Sunday, March 24, 2013

4x07 "Economics of Marine Biology" (And The Verdict Is: Guilty Or Not?)

"Economics of Marine Biology"
Original Airdate: March 21, 2013

I’ve never really been a firm believer in the notion that first impressions make or break a relationship. To be quite frank, I don’t remember the moment I met most of the people I call my closest friends. It’s not that first impressions don’t have a significant impact on how you view someone short-term – they do, honestly. But I subscribe to the belief that how you treat someone long-term, how your relationship develops, and the memories you have after that are what you remember, more than that first encounter (unless you’re Lizzie Bennet or something, but that’s a whole other subject). The problem that even Lizzie Bennet has, and that we have as well, is reconciling the memory of our impressions of an individual with the current reality of who that person is. “Economics of Marine Biology” was actually about this topic, especially in our Pierce/Jeff storyline. Pierce, I am fairly certain, is about as beloved by fans as he is the actual study group. No one, really, tests Jeff’s nerves quite like the eldest member of the study group. But there’s a word that I came to associate with Pierce throughout the course of this episode that I usually do not: empathy. And this desire, this notion, to not only feel bad for Pierce but to want to HELP him is something that I – and Jeff Winger alike – was not used to, but something beautiful and tragic no less. Elsewhere this week, Troy and Shirley learn that the way they see themselves and one another needs a bit of refining. Troy’s always believed he can be the best at everything (to a fault), while Shirley always believes that she would choose the moral high road, no matter what. Dean Pelton and Annie also learn that their drives and desires can often lead them to compromise their character. The pair learns that their impressions of the value and worth of certain students and individuals (including Archie) greatly color their actions… for better or for worse. There’s, then, the focus on guilt – what happens when your actions harm you or those around you? And what, moreover, happens when you refuse to acknowledge the destruction you are causing?

First off, I think everyone should take the opportunity to thank Jaime (@elspunko) for her wonderful review of last week’s Community episode! I was so swamped with studying for my insurance exam that I knew I couldn’t handle staying up to write a review, and – like always – Jaime came to my rescue when I asked her if she would fill in for me. I am glad that you all got the opportunity to read her take on the episode, as it was identical to my own. So thank you, dear best friend, for all of your assistance!

Now, in case you were too busy doing some “whale”-hunting of your own and forgot what the plot of the episode was about, I’m here to provide a remedial course for you! The episode opens with Dean Pelton showing the study group a slide show of a student named Archie that the dean is hopeful to recruit to attend Greendale. He’s a slacker who scored a 0 on his SATs and was recently arrested. Britta seems to echo the thoughts of the audience when she asks why they would attempt to recruit him when there are plenty of other intelligent mathematicians or science-minded prospective students.

The dean is nothing if not dedicated to his school, as we have learned in episodes like “Documentary Filmmaking Redux.” Dean Pelton wants Greendale to be accomplished, to be recognized, and to be financially secure (especially given the poor state they were in post-“Biology 101”). The dean’s own insecurities tend to pepper the decisions that he makes regarding the community college, however, and he often (see, again, “Documentary Filmmaking Redux”) recruits eager-to-please individuals like Annie Edison to assist him. Annie and Dean Pelton are rather similar (and not just in their seeming attraction to Jeff Winger). Both of these characters strive exceptionally hard to win others over. Annie was never popular in high school, and she lost the chance to attend an Ivy League school when she got addicted to pills and entered rehab. Her family practically disowned her, and all of these things – these hardships and struggles – molded Annie into a young woman who constantly strives to not just be the best, but to please the people around her. If she can make people like her, they won’t leave her. If she can make something of herself, she can PROVE to herself that she is worth something. People forget how tragic a character Annie is, and how broken. They brush her off and box her out, forgetting that her past is dark and that it had a significant impact on who she became as a result. Similarly, Dean Pelton does everything possible in this episode to win Archie over, even to the point that he compromises his students and his beliefs. He’s consumed with the desire to prove himself to the world – to beat City College – and to HIMSELF that he lets those motivations and desires lead him astray. Both of these characters realize their faults at the end of the episode, but throughout are temporarily blinded by their impressions of the worth of themselves, the Greendale students, and Archie.

