Friday, April 5, 2013

4x08 "Herstory of Dance" (In Which Britta Definitely Britta'd It)

"Herstory of Dance"
Original Airdate: April 4, 2013

The gap between being pride and humility can seem about as large as the span of The Grand Canyon. Or, this is what we think. In all actuality, there’s a rather fine line between humility and pride in our daily lives. For example, if I were to tell you that I am terrible at receiving compliments, a part of me would (honestly) want you to compliment me so that I would feel better. I’ll be honest: I get a surge of joy whenever I read a positive tweet or review from one of you. And that’s something that makes me human. We love to receive positive comments, and we harden our hearts and minds whenever we are rejected or criticized. Jeff Winger has never been a particularly humble person, and neither – for that matter – has Abed Nadir. Jeff is the person who has an ego the size of an inflatable apple and Abed once said that girls loved him because “let’s face it, [he’s] pretty adorable.” Pride and ego are much more noticeable traits in Jeff because they are his primary vices. Nearly all of Jeff’s actions stem from them: his behavior toward Rich, his views on Billiards class, taking an axe to the table, blaming Todd for the study group’s problems, etc. Abed’s pride doesn’t manifest  itself very often, and when it does, it displays itself in the form of relating everything to popular culture. Now, before I get a ton of angry e-mails, yes I am aware that Abed is a character who likely has Asperger’s. And yes, I understand that there are parts of Abed that will never respond “normally” to people or situations. But in “Herstory of Dance” (and “Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples,” for that matter), Abed’s desire to be in control of the trope, in control of the pawns and pieces, and in control of the outcome lead to his demise. But it’s more than that, really. In both Jeff and Abed’s stories throughout this episode, their pride wounds the people around them. Jeff hurts Britta. Abed hurts his dates, Rachel, and Shirley and Annie. Hurting yourself and others is what happens when ego and pride take ownership of a person. But the beauty is that humility is the cure.

So in case you were too busy thinking about who YOU were about to ask to the Sadie Hawkins Dance (in my khaki pants) and completely forgot the plot for this week’s episode, here’s the run-down: Dean Pelton is planning a Sadie Hawkins Dance (because we haven’t had a dance in a while!) in order to placate students because the CDC is coming to shut down all the school’s water fountains.

And I like that this episode opened with Abed attempting to filter life through… well, LIFE, rather than television or movies. I don’t think many of us actually believed he would stick with this, but it’s interesting to contemplate WHY the filmmaker felt the need to begin this transition now. Perhaps “History 101” and its events ignited something in Abed – a brief and flickering acceptance of slowly evolving as a person and character. Change is scary and with everyone moving on, Abed is beginning to recognize that he doesn’t have to change with them, but he DOES need to adapt.

When the dean announces that he’s throwing a dance, Britta objects to the sexist attitude that it portrays, with this being the only time it is acceptable for a woman to choose her partner. Dean Pelton scoffs at the fact that Britta thinks it is so easy to plan a dance; that anyone could just throw one together. And this is the basis for Dean Pelton’s frustration and snarky attitude towards Britta for the remainder of the episode.

There’s a reason that I am intensely fond of Britta and this episode really elevated my love and sympathy for her, a la season one. I think that we, much like Jeff, have forgotten how to be empathetic when it comes to the blonde. We’ve used her name as a pun and made fun of her on numerous occasions. We roll our eyes at her attempts to “therapize” Jeff. We think that she’s a bit silly, that she argues for the sake of arguing, and makes far too many mistakes. But what I love most about Britta is not that she is perfect or that she is the best at everything she does. What I have always loved about Britta is that she is, in her mess, the glue that holds the group together. Jeff admits this in the first season – she is the anti-Winger, the dark cloud. But she is the one who united them all in the first place. Without Britta, there would be no study group. Winston Bishop admitted on this week’s episode of New Girl that Nick Miller is the glue that holds the loft friendship together. In spite of the fact that Nick is an utter mess most of the time, he makes the friendship click – he holds them all together.

