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Saturday, August 25, 2012

2x11 "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" (The Meaning of Christmas)

"Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas"
Original Airdate: December 9, 2010

Let’s take a poll, shall we? My favorite holiday is: a) Halloween, b) Christmas, c) Thanksgiving, or d) Valentine’s Day. Do you have your answers locked down? If you guessed “Christmas,” award yourself, pass “Go” and collect $200. To me, Christmas is a spectacular, wonderful, and magical time of the year. It fills me with complete and utter joy, and every year I long for the (slightly) cooler weather in Florida so that I can don a scarf and pair of boots and sing carols with family and friends. Each Christmas episode has centered around the character of Abed Nadir on Community and – obviously – “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” is no exception. So why do these holidays choose to focus on the character of Abed? What are viewers meant to garner from a stop-motion animated episode of their favorite sitcom? In order to answer that question in its fullest, we need to understand some fundamental truths about Abed. First, Abed does not like change. A character who is as control and detail-oriented as Abed is tends to see the world in a way that he can understand it, and only in that way. If Abed cannot make sense of something (for example, his mother wanting to spend time with her new family rather than him during Christmas), he doesn’t admit that he cannot understand it. Instead, it just simply must not be true. It’s a sobering characterization of Abed – a sad one, even, to realize that he is someone struggling to be understood, like us all. But even finding people like the study group doesn’t “cure” Abed. Even if he (and we, if we’re being honest) surrounds himself with people who know him and care about him, that doesn’t mean that they will always understand us as well as we want them to. So this episode is a journey in understanding Abed. As the study group learns more about who Abed is, so do the viewers. By the end of our journey from Winter Wonderland and back, we evaluate our own definitions of crazy, of friendship and loyalty, and of Christmas itself.

As is customary for me, let's briefly recap the plot of this episode. It's Christmastime at Greendale, which means that it's "politically correct" season, as the Dean announces that the school attributes no specialness to the time of year. So there are some nice parallels between the way that “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” and “Regional Holiday Music” open. Both begin with Abed asking about Christmas plans that the group has, and both include the film student being disappointed when his friends choose less-than-holiday-centric ways to spend their vacation. Annie announces that she'll be pre-reading for a relaxation class next semester, and Troy says that he'll spend his holiday playing video games. Abed then expresses his disappointment and notes that he thought this Christmas would be special. They all, after all, are stop-motion animated. Let me pause for a moment to express that there is such a BEAUTIFUL Pierce/Abed storyline in this episode and it’s just… so endearing to Pierce as a character, especially because he is someone who we traditionally dismiss as being the racist old goof of the group. But in “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” he is the last person to stay with Abed until the very end, and the person who indulges him (seemingly) the most for his character. What I mean is that Troy and Abed and Annie are obviously close to one another so it stands to reason that they would help Abed as much as possible throughout the episode, and they do. Pierce has little to no reason to be as kind to Abed as he is, but I quite enjoy it.

Anyway, as we know later on, this is an episode that exists in a world where Duncan is partially right. Abed’s behavior (his belief that everyone is in a stop-motion animated Christmas episode) is a reflection of the unsettlement he feels by being unable to control outcomes of events. His pain manifests itself through his desire to overcompensate for a loss – he is a character so intent on making this Christmas the most spectacular Christmas of them all because he’s afraid that without his comforting familiarity and love of his mother, he has lost all meaning. This similar personality trait exhibits itself in “Virtual Systems Analysis,” briefly. Abed believes that he is only good for planning and controlling within the study group and that, eventually, they won’t need him anymore. For this reason, then, the study  group as a whole is hesitant to label Abed in the beginning of the episode. There are notably two exceptions to this: Jeff and Britta. Jeff asks if a word means the same to Abed as it does to “normal” people, which is the second indicator we have gotten in the season more explicitly regarding Jeff’s views of Abed as a person. In “Anthropology 101,” Jeff harshly criticized Abed’s inability to decipher reality from television, which wounded the film student. This dig is a bit more subtle, but it is a nice set-up for events and the relationship that will occur between them in “Critical Film Studies” later on.

Additionally, season three isn’t the real introduction of Britta-as-psychologist. Season two offered plenty of moments where the blonde psychoanalyzed (or attempted to, at least) her fellow students. Here is a subtle example of Britta’s character – she treads lightly with Abed, and – unlike Jeff – hesitates to label or categorize him. Britta and Abed have always had an interesting relationship. These two characters had the first noted interaction on Greendale’s campus out of any other members in the group when Abed asked her to borrow a pencil. Throughout the first season, she strove to protect Abed and his feelings (“Introduction to Film,” for instance). So instead of referring to Abed as crazy, she asks how they can help with his “situation.” Again – this isn’t a character who wants to diagnose and detach from her friend; Britta genuinely wants to help.

Even later on in season three, I feel like people mistake her intentions as a Psychology student. She never insists that she has all of the right answers, nor does she (usually) diagnose people. She is eager to help people out, because she wants that to be her role again. Pop quiz time! Whose study group was it before it became Jeff’s? Who did the group members turn to for wisdom, guidance, and to ultimately let Jeff into the group at all? If you answered “Britta,” award yourself another $200 as you pass “Go”! Britta is, and will always be, the heart of the group. Is she the brightest? No. Is she the most successful in her endeavors? Not always. Is she someone who wants what is best for the study group? Yes. What I usually (and I’ve mentioned this before) find intriguing is that when Britta manages to Britta a plan, the end result turns out to be exactly what the group needed to begin with. The group may never acknowledge it either consciously or subconsciously, but Britta has helped them more than they realize.

But I digress -- the study group decides to play along with Abed's delusion for the beginning of the episode. The opening credits commence then, with the film student leaping around school and singing a Christmas-themed version of "At Least It Was Here." And since the stop-motion animation in this episode is a reflection of Abed's mind and not actually occurring, everything that the stop-motion characters do in the episode actually happens in real life. Thus, Abed gets tasered by two security guards when he leaps and sings onto the hoods of cars in the parking lot. 

After the credits, Britta, Jeff, and Abed find themselves in Duncan's office. Duncan is one of my favorite minor characters on the show, mainly because he is essentially the epitome of Greendale. Here is a professor of Psychology who is, by worldly standards, relatively unsuccessful. He has a moral compass that is usually askew, too. But he manages to teach the study group, Jeff, and others that he encounters life lessons that are actually valuable. Thanks to Duncan, Jeff needed the study group. (Chew on THEM apples, haters – you all have Duncan and Britta to thank for the existence of the study group!) Of course, his unwitting assistance aside, this doesn’t redeem Duncan’s selfishness throughout the episode, nor his willingness to break Abed’s mental state in order to get a book deal. Just so we are all clear.

So the Psychology professor insists that Abed must find the root cause for his delusion in order to be helped. He suggests therapy, which Abed pretty much balks at. When he refuses and begins to head toward the door, Britta explains that they'll kick him out of school if he doesn't get the help he needs. Abed is so insistent on the fact that he can “fix” his circumstances and his life and then things and people will work the way they’re “supposed” to. (Note the importance of the air quotations.) But what Abed doesn’t realize quite yet is that even if he tries as hard as he possibly can, that doesn’t ensure that people will do and say the exact things he wants and needs them to do and say. We see this evidenced clearly in “Virtual Systems Analysis,” again. 

Abed leaves and finds himself in the courtyard, singing a "sad, quick Christmas song" and working on a snowman -- which just so happens to be Chang. The former professor chastises Abed for fondling him (remember, none of Abed's stop-motion events actually occur as he sees them), but before the film student can fix Snowman Chang's final button, he gets a text from Britta telling him that the meaning of Christmas is in the study room. When he arrives, he's disappointed to find the entire study group and Duncan waiting for him. 

(As an aside, I think Pierce is my favorite in this episode. Maybe it’s because Chevy translates his voice really well into a cartoon. Whatever it is, this oft-overlooked member of the study group really has some shining moments. It’s entertaining to me that Pierce only questions Winter Wonderland at the very beginning and briefly (until Shirley smacks him) and he looks around the room, pretending to be able to see what Abed does. After this point in the story, the elderly study group member doesn’t question Abed’s view of the room. It’s nice, and I’ll touch on some important moments as they arise later on.)

So Professor Duncan encourages Abed to take a trip to the magical Winter Wonderland so that his friends can be of assistance in helping him cope with his delusion (he doesn't say this outright to Abed, and instead plays along with the delusion himself). Abed agrees (Jeff noting to Duncan that the professor is playing with so much fire by allowing Abed to do this), and the entire study group closes their eyes and imagines themselves being transported into Winter Wonderland on Planet Abed. When the group arrives, Abed notes that they have all transformed into Christmas versions of themselves. All right, so now I will take the opportunity to psychoanalyze the Christmas caricatures that Abed assigned to each member of the study group:
  • Jeff-in-the-Box
    • I think this is meant to represent Jeff’s sarcastic and jester-like personality. 
  • Troy Soldier
    • Abed sees Troy as a leader and someone who should command importance. What better way to indicate this to the rest of the group than by giving him the only musical instrument?
  • Brittabot
    • Britta has a tough exterior, can be rather cold and unemotional (compared to Annie and Shirley, for instance, who are softer and usually more outwardly compassionate) and this is why I believe Abed chooses a robot for her.
  • Teddy Pierce
    • This one is just so intriguing to me – a teddy bear is something that you cuddle: something that is soft, warm, and inviting. Thoughts like these aren’t usually equated with Pierce, but it’s nice to see that ABED sees something in the elderly man that is soft and caring.
  • BallerAnnie
    • I think that Abed chose Annie to be a ballerina for various reasons: yes, she is delicate and graceful and doll-like, but she’s also a bit tightly wound, too.
  • Baby Doll Shirley
    • I wonder if Abed chose for Shirley to be a baby doll simply because of the fact that she is so mothering to others and to her own children, or because she has the tendency to be infantile in her belief systems and judgments. Hmm.

