Friday, March 30, 2012

3x13 "Digital Exploration of Interior Design" (Actions Speak Louder Than...)

"Digital Exploration of Interior Design"
Original Airdate: March 29, 2012

Sivanada said: "Life is but an endless series of little details, actions, speeches, and thoughts. And the consequences, whether good or bad of even the least of them, are far-reaching." And I think that this quote and reflection aptly sums up the theme of the week's episode. Each of our three storylines focused on the actions of a particular character (or characters) and demonstrated how simple actions can have extensive consequences. Because, as we saw last week, it's foolish to think that our actions will have no bearing on those around us (be it good or bad). And truly, this entire season seems to be building toward some kind of confrontation between all of these people we have come to know and love. With the exception of Vice Dean Laybourne, there really hasn't been an external "enemy" for the group to fight this year. Essentially, instead, this season is all about the group dealing with the darkness inside of themselves - learning to openly confront things that they had previously kept buried. All three of these storylines converged at the end, but throughout the course of the episode, some characters managed to come to a greater understanding of themselves (Jeff), while other relationships broke down (Troy/Abed) because of words and actions. Throughout the course of the review, we'll highlight the destruction of the (up until this point) relatively peaceful relationship between Troy and Abed, while also confessing my love for Britta Perry in the episode. Finally, throughout the review, we will also deconstruct the Jeff/Annie storyline (and explain why I think everyone could use a good dose of therapy). Ready? Let's begin!

In case you can't remember what happened in the episode because you were too busy craving Subway sandwiches, let's recap: as we have learned in the episodes post-hiatus, Shirley and Pierce wanted to open a sandwich shop. However, in "Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts," Dean Pelton explains to them that he already agreed to open a Subway within the cafeteria. The episode begins with the grand opening of the little shop, and Shirley's indignation. Pierce notices a clause within the Greendale by-laws, which stated that any restaurant on campus must be at least 51% student-owned. As it turns out, Subway has hired a guy named Rick to act as their corporate mouthpiece - he's a real-life representation of the sandwich shop, and - as such - Subway is legally allowed to keep their place in the Greendale cafeteria. Shirley and Pierce cannot stand for this, and recruit Britta to help take the new "student" down.

Sometimes, if I'm being honest, I forget how amazing Britta Perry is as a character. And I think that a lot of times we (the audience members) do exactly what the study group does - we brush her off as the buzz kill, the one with the pension for severity, or the girl who "Britta's" everything up. We hardly ever think of her in the way that Jeff did during "The Science of Illusion" - as the heart of the group. A lot of us, myself included, forget that Britta really is just a woman striving to be accepted and loved and cared about, no matter how severe she can come across. She admitted to her insecurities in "Romantic Expressionism" (she has feelings and cares about boys liking her, etc.). She's a woman with emotions and needs to feel appreciated. And she deserves that, just as much as Annie or Shirley. And I love that this episode - while, yes, a bit exaggerated in Britta's professions of love, etc. - but truly the Subway/Britta storyline was hilarious and also touching in that it reminds us that maybe Britta needs to find someone to be goofy and happy with. She, like every character, needs someone in life to balance her out. Arguably, each character has at least ONE person within the study group who balances them out in some way, shape, or form. But perhaps the group is beginning to realize that they also need other people to make themselves feel needed.

There's a Jeff and Annie storyline that runs throughout the episode and is very telling. Troy, Annie, and Abed had to leave their apartment for the week, so Annie opts to stay in the sleep lab for the time being. Troy and Abed, meanwhile, decide to build a pillow fort (which is different than a blanket fort, just so we're clear). Jeff requests that Annie help him get into the sleep lab (he could use the 2 credits to, you know, goof off), but she refuses. The pair are standing at Annie's locker and... wait. Have they always had lockers? Jeff comes to this realization and the pair discover that he's had a locker for two and a half years and hasn't even realized it. Jeff and Annie then discover tons of flyers within the locker and one hate-filled note. And this storyline is very enlightening in terms of both Jeff and Annie's characters. We usually think of Annie as the more mature and developed fo the two - or perhaps just the one who has all of her issues relatively in check. However, this isn't quite the case. As the episode wears on, we realize that Annie has some unresolved issues in regards to her relationship with Jeff (ones that he seems completely oblivious to). Ironically, at the end of the episode, it's Jeff who makes progress (well... sort of). Jeff and Annie decide to discover who sent him the hateful note. But, of course, Jeff doesn't go out of his way if there isn't something in it for him.