Dean Pelton explains that Pierce Hawthorne is also a “whale” and because of his personality and tendency to be jealous and act like a child, does not want him around when the group attempts to persuade Archie to enroll in Greendale. The group agrees with the dean’s statement, noting Pierce’s past jealous behavior. They agree to help as much as they can with distracting Pierce. Even JEFF agrees to assist in helping to recruit Archie. Appalled, everyone gawks at Jeff, who insists that the reason he’s interested in helping is that Pierce will not be involved in any way.

And really, I’ve discussed before how I love the Pierce/Jeff dynamic. What I found so interesting (and especially evident) in this episode is that it truly exemplified how one-sided their relationship truly is. Jeff will do anything to avoid being around Pierce. He loathes spending time with the elderly man, while Pierce constantly seeks to hang out with Jeff. We’ve seen evidence of this dynamic ever since “Spanish 101,” when Pierce paid Britta to trade cards with him in class so that he’d be paired with Jeff for the project. Pierce, sadly, never had children. And I think that this truth really hit me during the episode. The fact is that Pierce doesn’t know how to treat the study group like his family because he’s never really HAD a family is pretty sad when you pause long enough to dwell on the reality. Pierce is a very sad character –he’s lonely and yes, he is selfish and child-like, but it’s the only life he’s ever really known. It’s really absurd to expect anything MORE from Pierce, when this is the way that he’s lived for so long. But to know that Jeff (and the rest of the group) wants nothing to do with a man who – despite all of his faults and flaws and hang-ups and seemingly antagonistic behaviors – just wants to BE with them and be INCLUDED… well, it stings me. Because I think that a lot of viewers feel the same way toward Pierce as the study group does – that he is a burden, that he is unnecessary, that the group is better off leaving Pierce out. That stings me, too.

Jeff walks out of class and is confronted in the hallway by Pierce. The elderly man invites Jeff to hang out with him at his favorite barber shop. Coolly, Jeff declines the invitation. I mean, he nearly pulled a Dr. Cox in his adamant decline of the request. Watching Pierce walk away, not completely defeated because he believes Jeff will eventually make time for him, kind of breaks my heart. It’s a testament to Pierce’s character (or perhaps to his loneliness and desire for friendship) that he continues to return to the people who constantly reject him. Rather than walk away from the group forever, the elderly man keeps hopeful that someday they will accept him and want to be around him.

Back in the study room, Jeff enters and informs Britta, Abed, Annie, and Dean Pelton that the coast is clear – Pierce has left and the group is now safe to carry out their operation of recruiting Archie. Our favorite school board members (“Yard margs at Skeeper’s?”) enter and ask the dean how the “whale hunt” is going. When Dean Pelton excitedly lists off their plans (which include a library tour, calculator demonstration, and culminate in a “spirit of Greendale” reception), the two board members are disappointed. Now, note something important: the Greendale gang didn’t think that anything was wrong with the plan. And when Britta asks Dean Pelton if he is intent on changing the aforementioned plans, the man replies with: “Greendale stands on its own.” It’ll be important to remember those words, as the dean will not stay true to them much longer.

Meanwhile, I was thrilled to be able to have a Shirley/Troy storyline this week, as I know a lot of people were! The pair finds themselves in the same physical education class, with Shirley being a bit nervous at the prospect, because of how she was treated in those classes growing up. Troy is nothing if not confident, however, and presumes that he will become the leader of the class. Shirley wants Troy’s assurance that he will not allow her to be picked on or picked last for a team, but Troy cannot give her that. Shirley is crestfallen. Instead, Troy insists that P.E. is all about survival of the fittest, and he would much rather survive than struggle to save Shirley. And it’s something that initially I view as harsh because of how much I’ve praised Troy as a character – he, after all, did a lot to save his friends at the end of last season.

But let’s examine an episode like “Beginner Pottery,” where Shirley and Troy also shared a storyline together. In that episode, Britta, Starburns, and Troy were more than willing to sacrifice Pierce in order to obtain a good grade in class. Shirley, however, was not. She was more willing to put aside her pride and ego and save a friend, even if it meant becoming less popular in their eyes in the process. And this makes sense, truly, in terms of their characters – Shirley was never popular. She was bullied and a bully growing up, and popularity was never a prime concern to her. But Troy? Popularity was all Troy had known prior to Greendale. He was prom king and the quarterback of the football team. He defined himself by his status, even in the pilot, by wearing his letterman’s jacket to community college. To Troy, surviving is of integral importance, and being likeable (even to your close friends) comes second. Much like loneliness is all Pierce has ever known, popularity is all Troy has ever known. And the actions of both are colored by these beliefs.