Abed is very keen to avoid discussing anything but discovering the meaning of Christmas. He believes (just like in “Regional Holiday Music”) that if he and the group can discover the joy of Christmas, life will be better. And initially, Duncan actually is willing to follow along with Abed’s shenanigans, which I find interesting. The group heads off to The North Pole where Santa's workshop (and the meaning of Christmas) is located. Duncan attempts to deter the group multiple times by insisting that they find the "Cave of Frozen Memories" in order to help Abed deal with the real reason he constructed a stop-motion Winter Wonderland in the first place.

En route to The North Pole, Shirley asks Abed why he chose to make her a Christmas baby, and believes he really meant for her to be a Christmas angel. When Britta, Shirley, and Annie begin to argue and discuss the real meaning for their Christmas doppelgangers, Shirley becomes agitated and mentions that she was nice enough to volunteer to be a part of Abed's therapy session, but before she can finish, Duncan emerges from a "rip" in the fabric of Winter Wonderland (it's amazing that you can see the library in the background of the rip) and ejects Shirley from Planet Abed using a remote control Christmas Pterodactyl, stating that anyone who isn't interested in helping Abed should leave. (I also love the sheer irony of the fact that the very things Duncan helped to create and bring to fruition [Winter Wonderland, the Christmas Pterodactyl and Christmas Wizard] become his undoing.) Abed plays Shirley off by singing a Willy Wonka-style farewell song.

Jeff begins to become snarky and Abed warns of "humbugs" -- creatures who feed on sarcasm. These creatures then proceed to "eat" Jeff as he continues to be smug and sarcastic. Once he is gone from Winter Wonderland, Annie volunteers to sing his send-off, and hers is my favorite of them all. Once that concludes, the rest of the group travels through Carol Canyon in order to approach the Cave of Frozen Memories.) As the group walks, Britta notes that Jesus wasn't really born in December, and the creation of Christmas was meant to take a holiday away from the pagans. What I think is really interesting is how quickly Britta goes from finding Abed’s delusions slightly adorable (and also wanting to help him in any way possible), to being irritated and ranting, as she is in Carol Canyon. Like I said earlier, Britta cares about Abed and is frustrated when he doesn’t admit that he has any issues. She’s gone out of her way to try and help him – the entire study group has, really. The time that could have been spent with family or friends outside of Greendale is instead invested in Abed, who doesn’t seem to want any help. Britta’s frustration, then, begins to mount.

The group enters the Cave of Frozen Memories, and looks around. Troy says: "Man, it's cave-like in here" to which Pierce responds: "What do you mean, cave-like? It's a cave." This is one of my favorite Pierce moments in the episode, besides ones nearing the end. It’s so subtle and almost a blink-and-you’ll miss moment where the viewers get to see how much Pierce has committed to Abed’s Winter Wonderland. He honestly cares about the film student, or else he would not have invested effort into imagining a cave within the study room.

Duncan enters the cave and asks Abed to focus on a part of the cave and think about the reason he believes that the group is stop-motion animated. He wants the film student to harness and channel his emotions regarding the holiday, believing that something that morning unsettled him. Abed (briefly) attempts but quickly gives up and asks Duncan to show him how to properly do the exercise. Ironically, Abed turns the tables and begins to psychoanalyze Duncan. This is the turning point for the Psychology professor, who grows hysterical and then upset at what little progress is being made. He abruptly exits the cave and heads to Abed's dorm room (as he explains later on). Annie then laments that they are without a Christmas wizard. But the film major is still in denial, claiming that they don’t need Duncan and they especially don’t need a “cave of frozen memories” to reflect on. Rather than, once again, address an issue, Abed seeks to do everything he can to “fix” the issue without confronting its root cause. He notes that he is headed to the train station that will take him to The North Pole and cannot have anyone coming with him who is on Duncan's side. Annie, Troy, and Pierce agree to head with him, but Abed stops Britta from joining.

And this is why Britta’s send-off song is so heartbreaking – because it reflects how Abed TRULY feels about her, and – more importantly – what he believes she thinks about herself. And it really breaks my heart as a viewer. Because Britta tries, as I said earlier, to be what people need and want (as does Abed, really, and as do they all). But Britta has no real faith in herself, and barely any faith left in humanity. So her efforts come across harsh and cold, it’s only because she becomes frustrated.  Britta is broken (she has wires with frayed ends, people) just like everyone else, so Abed sings:“Brittabot, programmed badly – wires with fraying ends. Functioning mad and sadly, no faith in herself or friends.” And thus, Britta leaves Winter Wonderland (likely crying, since this all was occurring in real life too).

Abed, Annie, Troy, and Pierce head to The North Pole, but the elderly man insists that since the cookies have run out and he has to use the restroom, he'll see himself out of Winter Wonderland. The three left on the train discuss their holiday traditions, Annie noting that she's half-Jewish but also celebrates Christmas on her dad's side. Abed notes that his mom loves Christmas traditions and they watch "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" every year together on December 9th. Troy hesitates and then informs Abed that December 9th is that day -- the last day of classes. It’s so heartbreaking that rather than accept the fact that his mother has moved on with her life, Abed insists that something else must be wrong – the day of the week, for example – because he cannot fathom certain events and situations. It seems so illogical to the other study group members, and to viewers, that Abed cannot accept that situations exist outside of his control and desire. But, the way that Abed copes is by finding a new problem to fix, thereby diverting his attention from the original problem.

Duncan re-enters the train and insists that he knows the reason why Abed is behaving the way that he is. Abed notes that Duncan has changed from a Christmas wizard into a Christmas warlock and escapes the train car and onto the roof, while the Psychology professor attempts to stop him. Troy holds Duncan back while Annie unhitches the train cars so that Abed can escape to The North Pole. I really do love that Annie and Troy stuck by Abed and protected him from Duncan. It’s an instance of something that is harmful later on (“Contemporary Impressionists”) when their protection of Abed grows out of hand, but it’s endearing and sweet in this episode.

Once he is alone in the car, Abed sets the train speed higher. From behind him, Teddy Pierce reemerges. The next few moments are some of my favorite between Pierce and Abed. First of all, the elderly man is still playing into Abed’s Winter Wonderland without even questioning it or hesitating. Also, it’s sweet that the viewer thinks for a moment that perhaps Abed will be left alone to try and find the meaning of Christmas by himself. And we feel bad for him, for having to endure that. But with Pierce acknowledging that he doesn’t like going home to an empty mansion, a small bond is formed between him and Abed that is sweet and sincere. 

The pair travel to The North Pole and approach Santa's workshop. Pierce ACTUALLY wants to help. And maybe, just maybe, he is the most genuine out of all the study group members. Sure, he insisted he was only sticking around for the cookies. But the real reason he stayed was to have company and friendship during an otherwise lonely holiday. Additionally, Pierce and Abed enter Santa's Workshop and the elderly man asks: “Okay, so… meaning of Christmas, right? Do you see it?” This, I think, is great because it sets up the fact that Pierce has no pretenses – he doesn’t want Abed to find anything in particular, isn’t forcing him to see things that don’t exist, and isn’t trying to get anything out of Abed’s revelation, whatever that may be. For all his racist and offensive jokes, his remarks toward Abed, and his demeanor the rest of the season, this is Pierce’s shining moment as a human being (er… teddy bear).

Abed DOES find the meaning of Christmas in the middle of the room thanks to Pierce and unwraps it, only to discover that it is the first season of "Lost" on DVD. Pierce is confused until Abed explains that it represents a lack of payoff. This is when Duncan reemerges, sending Abed into a catatonic state when he reads a letter from Abed's mother that was on the floor of the film student's dorm room. The letter explains that she has a new family and won't be joining him for Christmas this year. The study group approaches, however, and bands together to support their friend. I LOVE that the study group didn’t get very far in wherever they decided to go after being ejected from Winter Wonderland. Likely, they made it as far as outside of the study room before they realized that they needed to be there for Abed, because HE needed them, not necessarily because they agreed with him or had all the answers. Christmas means being there for people you love, and the study group pulled through for one of their own.

(The study group then sings a song while they attack Duncan with their Christmas-style weapons and then eject him from Winter Wonderland via a Christmas Pterodactyl and a self-destruct button.)

Abed recovers from his catatonic state by realizing that Christmas means whatever you want it to mean, and that it doesn't have only ONE meaning. He acknowledges that, now, Christmas means spending time with his study group family. The entire group hugs and celebrates this revelation. When the group "reconvenes" as stop-motion in the study room, Abed notes that they could probably stop being animated, since he feels better. I love that Britta was the one to suggest that they all stay in stop-motion animation because she knew how much it meant to Abed.

So the group hijacks Christmas decorations from the cafeteria and settles in Abed's dorm room to watch a Christmas special together. The ending to this episode is the sweetest thing ever, as the group's real reflections are seen on the television screen. But it is also the last time the study group may ever be completely bonded together in love until season three. 


Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
- “I never understand what any of you are saying.”
- “You lied to lure me into a group therapy session?” “Surprise!”
- “Its atmosphere is seven percent cinnamon.” “Aww.”
- “Bitter, shallow hipster, sweater matching socks. Christmas needs more presence than a haircut in a box.”
- “Woah, woah! Who taught you therapy? Michael Jackson’s dad?”
- “Hey! You’re actually grabbing me in real life, delinquent!”
- “What’s your article gonna be called? ‘Worst shrink ever’?”
- “Troy and Abed in stop-motion!”

