Friday, April 18, 2014

5x13 "Basic Sandwich" (I'll Be A Story in Your Head)

"Basic Sandwich"
Original Airdate: April 17, 2014

"I'll be a story in your head. But that's okay: we're all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh? Because it was, you know. It was the best." -- Doctor Who

When you think about your life being a story, the most important question is this: what story do you want to tell? Sometimes I think about (when I’m feeling extra morbid) what my friends and family will remember about me after I’m gone. What kind of story did I tell during my life on Earth that would echo long after I’m gone? The Eleventh Doctor made the wise observation that we all – each one of us – are just stories in the end and it’s true. So if today was your last day, what would you want remembered? Or, alternatively, if this your last episode as a television show, what message would you want to send? At this moment in time, it’s uncertain as to whether or not Community will be returning for that fated sixth season (and a movie). So “Basic Sandwich” is meant to serve as both a season finale and potential series finale. When you have a show runner with his own story circle, there’s a lot of pressure to tie up loose ends, mend fences, and bring closure while still remaining true to your characters in every episode, but there’s this added pressure for Harmon going into “Basic Sandwich.” It’s the question that I asked at the beginning of this post: what story do you want to tell? Do you want to tell a recycled story of a group of ragtag friends who manage to band together, outwit the bad guys, and save the day? Do you want to bring closure to your audience in terms of romantic pairings? Do you make your final episode an adventure or a subdued tribute to your characters? How do you handle the final page when you’re not sure if there will be an epilogue or not?

I’ve thought a lot about the fifth season of Community and I’ve made my feelings pretty clear: I don’t think it was astounding. I don’t think it was superb. Heck, I don’t even think it was GREAT. It was an okay season with some stand-out moments and some stand-out performances. But the writing was uneven. The characters never progressed beyond the assigned personalities and tropes that made them who they were in season one. Troy left. The dynamic shifted. Community is not the same show that it once was but this season felt like… it felt like it was a middle-aged woman who was still dressing like the twenty year-old she once was. The clothes didn’t remotely fit anymore, but she still tried to squeeze into them. Community evolved over the years and while last season was rocky at its best moments, I expected more from this season because of Harmon’s return. I expected a central theme that progressed the characters. I expected them to learn and to evolve, not to merely circle around the same themes and plots from years past like a hamster on a wheel or a person on a gym treadmill.

So if “Basic Sandwich” is the series finale of Community… what did I think of it, exactly? I thought it was a decent farewell to an okay season but that it was – when it boiled down to it – reminiscent of a hamster on a wheel. The study group returned to their old habits: Jeff being insecure and then needing the study group to remind him of what love really is, Britta being… Britta, Abed being meta, Shirley being a sidekick, Hickey being gruff, Annie being hung-up on Jeff, Dean being slightly-less-creepy than usual actually, Chang being evil (again). The season finale though does have some added bonuses that I enjoyed: it clearly explains exactly why Jeff and Britta acted the way that they did and it explained who Abed and Annie were in relation to those actions. There was meta commentary, which I appreciated, and there was SOME closure on the romantic/character development fronts. (In my opinion, it was too little too late with the characterization of Annie Edison.)

Overall, we were left in the same place we started and the same place we’ve always started: these people need Greendale because they’re terrified of who they are without it. And that’s fine… for a year. But after five years it becomes a bit more than worrisome that they cannot function as actual and real members of society without the school. And what, exactly, has Jeff learned if he is supposed to be in this “having changed” stage at the season’s end?

These questions and more ponderings as we discuss the plot below the cut!

So as we learned last week, the study group discovered a confession from Greendale’s first dean that could lead them all to the rumored treasure of famed computer professor Borchert. So they gather together blueprints, locate where Borchert’s computer lab and office were sealed off by the first dean, and decide to go on a quest for it and the buried treasure within. All the while, Jeff is attempting to stop the group’s shenanigans, insisting that they all need to accept that Greendale is over and they have to move on from it.

