Episode 102: Spanish 101
So what makes this episode interesting, to me, is seeing how it's expands the character information laid out in the pilot and really starts laying out the arcs that we're going to see throughout the season, and the series as a whole.
There are two character arcs that I see being developed here, and one continuing from the pilot. They are:
- Although this was hinted at in the pilot with her comment about valuing honesty above all–which as Lloyd Braun so astutely pointed out last week was probably bullshit, even if she didn't admit it to herself–this episode has the first overt explanation of the central contradiction underpinning Britta's character: The disconnect between her vision of herself and her actual self in practice.
- The relationship between Pierce and Jeff, where Pierce–somewhat accurately–sees Jeff as a younger version of himself, and by utilizing Jeff's natural charisma and leadership ability, he hopes to gain a potential second-chance at gaining a family in the study group. Jeff is irritated by Pierce, but does not yet see the other character as a potential glimpse at his own dark future if he doesn't change his ways.
- Once again we see Jeff take an action that is selfishly motivated, purely intended to get in Britta's pants, and have it backfire on him due to group dynamics. His schemes both bottom out, leaving him on his own and likely to get a bad grade. But then a kernel of sympathy for Pierce emerges and by acting on it he impresses Britta for the first time.
Regarding the first point:
This is a through-line that will continue for Britta throughout the series run so far. Although there are many examples, the three that come most directly to mind are "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking," where she struggles with herself over using Pierce's check to cover her bills, or donating it to a charity, as she had pledged, finally admitting that she would have done the former if not for Abed's camera; "Applied Anthropology and Culinary Arts," where she goes on at length to Jeff about women being more in touch with their bodies, because of childbirth, but is terrified of actually helping deliver the baby when the time comes–the difference here being her friendship with Jeff pushing in the right direction, rather than a feeling of external judgement; lastly "Geography of Global Conflict," where she regresses to her season 1 desire to act out for the sake of doing so, and is primarily motivated by jealousy of her arrested friend, rather than an actual desire to effect change, much of which is probably caused by an internal freak out over her actually picking a major and more officially settling into her new life. I think there is also a link between this behavior and her insistence in "Romantic Expressionism" that she's the kind of cool girl who doesn't care if her friend dates her ex, only to break down about this very issue at the end.
I also think it's interesting to note that Shirley and Annie react with interest to Britta's initial pronouncement about the Guatemalan journalist, rather than with the irritated disdain that her political causes are met with these days. However, Annie also does praise Britta for valuing keeping it real over being likable, so it wasn't too far to fall. This becomes apparent when Britta criticizes their protest (those bubble-lettered, flower-decorated signs are hilarious, by the way) and then realizes that she actually does nothing to support the causes she favors. Shirley tells her, "sounds like somebody has a case of I-want-to-use-fringe-politics-to-make-myself-feel-special-but-I-don't-want-to-actually-do-anything."
Regarding the second point:
Pierce initially attempts to bond with Jeff after Britta has once again rejected him, although called him cute, after he tried to make up for his horrible first impression with a Transformer Bar Mitzvah card. Jeff isn't interested. The next day in class, Pierce switches partner-matching cards with Britta (the toilet for the house), which makes him Jeff's partner. I think Jeff initially suspects that the switch was motivated by Britta, because she knew he'd given Abed his shirt in order to get the card that would match Britta's (house). But while most of the rest of the group is criticizing Pierce for being crazy, Britta later reveals that Pierce actually offered her $100 to make the switch. In typical Britta fashion, she manages to assess the situation fairly astutely, even if she doesn't have the therapy-speak terminology yet. She says, "I think he spent his whole life looking out for himself and he would trade it all for some kind of family," which pretty much sums up huge swaths of Pierce's entire character (including how perceived rejection from this surrogate family, along with the death of his closest actual family member and a debilitating injury, send him on a very dark path for the majority of season 2).
As an aside, it's also very Pierce-ish that when his attempt to befriend Jeff through their Spanish conversation fails, rather than do as Jeff asks and meet briefly before class to throw memorized phrases together, he tattles to Chang, because he want things to happen his own way, or not at all.
