Friday, May 18, 2012

3x21 "The First Chang Dynasty" (To Integrity. And Honesty. And Ocean's Eleven.)

"The First Chang Dynasty"
Original Airdate: May 17, 2012

How far are you willing to go to fight for something you love, no matter how absurd it may seem? While it’s easy to remember how awesome Ocean’s Eleven was, it’s also important to remember exactly WHY Danny Ocean was motivated to perform such an elaborate heist to begin with on the particular casino he did – it was because of Tess. He was trying to prove something to her and to fight for her, as evidenced in this clip from the movie.

While the operation wouldn’t have been entirely futile for the other ten individuals, had Danny not won Tess back, it would have impacted HIM. Everyone needs something or someone to fight for in their life, and the Greendale Seven are no exception. They’ve gone through a lot together and they’ve come a long way from where they were in “Basic Rocket Science” – where they made a mockery of their school flag just for fun. Even though they still probably all find Greendale to be an absurd place at times, it’s not only that it’s THEIR absurd place that impacts them – it’s the notion that when you love something, you need to play your part in fighting to save it. Much like Ocean’s Eleven, every study group member plays a key role in taking Greendale back from the hands of Chang. Furthermore, every character decides to agree to the plan because they all have everything to lose – together. And essentially, this is one of the themes of the final few episodes: the idea that the group is best when they are together, because they learn from each other and grow and become better people. 

As the study group discusses Chang's plot with their cop friend, it becomes clear that he doesn't believe that the dean was kidnapped and replaced by a fake one. This leaves the study group members to debate what to do next -- they will, of course, have to return to Greendale and save the dean. Their cop friend warns them that if he catches them setting a foot in Greendale, they'll all be thrown in jail. Nevertheless, the group plans to break back into the school.

And ironically, you would expect Jeff Winger, of all the study group members, to protest such an absurd plan to break back in and take back their school. But, like I mentioned during the last episode review, Jeff has begun to realize this season exactly how much he needs Greendale and how much it has changed them (which will come to a head in “Introduction to Finality”).

So let's discuss our villain in question for this episode. Chang is one of the more interesting villains that we’ve had on the show. He is the only villain who has been both an intra-group villain AND an external one. I’ve said it before – Chang is best when he is in power because it’s this power, this desire, that causes him to become twisted and corrupt, but still oddly human. In his villainy, it’s easy to forget that this Chang is the same person that Shirley named her baby after. And like @elspunko pointed out to me in her notes, often times the group’s struggles against Chang are really mirroring struggles within themselves. Their struggle last year was whether or not they truly cared about one another. This year, their struggle is with accepting their love for Greendale. In accepting this love – in professing their commitment to this school, they have to fight against Chang, the final barrier that separates them from truly accepting Greendale, once and for all. 

Troy meets with Manny (right? Well, whatever. We'll call him Manny) from the Air Conditioning Repair School Annex, who informs the athlete that since they have eyes and ears all over campus, the annex is aware of where Dean Pelton is being held. And Troy knows exactly what he has to do. In fact, Troy’s story arc begins in this episode and continues in “Introduction to Finality.” And I think it speaks a lot to his character and how much he’s grown as a leader and as a person by being willing to do whatever it takes to save the group. A lot of times, we forget that Troy isn’t just a character whose only purpose is to serve as comedic relief – he’s a genuine leader. He was the quarterback of a football team and had to make decisions and call shots. But once he arrived at Greendale, Jeff Winger took that role for him. And up until the end of last season, we didn’t really see a power struggle between the two. Jeff has come to view Troy more as an equal than as a sidekick, which is endearing and also intriguing because of how the audience is traditionally expected to view Jeff as the undisputed leader of the study group. But, as I have mentioned before, Jeff’s character isn’t merely that simple, nor should our perception of him be such. He can have the tendency to be selfish and jaded, but he willingly lets Troy follow through with his plan later on in the episode and (at the beginning) refuses to let the young man sacrifice himself on their behalf until they have exhausted all of their other options.

Britta, too, is insistent at this point that nothing is worth losing Troy from the study group – not the dean or Greendale, or anything. And truthfully, I feel that this is the way the rest of the study group regards each of their members. But Troy is different. Because Troy is a different type of leader – he is entirely self-sacrificial, even to the point of losing the group of people who matter most to him. This humility and sacrifice is what sets him apart from everyone else in the group.