Imma let you finish, Jeff Winger, but your character development these past few episodes was some of the weakest ever. I kind of wish Greendale hadn’t been saved as it always is, because then – maybe then – Jeff would learn that his decisions have real-life consequences instead of just doing what he always does: getting scared and running to the first familiar thing he sees (scotch, cartoons, Britta). Jeff’s solution is to “move on” with Britta who, need I remind you, he’s only moving forward with because she’s the last little bit of Greendale that makes him feel like his journey has been circular. He berates the rest of the group for not growing up when his idea of “growing up” is rather warped because it means living in the past. (As much as my Jeff/Annie shipper heart did melt at a few things in this episode, I’ve come to realize that Jeff is way too messed up and selfish and stupid to deserve Annie at the moment. Hmm, I wonder if Dr. Rich is still around somewhere…)

Jeff and Britta announce their plans to get married, to the disbelief of everyone (especially Annie) and at that moment the most important thing isn’t acknowledging the stupidity of their actions, but finding out what’s beneath the trap door that Abed just located and believes to lead straight to Borchert’s lab/office. And they need to move quickly because Chang, who might as well just be named Judas for how quick he is to betray everyone, and the school board members figure out what the group is up to. So Jeff, Britta, Dean Pelton, Abed, and Annie descend into the trap door and Shirley, Hickey, and a recently electrocuted Duncan stay behind as a distraction. And that’s… basically all those three do this episode.

Annie Edison is the voice of reason as the study group members head through the deserted halls of the old Greendale campus because this is the season finale and apparently season finales are when everyone decides Annie Edison needs to be awesome. (Sorry, #bittertrain.) I was afraid that “Basic Sandwich” would have her fluttering her eyelashes, weeping and wailing in the corner a la “Anthropology 101” over Jeff/Britta and – to my actual surprise – that only happened for a brief flicker in time. Once in the halls of old Greendale, the gang splits up with the newly engaged couple splitting off and Annie taking a moment to try to compose herself. But that’s where Abed, our mouthpiece for the show, comes in. And I think that the reasons he had the lines that he did – lines where he explained to Annie that Jeff and Britta would never last, romantically and that their engagement and impending marriage was based on their mutual fear of leaving Greendale and desperation to cling to pieces of what they once knew – was to make it crystal clear to all of the audience that this whole Jeff and Britta thing wasn’t founded on romance or love or even mutual respect – it was founded on the adult equivalent of a child sucking its thumb: familiarity.

One of the beautiful moments that I truly appreciated in “Basic Sandwich” was the moment that Abed tells Annie: “It’s not just their [Jeff and Britta’s] show; it’s OUR show.” The sincerity and comfort with which Abed delivers this piece of advice and encouragement to Annie is wonderful. He’s reminding her – and all of us – that everyone is important and that no study group member, no romantic pairing, and no platonic pairing for that matter is above any other.

The group finds a room that leads to a seeming dead end, which is where Jeff and Britta begin to amp up their “romance” again by holding hands. Notice something important, however: they only hold hands and profess their desire to get married when they believe there is no hope left. There’s a dead end? They figure that they are each other’s only way out, metaphorically. But when Abed presses a button on a jukebox to reveal a hidden door, Jeff and Britta’s hands fall apart. Why? Because there is HOPE behind that door. And hope means that they no longer need each other because they have something better and more preferable and safe. And behind this secret door? Borchert’s lab with the gold he used inside of his robot. And – GASP – Borchert himself!

Back upstairs, the board members and Chang are trying to interrogate Shirley and Hickey into revealing where the others went. It’s not working, even with Richie’s super special mind powers. (They’re a thing, guys. A weird thing.) In the secret world of 1970s Greendale, the gang is trying convince Borchert to give them his robot full of gold in order for them to meet the deadline and save the school, but the computer professor isn’t having any of it and the group tries to restrain him. It’s Annie, however, who speaks up and ANNIE who gets to deliver the Winger speech. Because it’s Annie who decides to place her wants behind those of the others – if Jeff wants to make the decision to marry Britta, no matter how self-destructive and stupid that decision may be… well, who is she to tell anyone that their dream is invalid or somehow inferior? And you know what? I’m glad that it’s Annie who shakes Jeff off, possibly for good, in this way. She needed closure three years ago. She needed THIS line and THIS conversation with him amidst all of those long looks and stolen glances. She needed to be assertive and make eye contact because when she does, it achieves results.

