Friday, May 25, 2012

1x23 "Modern Warfare" (The Paintball That Started it All)


"Modern Warfare"
Original Airdate: May 6, 2010

A lot of characters on this show are fundamentally similar, but externally different. And I think that there are interesting pairings in the group that highlight these similarities while contrasting differences. Annie is just as selfish as Jeff is, for example, but tends to mask it behind her innocence and ambition, rather than Jeff, who is lazy and unmotivated. Britta and Jeff, too, are both fundamentally similar – they both have rooted insecurities about not being good enough people. Britta Perry’s character arc in the first season is interesting – she’s not sure that she’s compassionate enough, so she fears she has to put on a show in order to convince herself that she is. Meanwhile, Jeff believes that he isn’t a good person, and doesn’t give himself enough credit for what he is capable of being. This carries all the way into season three, especially in “Basic Lupine Urology” and episodes where Jeff’s fears are developed. Both characters are so alike in the way that they view the world, too. Remember that Britta began the series in control of the study group. She was their leader and – even after Jeff gained control – was extremely protective of the study group. Britta is a jaded character. She’s been in the world, seen it, and it’s changed her. The same thing happened to Jeff Winger. He was a hotshot lawyer who got disbarred. He saw the world, but it delivered him back to Greendale (a place where Duncan assures him that all of his tactics would not work; a place where he needed to be in order to grow and learn more about himself. Greendale is exactly what Britta and Jeff needed to remind them of who they are and that their mistakes and insecurities don’t define them as people.

So this episode is kind of the go-to episode for those who are introducing newcomers to the show because of how flawless it is as an homage to action movies. But just in case you've forgotten what the actual plot of the episode was, here goes: it's apparently Spring Fling time at Greendale, which means some sort of picnic/carnival on the quad. The episode opens with Jeff and Britta arguing as they walk down the hallway. Britta and Jeff do have a good banter-friendship-relationship. And this is when I like them best – the two are so similar in who they are as people (what they find funny, how they can needle and insult the other, how they view the world and why they do, etc.) that when they are placed together, it’s like watching two beta fish go after one another.

When the pair enter the study room (still fighting), the entire group groans. Jeff and Britta appear confused as to why the group is frustrated and Abed explains that the lack of chemistry and sexual tension between the pair is preventing the rest of the group from being friends. Everyone agrees... except for Jeff and Britta. They don't have any sexual tension, they argue. They just like to fight. Pierce suggests that Jeff just "pork [Britta] and move on," and I think it's interesting that Abed nearly balks at this suggestion. It makes me wonder exactly why he would be so opposed to the idea, because these kinds of things occur within television shows and romantic comedies all the time. It’s clearly evident in the later seasons that Abed has a taste for control and power. And, as we saw in “Contemporary American Poultry” just two weeks earlier, Abed is used to control and he doesn’t especially like when he can’t anticipate or predict outcomes. And I think that this is what frightens him and also what disinterests him with Jeff and Britta in “Anthropology 101” – the fact that romance in television is complicated and unpredictable. If it were up to Abed, they would stick to action movies and homages because those make sense and have structure and wrap up neatly. Relationships do not. Incidentally, Jeff and Britta don’t believe there is anything romantic going on between them, just tension and arguing. Jeff likens Pierce’s idea of just doing it with Britta and moving on as bad of an idea as putting hydrogen in blimps. 

Dean Pelton enters the room to announce that during the Spring Fling there will be a quick game of paintball assassins. The winner of the game will receive a prize that is to be determined -- nevertheless, he encourages everyone to participate.

Frustrated with the way that the conversation is going, Jeff decides to go take a nap in his car.  It’s also interesting to me that Jeff decides to let the group figure out whatever they want to figure out between him and Britta while he goes and takes a nap. So in a way, perhaps Jeff hasn’t evolved as much as he could. The point is that instead of discussing things, Jeff likes to run away. He doesn’t want confrontation with anyone or anything because it disrupts the status quo. Even later on in the episode, he decides he will use his priority registration in order to benefit himself only -- he doesn't want anything to disturb the way that things should be.

