Tuesday, April 14, 2015

6x06 "Basic Email Security" (What A Hack)


"Basic Email Security"
Original Airdate: April 14, 2015

Do you ever look back on some of your friendships -- be it a year ago, two years, or ten -- and think: "Why was I ever friends with them in the first place?" I know that I do. In high school, you think that your friends and your cliques are the most important things in the world. And you treat them like they are: like people are irreplaceable and you'll be friends forever. And sometimes you will. My best friend of nearly thirteen years is the person who sat next to me on the bus in middle school. But a lot of friendships don't last and the majority of people I went to high school with, apart from a handful, are now strangers to me. So when I look back on my time there, sometimes I wonder why I wasted so much of my time and energy trying to please people who -- eight years down the road -- I would never really stay friends with. I think that the goal of friendship is to be united by something other than a similar circumstance or a similar, but temporary, situation in life. My best friend isn't my best friend because we spent five years together in chorus classes or because we lived in the same neighborhood.

No, my best friend is my best friend because she's been beside me through every season of my life, the good and the bad. She's watched me move away to college and saw me move back home. She's been beside me when I've lost people really close to me. She's been there for all of the inside jokes. She's been there for the break-ups. But I've been there for her, too: for the times she's felt uncertain about her future, the times she's needed someone to cheer her up, the times she's just needed someone to vent to. Friendship is all about reciprocation and a deeper level of understanding. I have a lot of acquaintances on social media, but not a lot of friends. Friendship means a deeper level of connection than just live-tweeting the same show or retweeting a funny post. So yes, it's easy to look back on people we used to be friends with and think: "How was I ever friends with them?" And the reason why we do that is because we've grown and evolved and changed and the other person hasn't. Or we realize that our "friendship" was based on superficial things to begin with. Friendships like those don't last. They can't.

Which is why "Basic Email Security" rubs me the absolute wrong way. Deborah talked last week about how she struggled to find a common thread or a theme between the A and B-stories in the episode. This week, the show did the work for us and told us -- flat-out -- that there was no real lesson to be learned.


 I had a lot of problems with this episode and more than just problems, I had a lot of confusion and anger. But the one question that bubbled to the forefront of my mind after the episode ended was this: "WHY are these people still friends with each other?"

Recently, in my discussion of Arrow, I talked about the similar qualm: I noted that after "Suicidal Tendencies" aired, I was unsure as to why Felicity Smoak would choose to be with a man who only trusted her because Oliver told him he needed to. At the end of "Basic Email Security" I had to ask myself: "Why does the study group want to continue to be friends with one another anyway?" The study group was terrible to one another in this episode. Like, downright cruel and horrible and invasive. And -- as the ending reminded us -- there was no real point or lesson to be gleaned from it all, anyway! Yay! This was my issue with "G.I. Jeff," if you'll recall: doing an homage or a parody simply for the sake of WANTING to do an homage or a parody and then trying to shoehorn a lesson or a plot? That's a terrible idea. And it's a dumb idea. And it makes your episode flat and it's a waste of my time.

Sorry, is my rage showing yet?

Let's talk about the plot a little bit and then talk about the idea of this being a "bottle episode" (which this was not, at all, but had similar elements... not similar enough for my liking, but okay). The plot is pretty simple, I guess: Greendale's email has been hacked and the lunchlady's personal emails have been leaked (this entire episode is a spoof on the Sony hacks, most notably because Joel McHale was one of the people who had his hacked). The hacker group says that the activities committee will have all of their personal information leaked, too, if they don't stop an offensive comedian from performing at the school. Everyone in the study group besides Britta, meanwhile, is enjoying reading the hilarious contents of the lunchlady's emails. And they're justifying it, too, by saying that they're not violating her personal information -- if they're reading an article about it, technically they're just reading the news.

"Basic Email Security" was all about the idea of privacy and it's something Britta "power to the people" Perry cares a lot about. She tells the study group that they all need to stand up to the hackers and put their own security on the line in order to protect the right for the people to do what they want to do. She gives a hilariously impassioned freedom of speech monologue and then a press conference about the fact that the school is moving forward with the performance but that after that, they'll no longer ask the comedian to return. Britta is all about giving the people control and not letting one group oppress another. Yadda yadda freedom, America, government, whatever. Everyone supports her (some more reluctantly than others and no one, really, because they believe in her cause) until they realize what, exactly, will be hacked: not just their Greendale accounts, but ALL of their emails.

So that's when the study group makes a pact: they won't look at the leaked emails. They'll stand together. They'll do just what Ted, Marshall, Robin, Lily, and Barney did in the How I Met Your Mother episode "Monday Night Football": they'll avoid information because it'll bring them closer as a unit; they'll be united if they don't look at the leaked information. But Ted, Marshall, Robin, Lily, and Barney tried their hardest to stick to their plan and when they didn't -- when they all failed -- they ended up becoming closer because of it, realizing that the game itself didn't matter and what mattered was that they were celebrating something together.

That's not what happens in "Basic Email Security." Not even a little bit.

You see, the study group... well, they're terrible. They all read each others' emails and they spend a few minutes awkward around each other because they're trying to avoid that fact. This is where the "bottle episode" mentality comes in: what happens in bottle episodes is that you confine characters to a room or a small space and you watch as they clash personalities. It happened in Friends' "The One Where No One's Ready" and it happened in Community's "Cooperative Calligraphy" (mentioned by Abed later in this episode). But "Basic Email Security" isn't a bottle episode apart from that antagonistic element and when you remove the bottle from the bottle episode, all you have left are a bunch of jerks who are horrible human beings to each other. There's not even a real pressure there because was there any doubt that each study group member would spy on someone else? Where's the tension? The episode opened with them gleefully reading the juicy details of a leaked email. Did we have any doubt they would do the same to each other?

See, the problem with this episode was that we should have -- we should have thought the study group would be better, that they would DO better to each other after six years. Abed is the only one who didn't read the emails. Because -- remember all the way back to the Duncan Principle episode, will you? -- when you ask Abed to do something, he generally does it. Because that's how friendship works to him. For the other study group members, that's not the case. They all invade each others' lives. And we learn that they're terrible human beings.

