to rise from her previously “dead” position and act surprised (for the sake of pulling one over on the dean who is – remember – still listening and doesn’t know that Jeff knows about his original conspiracy with Annie). Is this beginning to sound like this scene to you yet?

At any rate, Jeff and Annie previously prepared what they would say when the dean was resurrected – Jeff would insist that he and Dean Pelton were helping Annie learn a lesson about friendship. What the dean doesn’t realize is that Annie and Jeff teamed up in order to teach HIM a lesson about conspiracy. But between Wooley’s office and the study room, there wasn’t enough time to create an elaborate script. They planned that she would confess her love and that he would say that people weren’t “playthings.” But in between that moment and the moment she shoots Jeff, he told her to “be convincing.” And perhaps the script Jeff dictated to her wasn’t good enough, or maybe Annie just needed catharsis. Whatever the case, she went off-script.

And here’s where the most powerful, emotional display from Annie manifests itself. And HERE is where Jeff realizes exactly how much he has hurt her. And he’s pained by it. Let’s examine his face, shall we? (Many thanks to @TweetingKerry whose picspam of the episode is brilliant and where this cap originates) Part of Annie's spiel to convince the dean that she was upset with Jeff was to follow a script, but she went off of it. Instead of whatever was originally planned, Annie practically spits at Jeff that she waited all summer to see him and then he “buried [her] like a shameful secret.” That line resonates with Jeff. And the emotion he sees displayed by Annie? It’s not anger – not all of it, at least. It’s not even strictly bitterness. It’s pain. And his? It’s the same. He hurt her and kept twisting the knife by refusing to acknowledge her, by dismissing her constantly, and by brushing her aside. And maybe a little bit of Jeff’s pained expression is associated with knowing what he is doing with Britta – how he’s stringing Annie along and yet sleeping with Britta too. This is one of the best moments for Jeff and Annie as people because it’s an honest moment – neither of them have anything to gain by Annie’s admission because it’s under the pretense of a scheme they hatched. And there’s a part of me that sees Jeff’s face and believes he’s on the verge of wanting to reassure Annie that he is sorry – that he wants to open his mouth and apologize for everything he put her through. But that moment, unfortunately, isn’t his to take. And this moment? This is literally my favorite Joel moment of the show. His expression alone deserves every Emmy out there.

So Annie shoots Jeff three times (which I presume was rather cathartic for her!) and Jeff slumps to the ground. The dean -- completely unaware of this plot twist -- dissolves into hysteria, asking how Annie could do something like that. She counters, asking how he could team up with her to conspire against Jeff. Dean Pelton then breaks down and admits that he couldn't keep his conspiracies straight anymore and just wanted to be a part of the fun that Jeff and Annie were having. Jeff rises from the dead, glad to hear the dean admit that he really had no idea what he was doing the entire time. (I personally think it was adorable that Dean Pelton wanted to hang out with them.) Professor Garrity, who has been waiting for a long time, rises back from the dead too and collects the prop guns just as an officer (our favorite cop!) bursts into the room and shoots the drama professor. Jeff, Annie, and the dean are hysterical until the cop and Professor Garrity insist that this was their way of teaching the group a lesson or two about the use of prop guns.

(The dean then rocks himself back and forth and wails at all the Inception-like shenanigans.)

Later on in the blanket fort, the entire study group reunites and Jeff tells the story of their adventure. It’s quite adorable and endearing that Jeff praises Annie in front of the study group and acknowledges her off-script lines. But bear in mind, folks, that this is the last time we’ll ever hear anything mentioned by Annie to Jeff about their kiss explicitly. And he seems amused by Annie’s embarrassment and shyness at how well she did during their conspiracy. It's one of the first times ever, I think, that we see Jeff really get a chance to brag about Annie.

Pavel -- one of my favorite minor characters -- bursts into the fort with a newspaper and informs Troy and Abed that their blanket fort has become mainstream and is now sweeping the nation. The best friends seemed disheartened by this. Their original plan, after all, was to create something unique and special. And Troy had been apprehensive when their project grew. He was worried, perhaps, that it wouldn't be special if it was popular (a nice commentary, if unintentional, about Community as a show itself and its popularity). So the boys decide to destroy the fort. Everyone grumbles as the blanket fort begins a slow domino-effect of collapsing. And then, of course, there is the moment the blanket fort collapses – a moment between Jeff and Annie that encapsulates the tension that was felt throughout the day and night between the two and the notion that there are STILL feelings there that neither of them have discussed as they instinctively move closer to one another.

So we end with a resolution -- with an understood notion that things have to end in order to create something new. Occasionally, this beginning yields something even better than was had before. Troy and Abed work on their next adventure almost immediately after the fort collapses. And Jeff and Annie? Well, this is arguably the first chapter in the rockiest part of their friendship and relationship. Sometimes new things aren't always positive, but they are necessary.

Additional de-lovely aspects include: 
- “I heard one kid made a diorama about a world without dioramas.”
- “Enjoy eating fiber and watching The Mentalist.”
- I don’t understand how Jim, Joel, and Alison didn’t win anything for this episode alone. They were top-notch in it.
- Do you ever read the whiteboards in the show? Please read the whiteboards. They’re always hilarious. I’m pretty sure this week’s was about an ambitious vs. ambiguous undertaking involving the study room.
- “I have always dreamt of playing charades with you, Jeffrey. But not like this. And not on dry land.”
- “That is gonna be the worst book I’ll ever read cover-to-cover.”
- “He’s about to get a real lesson on the fact that Jeff Winger never learns.”
- I can only think of the “Don’t shoot, Officer!” line as it is on the bloopers.
- “Fact: in 100% of fake gun-related shootings, the victim is always the one with the fake gun.”
- I REALLY wish we had been able to see the burger story, too.

Thank you ALL for joining in last night for both #CakeNight AND #CommunityRewatch Thursday! Next week we're falling right into one of my favorite poignant episodes, "Mixology Certification." So hop onto Twitter at 8PM EST and follow our live-tweet. Then be sure to check out the review when it's posted Friday! Until then, folks. :)


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