Troy and Shirley soon realize that their class is Physical Education Education (or P.E.E.), a class designed to teach students how to become gym teachers. Troy scoffs at the idea, and is reprimanded by the coach of the class. Shirley answers one of the coach’s questions, and he praises her for her feedback. Troy is a little bit jealous. It’s really unsettling for Troy to not be successful at something (recall “Politics of Human Sexuality,” for instance), and this episode is no exception. But Shirley, much like Dean Pelton and Annie, loses sight of who she is as a person once she begins to rise to power and popularity. Remember: Shirley hasn’t truly BEEN in this position of authority before, and she’s not quite sure how to handle it.

Dean Pelton, Britta, Annie, and Jeff are waiting outside of Greendale’s library for Archie… who is two hours late. Just as Archie arrives, Pierce does as well. Knowing that the elderly man will ruin the potential for Archie’s enrollment, Annie begs Jeff to do something. A few seconds of doe-eyes is all it takes for Jeff to agree to hang out with Pierce for the day and distract him. Pierce is elated that he is able to spend time with Jeff, but the former lawyer instructs Annie to text him the second that he can ditch Pierce.

When Archie arrives, Dean Pelton is nervous… until Archie reveals that the scooter he rode in on was bestowed upon him by City College. It is then that the dean decides to compromise his beliefs and vision in order to cater to Archie. Britta and Annie confront the dean after he agrees to let Archie have one of Greendale’s computers. Dean Pelton makes the argument that Archie is obviously going to choose City College to attend, which propels the man into recruit mode. Annie contemplates the school board members’ opinions from earlier and decides that they were right – and her first instinct is to jump head-long into a bad idea.

Both Dean Pelton and Annie are passionate about things and people, but unfortunately their passions and drives and desires often lead them astray. Annie’s desire to get ahead in her journalism career caused her to overlook how she was treating Dean Pelton in “Investigative Journalism.” It took Jeff getting angry with her in order to cause the young woman to come to her senses. In “Documentary Filmmaking Redux,” Dean Pelton had to hit rock bottom – complete with a visit from Luis Guzman – in order to recognize the insanity that was driving him to make a documentary. Both individuals began with good intentions in both circumstances. Both Dean Pelton and Annie began with good intentions for their recruitment of Archie. But a misdirected passion often leads to disaster, as they will soon discover.

Back in Physical Education Education, Shirley is succeeding in all of her tasks while Troy is failing miserably. The coach instructs the class that ranking other people in order of their ability is very crucial, and since Shirley is one of the top students, she and Fat Neil have the task of doing just that. When the pool of students is narrowed down to the bottom two, Troy hopefully looks to his friend to pick him. Unfortunately, Shirley’s desire to succeed, to be popular, and to prove her worth to others causes her to lose sight of who she is. The woman picks another student over Troy, crushing him.

(P.S. Awesome job, Tim Saccardo at naming all of the coaches after the writers! I think I caught them all!)

Elsewhere at Silvio’s Barber Shop, Jeff is suffering as he listens to Pierce’s stories and is texting Annie, asking when he can ditch the elderly man. Annie is dealing with issues of her own, however, and cannot deal with Jeff. She, Britta, and Dean Pelton coddle Archie by wheeling him down the hallways in a chair and giving him a soda cup that allows him unlimited refills in the cafeteria. Britta is visibly agitated by the shameless pandering (but, to be honest, Dean Pelton – though he’s spewing out glitzy phrases – doesn’t look like he’s enjoying the lobbying much, either). Archie, used to getting what he wants, notices a blingy necklace another student is wearing, says that he wants it, and Dean Pelton instructs Annie to give Archie what he wants. When Britta is instructed to dry Archie’s shoes by both the dean and Annie, she refuses, drawing a line in their behavior.

