Friday, January 31, 2014

5x06 "Analysis of Cork-Based Networking" (The Labyrinth of the Bulletin Board)

"Analysis of Cork-Based Networking"
Original Airdate: January 30, 2014

I’m a go-getter and a doer. I’m the kind of person you either love or hate during group projects because I’ll correct your work if it’s not up to my standards, and I’ll probably take over most of the assignment myself. It’s not great that I’m like this sometimes, but it’s a facet of my personality that isn’t easy to turn on and off. What I’ve learned over the years, however, is that sometimes the best parts of you can also be the worst parts. Your optimism can turn into naiveté. Your driven nature can become overbearing. Your passiveness can turn into laziness. What I’ve always noticed about Community is that it pinpoints these elements in its characterization of the study group members. Jeff’s ego is good because it often drives him to become motivated. But his ego is also tied to his vanity, which is destructive to both himself and the people around him. Annie’s always been driven. It’s something that will always be true. We need people like Annie or the ice melts and projects go unfinished. But we’ve seen what happens when Annie allows her ambition to run ahead of her better judgment. She tends to become obsessed with ideas and visions, blinding herself to her own conscience. (We’ve seen this happen many times, notably in “Intro to Political Science,” “Basic Lupine Urology,” “Geography of Global Conflict,” and “Intro to Felt Surrogacy.”)

Annie’s drive and determination is something to be admired, but not when she becomes all-consumed with one goal that she loses sight of many others along the way and ignores warning signs. Usually Jeff is the one to teach Annie these lessons. He’s often the person to talk her away from the ledge, to remind her of what’s truly important. But he’s a bit preoccupied in “Analysis of Cork-Based Networking,” so Buzz Hickey is the one to teach Annie this truth, though not without her teaching one to him as well. But before we dive into that particular story, grab your handy-dandy bulletin board because you may want to tack up some notes.

Our first post-Troy Barnes episode is lacking… something. That isn’t to say that I detested the episode or even disliked it. I felt rather lukewarm toward it upon my first watch and felt similarly during my second. “Analysis of Cork-Based Networking” is a good episode, but it’s not one that fires on all cylinders. The Annie/Hickey A-story is quite impressive and impactful, albeit a frequently used story that we've seen recur in every season (Annie gets completely invested in something to the point of obsession and someone has to pull her back from the edge, then the person pulling her back learns something about themselves in the process), and the B-story has potentially the worst Britta moment to date (and I love Britta so this is super painful to say). The C-story merely exists to prop the plot up but is, admittedly, rather amusing in that we get to see Chang, Duncan, Jeff, and Shirley working together.

And there are a plethora of guest stars to boot in the episode! What I had feared most about “Analysis of Cork-Based Networking” didn’t quite come to fruition – it was not an episode that attempted to distract us from Donald Glover’s absence by thrusting extraneous guest stars into the plot. The guest stars actually fit rather nicely and did not overwhelm the episode. The problem that I had was that it felt rather disjointed and perhaps that was because the episode was ninety-percent devoted to different factions of the study group rather than spending time with them as an entity. And I guess, to me, it felt a bit off to have the group separated when they had, over the last few weeks, lost two of their own (both Pierce and Troy obviously under different circumstances). Furthermore – and I’ll talk about this more later – apart from the Annie/Hickey story, no other plot propelled character. Britta regressed, the Chang/Duncan/Shirley/Jeff story, while mildly entertaining, didn’t help any of them grow, and even Abed’s “revelation” felt a bit underwhelming.

But before I delve too deeply into my slight qualms with the episode (don’t worry, it’s not going to become “The Art of Discourse” in my book or anything), let’s talk about the plot: Annie’s spearheading the Save Greendale committee, which now consists of: her, Jeff, Duncan, Shirley, Britta, Abed, Hickey, and – recently inducted – Chang. Annie passes out a short list of all of the work that needs to be done at Greendale to improve it (“Improving  Greendale takes more than ideas, Annie. It takes time, gasoline, matches…”) The list is VERY long and everyone begins to peruse it while talking about an HBO original series titled Bloodlines of Conquest. In case the joke was lost on you, this is a spoof of Game of Thrones which I have yet to see and still feel like I know everything about.