But for me, this speech – while completely awesome, no doubt – was too little too late. Too much of Annie Edison has been lost in recent years, dissolved in pools of wishy-washy emotional nonsense with Jeff that leads to nowhere but GIFs on Tumblr. She’s lost that spitfire attitude that we saw in the first season. She has become a supporting character in her own story when her background is so rich in potential. (The same goes for Shirley, too.) And that’s sad. It really and truly is. Anyway, after Annie’s speech, Borchert decides that if the study group is willing to leave him alone, they can have all of his leftover cash – millions of it – and save their school that way. The group celebrates because YAY we’re finally gonna be fine.

Except that the school board members choose that exact moment to interrupt, snag the bag of cash, reveal their diabolical plan to sell the school to Subway still, and then depart, shutting the secret door behind them and destroying Borchert’s robot which – spoiler alert – controlled pretty much everything in that lab, including the secret door. So the group is trapped with no way out and no way to save their school. But the good news is that the computer’s emotional component still works. That’s good because that’s actually how the study group will be saved: if they can somehow generate enough passion and emotion to be quantified by the computer, it will begin to function again. In between explanations and miniature rants about technology, meanwhile, Borchert reveals that he actually STARTED Greendale and he has that fact in writing. And that is what motivates Jeff to try and open the door through exhibiting an exceptional amount of emotional passion.

He does this by thinking about each of the people in the room and channeling those thoughts into feelings. He recalls things about each person – tiny, seemingly insignificant moments – that are weighted in emotion and passion: he remembers Dean Pelton being overjoyed that Jeff had returned to Greendale to save him and the school; he thinks about Britta saying “let’s get out of here and never look back” (a desire that is still within Jeff, really, and is focused on Britta’s passion), he thinks about Abed making meta commentary, and then he thinks about the “Milady”/ “Milord” exchange with Annie. All of those combined – all of those emotional, passionate memories that are firmly rooted in who Jeff was and is as a person – are strong enough to get the computer working again and open the door. No one but Dean Pelton really knows what happened or what Jeff did in order to get the door to open and I love that it essentially stays an unspoken exchange between the two of them.

Upstairs, the school board is prepared to sell Greendale once and for all when… oh, look, the study group rides in on their metaphorical white horses and saves the day (again)! While there are few things that I agree with Todd at The AV Club on regarding Community, I do agree with his belief that, perhaps, the show has begun to run out of stories and that is why it should end after this year. That’s not to say that there aren’t brilliant episodes it could create in the future, but… how many “save Greendale” seasons will we end up having? How many times will these characters keep running around the wheel? Will they ever learn to face the real world without the security of this college? (Which, let’s face it, isn’t really furthering their educations or options in life much). I, to be honest, have hit my quota of “the school is in danger and we need to save it” finales. When we keep almost losing Greendale every year, it diminishes the significance of the story. Because we know, without fail, that the study group will always ride in at the eleventh hour to save it.

But the fight isn’t over, as the school board reminds the study group: Greendale is still broke, forever on the chopping block, and unmarketable. … Please tell me everyone picked up on the meta commentary so that I don’t have to spell it out? Good? Good. Dean Pelton proudly announces that he calls that constant state of flux “Wednesday” and the school celebrates with some Dave Matthews and dancing. Jeff and Britta fight and then gleefully call of their wedding and subsequent marriage (they wouldn’t even last six minutes, Abed, let alone six episodes).

Things get awfully meta (we’re talking complete demolition of the fourth wall here) when Abed tells Annie that they’ll be back. “It’s canon,” he says, looking directly at the camera. And I’m all for meta but I still like to have one foot in fiction at all times so that was just a TAD over the edge for me. Annie proudly announces, though, that Greendale has lived to see another day and possibly another year. Whether or not you loved or hated this season, I think the message that I took away from this season of Community echoes like the ringing of church bells: these people are still not okay after five years. They haven’t really changed that much because they still desperately need this school. But Annie seems excited by this idea – this whole new adventure next year – and by all that has happened, so they celebrate.