All right, folks. Remember that #CommunityRewatch and subsequent blog-reviews have moved days and times! Join me now at 8:30 PM EST on FRIDAYS for re-watches and check back here on Saturdays for reviews. Next week we will be watching "Asian Population Studies," so join me on Twitter with the hashtag #QuettleCorn, will you? Until then, have a great week. :)

Friday, August 17, 2012

2x10 "Mixology Certification" (Grown-Ups)

"Mixology Certification"
Original Airdate: December 2, 2010

“This is… you know… the idea that Troy is a non-polluted version of Jeff Winger… that he’s the young buck kind of up-and-coming, and that he hasn’t had a chance yet to become jaded… That Jeff has already had Britta, and that they’re - Jeff and Britta are like siblings - but that Troy is now, like, becoming a man, and you know, Britta says to him, ‘You don’t have to be like that.’" – Dan Harmon, “Remedial Chaos Theory” commentary
What does it look like to grow up? It’s an interesting question to ponder, really, because the fact is that (in my personal opinion) most of us never truly grow up. Oh, sure, we move into houses and some of us get married and maybe we get a 401k plan or begin to say things like “back in my day…” but let me ask you all something. Is that really what it looks like to grow up? If growing up means a series of doing things that society has taught us to equate with adulthood, then there are a lot of adults roaming the streets out there. But maybe, just maybe, those things don’t make us grown up. Maybe you can be a 30-something year old ex-lawyer and be less grown-up than a 20-year old. And that’s the fundamental question of “Mixology Certification,” truly. It’s this question of coming to terms with your adulthood, with your actions, with the consequences of aforementioned actions, and also the realization that the things you don’t do in life often carry just as much weight as the ones you DO. I watched this episode with my best friend of ten years one night as we marathoned part of the season. After the tag ended, we sat there and I attempted to gauge her reaction. Slowly, she said: “That was really different than any of the episodes.” Hastily, she added: “It was really good, but you’d never know – just by watching that alone – that you were watching the same show.” And it’s true, quite honestly, that “Mixology Certification” is different in tone from other episodes. But it’s an episode that is so poignant, so heartfelt, and so very fundamental in order to understand the depth of these characters – that is, their identities outside of paintball or diorama-building or zombie Halloweens – that I will take a moment to give Andy Bobrow (@abobrow) a round of applause.

So, as is customary for all of the blog-reviews, let's recap the plot for the episode, shall we? The study group is meeting in their usual room, all donning birthday hats and singing "... to you!" to Troy. (Since Troy is a Jehovah's Witness, they don't sing the entirety of the Happy Birthday song to him.) Everyone celebrates the young man turning 20, but Britta notes that they need to cram as soon as the party is over because finals are rapidly approaching. Jeff agrees, citing that they've begun to use celebrations as an excuse not to study (very nice meta commentary). This is an episode that is seemingly devoted exclusively to Troy. And (as I have literally said numerous times at this point), the sheer brilliance of Community hinges on a few things, one of them being the fact that even though an episode appears to be centered on one character alone, it often reveals much more about other characters than anticipated. This is an episode that is just as devoted to Shirley and Annie as characters as it is Troy. Note that I said “devoted” and do not necessarily equate this with screentime. In an episode centered around the milestone of someone’s life (a 21st birthday, in Troy’s case), characters find themselves questioning the state of their own lives. 

Shirley, for instance, attempted to bury her past – to run away from it, ashamed that her perfect, upstanding image within the group would be tarnished. She, like Jeff, would go to great lengths to ensure that the group sees her in a particular light and in that light only. Annie – in contrast – spends the episode questioning not her past but her future. She is the one character that viewers have come to attribute with stability. She’s the dayplanner, after all – a woman who is always prepared, always on time, and always at her best. But what the viewers (and Annie herself) realize as the episode wears on is that being an adult doesn’t always mean knowing who you are and who you should be. In fact, being a “grown-up” is perhaps the scariest thing in the world. But I’ve digressed, so let’s talk about the opening a bit before we discuss Troy, Jeff, and Britta as characters.

Annie reads some facts about the year Troy was born as he opens his presents, and the group quickly discovers that Troy wasn't born in 1990 like Annie -- he was actually born in 1989, making that birthday his 20th and not 21st (his mom may have lied to him growing up...). A party in the study room is unacceptable for a 21st birthday, so Jeff and Britta insist that they all go out and celebrate at a bar. Once the two finally agree on one, they begin to head out the door until Annie reminds them of a crucial fact -- she's 19 and can't get into a bar. Britta agrees to find the young woman a fake ID to get her in and the group heads off. Shirley offers to drive Pierce to the bar -- remember that the elderly man broke his legs so he's in a wheelchair -- but he adamantly refuses.  So I won’t talk about him much later on in the episode (until near the end), but Pierce’s character had the chance to display his own insecurities throughout “Mixology Certification.” Pierce prides himself on being independent. When he first introduces himself to Jeff in the pilot, he attaches his title (of Hawthorne Wipes) in the introduction as well. Why? Because it’s how he defines himself. And really, Jeff defines himself as a lawyer and Annie defines herself as a straight A student, etc. So when Pierce breaks his legs, he has to rely on others for help. It’s not that he’s lost his other title, mind you, but almost that he has acquired a new title that he isn’t fond of. Pierce cannot accept help – he and Jeff are very prideful – and would rather fail miserably at something on his own than accept the hands of someone else and be successful. Interesting, no?

The men and women split up, and Annie spends the entire ride to the bar fretting over her fake ID. Britta insists that no one will know or care. One of the things that I love most about Annie Edison is that she is a lot like me. One of the things I hate most about Annie Edison is that she is a lot like me. So this episode is like holding up a mirror, examining my reflection, and recognizing the flaws in my own character. Again – Annie is always expected to be driven (it’s the one thing, Abed says in “Remedial Chaos Theory,” that will always be true). But what happens when your biggest asset becomes the thing you doubt most about yourself? While Annie is worried about her fake ID, the men are riding in Jeff's car. En route to the bar, he asks Jeff questions about what he needs to know about life post-21 years of age. And even at The Ballroom, Jeff and Britta (arguably those with the most life experience to give to Troy) instruct the younger man on what to do and what not to do. Troy has always seemed to – at this point in the season, at least – look up to Jeff as a leader. But something subtle changes, and it can arguably be attributed to this episode. There’s a point where TROY becomes the one with more knowledge and experience than Jeff and Britta. This episode is an integral one for Troy as a character, because – as Harmon said above – Troy is such a sincere, genuine, unpolluted person in every way. He’s fun and goofy, but he genuinely cares. And I believe I mentioned this in my review of “The First Chang Dynasty,” but Troy will sacrifice everything for the sake of a promise. In this episode, he’ll sacrifice his birthday for the sake of making sure the people around him – the people he arguably loves most in the world – are “fixed.” And I think that when Troy and Jeff clash as leaders in “For a Few More,” it’s not a revelation that appears out of nowhere – it begins, quite subtly, here in this episode when Jeff acknowledges that Troy is a man and allows him to drive the Lexus home.

And it’s interesting because Jeff seemingly begins to think of Troy as an “equal” of sorts within this episode. But there’s a part of him (a VERY large part, arguably) that believes he is the leader of the study group and will always be their leader. And, because of this, Jeff doesn’t truly see Troy as an equal at the beginning of the episode (also, he doesn’t let Troy drive his car, so that speaks more volumes about his trust than anything). He’s still trying to be that leader, that instructor and guide for Troy when – in actuality – TROY is the one who teaches Jeff.

The group arrives at the bar, Annie getting in without being carded (while Britta has her ID thoroughly searched over), and the bouncer recognizes Shirley and welcomes her back. As it turns out, Shirley used to frequent that particular bar and doesn't want her study group to know that tidbit of information, so she spends the remainder of the night hiding photographic evidence around the bar of her past. The group settles into a booth, where Annie -- when ordering a drink -- continues to adopt her fake ID patron's persona. Abed leaves the booth to go play a video game while Shirley and Annie decide to explore the bar. Troy continues to ask Jeff and Britta for advice, wondering what sort of drink he should order at midnight for his first legal drink. Troy is the type of person who values the opinions of others so much that he’s willing to (nearly) forgo ordering a drink he wants at midnight because he believes Jeff and Britta are more knowledgeable than he is. By the end of the episode, he realizes that this is not the case at all – that Jeff and Britta really AREN’T as mature as they insist they are to the rest of the world. Perhaps parts of Jeff and Britta realize this too (we’ll cover that later on). And Annie, on the other hand, realizes that she may be TOO mature. There’s a part of her that – until previously – the audience didn’t realize existed: a part that questions the very nature of who she is as a person. While Troy is trying to discover ways to grow up, Annie is trying everything to prevent herself from doing so to the point that she dons a fake identity for the night because it’s better than being who she really is.

Abed is another interesting character to study throughout the episode. If we’re focusing on themes of identity and adulthood throughout the episode, then his short storyline is a prime example of the question of identity. I spent the vast majority of “Virtual Systems Analysis” discussing the importance of Abed’s insecurities and compulsions. “Mixology Certification” demonstrated the film student’s need for other people. Just like every other member of the study group, Abed needs to feel included, wanted, and – most importantly – understood. The study group “gets” him, and he longs to feel that way with others, which is why Abed spends the entirety of his arc in the episode talking to a complete stranger about a television show (who is hitting on him). He latches onto that person because, perhaps, he believes they will understand him. Abed knows that he is being hit on but is so desperate for someone to sit and listen to him speak that he dismisses the stranger's advances.

Around the corner, Annie is still adopting her Texan accent and chatting with the bartender about her "life," fabricating exciting stories about Caroline Decker. At the booth, Jeff and Britta are on another round of drinks, bantering back and forth while Troy attempts to understand what they're discussing. What’s interesting, in retrospect, is watching this episode and realizing that Jeff and Britta were secretly hooking up at this point in the series. They’ve always bantered and argued, but as they get progressively drunker, they begin to get louder and more obnoxious toward one another. See, Britta and Jeff – while both great characters – are jaded. It’s what makes them good and bad study group leaders. They’re tainted by the world and are trying to overcome that. But, in the process, they have to be careful to not taint those who still remain “unpolluted.”