Abed begins excitedly talking about the television series which is based on a book. As he rattles off what the show has to offer to Buzz Hickey, who is out of the loop, Britta calls him on his spoilers since she’s only on season one of the series. As Britta says: “[she] do[es]n’t start watching shows until they’re so popular that watching them is no longer a statement.”(So essentially Britta is a hipster but I think we all already knew that.) Abed is essentially Twitter when he snips back that it’s unfair that since Britta is seasons behind, they can’t talk about the show. And then, he does something unthinkable. He does something unforgivable.

He spoils something big for her.

Now, here’s what I don’t understand about the Britta/Abed subplot: they’re both essentially still grieving the loss of Troy. They were both extremely close the previous episode. Britta was kind and thoughtful and caring. She was understanding. In “Analysis of Cork-Based Networking,” Britta – to me – was the worst she’s ever been. She was more than just selfish. ABED was selfish. Abed was expressing the viewpoint of many Twitter users that I’ve seen float across my timeline. We (okay, yes, I’m grouping myself in there) wonder why others become so offended when we live-tweet series that have ended years ago. There are Brittas on Twitter too, and they’re the ones that always cause me to roll my eyes. They’re the ones who become irate when something is spoiled for them, even though it’s been weeks or years and it was likely unintentional. Abed’s point was that he shouldn’t have to guard himself around Britta or anyone else. He shouldn’t have to be any less than who he is. Perhaps that’s reading into things too much, but Abed wasn’t right in spoiling Britta. I don’t condone what he did.

What Britta did, however, was unthinkable. It was actually pretty horrible. But I’ll get to that momentarily. In retaliation for being spoiled, Britta threatens to read all of the books that Bloodlines of Conquest is based on and spoil HIM. Abed tells her that she’s crazy and that what she plans to do is something that a crazy person would do. It’s a burn, of course, because Britta has always tried to psychoanalyze Abed and he knows it. He always has to defend his actions as sane and can quite easily pinpoint what is insane about Britta’s thirst for vengeance. Meanwhile, Annie asks Abed and Britta to put aside their differences and work on the Greendale census while she plans the mid-term dance (Duncan, Shirley, and Jeff agree to be on the committee, but only after Annie has committed so that she will do all the work. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if the study group lost Annie for even a day. Actually, I don’t have to wonder. This episode shows us what happens. It's... not pretty.)

The following day, Britta attempts to spoil Abed by yelling a plot reveal from the book to him and… he doesn’t hear her since he’s wearing air traffic controller headphones and avoiding eye contact. Britta is frustrated but not defeated. Meanwhile, Hickey tracks down Jerry the janitor to fulfill a request of Annie’s for the committee – hanging a bulletin board in the cafeteria up that fell down – and encounters some push-back regarding the matter so he gives up when he realizes it’ll require work and ugh, who wants to do THAT? Elsewhere, Abed is following through with his census and asks a young woman to fill out the paper, but she’s deaf. She can read lips, however, and smiles pleasantly at Abed as he tries to communicate with her through (failed) sign language. Britta, who is still clearly mad at the man, wonders aloud whether he’ll suddenly become compatible with a woman the group never sees again.

Annie is in the study room with the rest of the group, trying to come up with a theme for the mid-term dance and ignoring Chang at every turn. Hickey comes in, announcing his failure to procure a bulletin board and seeming lack of ambition to try further. But Hickey knows something Annie doesn’t – he knows the red tape. He knows the politics, having been at the school for fifteen years, over half of Annie’s LIFE. But when Annie sees a lack of results, she sees a failure to even try. That is where the ambition within her becomes an obsession. She’s the robot debater all over again – the one who controls her study group, the one consumed with good grades, the one driven to success no matter if that means exploiting students in the process. Hickey doesn’t know Annie very well, which is a fault. Jeff knows how Annie can get when it comes to red tape and ambitious projects. He could have found a way to talk her out of it – to calm her away from a ledge. Instead, Hickey manages to light a fire by challenging her.

And he hasn’t learned this yet, but Annie Edison never backs down from a challenge or a fight.