For example, the study group apparently had Annie tested for amphetamines last season because she was acting jittery. I'm going to just stop you right there and do this:


So let me get this straight: we get no mention or acknowledgement of all the pain and suffering that Annie has been through in the past with her drug addiction and rehab and the show decides to always forget that she's more layered and complex, but when it comes time to have her drug addiction used as a cruel joke, it's cool? Remember how everyone in the Arrow fandom was upset that Ray Palmer pinged Felicity Smoak's phone? And that she still dated him?

THE STUDY GROUP HAD ANNIE DRUG-TESTED WITHOUT HER CONSENT, TOOK HER BLOOD, AND SHE'S STILL FRIENDS WITH THEM... WHY?

Annie Edison deserves better than the study group. Felicity Smoak deserves better than Ray Palmer. And it's not even the fact that the group took her blood without her knowledge and tested her because she was "jittery" (dude, caffeine makes me jittery), but it's the fact that the group -- after six years -- wouldn't just ask Annie if she's okay. They wouldn't be compassionate and talk to her first to determine whether or not she's relapsed. It's not like they're her close friends or anything, right? They'd take an isolated moment and use that to test her for drugs. Not because they care about her, but because they're horrible, horrible human beings. Annie Edison has been through a lot and not one person in six years has actually had the decency to ask her about it (presumably because the show never really cares about Annie's past unless it's being used as a joke), so instead they just drug test her without her knowledge.

I literally don't understand what would make Annie want to continue to be friends with the people who tricked her because she acted jittery and LIED to her about what her blood was being used for. I literally cannot wrap my head around why she would want to continue to trust and spend time with those who proved that they don't care about her enough to be upfront and honest with her -- to ask her how she is or have real interaction with and compassion for her.


Speaking of making me hate things, the thing about bottle episodes is that there's always character development. Characters' personalities clash in these episodes because the individuals are confined in a space where they have to interact with others. "Basic Email Security" isn't a bottle episode because inherent personality traits don't clash. There's literally just one, giant personality trait on display: everyone wants to know everyone else's secrets and they do not care if they hurt other people in the process of obtaining them. There's no clashing here like there was in "Cooperative Calligraphy" -- none of Annie's optimism or annoying desire to be right; none of Jeff's cynicism; none of Abed's meta commentary; none of Shirley's prejudices, etc.

Later in the episode, Abed likens their situation in this episode to "Cooperative Calligraphy" and "Cooperative Polygraphy." Those two episodes rhyme and are great examples of bottle episodes where the point to all of the study group's fighting is that they learn something about themselves. In the first example, the study group realizes that they need to trust one another. If they can't do that, there's no way they can walk out of that room and still be friends. So they decide to trust one another and -- I've mentioned this before -- that is the moment the group began to function as a collective unit: as The Greendale Seven. In "Cooperative Polygraphy," secrets spill out when it seems like Pierce is antagonizing the group from the grave. But the group leaves that episode with the realization that Piece's position in the group wasn't to antagonize them -- he genuinely cared about them all and he knew that they needed to get over their grievances if they were ever going to be able to move forward. He wasn't harassing them; he was helping them heal.

"Basic Email Security" functions more like "Intro to Felt Surrogacy" than anything else: it's an episode designed around a constraint that serves to regress the study group members and bring to light all of their horrible traits. There's no real resolution in either story -- the group knows that they all have horrible secrets and both episodes bring those secrets to light but no real progress is made at the end of the episode. Is the study group better off at the end of "Basic Email Security" than they were at the beginning? Not at all. Not even remotely. They hurt each other for the sake of hurting each other -- for the sake of their own selfishness.

Moreover, they don't just hurt each other (that Frankie secret about her dead sister was so brutal that I actually recoiled and cringed; the Jeff and Chang ranking Britta and Annie thing was just another way to dredge up the old love triangle; Elroy's secret was sad, more than anything else), but they use their selfishness to hurt other people too. The study group's stubborn refusal to allow the hackers to "win" causes the hackers to leak all the information for every Greendale student.

Let's just pause and reflect on how terrible everyone is, okay? Because of their unwillingness to admit defeat, the group subjected EVERYONE IN THE ENTIRE SCHOOL to ridicule and torture and invasion of privacy. And the school hates them for it, with good reason. I would hate them for it, too. Remember "Alternative History of the German Invasion"? Okay, since it was season four, maybe you've forgotten: that was a stellar episode about how the study group sees themselves as the victims, constantly, and never as the bullies. But they ARE. They think they're the ones calling all the shots. They act like they only care about themselves. Britta talks a big game about giving power to the people, but the entire episode is about the group selfishly being unable to allow anyone else control that they end up hurting everyone in the process.

That's a thread that connects us back to "Ladders," really, except then the study group actually learned a lesson and felt guilty for what they had done. At the end of "Basic Email Security," the group actually laughs about their inability to glean any real wisdom from the situation. It's fine, right? They screwed up, they hurt the lives of innocent people, and they'll eventually be forgiven. Whatever. No big deal. That's... terrible. That's a terrible "lesson" (I use that term loosely) for Community's sixth season. Is that what Dan Harmon wants me to learn from this episode? That the people I'm supposed to love are actually terrible and selfish human beings? Are we regressing? Aren't these people supposed to be growing and evolving into BETTER people, not WORSE? By the sixth year of the sitcom, you should have a grasp on where your characters have been and where they need to go. "Basic Email Security" laughed at that notion, literally. It told us to look the other way -- that there wasn't a real moral to be learned from the story but that it's okay because it's Community! Look at the lovable little misfits! Everything will be fine next week! Wasn't this episode just so hilarious because it addressed something that actually happened in real life? HAHAHAHA.


Community used to be about people who were messed up and broken but who cared about each other. I don't need the study group to be perfect. Goodness knows they're not. They're nowhere close. But what I needed from "Basic Email Security" was for them to realize -- finally, after years and years -- that their actions have consequences. Real, lasting consequences for not just them, but everyone around them. I needed for them to recognize the fact they can't laugh something off or pretend it doesn't impact them or anyone else. They can't tear each other apart in an episode, let everyone else's lives around them be ruined, and then come back next week pretending nothing happened. Part of Dan Harmon's story circle is "having changed," after all.

But... have they changed? Have they really? If I can glean a lesson from this episode it's that after six years, the study group hasn't changed. In fact, they're worse off than they were in the beginning of the series. At least back then -- back in the pilot episode where everyone is yelling and fighting and stinging each other verbally -- they didn't know each other well enough to care about tearing each other apart, ripping through secrets, and yelling at each other just to hurt.

What's their excuse now?