Regarding the third point:
After Jeff once again attempts to bond with Britta over schoolwork, he ends up stuck with Pierce as a partner. He's growing increasingly annoyed with the older classmate's insane vision for their Spanish conversation, but it's not until Abed and Troy interrupt their brainstorming session to inform Jeff and Pierce of the protest occurring outside that Jeff abandons him, seeing another opportunity for impressing Britta by participating in the demonstration. He says, "the woman I kind of like is out there in the moonlight, caring about something stupid and I care about her enough to act like I care about it, too." (The more evolved Jeff of today wouldn't have to pretend. He might not actually care about a specific cause, but if one of his friends asked him to help or participate, he would probably support them, or at least make up an elaborate lie about being at the hospital to get out of it. He wouldn't just fake interest.) But I think Britta's explanation of Pierce's loneliness seems to reach Jeff in some capacity and he agrees to participate in the ridiculous conversation/performance. Although I guess it could be argued either way, I believe that he does this out of some small seed of compassion for Pierce, even if he doesn't yet see his own possible future in the older man. As it happens, his first act of slightly selfless behavior is the thing that finally impresses Britta for the first time.
Obsessive Community nerd observation:
When Pierce is planning the story for his conversation/performance with Jeff, the chalkboard features two large circles, one with notes delineating "begin," "middle," "more" and "end," and "thesis" written in the middle. Immediately, I thought of Harmon's famous clock-like story circles. On the commentary Harmon says that in this bit, as well as in the episode where Pierce writes the school song, he is deliberately mocking himself. He says: "Pierce is–in all things creative, his reach exceeds his grasp and he sort of tries to cover it with a lot of pomposity and venom and stuff." Naturally, I couldn't help thinking of all the venom Harmon directs at his own show when discussing it here and other places.
- The dean's announcement that security has been given binoculars to raise awareness of homelessness reminded me of the recent noting of the college's high number of homeless people and how they're afraid to ask them to leave.
- Abed continues his metaness, saying that he like the dean's announcements, because it feels like he's on a TV show, although no one on an actual TV show would note a similarity between their lives and television. Later, at the protest, he predicts "conflicts like these will ultimately bring us together as an unlikely family."
- Chang introduces the El Tigre name during one of his rants to the class.
- Britta says that the Spanish conversation performance is so terrible that no woman who saw it could ever think of Jeff sexually again. Obviously this is not the case.
- When instructing the class to make big circle gestures while they speak, Chang says, "hands are 90 percent of Spanish."
- Words surrounding the second circle on the chalkboard where Pierce is planning their conversation include: Israel, Muslims, Palestine, Foreigners and flag or fag–>NO
- This ties in with Jeff's hilarious description of their scene, which I remember really laughing at when I saw it the first time: "well we have something incredibly long, very confusing and a little homophobic and really, really specifically, surprisingly and gratuitously critical of Israel."
- Pierce is delusional enough to believe that his infertility is actually his sperm being super-powered enough to "shoot through the egg like bullets."
From the commentary:
- Joel notes that this is the first time the audience sees his character not in sweatpants
- Chevy is hilariously clueless about the commentary process. Whether he's pretending or not, it's very funny. One example: "Wait a minute, are we supposed to be talking during this?"
- He also claims not to remember much about even filming the show, asks if they are as popular as Glee and later says, very sarcastically, "oh I can't wait to get back to this."
- It's noted that Chevy's page of the fortune teller in the credits still has the topless woman on it, which was later removed. I didn't actually notice when watching on my own.
- Dino fell into the Starburns role because they initially felt they couldn't ask an actor to sit for as long as it was necessary to design the burns. (I'm assuming for pay reasons, but perhaps contractual ones, they didn't specify.)
- Joel had hair sticking out of his pants when he was wearing the too-tiny Abed shirt and the makeup lady made him go into the bathroom and shave it off.
- The guy who serves as the picture for the deceased journalist was on Heat Vision and Jack, although Harmon didn't actually recognize him until he came in for the audition.
- Dan and Pierce argue over how much Clark Griswold and Fletch are present in Pierce's character.
- Dan stayed up all night writing Troy and Abed's Biblioteca rap. As I'm sure most of you know, it sprang from them being asked to beatbox while on the red carpet for an event. The commentators also say that this episode was the one where they realized the tremendous chemistry that Danny Pudi and Donald Glover have with each other.
On the A. V. Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/regional-holiday-music,66270/#comment-392347573 (page 38)