That leaves the rest of the group, sans Annie, on dance committee and Duncan and Jeff’s horrified faces are enough to assure us that this can ONLY end poorly for everyone. Annie flounces in to sweet-talk the janitors, something that she is exceptionally good at. One of them agrees to put in a work order for her… which will take 3-6 months to fulfill. Annie’s disappointment is not lost on Hickey and the janitors who tell her that if she wants to bump up the order, she needs to talk to the custodians (yes, there’s a difference). Annie’s nothing if not fully devoted to whatever she does, and she essentially tells Hickey that.

Hickey believes Annie should quit while she’s ahead and that inevitably she will quit. He knows where the roads within the Greendale system lead to and he assures her that place is not something she wants to become immersed in. I guess Hickey didn’t learn his lesson the first time he challenged Annie, so he attempts a second. Unfortunately for the professor, things can only go downhill from here. In the halls, Britta gets one-upped by Abed, who spoils another part of Bloodlines of Conquest for her and she vows that their feud is not over. So what, really, is the feud rooted in? Are they both frustrated about their lack of control in light of Troy leaving them? Are they merely upset and are lashing out against one another because of it? (I wish I knew the answer, dear readers. Perhaps they really are just that petty when it comes to spoilers.)

When Hickey and Annie crash the custodian party, they’re met with a less-than-friendly reception, something Hickey anticipated, of course. He gives Annie multiple opportunities to admit that she cannot handle the complex web she’s about to navigate in regards to the Greendale staff’s political hierarchy, but the young woman refuses. She’s resilient and stubborn, both of which are traits directly tied with her dedicated behavior. Instead of steer her out of the custodial banquet though, Hickey plays along because he, too, loves the feeling of power. Hickey is a complex man but there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that he enjoys wielding and brandishing his power. So he uses that power (see: blackmail) to talk to the head custodian, guest-star Nathan Fillion about getting their bulletin board put up.

Bob has something in mind though – a trade, of sorts. If he gets his computer unblocked so that he can visit whatever lucrative sites he wants, he’ll bump up the job in his queue. Hickey warns Annie that this is what happens when you begin to dig into the hierarchy. You become trapped in an endless spiral of bribes and wants and by the end of it all, the task you originally set out to accomplish isn’t even worth it. Annie’s nothing if not persistent, and she launches into a speech that Jeff Winger would be proud of, saying that the bulletin board isn’t JUST a board (where have I heard this similar spiel before? Ah, yes: “it’s not a pen, it’s a principle”), but an image representing the masses. I truly believe that Annie’s devotion to this board is not rooted in a desire to prove Hickey wrong or a desire to somehow assert her opinion and value in the group. Weirdly enough, I believe all that Annie says in the speech. I think she believes it, too. I think she recognizes that the people in Greendale are overlooked and that a bulletin board may not seem like a monumental change, but that by changing one tiny element of the school, she’s improving the quality for SOMEONE. And that is enough cause for her to fight for it.

In the cafeteria, the planning for the dance is progressing without Annie which is to say that it’s not progressing at ALL. When Shirley is content to just dim the lights and cover the tables, Jeff vocalizes that perhaps they do need some sort of theme… and then Chang chimes in with an idea: “bear down for mid-terms.” The trio has utterly no idea what he means and when they begin to loudly question him and ask him to explain further, Chang begins to sob and talk about how he just wants to be seen as a person with ideas, treated the same as everyone else and not thought of as “crazy.” The breakdown clearly has an effect on Jeff, Shirley, and Duncan who agree to the “bear down for midterms” theme to appease the man. And… that’s about as deep as this story will go. Emotional manipulation to get what you want, for the win! Perhaps, too, the reason I didn’t care as much for this episode as others was that Jeff was forced into a C-plot for the episode. I don’t remember the last time – if ever – he was in a C-plot.