Because if Greendale is saved, then I guess that means they all are too.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
  • I know it sounds like I hated the finale (I didn’t actually hate it), but I still respect the time and effort and all of the collaboration it took to make this season and series and episode what it was. So thanks, writers and everyone who worked on this show. And if this is the series finale, I’ll have a special thank-you post for the actors and writers and producers at some point. And if it’s not… disregard this sentence and put away that box of tissues.
  • “Wait! The sparks may be spelling out the next clue.”
  • “What does this look like? An hour-long episode of The Office?”
  • “Try every button. Just try every single button ever.”
  • “Sorry, I lose track of how big I’m getting.” “… I don’t.” #gpoy
  • “… You know what? You guys can have my food and water.”
Well, my dear friends and faithful readers, if this is indeed the series finale, then I want to just thank you all for taking this spectacularly amazing ride with me. I started this blog in 2011 and I honestly didn’t think that it would go as far as it has. I’ve expanded and grown and this is no longer a Community-centric blog, but mark my words that the show will ALWAYS have a special place in my heart not only for starting me out as a blogger but also for introducing me to all of the amazing folks I have met along my journey. Sometimes we disagree and we argue and say stupid things on Twitter. Sometimes we cry and we laugh and sometimes we laugh so hard that we cry. And I wouldn’t trade you guys for all of the marbles in the world. So thank you. You all know who you are and you make my days brighter just by tweeting and texting and G-chatting. And if I can't say it today, when can I say it? I love you guys. <3

And if this is not the end – if we are back next year – then I’ll be back with you. I can’t promise that I’ll love every episode and I can’t promise that I won’t be bitter over how things should have been. But if we’re back for a sixth season, you can count on me to be right there with you.

Until then – whenever THEN is – folks, have a fantastic weekend and happy Easter! :)


  1. I liked this episode more than you did, but I agree that the season overall felt unsatisfying. So much more could have been done with the characters and story, and instead we got a lot of gimmick episodes.

    If I were writing season 6, I would start it with Annie, Abed, Britta, and Shirley all graduating. Jeff, the dean, and anyone else they manage to get back would still be working at Greendale, so that connection would stay, but the final season would be about launching them into life post-Greendale.

    Oh, and I read the AV Club review... the "shush" scene is an example of why he wants Jeff and Britta together? Because I saw that as the perfect example of why they CAN'T be together. And I guess that's why shippers never see eye-to-eye.

    1. "Jeff and Britta shushing each other was further proof of why they are one of my two or three favorite character pairings on the show."

      Todd VDW isn't exactly saying here that he ships Jeff/Britta (although I think he has mentioned in the past that he does like them romantically) so much as he is saying they make for great TV when together. Anyway, I agree with both you and Todd - Jeff and Britta are amusing when paired up together, but in ways that show they wouldn't work romantically.

    2. Yeah, I'd read other reviews by him and took it in the shipping way. I love Britt and Jeff as friends, which is part of why I wish the constant back-and-forth ship tease would stop so that they could just BE friends. If Harmon really values friendship stories (which I think he does), then he does need to firmly establish or sink his 'ships.

  2. I got a completely different read from the episode, particularly Jeff's emotional "power" moment. The machine needed a burst of emotion, and he only had it with Annie. To hide how he felt, he looked at the Dean and immediately regretted looking at him when the Dean "knowingly" responded. Is it love for Annie in the romantic sense, as a protector, or a combination, I think that is his conflict that he struggles to understand.

    What were the major issues this season? New characters, Donald Glover, Chevy Chase, and the inability of the show to move forward. They haven't broken our emotional connection to these characters, but God, they sure seemed to have tried. Yvette was practically missing this year. The whole Sexy Cat thing was awkward. Abed is best as Abed. The guest stars were poured on like too much syrup on a pancake (I'm looking at you "Cork-Based Networking" and Koogler). The "B" and "C" stories were sometimes excessively used, and the themed episodes were at least one too many for 13 episodes.

    There were some really good episodes. Cooperative Polygraphy was really good. VCR maintenance gave us what has become one of the better pairings of Annie and Abed. The DnD episode missed on the ending, but nailed every previous moment.

    Almost every episode had at least one really good moment. Abed comforting Annie was great in Basic Sandwich. Duncan with Britta in the car was great too. There were just too few of those moments that showed why these people still spent time together.

    If season 6 happens. Grab Fa..bulous Neil, grab Lenard (Abed/Annie roomie?), grab Vicki, and make working them into the group the issue. New character development is just too much wasted time even as much as I liked the Hickey character.