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:

  • Can you tell that I really hated this episode? I did. But New Girl has some of the best reaction GIFs, so I'm glad I got to utilize them!
  • After everything that happened in this episode, why are these people still friends with each other? They purposefully violated each others' privacy just because they were curious. I think the lesson to be learned is that apparently Abed is the only trustworthy one. And even HE caved, eventually.
  • "Computer no workie."
  • "... No? Just gonna keep the cop you've known for five years at arm's length?" I will say that I did miss Officer Cackowski and was glad he returned, even briefly.
  • "HA. We don't have a -- Oh God, that's us."
  • I want the top that Annie is wearing in the opening of the episode. It's super cute.
  • Jeff referred to what he and Britta did as "dating" even though in the fourth season (I think it was "Intro to Knots" but someone correct me if I'm wrong or making this up), he specifically said that what they did was NOT dating. So way to go, show, for simultaneously making me hate the dredging back up of Jeff/Britta and Jeff in general.
  • "Chang was our teacher." "WHAT?" "Yeah and frankly, I haven't been well-utilized since." LOOKS LIKE SOMEONE WAS READING OUR REVIEWS.
  • "Daybreak" made a reappearance and it was about the only good part of this episode.
  • Abed called season two the "golden age" of their adventures and I disagree entirely. Season one was the golden age, maybe season three. But definitely not season two.
Well, clearly that was rough for me to get through. I'm interested to know if anyone else liked this episode or even if someone loved it. Hit up the comments below and let me know your thoughts. Deb will be back next week with a review of "Advanced Safety Features." Until then. :)

24 comments:

  1. This perfectly sums up my thoughts and why I laugh at the hardcore Harmonites who act like Community is the best show ever made. It really hasn't been consistently good in years. And when i compare it to reruns of something like "Friends," it just pales in comparison.

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    1. God bless this comment, anon. This show is starting to regress its characters for the sake of fulfilling a spoof story? Time for the series to just end if that's the direction we're going to continue to head. It's a point of no return for me, honestly, with the group in this episode. I know Frankie made a meta joke about it... but there really is no returning from this.

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  2. Saaaame.

    My biggest frustration with this episode is that it proves that Dan Harmon doesn't know if he wants these people to be friends or just a group united by the insanity of an environment (Greendale) and just THINKS they're friends.

    In the first three seasons, I thought it was pretty clear that we were supposed to see the group as broken people who make a broken-but-loving family, and I've applied that general thesis to how I watch the show, interpret their motivations, examine their actions, and understand their relationships. I wrote that 6x03 review based around the idea that these people love each other and they're supposed to be a non-cynical look at genuine affection in an "edgy" sitcom: they're not a sappy, saccharine sitcom family where no one ever does anything wrong or, if they do, it's fixed and forgotten about by the time the credits roll BUT they're all people who care about each other and that care isn't blurred, isn't ignored, and isn't treated with a patina of cynicism (the "going in for a hug and then backing out of it because NOPE! hugs are for chumps" method to sitcoms).

    But now I just don't know. I don't understand what we're supposed to get from these characters or this show anymore. I mentioned it in the comments of the last review: are we supposed to think the group is a bunch of actual friends, or are they only together because Greendale gives them an excuse to be together? They went a long time without talking to each other between season 4 and 5 and I know that was mostly a way for them to inform the audience of what had been going on off-screen, but couldn't it have been handled better than implying that they don't talk to each other off-campus? It was bad before, but could be largely ignored - after this episode, I'm asking the same thing you're asking: why are they friends?

    And the other thing, about how they've changed: They HAVE changed, but it's definitely not for the better. They've changed in a way that removes the soul from the group and the show itself. Community has basically become one the cynical sitcoms that Dan Harmon had attempted to subvert, because this episode proves that if these characters still care about each other, it's a flimsy sort of caring that can be torn apart with a few secrets and some curiosity.

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    1. (I have so much to say I need two comments! This is like a blog rite of passage or something, yes?)


      At this point in time, they should NOT be vulnerable to this stuff anymore - honestly, how many times have we done a "the group hashes out some secrets and yells at each other for them" plot? once or twice a season since "Romantic Expressionism"? I get that there are always more secrets (I definitely don't tell my friends everything about myself), but the group either a) shouldn't be surprised by these secrets, b) should be surprised, but ultimately realize that they all love each other and not be so affected by them, or c) should not have had such BIG secrets between each other.

      You raise a perfect example in your review: Annie getting her blood tested by the group. Why didn't they just approach her, if they were worried she'd gone back to pills? They've known her long enough that it shouldn't be a secret, it would MAKE SENSE for a group of worried friends to confront a friend who might be in trouble, but it's something they all do in secret? WHY?

      I used to love this show for the way it handled friendship and I guess I still love the first three seasons for that. I get the feeling that Dan Harmon wanted to tie the series up in a four-season bow but ratings, the hiatus, and impending cancellation foiled his plans. Season 3's finale was probably what Dan planned for the series finale, and it would have been perfect - but he had to move it earlier in the schedule, and he doesn't know what to do with this show now that his "helping only ourselves is bad and helping each other is good" Finale Winger Speech has already been said. THAT was the "Having Changed" of this show, and it was great - but now Dan has to figure out how to repeat a series-encompassing story circle and it's just not working.

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    2. You raise such a great point when you ask like, WHAT are we supposed to be getting out of this show anymore? Are these people friends? You can slap a "female friends" cheesy graphic onto Annie and Britta but I think we established last week that this doesn't make them friends. That's not how it works. So either they're friends or a family or they're just strangers who have tolerated each other for six years and are really only together because of Greendale which at this point (you're right) seems the most likely option.

      they're not a sappy, saccharine sitcom family where no one ever does anything wrong or, if they do, it's fixed and forgotten about by the time the credits roll BUT they're all people who care about each other and that care isn't blurred, isn't ignored, and isn't treated with a patina of cynicism (the "going in for a hug and then backing out of it because NOPE! hugs are for chumps" method to sitcoms).

      You're totally right. That's the perfect sense that you get when you watch seasons 1-3 (and even season four because that might not have been perfect and had some giant missteps but the end result was Jeff accepting where he was moving forward in life and telling the group that his love for them is immeasurable, even when you split it seven ways). But now... I just don't get it. I don't get it at ALL.

      And the other thing, about how they've changed: They HAVE changed, but it's definitely not for the better. They've changed in a way that removes the soul from the group and the show itself.