Hickey agrees to talk to his contact at IT and they meet with guest-star Paget Brewster, who is confused about the duo’s request. It is then that Annie offers a bribe. Bob demanded a bribe, but Annie’s playing all of her cards in order to get what she wants. Of course, those cards come at a price: the head of IT wants better parking, so Annie agrees to talk to the head of parking, so long as Deborah fulfills their request. She grows formidable, as she oft does in these sorts of circumstances, and Hickey glances at her. He’s growing more concerned by the moment at the progression of Annie’s behavior from sweet-talking, honest young woman to demanding and forceful (and in way over her head in a web of power and hierarchy). The head of parking agrees to let Deborah have a better spot… but not before his request is fulfilled. It’s a seemingly insignificant one – having someone (see: himself) in charge of the bulletin boards to ensure they stay neat and organized. Hickey’s been on the ropes and knows that something is amiss when the head of parking explains that his job is threatened by carpoolers. And carpoolers are organized by ride chairs, who just so happen to post on bulletin boards.

Here’s where Hickey knows they’ve gone too far. He knows they have, of course, because they’re trapped. Annie’s mission was centered around the idea that bulletin boards meant something to the students at Greendale – that they were representative of a larger vision. And Annie now has a choice: she can sacrifice her larger vision to win (i.e. what she did in “Intro to Political Science” and nearly did in “Basic Lupine Urology”), or she can realize that there are limits. She can realize that she’s crossed a point of no return and that she needs to cling to her values and vision. But Annie’s judgment is clouded by her desire to prove herself and to win, so she agrees to the parking head’s terms and decides to talk to the dean.

In the cafeteria, Neil enters just as the gang is finished hanging the last of their “bear down for midterms” decorations and the man is horrified at the bears and the cupcakes and party hats. Apparently that morning in Wisconsin, a bear mauled people at a birthday party. It’s just then that Chang remembers that he heard the idea and it must have seeped into his brain, masquerading as his own. Ruh-roh.

Dean Pelton and Annie are eating fajitas (“MY FAJITAS!”) and toasting with margaritas over Annie’s new plan when Hickey warns her not to go down the road she’s about to. He tells her that he presumed she would have given up the escapades when she saw how complex they were. Instead, he notes that she “opened a bottling plant.” And while Annie rails against Hickey’s do-nothing attitude and his grumpiness and bitterness over the system, Hickey speaks some hard truth to Annie: in forgoing her morals and values, she made Greendale dirtier… not better. She didn’t save it; she doomed it and the people within it. That truth hits Annie hard, as she rails from the notion that her ambition for something so good would end up causing her to do something so bad.

Dejected, Annie heads to the cafeteria in hopes, I am sure, of seeing something wonderful. Instead, she sees a bunch of dogs and a banner reading “Fat Dog for Midterms.” Too exhausted to really consider exactly what the group has done, and worn down further by their emotional manipulation into accepting the idea, Annie goes along with the theme and the cafeteria is filled with people later that night for the dance. At the dance, Abed and the sweet deaf girl are enjoying each others’ company. He’s connecting to someone emotionally, the first time he’s made the effort to outside of his friendship with Troy (and minus his escapades with Rachel, the coat check girl). Unfortunately for Abed, no good deed goes unpunished and the deaf young woman begins to rattle off spoilers for Bloodlines of Conquest. Britta approaches, revealing that she paid the young woman to befriend Abed and then drop the spoiler bombs and honestly it’s the worst thing Britta Perry has ever done on this series.

Abed actually made a human connection and Britta destroyed it for the sake of her own personal gain. Not only that, but she destroyed Abed’s friendship, potential relationship, and his emotional stability not just so she would win but so he would LOSE. I just cannot accept her behavior, especially because he begins to tear up. To her credit, she feels some remorse but it’s too little way too late for that, as Abed leaves the cafeteria. There, he runs into Rachel, who was one of the best parts of the gas leak year. She tells him that she’s been around but that he didn’t call. He tells her that it was during the gas leak year… but it was still inexcusable of him. And where Britta regressed in this episode, Abed progressed at the end. He recognized his flaws and his shortcomings. He noted that he can be selfish and stupid and inconsiderate, but that he doesn’t want to be defined that way. So he tells Rachel that he wants to have dinner with her, not to try and make up for the year in which he refused to call her but to start fresh.

There’s a montage then, of Hickey looking at his bulletin board and Annie gazing sadly at the empty space on the cafeteria wall (and Bob and Deborah finding ways and/or being frustrated with their current circumstances). Hickey then makes a decision because although Annie may not have been entirely right or pure in her motivations toward the end of their caper, he knows how deeply she cares about the school. He knows what fulfilling a project means to her – that it will always mean more than just putting up a bulletin board; that it’s something larger to her than that. And so with a drill and his own bulletin board in hand, he walks into the dance and hangs it on the wall while Annie looks on in genuine appreciation.