But instead of letting Troy sacrifice himself, the group decides to plan an elaborate heist -- they will break into Greendale during Chang's birthday party and rescue Dean Pelton. They are going to take back their school. And I love that even themed episodes of “Community” aren’t entirely just themed episode. Because while this is, in large part, a heist episode, it is also just an episode about the group fighting for what they love and taking back what they hold dear to them – it’s about not appreciating what you have until it’s gone and then wanting to do everything in your power to ensure it is never lost again.

So the group plans their heist a la Ocean's Eleven with everyone playing a distinct role in distracting and/pr rescuing. The plan appears to be working flawlessly, until... Pierce enters the room dressed up and blows both his and Jeff's covers. Of course, since this IS the movie-themed heist, the failing is actually a part of the plan. Well, that is, until the group manages to actually get caught by Chang and his army. They're thrown into the basement where Chang informs the group that he plans to perform a keytar solo soon which, when he hits the last note, will culminate in the detonation of explosives in the records room, thereby eliminating any and all traces of his misdoings. 

All hope seems lost for the group, until Troy makes a decision -- he nods to the camera in the room which cuts the power to a giant moving fan, allowing the group to escape through it. I think it’s interesting to note that Britta is the only person who seems to recognize the sacrifice that Troy makes. And Troy, admittedly, knows what it’s going to cost him to sacrifice what he loves. @elspunko also mentioned this in her notes to me: “I think Troy knew all along that he’d have to join the AC repair school, so he participated in the plan knowing he wouldn’t get to reap its benefits. That was a risk for the rest of the group, too, who could have been arrested, but it doesn’t even matter if they can benefit from Greendale. Knowing that it exists is enough.” Even though Troy knew what it was going to cost, he knew what it would mean to his friends and for the greater good of the school. So he was willing to sacrifice for that.

Upon breaking out of the basement, the group heads to work -- Troy and Abed set out to deactivate the explosives while the rest of the group fends off Chang's army. Abed manages to cut the wire to the explosives in time. A furious Chang, of course, notices and confronts the group in the records room. He is finally discovered by two of the board members, and flees the scene along with not!Moby. The board members then debate aloud how they will cover up the mess they clearly made. And that's when Dean Pelton steps forward -- "I'd do it. For Greendale." And I think that this is the theme of the last two episodes of the third season – the group and the dean and Troy were willing to risk everything: their futures, their friends, their lives, for a school. And it’s not just it’s because a school or because it was a place that they loved. It’s because it was a part of them and when a part of you is taken away, you’ll do anything to get it back.

And just like that, the Greendale Seven are reinstated into Greendale Community College. Dean Pelton, clearly touched, muses: "I don't know how I'll ever repay you" to which Jeff responds: "You already have." This is something else that will be pertinent in the following episode because it comes from Jeff and because of what it means. The dean has a lot to thank the Greendale Seven for, but they have even MORE to thank him for – for providing a place where they belong, where they have grown, and where they love.

Sadly, though, Troy made an exchange with the Air Conditioning Repair Annex -- they would help him, so long as he would join them. One of the saddest things is Troy saying farewell to his group of friends, especially Abed who (as I have made the case for numerous times) is not a robot and begins to cry when Troy says goodbye to him. Even Jeff, despite the fact that he generally doesn’t do well with emotions, appears to be affected by Troy’s departure and by the fact that the Air Conditioning Repair School is physically taking him away. And perhaps he’s a bit miffed that Troy actually stuck to his “word” (a nod to a camera), much like Britta is. 

But that’s what makes Troy who he is – he’s the type of guy who values honesty and integrity, no matter how insignificant anyone else views it, his word is important to him. It costs everything, but it means something.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
“I’m working on a cop opera.” “… COPERA!” “Policical!”
“You had time to build a tiny working water fountain and I’m a pine cone?”
“Um, I just want to reiterate: this should be the ONLY time you seduce a child over the Internet.”
Let’s just say that I will keep re-watching this episode because of Joel and leather pants. As you were, readers.
“Jeffrey!... oh, hey Britta.”
“Chang, you’re insane! You’re still into keytar?”
“You stole my life!” “It is hard out there for a fake Moby!”

This is it folks: the last review of the season is coming up soon! If I don't get a chance to post it tonight, look for the "Introduction to Finality" recap tomorrow morning. :)


  1. "And it’s not just it’s because a school or because it was a place that they loved. It’s because it was a part of them and when a part of you is taken away, you’ll do anything to get it back."

    I've often used the Hashtag #FORGREENDALE in a rallying cry on twitter. It has a whole new meaning to me now after reading this.

    Perfect review is perfect.

    1. Yeah. I basically love you.

      What what.

      ... the end.

  2. Loves your reviews. Always spot on and very well written.

    1. Thank you so much for reading and enjoying! :)