One hour later, Jeff is still asleep in his car but wakes with a jolt to noises. As he looks around, he realizes that something  has definitely happened while he's been asleep -- namely that it appears the campus has dissolved into a full-scale paintball war zone. As he looks around at the now-deserted but demolished quad, he wonders exactly what happened. Entering the school, he is informed by Garrett that the dean announced the prize at the Spring Fling event and the entire school turned on one another in order to obtain it. Before he gets a chance to tell Jeff what the prize is, Leonard shoots him. Jeff insists that he's not playing the game, but Leonard continues to target Jeff so he flees. And as he runs down the hall, he encounters Abed who shoots Leonard. Abed then insists that Jeff follow him so that he can explain what has happened. I think that it kind of speaks to the evolution of Jeff’s character that he doesn’t really question going with Abed. He’s beginning – even at the end of this season – to not question the insanity of Greendale as much and to just accept it, where he used to try and fight it (“Football, Feminism, and You” as an example). By the third season, he will willingly volunteer with Annie to defend the destruction of their biology project (a yam) in a “trial” held with their science class. And it’s clear that the school is not getting any less crazy. Maybe it’s Jeff that’s changing, then.

Abed returns to an abandoned classroom where Troy is, and the pair explain to Jeff that the prize is priority registration -- Jeff is confused at first, and then once realization dawns on him, he reaches for his gun (Troy and Abed are quicker and draw theirs first). Jeff’s immediate instinct is never to win something for someone else (or to do something for someone else unless it immediately impacts and/or benefits him). And truly, that’s our human nature. If I were to tell you that I was going to give you $100, the first thing you would think of is what you would be able to do with that money.  Jeff runs solely on his first instinct because it’s easiest and seemingly best (it benefits HIM). Britta does unselfish things with selfish motives, however. She wants Shirley to have the prize, perhaps because a large part of her really DOES want Shirley to have the prize… but also because Britta herself is afraid that she isn’t compassionate enough. Selfishly selfless, just like another person we all know.

Jeff then asks if the girls are still in the game (they are), and the boys decide to merge alliances with them until they're sure that they're the last seven people standing. It’s nice to notice that even though Jeff wants to win the prize for himself (in order to benefit only himself), he DOES agree to run with the study group until they get to that point. It shows some loyalty on his part to his friends, and significant growth. The Jeff Winger in the pilot episode tried to destroy the group to get a shot at Britta. This Jeff is bound to them for reasons that I don’t even think he can understand. The guys meet up with Pierce who was in an alliance with Starburns (until he realized he could be with his group... and then he shoots Starburns). Abed, Troy, and Jeff then decide it's time for a bathroom break. Unbeknownst to them, Shirley, Annie, and Britta are hiding out in the men's room, ready to take anyone down who comes in. (Sidenote: the shot of Britta's boots coming down from under the stall may be one of my favorites in the episode.)

As Abed looks at the paint-splattered wall in front of him, he notices that they've walked right into a trap and is about to warn the others when the women burst out from their hiding places, guns drawn. And, okay, maybe I lied above because this is probably my favorite shot from the episode. The boys try to convince the girls to merge alliances, but Britta insists that they're doing fine on their own. This leads Jeff to mock her and incites more banter between them, which the group is frustrated with to the point that they all draw their weapons and aim them at the pair.

The two groups do form an alliance as they make their way to the quad. Troy and Shirley bring up the rear, and the young athlete suggests that they may already be the only seven people left in the game. He decides that they should take the rest of the group out, and then promptly gets shot from somewhere across the quad. The group ducks and takes cover as they listen to the glee club's rendition of "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," which Annie quips is uninspired... leading her to stand up and get shot as well. And in spite of Jeff attempting to be a good guy when necessary and merge alliances, his distaste for Pierce does get the best of him when he tricks the elderly man into the realm of fire so that the rest of the group can identify where the snipers are shooting from. He, Britta, Abed, and Shirley manage to take out the rest of the glee club.