In the same way, Britta is this character we’re conditioned to laugh at, to mock, to joke about. But she is the heart of the study group. She is so passionate and driven, often for all the wrong reasons. But she keeps doing and being and trying because she wants the people around her to NEED her. And that is something so beautifully tragic about Britta. She never will outright admit that she needs anyone – she doesn’t need a man and she doesn’t need people to do things for her. But Britta does need, and always will need, the study group to be there for her when she is hurting. Unfortunately, the one person who could have made the effort to be there for her and help her was the one person who spent the entire episode mocking her and tearing her down. And that, to me, is painful.

While everyone else attempts to correct Britta (who mixes up Susan B. Anthony with Sophie B. Hwakins), gently, Jeff takes the opportunity to rub in Britta’s failure by pretending to play along with the “Sophie B. Hawkins” dance idea. Annie is the one to breach the gap, which is sweet. And she does it in a matter that isn’t condescending, which I also find really refreshing. The study group is trying to help her, but Jeff is solely intent on mocking.

Britta is a lot braver than we give her credit for, as well, since she is completely and utterly determined to turn embarrassment and humiliation into something amazing. And truly it takes a lot of guts to pick yourself back up. But Britta is a professional at this, you  know. This is a woman who is constantly talked down to by everyone at the school. She’s told that she is the worst by professors and by students and by the dean and by her own friends. But Britta continues to be, to do, to LIVE. She doesn’t let the fear of striking out (or the fact that she consistently strikes out) keep her from playing the game. And for that, she is beautiful to me. She announces to the group that she is planning a Sophie B. Hawkins dance and it will be awesome.

When Jeff approaches Britta in the hallway as he sees her hanging up flyers for her dance, it’s not out of fear that she’s going to make a fool of herself. In fact, he approaches her BECAUSE she is going to make a fool out of herself and wants to be the one in the front row with a bag of popcorn. Or, he at least wants Britta to admit that she was wrong so that he can make fun of her for it. And to me, that’s (once again) rather upsetting because this is the woman who – a few episodes prior – helped Jeff deal with his father issues. SHE was there for him. And when it comes time for him to be there for her, he’d rather watch her stumble than grab her hand (metaphorically – settle down, Jeff/Britta shippers). And when Jeff insists that she only made a tiny mistake and could effectively call the entire dance off without any further embarrassment, Britta’s pride takes the front seat and she leaves, more determined than ever to prove Jeff wrong. She… may also be slightly panicking.

Elsewhere, Annie and Shirley are both interested in setting Abed up on a date, since he is determined to grow as a person. In stark contrast to Abed’s desire to grow as a person, Shirley and Annie regress a bit in their friendship (and as individuals) by competing with one another over who will find Abed the “right” girl. I did love the presence of another Shirley/Annie storyline, but only lament in the fact that neither of the women seemed to learn their lesson by the story’s end. Nevertheless, it was fun to see these two butt heads much like they did in “The Science of Illusion.”

In the library, Britta is sitting at a computer, likely contemplating Jeff’s words. Actually, as Pierce approaches her we KNOW she is contemplating his words and she’s also decided to come clean about her mistake – she’s already lied and insisted that Sophie B. Hawkins will be at her dance. And she doesn’t want to lie anymore. As an aside, I AM SO HAPPY THAT THERE WAS A PIECE/BRITTA STORY. You all should know that this was on my season four wish-list, because neither have truly had a great storyline with the other since “Debate 109.” And there’s something so fundamentally  interesting about their relationship. They are strong-willed characters who clash consistently, but it’s intensely obvious that they care for one another. Britta is the one who “hugs” Pierce in “Digital Estate Planning.” And in this episode, Britta actually asks for the elderly man’s advice, which he gives freely and without a hint of (much) malice. Oddly enough, Pierce’s advice – which is to continue on with her lie in order to deny Jeff satisfaction – comforts Britta and makes sense to her.