Back at the barber shop, Pierce is making small talk with Jeff which… actually isn’t all that small. The elderly man insists that there are few things one truly needs in life, one of them being a faithful dog. Jeff then reveals that he had a chocolate lab growing up named Rosie. Pierce divulges that he, too, had a dog – Walter, a German shepherd. This is a seemingly insignificant exchange between two characters, is it not? But for Pierce and Jeff, this is somewhat of a rarity – these two typically are at odds, and the most conversation they have usually consists of snarky one-liners or biting retorts. But here, Jeff is actually letting Pierce into his life, which is something that few people truly get to experience. And the two are getting along, laughing together and enjoying each others’ company. It’s a beautiful picture, really, and I’ll explain why momentarily.

At Greendale, Physical Education Education class isn’t shaping up to be any better for Troy. Shirley, meanwhile, is exceeding at every task. The class, sadly, mocks Troy for his lack of coaching ability. The young man is not defeated, however. He’s determined to rise victorious, somehow.

Annie, meanwhile, is preparing a party in the cafeteria with Dean Pelton (she looks nervous at the confirmation that the dean hired strippers). Everyone is catering to Archie’s whims and preferences, but the pair seems to see nothing wrong (yet) with this.

At the barber shop, Pierce and Jeff are continuing to bond and laugh, with the latter actually admitting that he was wrong – the shop, Jeff explains, truly is something special. Pierce soon does something extremely striking and heartwarming: he explains that the reason he wanted to get alone time with Jeff recently is to commend him for confronting his father during Thanksgiving. Pierce then notes how proud he is of Jeff for tackling his father issues, even though it wasn’t easy. And this small moment really threw me when I thought about it. No one else in the study group has actually expressed (canonically) how proud of Jeff they were for confronting his father. Britta said nothing in the car to him regarding the issue. She merely looked at him and he cut off whatever she was about to say. There’s no doubt that the group IS proud of Jeff for taking the risk and talking to his dad, but… no one else vocalized that pride, apart from Pierce. For all of his shortcomings, the elderly man knew that he needed to set aside time in order to tell Jeff how proud he was of him. That’s something beautiful, right there.

Troy is suffering in Physical Education Education, during the simulated locker scene and begs for Shirley’s help. Echoing Troy’s statement from earlier, Shirley (attempting to fight guilt), insists that the class is all about survival of the fittest. But even as the words leave her mouth, you can see that Shirley doesn’t quite believe them.

In the Piece/Jeff storyline, Jeff receives a text from Annie, which Pierce intercepts. It’s a text, of course, informing Jeff that she needs more time and to continue to keep Pierce busy. The elderly man puts the pieces together after Jeff explains how Archie’s visit would have only incited jealousy in Pierce. And then, there’s a very heartbreaking moment where Pierce delivers the following line: “I used to regret not having a son to bring here. I’m glad I didn’t have kids. They just end up disappointing you.”

The most poignant part of this moment is the fact that Pierce is actually lying to himself – he’s not glad that he doesn’t have children. In fact, taking Jeff to the barber shop likely reminded him of what being a father would have been like. Sadly, Jeff ended up hurting the elderly man with his selfishness, and that wounded Pierce further. Interestingly enough, Jeff slumps down in his chair after Pierce leaves, seemingly feeling the weight of guilt on his shoulders.

Archie is having such a great time at the party that he decides to become a student at Greendale, officially. Dean Pelton, elated, announces the news to the student body in attendance and Magnitude – excitedly – performs his signature “Pop! Pop!” There’s just… one problem. Archie wants THAT to become his new catchphrase. The entire party is stunned into silence, and stunned further when Dean Pelton grants Archie’s demand, instructing Magnitude never to say “Pop! Pop!” again. Annie, filled with regret, escorts Magnitude from the cafeteria. But Dean Pelton feels no remorse – he justifies his actions and behavior… sort of. The following day, he and Annie walk toward the study room and the dean insists that he feels good. “All for Greendale,” he explains. Annie echoes the sentiment flatly.

When the dean and Annie run into Jeff in the study room, Annie explains her uncertainty regarding their actions, but an agitated Dean Pelton (filled with guilt, though he denies it) insists that they all move on. There was a price to pay, he explains. The pair then insist that their day couldn’t have been as bad as Jeff’s. And then, the former lawyer does something surprising – he not only defends Pierce, but he angrily defends the elderly man. Jeff notes that Pierce is difficult 98% of the time, but that perhaps if everyone gave him a chance – if they all treated him a bit better, than the 2% of enjoyable Pierce time would be worth it. It’s kind of awesome, actually, to see this character development in Jeff because this is someone who argued with Annie (on two separate occasions) about Pierce’s attitude. Both times, Annie was the one to suggest that Pierce only acts out because he is consistently excluded, while Jeff believed that Pierce was excluded BECAUSE he acted out. Here, it seems that Jeff recalls those conversations and the afternoon with Pierce and changes his tune, ever-so-slightly.