      THIS. THIS. WHAT HAPPENED? WHY DOES EVERYONE SUDDENLY HATE EACH OTHER AND WANT TO TEAR EACH OTHER APART? Why is everyone so downright CRUEL?

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    3. As for the secrets thing, you're right. We've literally been through this over half a dozen times with giant secrets coming out in front of the group ("Romantic Expressionism," "Anthropology 101," "Paradigms of the Human Memory," "Intro to Felt Surrogacy," "Cooperative Calligraphy," "Cooperative Polygraphy," this episode, etc. etc. etc.) You'd think they all would have no secrets left, sheesh.

      I think season four's ending would have been perfect -- let the study group move onto the real world and watch them leave by toasting together at the study room table one last time. Like, that's a hopeful ending. It's what Community was supposed to be about (or so I thought). Now... now I'm regretting the show getting saved. And I regretted it last season, too. And there's no turning back from what they did in this episode like with the others, I think. You can't just ignore how terrible they were to each other, deliberately. This wasn't accidental. These people DELIBERATELY went out of their way to learn secrets and hurt each other with the knowledge of those this week.

      I just... I don't think I can look at this show or them the same way again. There's no real recovery from this, IMO.

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    4. THIS. THIS. WHAT HAPPENED? WHY DOES EVERYONE SUDDENLY HATE EACH OTHER AND WANT TO TEAR EACH OTHER APART? Why is everyone so downright CRUEL?

      Theory: Troy left.

      That's what went wrong. Let's face it, even though they've called Britta the heart of the group, that was totally Troy's job. He's gone; the group has no heart.

      I just... I don't think I can look at this show or them the same way again. There's no real recovery from this, IMO.

      I can still enjoy the seasons where the group loved each other, and I absolutely will, but I believe I will have to make the assumption that they've all grown apart as friends since then and, unless something drastic happens to pull them back together, they're not going to recover.

      Or I could just have my own headcanon of what they're supposed to be like and blame this mess on the writers and not being truly reflective of the show, or the group, in the long-term. I am very good at denial.

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    5. Deb -- I think it really all does go back to Troy. His departure utterly changed the fabric of the show. He was the one constantly pulling everyone back from the edge. He was their leader, not Jeff. Not really. So yeah, losing him meant losing the pure heart of the show and I honestly just don't like what the group has become in his absence (and Shirley's too, because she was always their moral compass).

      Oh, I'm with you. I'm looking at seasons 1-4 as the real study group. These people are just impostors. Right? That's what the real message is? We'll end the season with some weird Invasion of the Body Snatchers homage? I love the people from seasons 1-4. I don't even KNOW these season six people anymore.

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  3. I don't have the talent to write such a good summation of my feelings for the episode but your review pretty much mirrors exactly how I felt about the episode. It was really disappointing.

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    1. Thank you for your comments, anon! I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who was extremely disappointed.

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  4. Well....that happened. By the end of it I honestly wasn't feeling anything, stunned silence would be closest. Then it started to trickle in and I realised: that felt like a show that hates itself and all its characters. There was just so much contempt for each other (and for the show's past) that I felt a little sick.

    The premise could have been interesting, could have shown Britta in a more positive if naive light, could have, could have. I feel like that is what I often say about this show. sigh

    Just like those relationships that were once so GOOD that you just keep trying to hold on to them even when it is becoming painful, I have been hoping and living off of memories of previous seasons. There was even a little glimmer of hope at the beginning of this season but boy did they smash that to pieces.

    Thank you for pointing out how horrible Frankie's revelation about her dead sister was. Wow. That was the lowest point of cruelty and they barely paused. I don't know what to do know. Do I watch the next episode, ready to be insulted and hurt, or do I just stop wasting my time and emotion? I might just come back and read your review next week before I decide...

    I hate to end on a downer so- Deb, yes! A reply too long for one entry is totally necessary on this blog!

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    1. Ugh, Becca. BECCA. What happened?

      Then it started to trickle in and I realised: that felt like a show that hates itself and all its characters. There was just so much contempt for each other (and for the show's past) that I felt a little sick.

      See, yes, this is my problem. Everyone just seemed like they hated each other. They were being so unnecessarily malicious and their secrets were malicious (lying, treating people like objects, excluding others). I just don't get how we're supposed to continue to root for the people who did that.

      I have been hoping and living off of memories of previous seasons. There was even a little glimmer of hope at the beginning of this season but boy did they smash that to pieces.

      YUP. I'll live on the memories of the study group when it was the Greendale Seven. These people aren't the same people and I don't like them at all. Even Annie. And that's when you know it's a low point.

      GOD THAT FRANKIE SECRET WAS SO HORRIBLE. Like, probably one of the cruelest things that the show has ever done and NO ONE CARED ENOUGH TO PAUSE AND APOLOGIZE FOR WHAT THEY DID TO HER.

      Come back next week for Deb's review, haha. Apparently the episode involves an alumni dance. Woo. May The Flash and Arrow cleanse my palette this week.

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  5. Long-time reader of Jen’s reviews, first-time poster here. Hiya.

    I have to say that I enjoyed some of the episode and the third act worked for me as a comedy, not really as something substantive. But maybe that was intentional this time as the episode really seemed out of breath in attempting anything new for the show.

    As for the committee reading each others’ emails, I think the most likely explanation for this selfishness (that the episode doesn’t really hint at) is that they’re initially wanting to see what has been written about themselves just so they’re prepared for the next day. (They don’t have a huge amount of trust towards Frankie and Elroy at this point anyway, so they’d assume those two could well be reading the secrets.) But in true Community fashion this would then escalate and the rest we see in the episode itself.

    (Personally I don’t think people can change hugely from their default positions, unless it’s through hard work, but that can sometimes take decades and not a few years. I think certain selfish impulses will always remain, they do so here, and they only cancel out if you actively fight against them and learn to strive for compassion more. But the temptation can still surprise you every now and then.)

    The secrets themselves then: Annie’s problem is pretty much a joke here, treated in a cartoonish and off way, though it doesn’t hugely bother me as the show tends to be cartoony about its characters’ pasts sometimes. I think if they were ever going to do an episode about Annie’s former drug problems, it would have happened by now. As such, I’m fine with it getting a more serious mention at times, like in VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing. That’s the thing with Community: every character has been so broken at some point in their lives that you could pretty much fill entire seasons with those kinds of stories if you wanted. But since this is a show that was tailor-made to suit the line-up of NBC wackiness with 30 Rock and Parks & Rec, it can’t really do that. It rarely puts this potential darkness to the screen in full (Mixology Certification and Bondage & Beta Male Sexuality come to mind, something we’ll probably see again this season), instead it’s used as small asides and allusions, sometimes successfully, other times not really.