Troy and Abed are in the library, musing as they watch Chang (er, Kevin) pass out flyers to people for Britta’s dance. Troy asks if Abed wants to participate in hijinks with him at the dance, but the filmmaker declines. He’s attempting to steer clear of those sorts of things – Abed is legitimately trying to tone himself down and settle into some sort of “normal.”

Annie soon enters with a young woman in tow named Kat. As it turns out, Annie found Abed a date to the dance already. And Kat is totally a manic pixie dream girl. In that vein, if you haven’t seen this video (and are a fan of Daniel Vincent Gordh), you should totally watch it (one curse word near the beginning). Meanwhile, I don’t much like Kat because she’s annoying. But Abed agrees to go to the dance with her, and all seems settled.

I think that this episode is a lot similar to “Physical Education” in that it features the study group trying to “help” Abed. Annie and Shirley do not have malicious intents, of course, when they set him up on blind dates with the two girls but they DO have motives. Namely, the initial motive was for Abed to find someone to be with, since he was growing used to the idea of evolution. Shirley and Annie took their initial motives and twisted them, making Abed’s happiness secondary to their desire to win. And they… actually don’t learn their lesson by the end of this episode like they do in “Physical Education,” which is kind of a bummer.

Shirley soon enters and tells Abed that she’s found a lovely church girl for him to go to the dance with. What’s super interesting to note is that Abed wasn’t INITIALLY going to accept Shirley’s offer to find him a date. He began to dissuade her, before realizing that the situation he was in was EXACTLY like a sitcom trope (he realizes this when Shirley says that missing out would be missing out “on the opportunity of a lifetime”). And truly, perhaps Abed is wondering exactly how many hijinks he has left at Greendale. And so, his ego and desire for adventure drives him to accept Shirley’s offer in addition to Annie’s.

Troy is helping Britta plan her Sophie B. Hawkins dance, in the mean time, and trying to still convince Abed that hijinks are the way to go. It… doesn’t quite work. At the night of the dance, Abed is excited to fulfill his sitcom trope. He has two different outfits that he checks at the coat check, as well as a jellybean kaleidoscope and a Gideon Bible.

And then, of course, we are introduced to the sitcom trope Abed should have seen coming from a mile away – the girl who was right under his nose: coat check girl Rachel. Let me just say that I absolutely loved the introduction of Rachel and would probably be okay with an episode that only featured her and Abed. She’s quirky, but not irritating and lovable without being too sentimental. Essentially, she’s perfect. Becca noted that she is Emma Stone-esque, so perhaps that’s why I adored her.

Meanwhile, Jeff is still torturing Britta at the dance, wondering where Sophie B. Hawkins actually IS. The blonde remains composed, even in the face of adversity (and lies through her teeth), which is something I – again – admire about her. And maybe it’s pride or stubbornness, but there’s fight within Britta that doesn’t allow her to let go of things easily. What’s sad, though, is the utter glee that Jeff is getting by teasing her about her failure. What began as a quiet plea to get the blonde to relinquish her mistake and admit Jeff was right spiraled out of control. And Jeff? Well, he is just giddy as he watches it go down in flames.

Abed’s managing to juggle two dates – until he hits a snag by running into Shirley at the drink table after going there to retrieve punch for Kat. He sends Shirley on her way as a distraction, shortly before Annie approaches. The film student then sends HER on her way, away from the cafeteria and his shenanigans.

In the corner of the dance, the dean and Jeff are discussing how Britta managed to Britta the Sadie Hawkins dance and how she hadn’t managed to ruin her own dance yet. Jeff, confidently, assures the dean that the night is still young and there is plenty of opportunity left for the woman to ruin things. I’ve seen it mentioned on Twitter, but Dean Pelton and Jeff were rather harsh this week. And I think both stem from ego and pride. The dean’s pride was hurt when Britta insisted she could slap together a dance and people would love it. In Dean Pelton’s mind, that undercuts the significance of all the work and preparation and planning that goes into his events. That, coupled with the fact that the dean has always unnecessarily been cool toward Britta, made sense as to why he would act that way. For Jeff, the harshness centered around his ego and pride as well. He wanted to hear, from Britta, that he had been right the entire time. When Britta wouldn’t allow that, Jeff’s desire to be right overrode his desire to be a good friend.