And I think that last week's episode is a perfect prelude to this week's episode for a few reasons. First, we definitely understand more now about Jeff's egotism. The only reason he decides to figure out who Kim is (the person who sent the note) is because that person insulted him. And Jeff does not take well to the idea that he is anything less than perfect in the eyes of everyone around him. Truthfully, that's why he goes crazy in "Biology 101," gets into the debate with Annie in "Intro to Political Science," and also why he has a mental breakdown in "Contemporary Impressionists." It's also why he needs the group so much - he needs people who need HIM. He's used to being the savior of the group, and also the one who is the most admired and respected. Jeff, then, does not take very well to being displaced from this role.

Elsewhere, Shirley and Piece confront Britta on seducing Subway (the student, remember) in order to take the sandwich franchise out of the cafeteria. Britta storms out of the conversation, however, offended by the notion that she would sell out her gender. And I really enjoyed the fact that Shirley and Pierce teamed up for the episode. I'll expand a little on this later, but they manage to balance one another out quite well.

So as I mentioned earlier, last week's episode was a good set-up for the events that unfolded this week. The Troy and Abed relationship, when we left off, was on the rocks. And I think that in the back of his mind, Troy must wonder sometimes what he gave up for Abed (and if it is worth it for how he's being treated and the lengths that he goes to in order to protect, defend, and rescue his friend). Troy literally gave up the chance of a career in order to stay with his best friend. And, after last week, I didn't have very many warm, fuzzy feelings in regards to Abed's character. This week, I attempted to go into the episode with no preconceived notions or judgments though. Both characters - Troy and Abed - need to realize that friendship is a two-way street. And I think that Troy has an easier time adjusting to this concept than Abed does. He tells Jeff in season 1, I believe (forgive me, because I've forgotten which episode it is) that people always assume that he needs their help, but really, he doesn't. People just need to understand him. And I think that Abed wants to be the kind of person who simply exists in a slightly-detached state. He wants to live in a world where he can do what he wants to and say what he wants to without long-lasting consequences (that's how TV operates, no?). But, demonstrated by the quote that I opened the entry with, even the tiniest of actions has a consequence.

Both Troy and Abed allow Vice Dean Laybourne's voice to intrude upon their thoughts, and therefore affect their actions. So who then, is the better of the two? The Vice Dean attempts to destroy the relationship between Troy and Abed, and we boil down to an Adam and Eve-like scenario. Laybourne appeals to Troy's vanity - to the athlete's desire to prove himself to the world and take charge of his life. Troy, as we have seen from the end of last season until now, wants others to think of him as an alpha male. Laybourne then appeals to Abed's misconception of relationships - to either his selfishness or naivete and encourages Abed to not compromise. The Vice Dean is extremely apt at appealing to the creative side of Abed - to the filmmaker who is suffering for his art, even though he doesn't understand WHY. So, then, Abed wonders why he should compromise in a relationship in the first place. And I've really tried to wrap my head around this characterization of Abed as someone who subtly manipulates people and situations, rather than being a completely detached third party. We see and know how he affects the other study group members, and therefore have to assume that he is at least slightly aware of this notion. Nevertheless, we have discovered that Abed is uncomfortable with a lack of control - the fact is that perhaps, buried underneath everything, when Abed doesn't have control, he wonders if people will leave him.

We then return to our Jeff/Annie storyline where we learn that Annie has a lot of pent up bitterness and anger toward Jeff. We've seen glimpses of this throughout the seasons (most noticeably, of course, in "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design" where Annie goes "off-book," lets Jeff know how much he hurt her, and then... fake shoots him. Therapeutic, no?) but this episode was definitely an eye-opener as to how much Jeff actually continues to hurt Annie by refusing to apologize for making out with her and then ignoring her.

Britta actually finds herself becoming attracted to Subway who is - for all intents and purposes - her perfect match. And what's even more adorable is how terrible Shirley is as a manipulator - she is genuinely excited for Britta, and that he smiled at the blonde.

I think that in every relationship, there's a trigger, whether or not is a natural-occurring one, or one manipulated by... say, the Vice Dean. Abed and Troy are in the process of building a pillow fort, even though Troy really wants to expand it to make it a world-recorded fort. At Laybourne's subtle prompting, Troy abandons Abed's pillow fort in order to build a blanket fort. An insignificant moment for anyone else, for Troy, becomes the last straw. Because it seemed like Abed was about to respect Troy - to see him as an equal. And instead, Abed displaced Troy's ideas. Perhaps this derives from the desire to maintain "order," or from the idea that last week Troy had control, and this week Abed wants control. Whatever the case, Troy decides that he can't be a part of Abed's "master plan" anymore, if he's only seen as a sidekick and not an equal.