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    1. (continued...)

      One of this episode’s tasks seems to have been to do this to Elroy and Frankie: the former has been a sad and lonely man who doesn’t even want to keep in touch with his real family, while Frankie is still troubled by the death of her sister. Their secrets are darker than others, likely because this is the first time they’re taking part in this periodic rite of secret sharing that the study group/committee has been enacting every year (as you guys pointed out). We finally know them better now after they had been on the periphery for a few episodes, and as they become equals to the original group in the process, the show will probably now feature storylines where they’re more central to the proceedings. That’s how it felt to me.

      The story also seems to think that it’s right to let the comedian perform at Greendale in the end. The Greendale motto ”You’re already accepted” is hinted at when it turns out that every other place cancelled his performance. And while everyone on the campus has their secrets aired to public, it’s also likely that eventually this will not be that big of a deal. Everyone there is already attending the worst community college in existence, but it’s also a place that accepts them all, and they will have to see themselves as equals again like the committee does. The past shouldn’t matter at Greendale, the present does.

      I also think the ending salvages the episode somewhat, as Abed all but confesses that the other two times (or 5-6 times as you guys pointed out) this story was done were a lot better. That’s why they’re so quick to bypass any lesson learnt here, as it so obviously would have been a repeat of what they had had earlier. Those times didn't destroy the group/family and they know it won't happen through a repeat either.

      I wouldn’t see this as a dealbreaker for myself although it certainly is a lesser episode. I remember Dan Harmon said at some point that he was worried there’d be a few weak stories in the middle of Season 6 and this certainly qualifies for that. All I can say is, I’m hoping for improvement soon. But if this is the new baseline of quality for the show, I’ll be looking forward to all the criticism Jen and others can muster.

      Appreciate the review as always, though we do disagree with this one to an extent. :)

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    2. Hello there, long-time reader and first time commenter. And welcome! :D

      Personally I don’t think people can change hugely from their default positions, unless it’s through hard work, but that can sometimes take decades and not a few years. I think certain selfish impulses will always remain, they do so here, and they only cancel out if you actively fight against them and learn to strive for compassion more. But the temptation can still surprise you every now and then.

      I agree with you to a point. It's something Abed mentioned in "Remedial Chaos Theory," right? There are certain truths about these characters that will always be true -- Annie will always be driven, Shirley will always be giving, etc. And so in that way, they'll never be able to completely change who they are as people. But my problem here is that... well, after six years they NEED to have changed and become better. It's literally the final part of Dan Harmon's story circle and if we're operating on the assumption that this is the final part of that arc (or at least close to it), then there should be some visible progress. Jeff can give a million monologues about change and love and respect, but they mean literally nothing if the very next episode we've hit the reset button and he's just as selfish as he was in the pilot, you know?

      I think the problem for me is that at least in the other installments of these secret-sharing episodes, the group seemed to have acknowledged that it hurt each other and that just wasn't present here, you know? They didn't seem to feel any guilt or remorse for how they treated each other or, you know, the hundreds and maybe thousands of other people who attend Greendale.

      (Man do I feel bad for Elroy and Frankie.)

      I wouldn’t see this as a dealbreaker for myself although it certainly is a lesser episode. I remember Dan Harmon said at some point that he was worried there’d be a few weak stories in the middle of Season 6 and this certainly qualifies for that.

      So therein lies my problem and it's the same problem I had with "G.I. Jeff" last year: if you know your show is going to have 13 episodes, you want to make them strong episodes. So why write an episode and execute an episode that's just okay? If you pitch a story and you find the plot to be thin and weak, you either a) ditch that story altogether or b) find a way to strengthen in. Instead, the writers saw how weak the story was and decided to make meta commentary about that fact. Which made it ten times worse, IMO. Don't do a weak story. It's YOUR story. Find a way to make it stronger. And I know there will be duds and everything can't be the absolute best, but he shouldn't have committed to something that was just okay in the first place, you know what I mean?

      Anyway thank you so much for your comments and thoughts. And welcome, officially, to the site!

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    3. But my problem here is that... well, after six years they NEED to have changed and become better. It's literally the final part of Dan Harmon's story circle and if we're operating on the assumption that this is the final part of that arc (or at least close to it), then there should be some visible progress. Jeff can give a million monologues about change and love and respect, but they mean literally nothing if the very next episode we've hit the reset button and he's just as selfish as he was in the pilot, you know?

      This is related to problems you guys had with episode 5, but I think they’re still sticking on that road for Jeff. I saw he had lapsed to his old weasel ways as a teacher, but when he apologized to the Dean and finally could admit he considers him a friend, I thought it also meant that he will take his teaching more seriously from now on. He has done things to support his friends and tries not to upset them, now he will have to do that to the Dean as well. It’s all a part of Jeff learning to accept his life at Greendale, which they hinted at in episode 2.

      It would be a stretch to call the characters’ meta-awareness about episode 6 being a sequel genuine character growth though. The true lesson was about learning not to repeat their mistakes, which probably would have come across as too banal for some long-time Community viewers. Whereas us completists (thanks Chang) might feel that something is missing.

      So why write an episode and execute an episode that's just okay? If you pitch a story and you find the plot to be thin and weak, you either a) ditch that story altogether or b) find a way to strengthen in. Instead, the writers saw how weak the story was and decided to make meta commentary about that fact.

      We’ll have to disagree about GI Jeff. But I don’t think anyone intended Basic Email Security as an OK episode when they were pitching it. They chose a formula that had worked tremendously well for the show before and it still does because the quick back-and-forth between characters in the second act makes for good material in terms of comedy, as reviews have pointed out. It’s likely that they only noticed this would be an inferior sequel late in the writing process and when the deadline is close, you either start with an entirely new premise (as with Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design) or stick with what you have (because a top-to-bottom rewrite might not improve things) and be honest with the viewers: just say that it’s inferior. Because that’s what this show usually does. (They’ve actually shown some restraint with meta jokes this season: Keith David’s old involvement still hasn’t been acknowledged while the 100th episode passed by without comment.)