Back in the coat check room, Abed is really hitting it off with Rachel, who is gently teasing him, but admitting that the sitcom trope he’s reenacting looks like fun. And then, Abed says something pretty cool when they’re discussing tropes about public declarations of love:

“That’s not realistic. That’s taking something private and turning it into a performance.”

This may be one of the most beautiful things Abed has said recently because it does exemplify that he’s thought about growth and what that looks like, realistically. He’s always been able to tell the difference between reality and fiction, but we often don’t understand the extent to which he knows this. It’s wonderful to see little glimpses of how he views the world around him in this episode, especially in regards to relationships. And also there’s a bit of foreshadowing here, which is also very brilliant and beautiful. But I’ll get to that in a little while.

The dean is purposefully rattling Britta at the Sophie B. Hawkins dance, who he knows doesn’t have a plan in place to bring the singer to Greendale. And the blonde begins to crumble under the guilt of her lies, the pressure of the dean’s words, and the inevitability of her very public failure. It is then that Britta frantically seeks Pierce out, begging him to help her fix the mess that she caused. When Pierce can’t, the blonde – eyes widening in realization – notes that she Britta’d the entire event.

Rachel assists Abed throughout the remainder of the night in his shenanigans (distracting Manic Pixie Dream Girl with bubbles was probably my favorite). As they head back to the coat check room, she admits that she’s having fun. And then, in another classic sitcom trope, the woman knocks a piece of paper out of Abed’s hand and the two bend down together to retreive it. (Honestly, I ship Abed/Rachel more than anything now. Also, Danny Pudi’s little smile in this scene was absolutely and breath-takingly perfect). What’s heartbreaking is that Abed is so focused on the sitcom trope that he notes he’s going to choose Jessica (Shirley’s pick) because she seems like the “audience favorite.” This leaves poor Rachel heartbroken.

As Abed emerges from the room, he runs into Shirley and Annie who have confronted one another moments earlier and discovered that Abed is on dates with both of their girls. And then they chastise him for being completely “Abed” and making it all about his desire to fulfill a trope. (And I DIDN’T EVEN NOTICE TROY IN THE BACKGROUND WITH ALL OF THE CUPS.)

I love the fact that this confrontation exists, because I think that – though Abed grew in this episode – Abed needs to be reminded that his actions have consequences. REAL consequences for real people. And I might have liked to see him recognize that these repercussions don’t always get resolved at the end of a half-hour sitcom. But, well, I DID like his resolution so I guess I’ll accept the outcome. Still, I am glad that Abed was humbled by the realization that he was wrong. And I also love that he openly and genuinely acknowledges this to Annie and Shirley (who apologize for setting him up but not their absurdly competitive behavior, but whatever). They encourage Abed to go after Rachel and he does, with a huge smile.

Britta steps up to the microphone, boldly, and begins to speak, at which point everyone at her dance realizes that Sophie B. Hawkins is not coming. You can see VERY slight remorse as the crowd begins to jeer at Britta etched on Jeff’s face. But it’s really not enough to cause him to take any action. But just as everything looks hopeless, the singer walks through the door and the expression on Britta’s face is one of pure elation, relief, and overwhelming joy. Gillian Jacobs was so perfect in this episode, that I don’t even have words to convey the depth of her performance. Thank you, Gillian.