I had to contemplate yesterday the reason that Jeff/Annie and Troy/Britta are drawn to one another and I think I may have come up with an acceptable answer. The reason that these pairings seem drawn to one another is because they provide the perfect balance. What I mean by that is that Jeff and Annie, as a pairing, balance each other out emotionally while Troy and Britta do similarly for each other. Placing two naïve people together in a relationship won’t do much to benefit the relationship overall – sure, the couple can learn together, but they’re likely to fall and stumble often because of their naiveté. Placing two “experienced” people together is harmful as well – Jeff and Britta were both jaded by the world and their bitterness and cynicism affected one another (it’s why they bickered so often, especially in this episode). But when Jeff and Annie interact, or when Troy and Britta do, there is a balance present – those who are naïve learn from new experiences, and those who are jaded learn to soften and open themselves up to the freshness of the world they once new. Troy and Annie are individuals who see the world in a way that Jeff and Britta only used to be able to. The beauty of the Jeff/Annie and Troy/Britta dynamics are that, when placed together with someone who is a seeming “opposite,” Jeff and Britta have the ability to reconnect with a world they thought was lost. 

(Sidenote:  It’s interesting that it takes Jeff and Britta becoming drunk to realize that what they are doing in secretly hooking up is actually wrong. Jeff knows that Britta is a hurricane – someone who is dangerously similar to himself.)

Shirley continues to skirt around the bar, snatching up photographic evidence of her "bad" years. Unfortunately for her, Troy, Britta, and Jeff discover a framed photograph in the bathroom of the mother and begin to poke fun of her for it. Shirley is distraught -- she had some bad years and does not want to proudly display those to her friends, the people who are supposed to protect her and not make fun of her. Troy insists that they're all on her side and that seeing those photos of her makes them like her more because it indicates that she isn't perfect. That's not, however, what Shirley wants to hear.  When Shirley leaves, upset, Troy is the only person who shows remorse. And perhaps it is because he wasn’t drunk like Jeff or Britta, but I choose to believe it’s because he (like he said earlier) doesn’t want anyone to be sad around him. He genuinely cares about people, and he would much rather spend the night comforting someone who needed it than laughing at their expense. That, more than anything, marks a true grown-up.

Outside of the bar, Pierce has been attempting to maneuver his way through the door for (what we assume is) hours, and when he finally manages to position the wheelchair the correct way, the battery dies. This leaves him dejected, but also right in the way of Shirley, who is attempting to exit quickly. Endearingly, Pierce hits a point where he can literally not move in his wheelchair, so he asks Shirley for assistance. What I love is that even though Shirley had just faced embarrassment, she still helps the elderly man out. What’s even MORE endearing is that he says “pretty please” and then “thank you.” Clearly, Pierce hit the point of desperation.

Back in the bar, Annie has hit a low point in the night -- in attempting to be Caroline Decker, she realizes that she doesn't quite know who she is or what she wants out of life anymore. She discusses her future career with the bartender and, after realizing how she has planned out the next fifteen years of her life, hits a point of despair and orders a screwdriver. Abed, who has been talking about Farscape the entire night (and ignoring Robert's advances) admits to his companion that he was aware he was being hit on -- he just really likes talking about television. Robert promptly throws a drink in Abed's face and leaves.

Troy excitedly orders a drink at 11:59 (ending up choosing a Seven and Seven, in spite of Jeff and Britta's admonishing), and then looks around the bar at his dejected friends (and Jeff and Britta, who are apparently arguing in the corner about "The Hurt Locker" becoming a stage play), before walking all of his friends out of the bar and to Jeff's Lexus. Jeff, for all his faults, realizes what he put Troy through at the end of the episode when he says: “Troy, I think I owe you a birthday.” The young man insists that it's okay, seeing as he is driving Jeff's Lexus (which is something he's always wanted to do). When the group passes a street, Britta points out the bar located on it -- The Red Door -- and insists that is the bar the group should have gone to. Jeff notices the bar too and notes that it is a bar called L Street. The two, still drunk, laugh about the fact that L Street and The Red Door are actually the same bar.

Troy slams on the brakes and yells: “Stop. Just stop. I just spent the last two years thinking that you guys knew more than me about life. And I just found out that you guys are just as dumb as me.”  This is the moment that Troy snaps at Jeff and Britta. Up until this point in time, he has been content with being the sidekick, if you will – the person who is under Jeff Winger’s leadership. Because, being a lawyer, Jeff HAD to have known something that Troy didn’t. But the sheer fact of the matter that Troy realized in “Mixology Certification” is that it doesn’t matter how old you are, how many countries you’ve been to, or how many people you’ve dated – those things don’t determine how “grown-up” you are. How you handle situations, how you treat your best friends, and how you learn from those experiences is what determines a “grown-up.”

Annie notes that Troy can drop her off first, and Jeff and Britta note that the young woman lives in a bad neighborhood. Troy walks Annie to her door and the two have a scene that is probably one of my favorites in the history of the show between any characters. It’s funny because most viewers tend to forget that Troy and Annie have known each other the longest (technically I guess Shirley and Jeff unknowingly had, but whatever), but didn’t actually KNOW one another until community college. And what’s intriguing is that Annie doesn’t know who she is – she is struggling to find some sense of purpose or some justification that she’s doing the right things in life – and typically we assume that Troy doesn’t know much about Annie. But then, he sweetly describes EXACTLY who she is to her. He’s grown to care about her and learn the little quirks that make her Annie Edison. And sometimes people need to be reminded of who they are in order to become that person. Troy needed to be reminded that he’s not a dumb jock – that he’s a wonderful friend – before he could ACT that way, if that makes sense. Annie hugs Troy appreciatively and notes that everyone will probably be embarrassed on Monday morning. Troy disagrees -- no one did anything that bad, right?

Meanwhile, Jeff and Britta are making out in the back of his car (with Abed sitting right beside the blonde). They break apart though and question what they're doing, agreeing that it's bad. The interesting thing to note about Jeff/Britta is that, before “Paradigms of the Human Memory” where they officially ended their relationship, this is the only canon moment where they both admit that they shouldn’t be hooking up. And what’s intriguing about that is that the only time they can think clearly enough to recognize their mistake is when they are both drunk.

Troy returns to the vehicle, where Abed informs him of what Jeff and Britta had just been doing. Instead of blowing up at the pair, he calmly informs Abed that no one likes a tattletale. Jeff and Britta, seemingly having sobered significantly due to their actions, smile sadly at the young man. It's a moment that isn't entirely significant in the grand scheme of the series -- but the next moment, Britta wishes Troy a happy birthday and Jeff insists: "You're a man, now." And I think that this is the moment that Troy stops becoming the guy that viewers see as a lovable goofball and instead evolves into that lovable goofball who fixes, helps, and betters his friends.

Additional de-lovely aspects include:
- “Hello during a random dessert, the month and day of which correspond numerically with your expulsion from a uterus.”  From that moment on out, every Community fan – instead of wishing “Happy birthday” – said “Happy expulsion!” to their fellow fans. True story. Well, for most of us, anyway.
- “I broke my legs, not my gender.”
- “Pierce, what is this? What are you doing? Explain yourself.” One of my favorite deliveries of a line by Joel.
- “I’m not a relaxed person, Britta. I think ahead and prepare. I don’t improvise my life like Caroline Decker, who probably has really bad credit and an unfinished mermaid tattoo.”
- “Don’t repeat that, you goon!”
- “That woman is a hurricane.” “Yeah.” “Hurricanes are bad, Troy.” “I know!”
- “Alcohol makes people said. It’s like the Lifetime Movies of beverages.”
-  I love that Annie loves Mark Ruffalo.

Thank you to ALL of you who have participated in my #CommunityRewatch Thursdays on Twitter! I remember the week after winter hiatus where I kicked off with a re-watch of the pilot, assuming that not many people would join. I was nearly in tears, then, because I scrolled through my timeline that night and just kept seeing live-tweet after live-tweet of the rewatch. :') But all good things must come to an end, or at least evolve. So next week, #CommunityRewatch moves to its NEW night -- Fridays @ 8:30PM EST! We'll prepare for October by holding them during this time slot until the new season kicks off. That being said, join me for #ChristmasinAugust next week when we re-watch "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas"! Until then, folks. :)

Friday, August 10, 2012

2x09 "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design" (People Aren't Playthings)

"Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design"
Original Airdate: November 18, 2010

“What most people need to learn in life is how to love people and use things instead of using people and loving things.”

I won’t retract the statements that I’ve made in the past about Jeff Winger being a selfish character. From the very pilot episode, we understand that the former lawyer would do just about anything (including deliberately turn a group of people on one another) in order to get what he wants. He cheats and lies, and Britta calls him out on it. Britta, a woman whose self-appointed job was to protect the study group. But we watch, throughout the first season, as Jeff evolves. He grows from a selfish, jaded ex-lawyer to a sometimes-selfish, still-jaded ex-lawyer who tries. He doesn’t have to, you know. He could have easily spent four years at Greendale by himself, doing whatever he wanted without consequence or chastisement from others. But he chose the group, or the group chose him, or a little of both and for some reason he genuinely cares about these people. And caring, he realizes, is actually hard work. Jeff’s not perfect. He may have grown and developed slowly, but at the point of “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design,” he is far from the person he could be. In “Anthropology 101,” remember that Jeff denied the meaningfulness of his Tranny Dance kiss with Annie in front of the study group (and subsequently half of Greendale who was listening out in the library). In a gut-less move on his part, Jeff shifted blame to Annie for blurting out the information to the group in the first place. This visibly stings Annie, but at the end of the episode, she appears to have forgiven Jeff. Note that the key word in the previous sentence is appears. Annie Edison is a forgiving person – she is someone who is experience in life but not jaded in spite of it. She is trusting and loyal and sometimes naïve. But what she does best is bury feelings until they surface in unhealthy ways (see: “Anthropology 101,” for example). This episode is one that is seemingly light-hearted and fun – Jeff and Annie sleuth around Greendale and Troy and Abed built a giant blanket fort – but one scene packs a particularly powerful punch that leaves Jeff and the viewers reeling a bit. So is this an episode where Jeff does an about-face and begins to see the error of “blowing everything off” when it comes to his relationships with people? Though I wouldn’t go that far, I will say that this is probably the first time that Jeff realizes how much he has hurt someone within the study group and definitely the first time he realizes that his actions and behaviors – his selfish motives to protect his own reputation and status – can deeply hurt Annie.