In the cafeteria, the four study group members are sitting around discussing what they would do if they won the prize. And as much as Jeff is beginning to kind of like and accept his ragtag group of misfits, that doesn’t mean that he is willing to give up anything for them. In season three, Jeff would have never wanted to spend a minute apart from his group, let alone graduate an entire year before they did. In the first season though, Jeff hasn’t really come to terms with how much he needs this group of people and how much they mean to him. They’re still going to have to go through a lot before they can get to that point. So he insists that he'd use his priority registration to ensure that he gets out of Greendale in three years, rather than four. Britta notes that she'd take any class without tests or papers. Shirley says that she'd use it to schedule her classes in the mornings so that she could spend more time with her kids. This causes Britta to declare that if any of them win, they should give the prize to Shirley as a Mother's Day present.

Jeff is not a fan of this idea. Here's something I really do appreciate about the pairing though -- Jeff and Britta are really good at calling each other out on their flaws, mainly because they do so with such ferocity and inhibition that they’re not afraid to hurt one another’s feelings. Annie and Jeff have honest conversations with one another, but they (rarely) needle each other in order to get there. Jeff knows Britta’s buttons – he used to be a lawyer and can read people fairly well. He knows that she is a phony. But here’s the thing about Jeff and Britta that Jeff and Annie seem to have more of – understanding. Jeff doesn’t understand WHY Britta acts the way she does in this episode until she flat-out tells him. Britta, in turn, knows how to push right back and she’s not afraid to do so either. Jeff begins “You’d be a lot more likeable if…” and she completes the sentence with “… I never did anything for anyone ever.” I think that speaks a lot to how she views Jeff’s perception of her. He wishes that she would be more likeable, and that entails becoming more like HIM.

Abed and Shirley, meanwhile, are exchanging glances while Jeff and Britta argue and draw their weapons. I really hope that there is an alternate timeline somewhere in which Abed and Shirley shoot Jeff and Britta to shut them up and then end up winning the prize for themselves. Just as the two draw their guns, the study group is interrupted by the disco guy from earlier in the episode who Jeff taunted... this time, however, he's brought along friends. The group takes each of them down, but Shirley and Abed are hit in the process, leaving only Jeff and Britta (the former of who is shot as well and distraught, until he realizes that it's blood, not paint on his clothes).

As Shirley leaves, Jeff tells her that he's going to win the prize, but not for her and her boys (to which she replies: "That's less nice"). And oh what a difference two years can make, Jeff. You’ll give up everything you wanted post-graduation in order to help out Shirley in "Introduction to Finality." That little Jeff/Shirley parallel touched me last night when I re-watched because it is an example of how much Jeff has grown.

In Dean Pelton's office, the school administrator paces around with Chang watching. The game has gone on for far too long, he insists and it needs to be ended because there are classes in the morning. Chang then asks for the dean to put him in the game -- apparently the Spanish teacher plays paintball three times a week and brings in his own equipment. Again, one of my favorite things about Chang is that he is a villain when he is in power. And he is never more powerful than when he is in this episode. He does, after all, have his own theme music. So Dean Pelton agrees and enrolls Chang as a student so that he can legally participate in the game.

Meanwhile, in the study room, Britta is tending to Jeff's injury. I love that the first thing out of Britta’s mouth is about the group. It kind of goes back to what Jeff had said earlier about the group sorting things out and deciding whatever they wanted to in regards to him and Britta. Neither of them seem eager to figure out if there's anything between them, so they're content to not address it. And then, this conversation occurs:

Britta: You're right, you know. I am a phony. I try to act compassionate because I'm afraid I'm not.
Jeff: Oh, please. I invented phony. You care about people. I accuse you of faking to convince myself I'm not such a jerk.
Britta: Jeff, you help people more than I do and you don't even want to. You're not a jerk. You're fine. 

This is perhaps the most real and honest conversation Jeff and Britta ever have had on the show and I really love it. It’s here that we get to the root of who Britta is as a character and why she does the things that she does (as well as Jeff). And we really get some nice insight into the Jeff/Britta relationship. On the very rare occasions when they can both put aside their egos and snark, they are capable of having decent conversations about important things. But I don’t know if that’s the kind of relationship they want, ever. They’ve never worked, past this episode, to establish one that resembles this. It’s something to think about. Still, in this moment the idea that Britta is scared of failing the group and of letting them down is one of significant importance because it was HER study group to begin with. She envies Jeff, I think, for his ability to lead people when he doesn't even want to. And yet, she tries so hard to be what people need that she feels like she's being fake (even though her heart is in the right place most of the time). This is such an interesting characterization of Britta in season one, because by season three she's seemed to have accepted her role within the study group and herself as a person. And Jeff? Well Jeff manages to realize that he has the potential to be a jerk and that these people -- his study group -- will be there for him even when he IS. But that doesn't mean that he has to treat others poorly or think about himself all the time.