Remember how I said earlier that I loved the foreshadowing of Abed’s seemingly throwaway line? It’s important because Abed breaks a romantic movie trope – instead of declaring his love (or like or whatever) for Rachel in front of the crowd, he gets on stage and grabs the microphone from Sophie B. Hawkins and merely explains that he had a pleasant time with Rachel and wants to continue their conversation… in private. I think it’s an honest and beautiful growth in character for Abed to not just acknowledge the fact that relationships and declarations are private matters, not meant for public display like in movies, but that he actually ACTS on this belief. He breaks the trope. And he gets the girl because of it. Danny Pudi, in this episode, was SO solid. He honestly knocked every scene out of the park. He and Gillian are my MVPs for the night.

The most wonderful (and yes, I predicted it) twist in this episode is that Pierce was the one to save Britta’s dance by calling Sophie B. Hawkins. Baffled, Jeff asks the elderly man why he did it and Pierce responds with this:

“Because in the face of all logic and reason, Britta didn’t back down. […] Also, I didn’t like the way you were being such a jerk to her. […] You make fun of her, you use her name as a synonym for screwing up. Cut her some slack, Jeff. She helped you reconcile with your dad. For Pete’s sake, let her be happy.”

And just like that, the very thing that drove Jeff to belittle Britta in the first place (his pride) is dethroned by the one person Jeff never expected to learn a lesson from. Jeff is forcefully humbled in that moment, and the weight of that truly hits him as Pierce walks away. Because the reality is that sometimes it takes the person we’d least expect in our lives to point out our flaws in order for us to actually recognize them. Jeff, from across the room, sends Britta a text message as he watches her happily enjoying the music:

I know it’s probably impossible to read my texts without them sounding sarcastic but, I assure you, this one is as earnest as they come. Congratulations on the awesome dance. You Britta’d the hell out of this thing.

I got a bit misty-eyed at the end of the episode and not because I ship Jeff/Britta romantically, but because I ship them as friends. And truly, the look that Britta gave Jeff was of complete and utter gratitude. Here she is, FINALLY being respected and acknowledged for just being herself. Jeff has never been as openly kind and accepting of who she was than in that moment. And also, recall Britta’s goal from the beginning of the episode: she was determined to turn “Britta’d it” around. And Jeff, at the end of the episode, bestowed that upon her. Whether or not you read any romantic subtext in the scene, it’s clear to me that it was a scene that was supposed to feel GENUINE. We, the audience, were supposed to recognize that Jeff finally appreciated Britta as a person, flaws and all – something he has never done before. That, dear friends, is tear-inducing.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode include:
- “What a coinci-DEAN.”
- “What is this, cave-person times?”
- I think that there’s a job posting on the whiteboard this week. I’d like to work at Greendale!
- Everyone’s hair looked fantastic during this episode. A+ job.
- “So Brit-ta? You’re going to throw a protest dance? Is that a thing?”
- “Because that’s right! I’M TAKIN’ IT BACK.”
- “Call this off before it becomes a full-scale Brittastrophe. I coined that.”
- “Do you want to be the schmuck who apologizes right before the world ends?”
- “I saw her in the cafeteria trying to pay for her lunch with a song.”
- “So… was that girl an alien or a toddler with a growing disease?”
- “I wouldn’t get your hopes up for Sophie B. – oh, it’s me.”
- “This is the most fun I’ve ever had on a work-study gig. And I used to run the frozen yogurt machine before that old guy broke it.” I love continuity in the fact that Pierce broke the fro-yo machine in one of the end tags last season.
- “If this were a movie… this would be the part where we’d kiss.”
- “Well, go find her, dummy!” “Yeah, haven’t you ever seen a movie?”
- “According to dean law, I must now give her my amulet.”

All right, everyone! Next week I will be absent for Thursday night's episode "Intro to Felt Surrogacy" as I will be belting my lungs out at a Taylor Swift concert instead. ;) That means that the blog-review will likely be delayed all weekend (as I'm headed to the Quidditch World Cup on Saturday and Sunday), so keep an eye out for it on Monday!

Have a beautiful weekend, folks. :)


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