But in case you were too busy being Inception-ed by the episode (a brilliantly written episode by the Emmy-nominated Chris McKenna!) and forgot the plot, let me refresh you! So it's Green Week at Greendale (remember the first year's fiasco?) which means that Annie and the rest of the Environmental Club are creating dioramas. The episode opens with her displaying the diorama to the rest of the study group proudly. I think it’s really endearing that everyone showed so much support for Annie’s diorama. They all look genuinely impressed (I mean, with good reason – look at her little car go!) It’s nice because at this point in the series, the group is so comfortable with one another and they genuinely CARE about one another that it doesn’t even seem strange to support someone’s diorama or celebrate Shirley’s niece’s first bubble bath. It’s oddly natural for the group to be this close. What’s difficult about a group like this, however, as we’ll see clearly in “Paradigms of the Human Memory” is that wounds hurt all the more the closer the bonds. And remember too what I said last week? In “Cooperative Calligraphy,” the group begins to function even more co-dependently than they had been up until that point. Which, of course, puts strains on relationships.

After Annie presents her diorama to the group, Troy and Abed discuss their own plans for the weekend. Since both of their classes have ended, they decide to start their planned sleepover early. Their big plan? Make a blanket fort in Abed's dorm room. Britta mocks the idea of a blanket fort and tosses her hair over her shoulder as she does so. I will say that people seemed to be a bit miffed at how… superior Britta sounded at the beginning of the episode, especially when mocking the boys for building a blanket fort. And yet, once again, this is a prime example of Britta’s characteristics in the second season. Admittedly, I’m not her biggest fan during this season because a lot of what she does and says comes off rather cold. But I think the point of her discussion regarding Troy and Abed is that she thinks of herself a certain way – grown-up and evolved – and yet, at the end of the episode, it’s clear that she isn’t above anyone in terms of growing up. Though she may be one of the older members of the group, age isn’t necessarily a reflection of maturity. I think part of Britta, too, just always wants to be “pro-anti,” as Jeff says in “Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts.” Sometimes, she just loves to be contrary. Whatever her motivation, her schemes and plans usually go awry, which help her (and others) to learn more than they would have ever learned in the first place.

Shortly after Troy and Abed leave to get started on their epic blanket fort, the dean enters the room and informs Jeff that he's been looking at the former lawyer's transcripts and has to audit the entire system because of a class Jeff claims to be taking that doesn't seem to exist. Jeff ardently claims that his class -- "Conspiracy Theories in U.S. History" -- is a real class he's been taking with a man named Professor Professorson once a week. So, we know at the end of the episode that the Dean approached Annie at the beginning of the episode – presumably after he received Jeff’s transcript – informing her that Jeff made up a class that didn’t exist. Now, this intrigues me on two levels. One, why would the Dean approach Annie? And two, why would it bother Annie enough to cause her to team up with the Dean for an elaborate scheme to teach Jeff a lesson? Annie’s the type of individual who is very academically driven. However, she’s not usually one to cook up schemes and be deceptive. Perhaps her feelings toward Jeff – toward being slighted by him – caused her to take up arms against him. Or maybe she was just so frustrated with his laziness, with his disregard for others (again, returning to his dismissal of their kiss as part of it) that she plotted against him with the Dean. She did mention that Jeff’s fraudulent class devalued her own credits. So maybe Annie is more like Jeff than she realizes – when Jeff takes action, it’s because things are directly impacting HIM. Whatever the case, Annie sets out to prove a point to Jeff. And whether or not he WANTED to learn a lesson is irrelevant because he does.

Jeff insists that the professor is a real person and takes Dean Pelton to see him (Annie follows suit). Now,  at the end of the episode, Jeff admits that “he’s not sure what lessons [they’d] managed to teach each other,” but I think that Jeff learns a lot more about Annie in this episode than he had ever bargained to. For starters, he realizes that Annie isn’t as naïve and disillusioned by him anymore as she used to be. The Annie Edison from the pilot episode, from “Spanish 101,” from “Introduction to Statistics”? That girl adored Jeff Winger – she thought that he was the cool guy. But Annie Edison in “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design”? She cares about Jeff, sure, but… she isn’t fooled by him anymore. And I think that this is the first example that we get of this (in “Digital Exploration of Interior Design,” Annie’s bitterness regarding the Tranny Dance kiss and everything that had been left unresolved is still present. She’s changed and grown because of the way Jeff treated her. And unfortunately (in my opinion), it isn’t all for the best. She’s tired of letting him get away with his behavior without any consequences. Quite frankly, she’s ready to take charge and make him change.

Dean Pelton, Jeff, and Annie arrive at Professor Professorson's office... which turns out to be a supply closet. Of course, Jeff is making the entire story up, so he plays along and attempts to convince the two others that he really IS surprised that an office doesn't exist. When Annie says: “Do you know what this means? That’s how stupid Jeff thinks other people are," she hammers in the points I made in the paragraph above -- Jeff is committing so much to a lie that he just believes others will blindly follow him. As a sidenote,  I like the subtle hints that are dropped in throughout the episode that there may be double-crossing at work. The Dean and Annie double-cross Jeff until he realizes (in Garrity’s “office”) that Annie helped the Dean plan the lesson. You can notice Annie’s subtle glance at Jeff in the hallway as he talks to “Professor Professorson.” It’s a nice indicator that she expected him to come clean in that moment, not play along with the lesson.

Someone DOES appear in the hall, however, and he claims to be Jeff's professor, introducing himself to the dean. When the man appears befuddled, Professorson explains that since he teaches night school, Dean Pelton likely doesn't recognize him. The professor then departs, instructing Jeff to read chapters in his book and insisting that he'll see him the following week in class. (Of course, all of this is a ruse in order to get Jeff to confess but, alas, Jeff Winger is VERY committed to this game.) The dean apologizes for mistrusting Jeff and departs, off to write more of his book about Dean Dangerous. Annie apologizes as well for being a bad friend and that is when Jeff comes clean -- he's never seen Professor Professorson in his life. One of my favorite things about the Jeff/Annie relationship is their ability to chastise one another, and yet not be MAD at each other. When Annie slaps Jeff on the chest in “Basic Genealogy,” he merely grins. And when she does it again in this episode after calling him a lying cheat, he just keeps grinning, as if it was the most amusing thing in the world. I really like this subtle aspect of their relationship because it shows that they have a friendship and can choose to be endearing without any awkwardness.

When Annie asks what Jeff is going to do, he says that they should grab lunch. She insists that she's serious and he replies that he is too. And then, Annie claims: “This is so typical – you’re just gonna blow off what happened.” Well there is a double-meaning if I ever heard one. A lot of the undertones in this episode, like I said before, are that of Annie being upset over Jeff blowing HER off – acting like she wasn’t important or didn’t mean anything to him. And I don’t think she wanted a spectacular confession, but I do think she wanted an explanation (or in the very least, acknowledgement that she was a person and had feelings). Additionally, I think this quote is a prime example of Annie’s slow-growing detachment from her idealism of Jeff. And Jeff, instead of acknowledging Annie (like he should have), merely told her to act “un-Annie” and blow off the notion of Professor Professorson too. The problem with Jeff is that he doesn’t remember his actions have consequences – that not everyone is like him and that not everyone WANTS to be.

Elsewhere, something that would traditionally be considered childish evolves into something spectacular that the entire campus becomes involved in. While Annie is trying to teach Jeff to grow up, Troy and Abed are learning that it’s okay to act like a child sometimes – people respond to the innocence of a blanket fort. But like everything else in this episode, actions have consequences and sometimes ones that grow out of hand.

Back in the study room, Annie is attempting to unlock the wheel on the cart that is housing her diorama when Jeff enters the room. I think it’s adorably endearing that Jeff read Annie’s eleven text messages and yet STILL came to the room to help her move her diorama – she said that she could do it herself, but he knows her better than that. He knows that she wants him to help her. And this is ironic to me because if Jeff can pick up this subtle hint, why not the ones she drops regarding their kiss later on in the series? Anyway, Jeff’s not, remember, an ENTIRELY selfish person. He genuinely cares about Annie (as evidenced a few moments later when he tackles her to protect her). He’s misguided though, in his actions a lot of the time. And he treats Annie, in particular, in a way that seems to regard her as someone who will always be there for him. That’s not to say that Annie will suddenly or abruptly disown Jeff as a friend without due cause, but… Jeff takes her for granted. He believes she’s always going to be around, but that’s simply not the case. Still, it's adorable that he won't do work for his fake conspiracy class, but will help her wheel a diorama to a fair.