    1. Matt: Thanks so much for the comment! To your first point, perhaps I'm just a jaded Jeff/Annie shipper but I'm not reading into that scene too much, especially because of the "shameful" look. We've had Bobrow and Harmon tell us over and over again each season that Jeff cares about Annie but is ashamed of it. This scene - if read that way - was absolutely no different than any other scene in which Jeff "realizes" his feelings for Annie and then responds by feeling disgusted with himself. To me, this was a scene about the entire group but I don't think Harmon put that moment with Annie in there by accident. Think about it: since he doesn't know if "Basic Sandwich" is the final episode of Community ever, he had to placate every shipper and make them feel like they had a scene in the finale to cling to. We got those little JA moments, Jeff/Britta shippers had their moments, and even Abed/Annie shippers had that heart-to-heart scene. He was throwing everyone bones, just in case this was the end. In my opinion, it was nothing more than that.

      My major issue in regards to season five is this: how did the characters GROW this year? Arguably, none of them (with maybe the exception of Abed) did. Annie didn't grow at all, really (eleventh hour "revelations" don't really count); Britta didn't grow or change; Shirley remained exactly the same as she was in every other season; Hickey changed slightly but... not really. Furthermore, what did JEFF learn this season that he hasn't learned in any other season? His love for Greendale? Been there, done that. His love for the group? Again, he came to that realization years ago. If anything, this season's message was that these people need Greendale because they literally cannot function WITHOUT it. How does that make them any better than when they began in the pilot, then? If anything, it makes them worse because Greendale - while a safe place - should be a place where these people grow and change and then move on. Instead, the study group is in the same kind of toxic relationship with Greendale that they are with each other: they cannot be complete, whole people without it.

      And I don't know... I didn't quite like that message this year, as it seemed to negate everything the four seasons had been building toward. "Advanced Introduction to Finality" proved to us that Jeff was ready to move on and that he accepted it. "Repilot" took us right back to the beginning again with this weird dependence on the school and the group for his self-assurance and worth. (And maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I don't know.)

      I wasn't a fan of the majority of the back half episodes, but I do agree that "Cooperative Polygraphy" was a standout and "Geothermal Escapism" is probably one of the series' best and definitely this season's best. But overall, I was extremely underwhelmed with this season. And, honestly, I think I've taken off my rose-colored Dan Harmon-shaped glasses, which is why I'm seeing those issues. People heralded this season as amazing because Dan Harmon was back. But people don't want to admit that this show stumbled even WITH him. Still, if there IS a sixth season, I really need the show to get back to writing the women in Community like they should be written (instead of giving them their "token" episodes). And I want the study group to stop circling the hamster wheel on Greendale and actually see them be successful outside of the school.

      THAT is my wish-list, haha.

    2. Except for the Geothermal comment (not in my top 5), I agree with your last full paragraph word for word. The Abed and Annie dynamic was really good, and I could watch that every day. Okay, I really just like those two no matter what they are doing.

      Harmon's desire to work without an end in mind is really showing its weaknesses. I know he felt like he needed to re-ground the characters, but I thought he spent too much time redoing season 4 in his image and giving away precious screen time to too many guests. How much better would "App Developments" been if Abed had the "Koogler" role that he later, humbly, regretted only to be kept in the system? It isn't that I disliked what was done as much as what it cost the core group that I really wanted to watch.

    3. I could watch Abed and Annie have their own side adventures all the time. Maybe they can include Shirley in the next one, haha. What I REALLY want is a good, solid Annie/Britta/Shirley A-story. That was on my season five wishlist and it'll be on a wishlist until this show ends.

      I think you make a good point -- the problem is when you have such a pre-determined end in mind (the graduation) and then are not around to see that happen, you have to rework how you imagine your ending. (Horrible to bring up Ryan Murphy in a Community post but he has to do the same thing now with Cory Monteith being gone: he had a vision for his final season and even final SCENE and now has to change all of that). The problem is what you just said: he spent a lot of time this year trying to "one-up" season four and prove, I suppose, that it was better with him back. And at the hands of some uneven writing and extraneous guest stars and just TOO many random stories and homage episodes, those characters - the ones we fell in love with years ago - got lost. We literally know little to nothing more about them this year or can connect with them than we did any other year.

