Merry Xmas, you guys! Tonight felt a little off, starting (but not ending) with the fact that it’s APRIL (cough, Jeff as a Tom Waits fan, cough). But let’s back up.
One of the 12,000 things that’s cool about Community is that sometimes it’s referential in obvious ways and sometimes it’s referential in oblique ways. Tonight was somewhere in the middle: I *think* it was probably referential, but I don’t entirely know of what. (Help me out?) Things—the lighting, the delivery of dialogue, the camera angles, other examples—seemed different than usual (even though, I know, there is no usual, but still). So I guess what I mean is, I thought this episode was good but that I probably missed a lot. Por ejemplo: Was any of this a Die Hard homage? Never saw it. I think there was more shooting in that. Also, why is there a close-up of Abed wiggling his toes? Was that important? The one thing I learned in my Novel Into Film class in grad school (yes, I totally took classes like this, you guys; I got my MFA, okay?) is that the camera isn’t ever supposed to do something willy-nilly, so if you zoom in on something, you better have a good reason.
Let’s pause for a sec: I wrote all of that about 10 minutes in, as I was watching. Then things got kind of…awesome. Everything I already wrote is still true, but instead of being bummed out that I (think I?) missed a layer of what was going on, I became exhilarated! Wait, I never backed up that first time I said I would. Damn it. Okay, let’s back up so then we can back up again:
This episode brings us to Christmas in the Greendale continuum (sure), and Jeff is hosting the gang’s first grownup party, at which no means yes. Annie Annies the situation with pillows and an unexpected invite: Prof. Cornwallis. (I *think* we’re going in order now, and therefore this means we are post-Annie’s foot massage. In which case you’d expect more ribbing from the group, though it would be kind of dickish to bring up secrets revealed during devilberry hallucinations, so, okay. Pierce is MIA because he’s at sensitivity training/Chevy Chase has already quit. (I like that they haven’t written him out of the series yet. I think the writers should continue to do this for the rest of Community’s run, just always have him elsewhere.) Kind of a pity, actually—Pierce was just beginning to show his humanity this season. Oh well.
Anyway, turns out the gang has failed its final, a seven-section essay, with everyone responsible for one part. Mmmkay. Who bungled it seems to matter less than the bungling itself, at least to Annie, but not to Jeff, who is indignant and irate because now he can’t graduate early. (Wait, wasn’t early graduation off the table after the Greendale Games?) That’s why Cornwallis is invited: The study group will use the party to convince him to bump up their grade. (Wait, did I already tell you guys to suspend your disbelief? Please go ahead and do that, or else you will hate this episode.) Tense high-stakes secret mission: Go.
Tapas! Broken-Barbie judgey face. (I honestly don’t know if I have a bigger crush on Jeff or Britta this season.)
Cornwallis is onto the gang—he knows they’re just buttering him up because he gave them a C-minus. HOLD THE PHONE. Oh, right, they forgot to do the Annie math: An F in Annie’s world converts to a C-minus in regular people’s world (as a nerd, I understand this).. Oops, use your indoor voice when you’re trash-talking the professor, Jeff. Now you have an F for realsies. Bedroom meeting! Oh, Chang’s tied up Cornwallis. Aces. (Remind me to come back to this later, I think there’s a continuity problem here.)
So…moment of maximum leverage. But more important, they’ve got a hostage. And Annie, as Annie is wont to, turns the quickest. (She really learned a lot about survival that year she was a drug addict.) Anyway, more group-dynamic history stuff. Empires are always destroyed from within, so says the professor. He will award an A to whoever unties him; everyone else will fail. So who will be the betrayer? Time to find the cracks.
Annnnnd…there it is, a crack that’s been, erm, cracking all season long: the Jeff-Britta-Troy triangle. Friction, heat and rambling, oh my! (FINALLY. Thank you, Professor!) (Also, Abed, please eat all of your popcorn. You are looking startlingly thin.)
Oh, actually, this crack didn’t turn out to do much other than draw attention to the fact that Britta and Troy have absolutely no sexual chemistry and seriously whose idea was it to throw these two together anyway? The real crack is the fact that Annie wasn’t on track to be valedictorian in the first place—but now she is, able to betray the real smarty (Shirley) and the rest of the group in order to secure her A and for the first time actually have a shot at coming out No. 1. (Seems to be a theme this week: people fighting to earn the spot they thought they already had.) Oh my god, the episode’s only halfway done. Moving on!
Annie won’t cave. So, that’s another pointless crack. No matter, Cornwallis has the crack to end all cracks up his sleeve (sleevecrack!): They’re in this mess because of Jeff. If only he’d done his section of the test instead of going to a secret Tom Waits show (something I believe Winger would berate hipsters for doing, but okay), they wouldn’t be failing.
A knock at the door. Oh, the dean. Poor guy. Also, distraction! Cornwallis is freed. Hmm.
So who did it? (And another also, is Troy’s sweater and all the other red bouncing around on your screen as much as it is on mine? I need Dramamine.) Doesn’t matter, now says Jeff. Wingerlogue: They’re all flawed, selfish and weak. (Eh, as far as Wingerlogues go.) The group is charmed, but Cornwallis is not impressed. So Jeff ties him up again. WHAT?
Presents! Oh, look at Chang’s gifts, what with their knots that aren’t. Turns out the professor was never tied up—he just didn’t have anything better to do. (Second consecutive episode with a strong Ally Sheedy–in-Breakfast Club motif. Weird.) Poor old lonely guy. C-pluses for everyone!
Oh, Chang’s still evil. Which is what makes me wonder if there’s a slight inconsistency problem (see above). Chang is only pretending to have Changnesia (is a sentence I never thought I’d type). So wouldn’t Chang’s ability to tie knots remain? Or is he really that committed to being Kevin that he’s imbued his character with the inability to remember how to tie knots? I hardly think Chang’s smart enough. Oh god, I barely care. GO AWAY, CHANG.
Shows with referential layers of meaning work only if the first layer is great (and even if the second one isn’t), and this one eventually really was. Fun and a little different (and complete with a closing-credits nod to “Remedial Chaos Theory,” one of the greatest Community episodes ever) and with a layer I think I didn’t entirely get but didn’t mind either. (Those of you who got it, a) explain it to me and b) mazel on having a more meaningful Community-watching experience than I did this week.) Maybe there was no other layer and I’m so used to expecting texture from this series that when it doesn’t deliver I see it anyway (and fault myself for being too dense to get it. In which case, Community is kind of a pompous dick, but a really smart one I love anyway.)
Tonight gave us Jeff and Annie uniting as the main advocates of trickery and deceit (which is probably why in the dark timeline they’re a super-hot one-armed/cannibal Bonnie and Clyde) and also gave us the increasingly familiar line that the gang may be made up of discrete parts but functions as one coherent being. Take note, would-be evildoing outsiders (Chang, Toby, the Dean when he’s crossed, etc., etc.): Ain’t nothing going to break this gang’s stride. Nobody gonna slow them down. Oh no. They got to keep on movin’. (Or something. Sorry, I’ve already taken Tylenol PM.) Bye!
Watch the full episode below!