In our Jeff and Annie storyline, the pair are told by a guy standing in front of Kim's locker that Kim died two weeks earlier. Jeff is wracked with guilt... but his motives aren't entirely pure. He is the kind of person who believes apologies are designed so that they will make HIM feel better, not because he wants to learn or grow. And there's this great role-reversal from "Geography of Global Conflict" with Jeff lying on the couch and Annie approaching him. And Annie calls Jeff out on what apologies actually are - not a "Winger band-aid" that's meant to fluff up a situation and make it slightly-less-worse than before. Apologies come from places of humility and understanding that it doesn't matter how you feel or if the other person receives it - they're so a relationship can be mended.

As a sidenote, I adore that Annie and Jeff have constant parallels within their lives - the couch thing, for one. The fact that Annie seems to always know where to find him (i.e. "Intro to Political Science," "Asian Population Studies") and the fact that she knows, in her heart, what HE knows he should do ("Basic Genealogy") and never patronizes, just prompts.

Britta continues a relationship with Subway, and there's an awesome Pierce/Shirley balance too - both are business-driven individuals but obviously Shirley is the more compassionate of the two. She provides them both with a reality check - "look at what we're becoming!" - and encourages Britta that she doesn't have to sabotage Subway (the shop) anymore. Pierce, however, insists that the woman has one more assignment left to complete.

In returning once more to our Jeff/Annie story, I think it's endearing that Jeff buys flowers and actually follows through with approaching Kim's locker and apologizing. It's a step in the right direction for Jeff. No, he's not a flawless human being, but Annie helped him take the next right step in correcting his past mistakes. Unfortunately for Jeff, he doesn't realize that - right in front of him - is someone who was hurt by one of those mistakes. And perhaps she wants him to realize how to apologize so that he will apologize to HER for things that she has clearly bottled up. And that's the biggest issue with Annie - Jeff doesn't read subtext ( Calvin Klein. Catch the reference and you win!) very well. The reason that he is affected by Kim is because h (yes, he) left a note calling Jeff out on his behavior. Annie, meanwhile, has only subtly hinted at how much he hurt her... and for that, I have to fault Annie. In light of the episode, it seems that the only way to get Jeff to own up to the fact that he's hurt you is to directly tell him. And it's hilarious that Annie masks her outrage by blaming it on "defending her gender" when it's really about the fact that it took Jeff less than a day to apologize genuinely to someone and make up with them (even though he barely knows them), and yet, he has not done the same thing with a person who he's known for three years and has a much deeper relationship with.

The episode comes to a head with Britta's tryst with Subway being revealed (thanks to a bug that was planted on her by Pierce), and the young man being hauled out and away from Britta. Meanwhile, Annie apologizes to Jeff for her behavior earlier. The episode ends with Troy vs. Abed - the friends have parted ways, with the former setting up his blanket fort, attempting to set the world record. The Dean insists that the fighting between the two sides stop, and that Abed's blanket fort will be torn down. Starburns cannot stand for this, and throws a pillow... which lands on Troy's blanket fort and collapses part of it. And suddenly, war breaks out. There's this mutual horror, perhaps not even a real understanding yet of why the war occurred or what they should do about it, but Troy and Abed share a look with one another. And you can palpably feel the tension, as well as the rising question of: "Is this the end?"

... but it's not, because Abed then says: "To be continued!"

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- "I don't recall seeing Subway in my Pre-Menopausal Post-Feministic Experiential Marketing Class."
- "What other animals travel in herds? I want to say snakes." Oh, Pierce. Never change.
- "I totally predicted this in my high school newspaper column, 'Britta Unfiltered.'" Go home, everyone. Britta Perry just won all of the awards.
- "I am not a whore! And, not that I've done the math, but if I were, I'd be the classy kind that gets flown to Dubai to stay in an underwater hotel."
- "Annie, that's what you think of me? I don't make out with forgettable women."
- "Who do you think I am? I lived in New York!"
- "Put it in a letter, Jane Austen!"
- Oh! I spotted who (I think is) the female writer who was in the sketch comedy troupe in season 1. She's on Team Troy, by the way.
- The music during the war scene is EPIC.
- I love that as soon as war breaks out, Jeff immediately backs up and starts texting.

Next week, we come to our exciting conclusion of the blanket fort-pillow fort war in an episode called "Pillows and Blankets." Until then, folks! :)


  1. Great job, Jennifer!

    It's been a while since I read "1984," so I'm not sure how much of Britta and Subway's story parallels the book. Would be interesting to analyze.

    And, yes, Britta was on fire in this episode.

  2. Whoa. This blog post is incredible. Awesome work!