      I disliked how the season seemingly had no trajectory -- it was a string of decent to okay episodes that was building toward an eleventh hour battle we didn't (or I didn't) care all that much about. The whole theme of saving Grendale was all well and good, but we didn't really see the group struggle with any outside forces, apart from a passing mention in "Repilot" about how the school needed saving. I know that every year the Greendale students take a class that ties in with the theme but I felt like last year's theme of history was integrated a lot better than whatever the message of "save Greendale" was supposed to be.

      That's all to say that I still love this show for what it was and if there IS a season six, I hope that the cracks and flaws are at least examined and patched up before plowing forward.

  3. Writer confirmed that it was Jeff's emotion for Annie, right?!

  4. Am I the only one who thinks Annie speech more like holding on than actually letting go?

  5. I just want to come on here saying that Community isn't dead yet. Season six is coming our way!
    Also, I LOVE your blog. It's every show I ever watched and then some. :)

  6. Just got into Community and, naturally, Jeff and Annie. Dan Harmon confirmed on the DVD commentary that Jeff loves Annie. He said: “Clearly he loves Annie, no it’s not just because he looked at everybody. I think it’s Annie, I’ll be direct about that. He looked at her, and his heart opened the door.”

    What are your thoughts about that statement?

    1. Hello anon! I've been thinking about your question for a while and here's what I've come up with: my thoughts about that statement would be more positive if I had any faith that Dan Harmon would follow through with/not entirely disregard that statement.

      My problem with Harmon & the writers for this show is that they like to bait shippers -- specifically Jeff/Annie ones -- a lot. There's a difference between baiting readers just to placate them and actually giving weight and development to romance. "Community" has always done terribly in the romance department -- no one on staff seems to know HOW to write a pairing that doesn't eventually dissolve (see: Shirley/her marriage -- both times; Jeff/Britta; Jeff/Annie; Troy/Britta, etc.) and cause one or more of the characters in the pairing to regress. So I don't trust them, at this point, to -- even IF Harmon would go there -- write Jeff/Annie well. It would be fine for an episode and then shot to crap like Troy/Britta was.

      Apart from the fact that I don't have faith in the writers to know how to write romance on their show, I also don't think that Dan Harmon will ever follow through with the statement above. He's been interviewed before and asked Jeff/Annie questions. And Harmon waxes poetic about how important their relationship is one moment and then insists that Annie has a "schoolgirl crush" on him the next, which devalues her feelings and emotions (not to mention her maturity and growth on the series).

      SO to answer your question, anon, what I think of that statement is that it would be all well and good and cute and nice... if I believed it meant something or that it would go anywhere. I will eat my words later on, gladly, if Harmon & co. manage to actually pick up that important "revelation" of Jeff's and carry it into season six. But in my experience, they don't like getting their hands messy with romance and I doubt that'll change.

    2. P.S. The entire quote is never taken in context: "He loves Annie. […] No, it is not just because he looked at everybody. I think you know it’s Annie. I’ll be direct about that. He looked at her, and his heart opened the door. What a comedy.

      Bolded for emphasis because that's a clear indication of the bitterness that Harmon has toward romance (and romance/shipping ruining sitcoms).

    3. Thanks for answering me! I suppose I'm baffled as to why they wouldn't captalise on the chemistry between the two actors (like what Arrow did with Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards) so I'll just have to see how S6 plays out. Won't hold my breath, though.

    4. You're welcome! Oh, anon, you and I wonder the exact same thing. The thing is that they HAVE used the Jeff/Annie chemistry to anchor episodes (think Conspiracy Theories; Intro to Political Science; Basic Lupine Urology) but have always baited the viewers into shipper moments rather than developing an actual story between them, if that makes sense.

      Yeah, I won't hold my breath for season six but I suppose we will just have to see how everything plays out and whether that revelation is pursued or dropped altogether.

    5. That makes perfect sense! And I agree with you completely - they have used it but too fleetingly, in my opinion. Why not maximise something so naturally fantastic? I get that they don't want a single relationship to run the show but this thing shouldn't be hidden and pulled out occasionally.