      Thanks for the welcomes, Jen. :)

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  6. I need to put an opening paragraph before the "but" paragraphs.

    First, I love your passion for Annie and for what the show can be, and how you call Harmon out on his bad habits. He needs it. One of the ideas I think Harmon has always struggled with is ownership of the characters and the show. He is the creator, but since they have hit the airwaves he can no longer control how they are interpreted and embraced by the audience. He appears to hate it. He hates it so much that he appears to be trying to sever everyone’s relationship from those characters so he can own them, solely, again. So he teases Jeff and Annie, he poisons the characters’ backstories, and he seems to respond to fans’ loves and criticisms by directly attacking the character. In Season 4, in his season of exile, fans recoiled to Annie’s foot massaging for an A. In season 5, Harmon responded by having Annie drug her friends. Nobody gets to dance with ruin like Harmon does. To prove it, he will keep pushing directly into ruin. I hate it, and you call him on it better than I do.

    I hear your negativity over Annie, but the person most abused this episode was Frankie. I think we can make an argument that drug testing Annie was a cowardly attempt by the group to figure out if she needed help, but why Frankie didn’t walk right out the door after having her letters to her dead sister, her sexuality, and a 3D version of her body exposed because of this group. She doesn’t have a 5 year relationship with these people. To quote Todd from season 3, “Your love is weird and toxic.” She doesn’t share the love. She has no reason to stay.

    I had moments of this I liked, but the absolute worst part for the episode was that it never closed the circle. The show should have had a moment for each of the characters to be forgiven and to forgive. Jeff could have told Annie they did it out of love. They could have apologized to Frankie. They should have. Elroy should have deleted his images. They had the time. They could have made the time. Sitting around and looking for a purpose that never came was just silly. Cooperative Polygraphy had the same problem, but it was masked over with Troy’s departure.

    In the end, I didn’t hate the episode, because I have come to accept this as a habit of Harmon. I cringed over what they said and did about Frankie. I laughed at almost every moment with officer Cackowski. I kept waiting for someone to come clean about their behavior. I still love the cast and the characters they play, but the group, well, you are right. The group is currently weird, toxic, and it destroys everything it touches. I don’t know if that isn’t the plan to the extent a plan exists at this point.

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    1. Matt! We briefly talked about this all on Twitter but I'll reply here since, you know, no 140 character limitations, haha.

      Nobody gets to dance with ruin like Harmon does. To prove it, he will keep pushing directly into ruin. I hate it, and you call him on it better than I do.

      Is Harmon's Native American name "Dances With Ruin" then? Because I'm 1000% here for that. Look, Harmon has done a lot that I like. I don't mean to constantly berate him or slam him because I owe him this entire website, really, and Community was such a great show for a few years. My problem with him is that he's held on so tightly to an idea of what these characters are or could be that he's unsure of how to let that go. So there's a constant push-and-pull there: he lets Jeff and Annie have moments, then yanks them back; he gives Britta an episode to shine, then turns her into the butt of a joke again; he develops the study group and matures them, then regresses when he needs a plot. And his problem has always been in the execution -- in letting go of those reins completely and letting his characters breathe rather than stifle them in a box that isn't made to fit them.

      My problem with how he's handled Annie is tied to the fact that Annie has one of the richest, darkest, most complex backstories of the group -- she was hooked on pills in high school; she went to rehab voluntarily and her parents cut her off because she did so; she managed to move out and succeed on her own; etc. I think fandom does better in fanfic with fleshing out her relationship with her parents, her relationship to control/drugs than Harmon does. Why not make a family day, redux? Why not introduce some of the people these individuals interact with? Why not make an episode all about Annie's struggle with control that doesn't involve Jeff/Annie? He CAN do this, but he doesn't. Instead, we get homages and references to Sony hacks.

      But you're right -- Frankie's secret was by far the worst and most uncomfortable thing I may have ever seen on this show. She doesn't deserve that. The sexuality thing... okay, I don't approve of the group placing bets but it DOES carry over from the episode where Jeff and the dean were curious about it. The sister thing? Inexcusable. No one felt any remorse for that whatsoever. And like... the way Paget played that scene was TOTALLY DRAMATIC. There was no punchline. Period. They literally just maliciously attacked her for the sake of it.

      The show should have had a moment for each of the characters to be forgiven and to forgive. Jeff could have told Annie they did it out of love. They could have apologized to Frankie. They should have. Elroy should have deleted his images. They had the time. They could have made the time. Sitting around and looking for a purpose that never came was just silly. Cooperative Polygraphy had the same problem, but it was masked over with Troy’s departure.

      THIS. A THOUSAND MILLION TIMES. Why couldn't they have just... I don't know? Apologized to the school? DID WHAT THEY DID IN "ALTERNATIVE HISTORY OF THE GERMAN INVASION" AND PUT ASIDE THEIR EGOS IN ORDER TO HELP MAKE THE SCHOOL BETTER. Seriously I could think of ten endings better than the one they gave us.

      I still love the cast and the characters they play, but the group, well, you are right. The group is currently weird, toxic, and it destroys everything it touches. I don’t know if that isn’t the plan to the extent a plan exists at this point.

      It is appearing more and more that this is the moral of the season, whether it's an intended moral or not. Sigh.

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    2. It feels almost silly to reply to something I agree with so much. Harmon does something that I don't think a lot of others can. He can be funny with issues that matter in ways I have never heard anyone do it. He embraces all of us who think we don't fit in. Probably, partially, because he voice is so unique, he jealously guards it and lashes out to own it. What makes greatness in organizations, not artists, is the ability to realize that what you have created can be greater than what you imagined only if you rely on others. I have seen a lot of small companies collapse because the owner couldn’t accept anything beyond their own grasp. It is a transition I don’t think Harmon ever made, and honestly, it is really hard to do. It also fits in really well with your posts about Oliver on Arrow.

      You have long been a champion of Annie. Alison Brie has been rock solid, and her ability to do just about anything on the show has made her character, just like Glover’s, under explored because they can make it work for everyone else. When their characters dominated episodes, the results were always incredible. I love Britta, and I have been especially happy with this season’s Britta being less of an idiot and back to the right-idea-bad-execution character from season 1 and 2. That said, I this show could just as easily revolved around her instead of Jeff. The character and the actor are that good, and when you have that combination, it is hard when they don’t get more time.