Annie informs Jeff that she's done a little snooping and found a faculty directory. Professor Professorson, as it turns out, doesn't really exist. The man's name is actually Professor Wooley and he DOES teach night school. So why would someone who was a professor pretend to be Jeff's phony teacher? Annie doesn't know, nor does Jeff but the former lawyer is tired of doing work for his ultimate Winger blow-off class. He gets a phone call, then, with a garbled voice warning him that Annie should stop snooping, lest things get... explosive. And that's when Jeff connects the dots -- the car on Annie's diorama won't start and she's jingling the keys. So, to protect her, Jeff tackles her. Let’s take a moment to backtrack and remember the double-crossing that will take place. I’ll hold onto the belief that up until the “office” scene, Jeff doesn’t know about Annie and the Dean’s plan. That would then mean that everything up until that point had been planned out. Which means that the phone call and tiny car explosion were planned by Annie. Why is this significant (if it is true)? The way that Annie knew Jeff would be on board with her plans to go to night school (all the while, remember, to teach him a lesson) was if she was in danger. The moment after Annie is tackled is the moment he decides to take action. Remember what I said earlier – how Jeff only seemed to be invested in situations and take action when they impacted HIM? Well, here is your exception to the rule. I don’t, however, think she actually believed he would do something like tackle her to the ground to protect her. (You can definitely tell that Annie WANTS Jeff to go to night school for whatever reason because of her smile at the end of that scene.)

The pair heads to night school, and begin searching for Wooley, just as Troy and Abed's blanket fort becomes the hottest thing around Greendale since chicken fingers. Even Leonard wants in on the action, stealing blankets from his son to give to Troy and Abed. In night school, Jeff and Annie search through various classrooms, coming up empty. In fact, there seems to be no one at night school at all. Eventually, they run into a startled Professor Wooley, who informs the pair that he's teaching math. When Jeff and Annie ask to sit in, the nervous professor agrees, but then bolts, running down the hallway at the first chance he gets. Wooley flees into the blanket fort (which has now consumed nearly the entire school) and Jeff and Annie lose the professor in the midst of their chase scene and ask Troy and Abed for help.  I love that Troy and Abed help out Jeff and Annie without even questioning why they are in a chase scene. It’s, again, a testament to how the group has grown to really know and accept one another, in spite of (and perhaps because of) absurdities.

Britta, someone who chastised the idea of the blanket fort initially, is discovered in the Turkish district, quite content with a man beside her. (One of the things that I find interesting in retrospect is the fact that even though Jeff and Britta were secretly hooking up at this point in the season, it didn’t seem to make much difference in their Greendale and outside-of-Greendale lives.) Troy, Abed, Jeff, and Annie continue their chase for Wooley through the fort and eventually catch up with him right in the middle of the Latvian Independence Day parade (November 18th actually being Latvian Independence Day!), and Jeff tackles the professor and demands an explanation. So Wooley leads Jeff and Annie to his office.

All right. Here is where things begin to get interesting. So for my clarification (before we get to the crazy double-crossing scene), here’s how I believe the episode took place: Dean Pelton and Annie realized that Jeff was faking a class and hatched a scheme to teach him about the errors of his ways. It would have all gone according to plan, too, if Jeff hadn’t noticed that Professor Wooley was actually Sean Garrity (and that he was quoting “Dean Dangerous”). Off-screen, I believe Annie told Jeff that she and the Dean had plotted together, causing Jeff to call Dean Pelton and ask him to conspire against Annie (which was agreed upon). However, instead of conspiring against Annie, Jeff and Annie agreed to team up and teach Dean Pelton a lesson instead about the error of HIS ways (pitting them both against one another). Good? Good. Jeff, Annie, and Wooley decide to teach the dean a lesson so they hatch a scheme to show him the error of his double-crossing ways. How will they do that? Through the use of prop guns, of course!

The following scene is one of my favorites from any episode, so let’s recap how the next few moments in this scene are about to go down: Annie shoots Garrity, as planned. And the dean shoots Annie, as they both planned originally – before Jeff knew about their conspiracy against him. Jeff shoots the dean (as planned between him and the dean and as Annie just recently found out about – Jeff and Annie were in on everything post-office scene together, in my belief), causing Annie to rise from her previously “dead” position and act surprised (for the sake of pulling one over on the dean who is – remember – still listening and doesn’t know that Jeff knows about his original conspiracy with Annie). Is this beginning to sound like this scene to you yet?

At any rate, Jeff and Annie previously prepared what they would say when the dean was resurrected – Jeff would insist that he and Dean Pelton were helping Annie learn a lesson about friendship. What the dean doesn’t realize is that Annie and Jeff teamed up in order to teach HIM a lesson about conspiracy. But between Wooley’s office and the study room, there wasn’t enough time to create an elaborate script. They planned that she would confess her love and that he would say that people weren’t “playthings.” But in between that moment and the moment she shoots Jeff, he told her to “be convincing.” And perhaps the script Jeff dictated to her wasn’t good enough, or maybe Annie just needed catharsis. Whatever the case, she went off-script.

And here’s where the most powerful, emotional display from Annie manifests itself. And HERE is where Jeff realizes exactly how much he has hurt her. And he’s pained by it. Let’s examine his face, shall we? (Many thanks to @TweetingKerry whose picspam of the episode is brilliant and where this cap originates) Part of Annie's spiel to convince the dean that she was upset with Jeff was to follow a script, but she went off of it. Instead of whatever was originally planned, Annie practically spits at Jeff that she waited all summer to see him and then he “buried [her] like a shameful secret.” That line resonates with Jeff. And the emotion he sees displayed by Annie? It’s not anger – not all of it, at least. It’s not even strictly bitterness. It’s pain. And his? It’s the same. He hurt her and kept twisting the knife by refusing to acknowledge her, by dismissing her constantly, and by brushing her aside. And maybe a little bit of Jeff’s pained expression is associated with knowing what he is doing with Britta – how he’s stringing Annie along and yet sleeping with Britta too. This is one of the best moments for Jeff and Annie as people because it’s an honest moment – neither of them have anything to gain by Annie’s admission because it’s under the pretense of a scheme they hatched. And there’s a part of me that sees Jeff’s face and believes he’s on the verge of wanting to reassure Annie that he is sorry – that he wants to open his mouth and apologize for everything he put her through. But that moment, unfortunately, isn’t his to take. And this moment? This is literally my favorite Joel moment of the show. His expression alone deserves every Emmy out there.

So Annie shoots Jeff three times (which I presume was rather cathartic for her!) and Jeff slumps to the ground. The dean -- completely unaware of this plot twist -- dissolves into hysteria, asking how Annie could do something like that. She counters, asking how he could team up with her to conspire against Jeff. Dean Pelton then breaks down and admits that he couldn't keep his conspiracies straight anymore and just wanted to be a part of the fun that Jeff and Annie were having. Jeff rises from the dead, glad to hear the dean admit that he really had no idea what he was doing the entire time. (I personally think it was adorable that Dean Pelton wanted to hang out with them.) Professor Garrity, who has been waiting for a long time, rises back from the dead too and collects the prop guns just as an officer (our favorite cop!) bursts into the room and shoots the drama professor. Jeff, Annie, and the dean are hysterical until the cop and Professor Garrity insist that this was their way of teaching the group a lesson or two about the use of prop guns.

(The dean then rocks himself back and forth and wails at all the Inception-like shenanigans.)

Later on in the blanket fort, the entire study group reunites and Jeff tells the story of their adventure. It’s quite adorable and endearing that Jeff praises Annie in front of the study group and acknowledges her off-script lines. But bear in mind, folks, that this is the last time we’ll ever hear anything mentioned by Annie to Jeff about their kiss explicitly. And he seems amused by Annie’s embarrassment and shyness at how well she did during their conspiracy. It's one of the first times ever, I think, that we see Jeff really get a chance to brag about Annie.

Pavel -- one of my favorite minor characters -- bursts into the fort with a newspaper and informs Troy and Abed that their blanket fort has become mainstream and is now sweeping the nation. The best friends seemed disheartened by this. Their original plan, after all, was to create something unique and special. And Troy had been apprehensive when their project grew. He was worried, perhaps, that it wouldn't be special if it was popular (a nice commentary, if unintentional, about Community as a show itself and its popularity). So the boys decide to destroy the fort. Everyone grumbles as the blanket fort begins a slow domino-effect of collapsing. And then, of course, there is the moment the blanket fort collapses – a moment between Jeff and Annie that encapsulates the tension that was felt throughout the day and night between the two and the notion that there are STILL feelings there that neither of them have discussed as they instinctively move closer to one another.

So we end with a resolution -- with an understood notion that things have to end in order to create something new. Occasionally, this beginning yields something even better than was had before. Troy and Abed work on their next adventure almost immediately after the fort collapses. And Jeff and Annie? Well, this is arguably the first chapter in the rockiest part of their friendship and relationship. Sometimes new things aren't always positive, but they are necessary.

Additional de-lovely aspects include: 
- “I heard one kid made a diorama about a world without dioramas.”
- “Enjoy eating fiber and watching The Mentalist.”
- I don’t understand how Jim, Joel, and Alison didn’t win anything for this episode alone. They were top-notch in it.
- Do you ever read the whiteboards in the show? Please read the whiteboards. They’re always hilarious. I’m pretty sure this week’s was about an ambitious vs. ambiguous undertaking involving the study room.
- “I have always dreamt of playing charades with you, Jeffrey. But not like this. And not on dry land.”
- “That is gonna be the worst book I’ll ever read cover-to-cover.”
- “He’s about to get a real lesson on the fact that Jeff Winger never learns.”
- I can only think of the “Don’t shoot, Officer!” line as it is on the bloopers.
- “Fact: in 100% of fake gun-related shootings, the victim is always the one with the fake gun.”
- I REALLY wish we had been able to see the burger story, too.