Jeff and Britta then mock the group's accusation of tension between them and pretend to kiss, but make disgusted noises. They do end up kissing, however, and it's evident that they sleep together afterwards. Britta gets dressed quickly and draws her weapon, aiming it at Jeff. He in turn asks if them sleeping together meant nothing to her and here's something to note: in a few episodes, Britta’s evasive answer-a-question-with-a-question method (she never does tell him if it means anything to her, she just asks "What did it mean to you?") will come back in "Pascal's Triangle Revisited" (where when Jeff asks: "You love me?" she replies with "Do you love me?"). Jeff then purposefully irritates and angers Britta by saying: “You sure that’s a gun? Maybe it’s a metaphor for your fake, jaded persona." She pulls the trigger... and nothing happens. Jeff smirks, self-satisfied because he removed the clip from her gun (perhaps anticipating that this would happen) before they slept together.

Their bantering is interrupted by Chang, who enters the room with a powerful paintball gun. Jeff and Britta take cover behind the couches and the Spanish teacher informs them that they're the only three people left in the game. Britta then insists that Jeff give her his weapon so that she can take Chang out. He refuses, of course, but I love that Britta knows exactly how to distract Jeff in order to get his clip (by kissing him). She grins and says: “Be pretty crazy if I shot you right now, huh?” Instead of shooting Jeff though, she takes out Chang. Once the man is "dead," he begins laughing maniacally and reveals two important tidbits of information: 1) there is no such thing as priority registration and 2) there's a paintball grenade set to explode at any moment. Jeff runs out of the room with Chang's gun in hand just as the paintball grenade explodes behind him.

Jeff then confronts Dean Pelton and demands his prize. At the end of the conversation (or really, the argument in which Jeff covered the dean's office in paint), it seems clear that Jeff will get his priority registration. The next day, Jeff and Britta encounter one another in the hallway as the school is being cleaned and agree that the night before never happened. It wasn't a mistake, Britta insists, it just never happened. They enter into the study room just as Abed announces that something did feel different about the room. Jeff announces that he has emerged victorious from the paintball game and surprises everyone when he hands the  registration forms to Shirley. The fact is that Jeff CAN be a decent human being when he chooses to be. He usually just chooses NOT to be. And he needs reminders from each and every group member of how he can be better – from Annie in “Basic Genealogy” to Abed in “Critical Film Studies,” and even the dean in “Documentary Filmmaking Redux.” And Britta points out his flaws in this episode, and they cause him to not even consciously examine why he acts the way that he does. In fact, his change is so unnoticeable by him, that he seems surprised when he hands the paper to Shirley. But he’s changed for the better whether consciously or subconsciously – that much is true. And there’s no turning back now.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- The opening scene has a hallways called "Goldman Hall." I wonder if it's named after @GoldmanNeil
- "Well, if I'm the police, then you're director of Funland Security."
- “He makes me uncomfortable.” “…still in the room.”
- The gag of holding open the door so that the disco roller skater can run into it is still one of my favorite things ever on the show.
- “Easy, sugarbear.”
- “I mean, I’m all for winning, but let’s not resort to cheap ploys.” (The note in the script for this episode -- which I have thanks to @GoldmanNeil! -- says "Arms that make women watch the show." Hey, we won't deny it.)
- "SHUT. UP!"
- "Troy made God mad!"
- "Write some original songs!"
- “Buenos dias, children.”
- The end tag is one of my favorites of the entire series.

Thanks for all of you who had a chance to join last night's Twitter re-watch with me! The summer is just kicking off and we have a lot of episodes still to go through! Next week we are watching "English as a Second Language" at 8PM EST and using the hashtag #Disneyface. Until then, folks! :)

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