      I don’t think there is a moral to this season, and I think there is a simple reason for it. This is the end. We are outside of the story circle. What I think they learned from the last 13 episode arc, is that their arcs have to be paired down, and cast changes have forced them into areas they feel like they have to address to move forward. I expect every character to get some type of rehabilitation. Frankie and Elroy have been fleshed out, Chang and Britta have been “regrounded,” and I expect the same for everyone else at some level with the possible exception of Jeff (functional alcoholic = Dan Harmon = done). The cast has been very professional about the ending of the show, but I think it is really over. From Harmon’s podcast right after shooting ended, he mentioned that people were telling him to stop talking about a movie. I don’t know who was saying it to him, but despite Yahoo being really happy with the results from the show (again, from the podcast), the contracts are up, and I think it is unlikely that this show can survive another loss from the core actors. So everyone is saying the right things, but the future is clear. This season is about generating attention for everyone involved. So the joke is more important than the plot. It needs to be edgier than normal. The result is a mixed bag that people will talk about, embrace Yahoo Screen as a platform (Other Space is funny by the way), and launch everyone involved as far as possible. If they can get a movie or another season out of it, well, that would be unexpected gravy. I don’t like this ending for the show, because so much is left on the table for the characters, but this is what it feels like.

      When this obsession is over, I will look forward to sharing another one with you.

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  7. First of all, I never want to get on Jen’s bad side. That was an epic J’Accuse – writing that well when you’re that angry is a real, if underrated skill. That said –

    “I'm interested to know if anyone else liked this episode or even if someone loved it.”

    First of all, some context. “Community” is broadcast 10:30PM UK time on Thursday evenings, which means I see it at a guess about 36 hours after you guys (still better than Arrow where I have to wait about a fortnight, which is why I never comment on your reviews of that even though I read them – things have moved on). Furthermore, the review normally goes up early evening Wednesday which means I cave to temptation and read it on my smartphone on my way home from work, still more than 24 hours before the show goes out, during which period I’ve been following the comments with increasing trepidation, expecting a horror show of an episode. I don’t know if this desensitised me, but it didn’t live up to those expectations. Did I love it? No. Like it? Somewhat, perhaps. Oh, it’s not a classic,it was an intensely emotional roller-coaster but I don’t think it’s a series breaker. To show why, I’d like to give my view of some of the criticisms raised if I may.

    Annie’s drug test. As to the question – why didn’t they just ask her? My initial thought was that their thought processes may have gone along the lines of – if she is using, then she’ll just lie and go into defensive mode and it’ll be even harder for us to help her; and if she isn’t – she’ll be deeply offended and terribly hurt that we don’t trust her not to relapse despite the fact she’s been clean for over six years and we don’t want to do that to her. So, they come up with a cockamamie plan to gather hard evidence so that if she is using they’ve got proof to stage a proper intervention with and if she isn’t then there’s no need for her to ever know they had suspicions. And here’s the thing - the plan actually worked (until the leak, anyway). They managed to reassure themselves without unnecessarily hurting Annie. Strictly speaking, they didn’t even lie to her, they said they were talking blood for a human genome project and they did (“you’re 1% Neanderthal”) – true they didn’t tell her the whole truth, a lie (and an important one, granted) by omission at most. They took a stupid risk, but at it’s core was a genuine concern for Annie.

    Frankie. Yes what came out was appalling, but I suggest this sequence would be worth a re-watch paying close attention to the words being used and the body language. Firstly, they actually did apologise for the betting pool (Frankie threw it back in their faces, granted) and only Chang raised the issue of her sister – the others all look appalled at this revelation, and Britta explicitly describes it as rock bottom. I really didn’t see any heartless teasing.

    Jeff and Chang ranking Britta and Annie. This is the one I expected to be most offended by, after all Jeff learning to treat his female friends as people and not sex objects was supposed to be a season one development – replacing “hot blonde Spanish class” with “Britta” in his contact list, and all that. However, it’s made clear that this is a one sided exchange, Chang emails Jeff and Jeff ignores him – apart from as Britta points out, one day – February 7th 2013. Knowing Community’s fondness for obscure shout-outs I actually looked this one up, and that was the date the first episode of Season 4 aired when Jeff spent most of the episode humiliating himself to try and keep the study group together in his last semester (tangoing with the dean? Really?). Yes he shouldn’t have responded to Chang even then, but stress makes us do strange things. (I know, inside the show they were supposed to be just back from summer break. I’m convinced this is what was being referenced however.) I think Jeff at least deserves a pass on this one, even if Chang is beyond redemption.

    (TBC)

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    1. (Continued)

      The final scene. Again, I looked at this somewhat differently. In my experience, when you have a horrible smack-down row with someone you love where both sides say terrible, hateful things there are three ways things can move on.

      1- The relationship ends as the pain is too deep and you’re too wounded to go forward together. I am still convinced that fundamentally these people still love each other (even if this was most definitely at the worse end of the “for better, for worse” spectrum) so this wasn’t an option.

      2 – You sit down, apologise and talk it through. Undeniably the healthiest all round, but I am a long way from convinced that these people have emotional and intellectual maturity for this (if they did, they wouldn’t be at Greendale...). Which leaves us with –

      3 - Displacement activity. You ignore what happened and find something- anything –else to talk about which you can agree with each other on and enjoy the experience of coming together again against a common enemy. And this is exactly what they are doing in this scene. They are not trivialising their experience and the horrible things they said, they’re running away from them and trying to rebuild their relationships in the only way they know how, by jointly celebrating a victory for freedom of speech. Again, it’s worth playing close attention to the words and body language being used, to me at least there was a distinct undercurrent of fragility, even hysteria to their boisterousness. They weren’t being trivial, they were shell-shocked.

      Abed. Sorry, but I’m less impressed with his restraint than you are. Abed has shown in the past that he is quite capable of appalling acts of selfishness – even in this episode we saw nothing equivalent to inventing a fake internet persona to seduce Annie just so he could have pancakes for breakfast. That was a far more deep and personal invasion of Annie’s dignity and privacy than a clandestine drug test. Also, Abed has shown on other occasions that he is limited in empathy, smart when he needs to be and has ferocious powers of observation – as in near Sherlock Holmes level. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if the reason he didn’t look at the leaks was because he already knew or suspected most of that stuff. Also frankly most of the others were looking to find out what the others thought of them first and foremost, I doubt Abed particularly cares what other people think about him (limited empathy works both ways), so even that motivation was missing.