Dean Pelton changes his tune and openly acknowledges the fact that he compromised his own values in order to cater to one student (therefore forgoing the best interests of all his other students), when he sees how distraught and broken Magnitude is.

Elsewhere, Shirley approaches Troy, who apparently dropped Physical Education Education. When Shirley apologizes for her behavior, Troy explains that she wasn’t in the wrong – physical education is all about survival of the fittest, and Shirley managed to survive. But it’s Shirley’s next statement that is indicative of the mother’s values and personality. She insists that friends are supposed to help friends survive. Instead of justifying her actions, the woman notes that she was wrong. And just like that, Shirley regains her focus and channels it into helping Troy become a better coach by teaching someone un-teachable – Kevin. Er, Chang?

In the cafeteria, Dean Pelton is setting his school to rights once more by explaining to Archie that Greendale is not about pandering to him or his whims – Greendale will not lose the things that make it the community college it is. He sets his foot down, and – much like Shirley and Annie and Jeff – is reminded of who he truly is as a person and where he stands. Guilt is a powerful force that drives this episode for all of our characters, especially the ones who have to learn the hard way that their actions have consequences not just for themselves but for the people around them. Archie actually accepts Dean Pelton’s attitude, noting that people cater to him all the time and it would be refreshing to not receive preferential treatment all the time.

Jeff returns to the barber shop where Pierce is, and the elderly man still appears hurt. But rather than launch into a Winger speech to wrap a bow on the episode, Jeff merely explains that he thinks he’ll return to the barber shop more often. He “likes the vibe.” It’s a subtle moment that is pretty significant – it’s perhaps the first time that Jeff has actually admitted to liking Pierce. Indeed, I cannot think of an episode (but perhaps you can), where Jeff actually admits to enjoying Pierce’s companionship. I think this was a beautiful moment, understated and exemplary of the relationship between the two. Rather than become sentimental or sappy, Pierce accepts Jeff’s apology by pretending their argument never happened and striking up a new conversation with Jeff instead. And that’s how the pair sinks back into their new relationship – easily and calmly, with no drama or over-sentimentality. This, truly, is how Pierce and Jeff are as individuals and how they function best as a pairing. They’re dysfunctional. They’re dissimilar.

And yet, in spite of that all, they understand one another. That’s the beauty of the study group and the beauty of Community: characters learning to understand one another, accept one another, and grow in the process.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
- “Do we GO to the same Greendale?”
- “You can’t run from running forever.”
- “Now how can I put this? No. I don’t want to go. Not now, not ever. No.”
- “I thought that was a typo in the course cartalogue.”
- Always pause to read things like blackboards, whiteboards, and posters. A highlight from the Delta Cube poster is: “The dean ain’t never gonna shut us down!” (Oh, yeah. Abed had a storyline this week, too. But it was a D-story so... I may not have included it in the review. Whoops.)
- “Britta, where do we get drugs?” “Really?” “Look who stumbled onto the high road.”
- “If I wanted to wait on a rich man hand and foot, I would have gone to Dubai with that sheikh I met at Trader Joe’s!”
- “Your phone’s buzzing. Oh, it’s from Annie, you sly dog.”
- “I had to hitchhike home in a burrito truck. Not as fun as it sounds.”
- “I’m a man of very little integrity and I let students get away with pretty much anything on this campus.”
- I think Troy and Britta broke up over chips... ?

Thank you ALL for putting up with my crazy scheduling over the past few weeks. And it appears that we are just in time, too: "Herstory of Dance" (according to my sources) will be airing April 4th, so take a week off and I'll see you back here on Friday, April 5th! :)


  1. “Your phone’s buzzing. Oh, it’s from Annie, you sly dog.”

    Pierce is a Jeff/Annie shipper.

    1. Dude, Pierce is SO totally a Jeff/Annie shipper. ;)