And then Dean Pelton sics some janitors on Hickey for doing so and Annie jumps onto one of their backs (only to be pried off by Jeff, with Duncan’s assistance). Hickey and Annie both made gestures of apology to one another right then. Hickey put up the board not because he believed Annie to be right about everything, but because he believed her to be right about what mattered. And Annie literally jumping to Hickey’s defense showed him just how much she truly does respect him.

It’s a sweet moment when they say “thank you” to one another that you almost forget Hickey once detested Annie enough to give her imaginary minuses in class. Maybe the point of “Analysis of Cork-Based Networking” isn’t that we have to always understand or agree with our friends and their motivators. Hickey doesn’t need to agree with Annie completely in order to support her. But now she knows that he has her back, regardless of whether or not her ideas make sense to him. At the end of the day, I think that she appreciates that more than anything, though. Don’t you?

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
  • “Is deforestation on the list?”
  • “I don’t care enough to lie, so no.”
  • “Chang, your last idea was to murder.”
  • “… Is there a dot I’m not connecting?”
  • Alison’s delivery of “EVERYTHING” should earn her an Emmy.
  • “Annie Edison doesn’t get nothing done.”
  • “This got Sorkin-y.”
  • The breaking news ticker at the bottom of the screen Hickey is watching is so devastating – “Levar Burton and non-celebrity companion captured by pirates in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Sadly this is the final episode of Community for a month. NBC will now become Olympic-game central, so be sure to tune into all the cool winter sports that I’m not nearly coordinated enough to know how to do. See you back in this tag in a month, friends! :)


  1. Did this episode feel like a response to Herstory of Dance + Guest Stars!? I really thought this was meant to put Britta's character back to season 3's level, flesh out Hickey (and with Annie's drive, he would be forced to continue where he would have otherwise given up), and show how difficult is it for Abed to connect with people without dwelling on Troy's absence. Real life has lots of people where if not for a misstep people could actually make a connection. Abed's misstep with Britta led to Britta's misstep against Abed, and it ends up disconnecting Abed from the girl he was getting to know.

    Unless Dan's plan is to put Abed in a really miserable place to be pulled out of by the end of the season, the Abed/Britta story makes no sense, or worse, it was just lashing out to the "gas leak" season to show that Britta is really awful and that Abed is really disconnected from reality.

    I hope the pirate news is just Dan building material for the future. If Troy doesn't inherit Pierce's fortune, Pierce, as a subject, seems lost for the show. The character might still have legs if they are able to get a 6th season and a Donald Glover return, even if it is for just one episode.

  2. I think you forget that both Britta and Jeff are defined as capable of petty vindictiveness.
    As I remember, they sought to get vengeance on a couple of 16 year olds. After her
    purse was searched in Cooperative Calligraphy (i.e. Annie's missing pen), she "enjoyed"
    the discomfort of the others as the spotlight shifted to them and they were uncomfortable.
    Let's not forgot her whole competitive "i-love-you-more game" with Jeff at the beginning of
    season two in Anthropology 101. She can get so wrapped up in it that she can loose sight
    of how far she is going.

    As for this being a response to Herstory of Dance, I don't see it. Unlike the people who are
    enraged, petty and snide about the 4th season, Dan Harmon doesn't have the screen/story
    time to waste on denigrating the show runners of season 4.

    We will probably see more news of Troy and LeVar's adventures in the future, but that is
    likely to be just background jokes until they need some plot point to motivate some reaction
    from the people still in Greendale.


    1. While I do agree that every study group member is prone to be petty and vindictive at times, it's rather disconcerting that we had an entire back half of an episode in "Geothermal Escapism" that celebrated Britta's ability to understand Abed and do everything she could to be there for him... and then we turned around and had this episode? It was a very odd decision, given the progress she made in the last episode to have her so unnecessarily MEAN in this one.

      I didn't see this episode necessarily as a response to "Herstory of Dance." I was just baffled at the literal character progression and regression 180 within the course of one episode.