      Apologies for the multiple posts, but I thought you’d appreciate a different perspective even if you don’t necessarily share it.

      One final observation, another “Community rewards careful viewers” moment, but a sad one this time – one of the emails on the lunch lady’s account had the title “Buzz Hickey Memorial Services. “ Damn, I really liked that guy.

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    2. Hi Richard! Thanks so much for your comments and for your input on this episode and what you liked about it.

      They took a stupid risk, but at it’s core was a genuine concern for Annie.

      I think my problem is that Annie's drug problem hasn't been consistently mentioned enough or cared enough for by the writers to make this a viable plot point. The writers literally only use her Adderall addiction when it suits a storyline or a joke. They seem to forget that she was addicted to pills and only -- conveniently -- remember when it can be a source of conflict. My main problem with Annie's stories is that they're totally inconsistent and it seems like the writers choose to shoehorn plots and conflict in, rather than build it organically. WE haven't seen Annie act jumpy lately, right? Why should I believe the group is concerned when I literally don't believe there's anything to be concerned about? And also... the group has done interventions before. They did one with Abed. I don't believe for a second that they wouldn't at least try one with Annie first and THEN enact shenanigans to try and get her tested without her knowledge. I would buy that story. I don't remotely buy this one and it also -- project or not -- was deceptive on the group's part. Sorry, but I'm firm on my dislike of that one, haha.

      Britta explicitly describes it as rock bottom. I really didn’t see any heartless teasing.

      My problem is that the group has had so many rock bottom moments before that this one literally just seemed extra cruel because it was someone they didn't even KNOW. And yes, Chang was the one to initiate that but no one protects anyone else in this group apart from themselves. I think that was one of my major problems, really: the entire group was selfish and though each person has selfish tendencies, it was a bit TOO much this episode. They crossed a line and learned nothing from it. Which brings me to...

      You ignore what happened and find something- anything –else to talk about which you can agree with each other on and enjoy the experience of coming together again against a common enemy. And this is exactly what they are doing in this scene.

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    3. Okay the problem is that we saw the group, two seasons ago, filled with such remorse because they hurt a bunch of people who were in the school that they actively did something about it. They cleaned up other study areas because they realized how bad it felt to be in a crappy place to study. Literally, that was what "Alternative History of the German Invasion" was about at the end. And it was wonderful to see the group take responsibility for how selfish they were.

      These people? These people I don't even recognize. They were calloused. They basically said: "it'll all blow over anyway" (which is clearly a meta commentary on the whole episode and its moral). Season four showed growth in a near-identical moral and season six saw the worst kind of regression in the same kind of story. That's my problem. It's fine if these people are selfish but they need to grow from it and learn from it, not become worse people for it. And I can't say they grew at all. They actually were really really sad and horrible human beings in this episode for not remotely caring about who they hurt with their own stubbornness.

      They weren’t being trivial, they were shell-shocked.

      The fact that they did nothing to try and make it right is what is important, though. In season four, they did. They actively made Greendale better for other people because they realized how horrible it felt to be on the other side. In this episode, they should have realized the same thing but they didn't. They trivialized the incident.

      One final observation, another “Community rewards careful viewers” moment, but a sad one this time – one of the emails on the lunch lady’s account had the title “Buzz Hickey Memorial Services. “ Damn, I really liked that guy

      I KNOW. Also: Vicki was the lunchlady's daughter and Dean Pelton apparently watches The Mindy Project. Also, skeevy Alan Connor (Jeff's old co-worker) was emailing back and forth with the lunchlady, too. Oh, Community.

      Thanks for your comments, Richard, even if we'll have to disagree on many things, haha. ;)

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    4. Thanks for replying! (BTW I appear to have confused Tuesday and Wednesday with Wednesday and Thursday in my first post, I am officially an idiot. Read everything that follows with that in mind.)

      I think my problem is that Annie's drug problem hasn't been consistently mentioned enough or cared enough for by the writers to make this a viable plot point.

      And this is an entirely fair point, which ties in to my biggest personal criticism of the show – it simply does not take drugs seriously. Not just with Annie, with anyone – Britta’s drug use is treated as an amusing quirk if it’s referenced at all, Starburns is allowed to openly deal on campus without anyone caring and now we hear that Jeff might be an alcoholic. The best you can say is it’s not a failure to treat Annie seriously per se, it’s a broader failure on the writing side.

      WE haven't seen Annie act jumpy lately, right? Why should I believe the group is concerned when I literally don't believe there's anything to be concerned about?

      This on the other hand references one of the things I do like about the show – it shows a greater awareness than most shows that we only see at most half an hour a week of these characters’ lives and stuff happens in the other 167.5 hours a week too (I can’t remember which episode it was, but they once did a fake clip show where all the clips referenced adventures we’d never seen before which was a particularly good example of this), so I have less of a problem with this.

      I don't remotely buy this one and it also -- project or not -- was deceptive on the group's part.

      I think we may have to agree to disagree on this one, sadly – I agree it was rash, deceptive and an invasion of personal space, but I don’t think it’s implausible they would act more circuitously with Annie than with Abed – ask Abed a question and he will give you an honest answer, he won’t care enough about the emotional subtext to construct a defensive lie or take offence, whereas Annie is all emotional subtext. I can buy an ill-judged attempt to protect her feelings even if I wouldn’t do it myself.

      They actually were really really sad and horrible human beings in this episode for not remotely caring about who they hurt with their own stubbornness.

      Sorry, but they didn’t hurt anybody – the blackmailer did. Refusing to give in to a blackmailer’s threats does not mean you share moral responsibility for what happens if the blackmailer carries out his threats, responsibility remains with the blackmailer, he’s the one who retains freedom to act or not act - “publish and be damned” as the Duke of Wellington once said. I don’t often say this, but Britta was exactly right in this episode – freedom of speech really is that important. I loved Gillian in this episode BTW, she gave almost as much a stand-out performance as Alison did last week, it was good to see Britta commit her idealism to an important cause and (mostly) stand by it when it began to affect her personally. That said, one thing I agree with – I would like to see if there’s any follow up on this with how the rest of the school reacted, there really should be (sadly, I suspect there won’t be).

      Just to say again – I in no way think this was a classic episode, and agree that in many ways it showed these people at their worst, I’m just not sure it was a deal breaker. Again, thanks for replying:-)

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