Thank you ALL for joining in last night for both #CakeNight AND #CommunityRewatch Thursday! Next week we're falling right into one of my favorite poignant episodes, "Mixology Certification." So hop onto Twitter at 8PM EST and follow our live-tweet. Then be sure to check out the review when it's posted Friday! Until then, folks. :)

Friday, August 3, 2012

2x08 "Cooperative Calligraphy" (The Bottle-est of Episodes)

"Cooperative Calligraphy"
Original Airdate: November 11, 2010
Troy and Abed, as detectives, scour the campus to question potential suspects. They begin with Pierce, who quickly points them to Todd. And this episode marks the return of our favorite scapegoat. It's easy for the study group to blame all of their problems on an outsider - someone with whom they have no connection. And I have a theory, so bear with me, that up until "Cooperative Calligraphy" (oh look! Another Megan Ganz episode!), the group might have been apt to pinpoint each other as culprits (not just in this yam scenario, mind you). But when Jeff makes the comment to Abed about not being able to trust anyone within the group again if they step outside of the study room without finding Annie's pen, it seems to be a hinge -- from that moment forth, they begin to function as a "group" rather than a set of individuals who study together. In "Early 21st Century Romanticism," it's the entire study group that he texts to declare his love... together.  – “Basic Lupine Urology” review
I started last week by discussing Friends (arguably one of the greatest sitcoms of my time), so it seems only appropriate that I would do similarly this week. This episode – “Cooperative Calligraphy” – is known as a “bottle episode.” And, since part of my job title includes the word “researcher,” I decided that I would investigate the history of bottle episodes. Many of you were probably like me, and went into the episode not really understanding what the term “bottle episode” means. According to my best estimates from the wonderful worldwide web (and please, feel free to enlighten me if the Internet lied to me about this), the term originated from the cast and crew of Star Trek. A number of episodes were created and confined to one location or used already existing sets rather than building new ones to save money. The crew referred to these episodes as “ships in a bottle.” And thus, the bottle episode was formed. So what does this have to do with “The One Where No One’s Ready” (which is Friends’ first bottle episode)? Surprisingly, a lot. What is beneficial and integral in bottle episodes is the escalation of emotions between characters. When characters such as the study group or the friends from Central Perk are unconfined, they are a lot less likely to confront each other about things that they have personally buried. See, the benefit of life is that we are usually free to walk away from people who irritate us and to escape situations where we just barely are able to control our tongues. But bottle episodes are not the case. These episodes force characters into a room or an apartment. The confined space and the emotional stability of the characters seem to crumble (as seen by the dissolving of the study group in Community and the escalation of Ross’ anger and the Joey/Chandler fight in Friends).

So is the point of a bottle episode then merely to watch characters slowly turn into Lord of the Flies? To watch as a group of people dissolves slowly into chaos and madness until they blow up at each other? No, though tension is an important part of the bottle episode format, it’s not necessarily the point of it. What the study group learns and what our friends from Friends learn is pretty simple – they need each other, regardless of if they’re searching for a purple pen or trying to get ready for an important event. And the quote above that I opened the article with? Keep that in mind, because I’ll be returning to this point toward the end of the review. Also, I think that Megan Ganz deserves all possible awards for creating this episode. Writing episodes for television are (I imagine, because I’ve never actually taken a screenwriting class) pretty taxing. But bottle episodes are even more so because they are dialogue-heavy. This episode literally was punch after punch of the wit, satire, and jokes that make the show what it is. And it was her first episode, to boot. So brava, Megan!

By this point, you all already know that "Cooperative Calligraphy" is a bottle episode. But in case you can't quite remember what the episode was about, here's a bit of a recap: In the second season, the group is taking Anthropology together, and Professor Duncan has assigned the class the task of building a paper-mache diorama of the evolution of man. The group is beginning to put their finishing touches on the project before everyone respectively heads out to various events (Jeff, having a "catch to date" and the rest of the group heading to the Greendale Puppy Parade). The Dean swings by the study room holding an adorable Golden Labrador puppy and informs the group that the parade will be starting shortly. The group is about to head out the door when Annie stops them. Her purple pen is missing. The group is really quite unsure of how to proceed, so they apologize and insist that they're sorry and will be more careful. Someone probably accidentally took the pen. Now, Annie is the first person who dissolves into… let’s use the term “chaos.” And it’s not necessarily even chaos, because the room doesn’t become chaotic until much later on. Bottle episodes place characters and emotions under a magnifying glass and thus, the characters in question exaggerate their already detrimental qualities. Annie’s paranoia and perfectionism, as well as her desire for control are amplified in the study room, as are Jeff’s sarcasm, Abed’s lack of emotion and meta-ness, Troy’s absurdity, Pierce’s offensiveness, Britta’s coldness, and Shirley’s judgmental nature. All of these things are evident character traits of each of the Greendale Seven. And the audience is fully aware that our favorite characters possess them. And it usually doesn’t faze us, as viewers. And it usually doesn’t faze them as characters… until they are all locked in a room with one another for an extended length of time. Hence: chaos and dissension.

Something that would normally not unsettle Annie so much suddenly begins to – she is constantly taken advantage of by the study group for her notes, her pens, and everything else regarding academia. As we saw in the first season’s “Introduction to Statistics,” Annie has a difficult time being assertive. However, this is an episode where she really begins to insist that others respect her and listen to her. And it is something that would seem to be very important to Annie – when she becomes obsessed with an idea, she doesn’t easily let it go. So, as the rest of the study group prepares to leave the room, Annie screams and the entire group freezes in fear. They scour the immediate area around the table for any sign of the pen (but it's nowhere in sight) and argues that people just don't accidentally take pens over and over again. Let's take a moment to notice something right off the bat -- the group hasn't even been in the same room looking for the pen for more than a few minutes and already every character has their trait (mentioned in the paragraph above) that seems to drive another character in the group crazy. Initially, Troy’s absurdity irritates Annie, and Annie's obsession with the pen frustrates the group. Abed’s lack of emotion and meta-ness annoy Jeff. Shirley becomes agitated and offended by Britta’s coldness and rudeness, and everyone finds Pierce offensive. When Jeff says that "it's just a pen," Annie retorts with: "It's not a pen! It's a principle." And we’ll return to the fact that Annie was right (and Jeff realizes it, unconsciously) at the end of the episode. The pen in the study room isn’t just a pen – it’s a symbol for something that the group could very well destroy one another over (and nearly do). If something as trivial as a pen could do this in their “sacred” place (because arguably the study room is the one place that the entire group feels safest and most comfortable), what hope does the group have outside of the study room?

Britta, already annoyed with having to take time away from a class assignment in order to look for Annie's pen, decides that she's going to leave the room. Annie makes a snide "hmph" noise, at which Britta turns around, visibly more upset. And now let’s delve into the Britta/Annie of it all. One of the things that I will constantly lament is that Britta and Annie’s friendship was destroyed in the second season because of Jeff. Now, in hindsight, the audience knows that Jeff and Britta were already back to secretly sleeping together in this episode. But episodes like this highlight the damage that had been done post-“Anthropology 101.” Annie and Britta’s first form of defense is to… well, be defensive. The difference is in the way that the women approach this. Annie chooses to be accusing, but in the sweetest way she possibly can. Britta’s walls immediately come up because, let’s face it, she doesn’t really trust women to begin with. Perhaps she’s so afraid of being stabbed in the back (or has been stabbed in the back so many times) that the way she chooses to combat this is by wounding others with her words before they get a chance to hurt her. That’s not to say that Britta is heartless or Annie is innocent – the latter picks the fight and the former feels remorse later on. Both women are flawed, and both are on edge… when placed together, it’s like setting a tissue next to an open flame. Additionally, there’s a lack of trust that currently exists between Britta and Annie. Neither of the women truly trusts the other because of what happened the year before.

And so Britta angrily empties her dumped her bag onto the table and the rest of the group notes that she does not have the pen (though she does seem to be carrying a lot of condoms. And a used Q-tip). The Dean's voice crackles over the PA system and informs everyone that the Puppy Parade will be starting. The group (sans Annie and Britta) attempt to leave, but the latter cannot stand double standards – she knows that if she has to be examined and searched, it’s unfair that the rest of the group escape that punishment. And so she attacks the others as well. Now let’s briefly discuss Shirley’s exaggerated qualities in the episode – judgment. This one will throw a pretty powerful punch when it comes to Britta later on, but Shirley’s Achilles heel has always been her tendency to judge other people. She passes (sweet, sugary-voiced) judgment on Britta and her life choices as she and the others attempt to leave the room, and the blonde retaliates in self-defense. It’s easy for Shirley to consider herself to be better than others (“Oh, everyone here knows that I don’t steal”) and pinpoint other people (like Abed, for instance) that are “more likely” to be worse off than she is. And while Britta does correct her on this hypocrisy later on, it’s in the least-gentle and worst way possible. But it’s interesting that Annie, because of this, will easily forgive Shirley and not Britta. (Which is why I still hold fast to the theory that a lot of the underlying issues between the two stem from their experiences with Jeff the year prior). However, Annie’s also very quick to remind Shirley that she is still on the “list.”

No one from the group leaves the study room, each subtly examining one another. When Troy gets accused of taking the pen, suddenly things begin to slowly slide downhill. It all rolls into an avalanche, though, once Jeff orders a lockdown in a few moments. When Annie insists that Jeff “deal with” the situation, he argues that there is nothing to deal with. And yet, he still agrees to give a half-hearted Winger speech just so that everyone can leave. He argues that, even if someone viciously and with great malice of forethought (one of my favorite sarcastic!Jeff lines) stole Annie's pen, they will all forgive them if they come forward. So, Jeff reasons, there's no logical reason why the pen thief shouldn't admit to their crime, right? (P.S. No one even half-heartedly agrees to his half-hearted speech.) Jeff notes that he'll count to three and if the pen thief doesn't come forward, they have to accept the fact that no one took the pen. When Jeff gets to two, Pierce raises his hand and quips: “Is it just me or has it become really obvious that Jeff took the pen?”

And then Jeff orders a lockdown.

Someone may correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this is really the second time in the season we have seen the group actually fight (the first being "Anthropology 101.") It’s the second time though (besides “English as a Second Language”) where Jeff has actually been mad at Annie. After the strain of “Anthropology 101,” I think it’s important to recognize that this episode isn’t just an isolated incident with a group of friends. Sure, being a “bottle episode,” it naturally shakes the pressure and tension. Think of it like an actual bottle. Now, imagine that each study group member has approximately a few cups of soda’s worth of tension and hostility that they've been holding onto. When you factor in the confined location, it’s like shaking that bottle until it reaches a point in which it bursts. Jeff has been appointed "checker" of the bags, with Annie standing over him like an airport security guard. When they empty Troy's bag, they find only a pillow -- presumably for him to nap in all of his classes. Jeff insists that Troy has become his new hero and then, edge in his voice, tells Annie that there's no purple pen in the bag. I think that it’s kind of cheeky of Annie to talk to Jeff like she’s his wife (“Why do you keep taking that tone with me?”) Britta chimes in that there's a chance Annie found the pen half-way through the debacle and was too embarrassed to say so. And then,  Britta reasons, they all get to kill her. Remember what I said about Britta, earlier? As the episode wears on, she becomes less and less compassionate and more and more clipped and venomous. She, when placed in a defensive situation, shoots to kill with her words. BUT here is something that is noteworthy – Britta’s defense of Abed when the group insists that they all search his stuff as well. The blonde had taken to Abed a lot in the first season, attempting to protect him and shield him from the rest of the world. She wanted people to understand him and like him, to not consider him an outcast, and she went to lengths to do that. This isn’t lost on her in the second season, though Britta and Abed’s relationship doesn’t seem to be as close, since he is usually with Troy. Still, Britta reminds everyone that Abed is their “innocent” (a term that I disagree with, and can be explained in my “Virtual Systems Analysis” review). And yet… she very quickly remembers how Abed had been corrupted the year before and could very easily be again. And it’s not that she remembers how HE acted, but what he did to HER (Britta is much like Jeff in that she becomes extensively involved in situations when they revolve around her), so she agrees that his stuff needs to be searched.

When the group searches Abed's things, they find a notebook with all three of the women's names written in there and charts. It doesn't take long for Britta to discover that the filmmaker has been charting their cycles. His initial reasoning was to try and discover if there was a pattern in him saying or doing the wrong thing in regards to the three women. He noticed, of course, that they were more frequently frustrated with him than the other men in the group were. And Abed’s desire to control people and situations isn’t as evident in this episode as it is in others (see: the episode I reviewed and discussed last week), it still is significant to note that the reason Abed continued to chart and graph the girls’ cycles is because it “began to yield really positive results for everyone.” Abed is interested in maintaining the status quo (hence his distaste for bottle episodes). Suddenly, Britta, Shirley, and Annie all find themselves distrusting Abed, their "innocent." Since Jeff and Pierce don't carry bags, Shirley is the last one to be searched.

Again, this bit from the episode demonstrates Shirley’s escalating judgment as she passes it on both Abed and Britta within the course of a breath (she refuses to empty her bag and when Jeff asks what she thought would happen when they got to "the Christian woman," she responds: "The Christian woman thought you'd find it on the Muslim" and then also turns around and refers to Britta merely as "atheist"). And it’s not that Shirley is an inherently bad character, nor is Jeff or Britta or Annie or Pierce or Troy or Abed. These characters all have certain traits – little devices and mechanisms or quirks or habits – that make up part of their fiber as human beings. And, unfortunately, these little things can be used for both good and evil and all characters use them as defense mechanisms in this episode to keep other characters at bay. Shirley gets fooled into handing her bag over thanks to a ruse by Pierce, and the group discovers what the woman had attempted to hide -- a pregnancy test. When Shirley reveals that she rekindled her relationship with her ex-husband over Labor Day, Britta goes for the jugular.

Britta’s distaste for judgmental people and her desire to protect herself through bitterness and coldness drives her to snap at Shirley – Shirley, a person who Britta is arguably the closest to. And it’s painful to listen to, because Britta has hit the point of no return. Remember what I said earlier? When her defenses are piled up and she feels threatened or backed into a corner, Britta doesn’t shoot to maim – she aims to kill with her words. Even Jeff cringes in the background and this exchange seems to drive him to action, because moments later, he begins flipping tables and carts over, looking for the pen. Ironically, Jeff is usually propelled by things affecting HIM and him alone. But listening to the group bicker and fight didn’t cut it. It took listening to them HURT each other to cause him to take action. While it's important to remember that Annie is driven, it's also equally as important to remember that Annie has limits. One of Annie’s biggest character traits is her devotion to academia. And suddenly, quite suddenly, when Jeff destroys school property, her priorities shift. A pen is nothing in the grand scope of things, compared with the potential for a spot on her record or a bad mark. Maybe she never truly believed that the pen was representative of a principle (or maybe she did), but whatever the case, Annie has always proven that she would do just about anything in the name of school. And so she, in exasperation, tells everyone that it "is just a pen." And then, quite suddenly, the entire room halts. There’s a cycle that seems to occur in the episode of everything being seemingly normal and then sent into a slow descent and a tailspin. And just as it appears that the group has reached a plateau, they are sent into yet another tailspin.

Jeff growls at Annie and gets pretty much up in her face about the fact that she had been claiming "it was a principle" all along. He asks why she's suddenly changed her tune which, to Annie, sounds a lot like she's being accused of finding the pen and hiding it. Britta agrees and continues to accost Annie as well, until the woman begins to unbutton her cardigan in anger, proving that she doesn't have the pen. Jeff follows suit, as do Britta and Pierce, until Abed halts them. The entire group will flip the tables, be divided by gender, and then search one another in their underwear to prove that the pen is not being hidden. When the group does this, they find that -- still -- no one has the pen. There's absolutely nowhere else the pen could... oh. And then the men remember that Pierce is in his wheelchair with casts on his legs and could very easily be hiding the pen in one of them. 

Okay, remember the statement I made earlier? This is extremely significant in light of this episode. Every episode up until this moment has showcased the study group in some way, shape, or form. And each episode, we have gotten to know the individual characters that make up the group. We see how much they have come to rely on one another, trust one another and function as… well, a group. However, “Cooperative Calligraphy” is the hinge on which this idea swings on – the idea that the group will always defend one another as an entity. In “Competitive Ecology,” the group sticks together against Todd, as they do in “Basic Lupine Urology.” Like I mentioned before, Jeff professes his love to the group in a text message. People know them as “that study group.” And it all begins with this episode. Because the truth is, up until now, they had been ready to blame each group member for everything. They nearly tore each other apart in “Cooperative Calligraphy” (both physically and emotionally) in order to accomplish this. But Jeff makes a valid point to Abed – if they cannot find out who the pen thief is, they’ll walk out the door and never be able to trust an individual member within the group again. So they opt for group unity – an unconscious decision to always defend the group first and foremost. But slowly, the group begins to realize that they need to forgive one another for their mistakes if they’re ever going to make it past this point in their relationship.

So with this in mind, they tie Pierce down (I think it’s hilarious that the group ties down Pierce’s arms with duct tape to his chair) and remove his casts. They find Slim Jims and pens (and salad tongs), but no purple pen. And then, quite defeated, the group slumps to the floor, convinced that they'll never find the pen thief. Once the group is re-dressed, the spiral of apologies occurs (well, perhaps not from Pierce). But I think it’s really a definition of Britta that she apologizes to Annie for all the chaos and trouble they caused – she doesn’t have to, but it helps us to remember that she was just being defensive throughout the episode and it’s not indicative of her character as a whole to be as cold and ruthless as she was. Annie admits that it could be anyone who took the pen, and Jeff says that -- for all they know, it was her. Annie wishes that was the case -- that she could find the pen behind her ear and call it a day, rather than believe anyone in the group is thoughtful and inconsiderate. After all they had been through already, Shirley admits, it seems impossible that one of the group members doesn't belong. Jeff agrees -- it is actually less than impossible. Something completely impossible is actually more likely. When he suggests that a ghost must have taken the pen because that makes more sense than someone from the group being mean and conniving, Pierce asks why a ghost would need a pen. I think it’s very endearing that Jeff turns the reins over to Troy in order to explain the story. It’s quite character growth, considering he could have just easily made up another speech to save the group. But instead, he let Troy have his own moment and that’s sweet. (Plus, he was too busy sharing a schmoopy smile with Annie… what? It’s true!)

And then, the group leaves the room... completely intact. But it's significant to recognize that they left a mess in their wake. The bottle episode has bound them together as one, but -- much like "Competitive Ecology" and "Basic Lupine Urology" -- that bond often comes at the cost of something (or someone) else outside of the group.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
- “I still think that man is going to evolve into woman, not a dragon monster with three legs.”
- I think it’s still the cleverest thing that you can actually see Annie’s Boobs steal the purple pen in the background.
- “Accidents don’t just happen over and over and over again, okay? This isn’t budget daycare.”
- “Here, have my pen.” “That’s my pen.”
- “With each passing moment, these puppies grow older and less deserving of our attention.”
- “I don’t like this.” “Yeah? Well, tell it to the pen you might have.”
- The rhyming thing that the group does ("What do you know, Henry David Thoreau?") is my favorite running gag. 
- It sounded like it took Joel a few takes to get the lines when he "snaps" and begins turning over tables and tearing up carpet because he barely has a voice when he starts yelling.
- “Ugh! It smells like a Waffle House sink!”
- “Here we go. Winger speech to take us home.”

Next week we jump straight to the next episode -- "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design" which easily cracks my top 5 favorite episodes of all-time. So hop over to Twitter on Thursday night at 8PM EST with the hashtags #blanketfort or #biodioramarama and join me there! Until then, folks! :)