Episode 125: Pascal’s Triangle Revisited

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125 — Pascal's Triangle Revisited

Abed wants to give things a finale vibe, and this episode certainly has that vibe. Nearly every character of the first season makes an appearance, and many play an important role in the plot. The stakes are greater than before, and all the actions seem magnified as a result. Even the cookies are bigger. It all works because of what Pascal's Triangle Revisited is about: the decisions we make in the heat of the moment and how they reflect upon ourselves and each other.

To a certain extent, writing about a season finale means writing about the entire season, which is especially true for a show as introspective as Community. This episode makes no attempt to be a typical episode, instead serving to conclude the character arcs that have developed over the course from the year. From almost the very beginning, when Chang asks Duncan to help him cheat his way through school in much the same way that Jeff did in the pilot, it is made clear that the most important thing about the episode is the light it sheds on how the characters have changed since then.

First off, it's important to recognize the episode as a whole, which includes all the characters outside the group who are great in this episode. Craig Pelton's increasingly bizarre Dalmatian fetish (which is an oversimplification, I should add) climaxes here with hilarious results after building up gradually throughout the season. As usual, Ian Duncan is amazing; every single line that John Oliver delivers is hilarious. Duncan might be the most purely hilarious character of all, and it's a shame that he's been around less and less often. Moreover, he is instrumental in the plot of this episode. Looking at the episode with an analytical eye, it's impossible not to stand in awe at the writing. Not only does every scene matter, but almost every conversation pays off later down the line. This includes gratuitously inebriated Duncan, whom one would expect to be around simply for comic relief; it is Duncan who tells Slater what Jeff and Britta did, triggering her response and the ensuing escalation (this also explains the scene in which Britta is in Duncan's office, since it must have been then that Britta told him what happened), and it is drunk Duncan who provides the riotously funny and utterly rhythm-free distraction that allows Jeff to escape his predicament. The entire episode is incredibly tightly plotted to the extent that it would be hard to wring much more out of 22 minutes of television. Bear in mind that this show is a comedy; the plotting isn't even the thing that matters, and yet it's so good that it's almost beyond belief.

The premise of the episode is reasonably straightforward. Everyone has passed their classes thanks to Pierce, and now they must find out what they are to do in the next year. For the time being, at least, the older characters have already resigned themselves to their fates at Greendale; while they too have questions and concerns about the future, they are of a less direct nature than the problems that face Troy and Annie, who are the youngest and least sure of themselves. The two have both grown and changed over the course of the year, and at year's end they must decide what that means for them. Given the way Annie's story relates to the most important plot of the episode, it will be addressed a little further down; Troy's plot will have to come first.

All year, Troy's internal conflict has been lurking beneath the surface. On the one hand, he feels compelled to conform to a certain ideal of masculinity; as Jeff tells him in the pilot, he is a prom king, making him the sort of person for whom astronauts go to space to impress. As of the pilot, Troy certainly sees himself in that manner. The problem for Troy is that he is not like Jeff at all; Jeff tries not to care about anything, but Troy cares very much. Obviously Troy cannot replicate Jeff's aloofness, nor should he try. In contrast to Jeff, Abed represents the side of Troy that just likes liking things. Abed is self-assured and perfectly self-realized; he knows that Lucky Charms and television make him happy, and he's fine with that. He has no need to define himself by any outer characteristic; in The Politics of Human Sexuality, it is revealed that Abed is an even better athlete than star football player Troy, and yet he never feels the desire to assert that, even consciously downplaying that for the sake of Troy's more fragile ego. After all, as he asserts in Physical Education, he can change for others because he knows who he is. Meanwhile, Troy's life until coming to Greendale has been one long act for public consumption; we see in Football, Feminism and You the person he used to be, and it becomes clear throughout the year that the real Troy is not quite like that. Troy has to hide the dance classes that he takes; he assumes that Abed would never have to do anything like that, given his tremendous self-confidence. Although Troy has doubts about the sort of person that he is becoming as a result of his association with Abed (doubts that we see in The Art of Discourse and English as a Second Language), he spends a great deal of his time with Abed nonetheless, exploring a different side of his personality.

When Troy has to move out of his dad's house, his leaving the nest is symbolic of his journey in life and his travel into adulthood. Given the course of the character throughout the season, the easiest thing to do would be to have Troy accept that he wants to be like Abed and for the two to move in together, thereby allowing the show to spread to us all the heartwarming message of innumerable after-school specials (and Fat Albert): all Troy needs to do is be himself. That isn't what happens, of course. Troy holds up his part of that deal, asking to live in Abed's dorm, but he is rebuffed, which surprises the viewer just as much as it surprises Troy. The reasoning that Abed provides for his decision is demonstrative of the differences between him and Troy.

Abed is, of course, not the only person to whom Troy looks up. Abed is not a natural leader, and growing and changing are clearly not for him, but for Troy growth and change are vitally important. In these respects, Troy is far more similar to his idol Jeff and even to grumpy old man Pierce than he is to Abed, but he has a fundamental decency that is lacking in Jeff and Pierce and even Abed. To develop as a person while keeping what makes him special, he must not be too subject to Abed's influence, lest he become too much like Abed; if he were to become a clone of Abed, it would be just as bad for him as it would be to become a clone of Jeff. It's an important lesson that Troy learns (and a lesson cleverly done in a hilarious manner thanks to Troy's symbolic 60-inch-diameter cookie), and it's one that he'll need as he becomes a man. The theme of Troy's growth into manhood is one that recurs throughout the first half of the second season, wherein it is one of the most important character arcs, before being largely dropped in the second half. It appears that Abed forgets entirely the lesson of this episode when he and Troy become roommates a year later, but that is neither here nor there.

Pierce doesn't do too much in this episode, but it's worth examining his motivations in his offer to Troy to live with him. Pierce sees the group as the family that he was never able to have; it's a theme examined in several episodes of the first season, particularly the last scenes of The Politics of Human Sexuality and Basic Genealogy. He suspects that the other members of this family don't see him in the same way that he sees them; we see it in his conversation in the very beginning of the episode with Troy about the way they had grown apart, and it's clear from his remark that Troy would have enjoyed "banana penis" if Abed had done it that Pierce is envious of the relationship between Troy and Abed. Certainly the way Troy acts during the episode does nothing to disprove Pierce's suspicions, as Troy doesn't seem to show any appreciation for Pierce's offer, seeing him only as a last resort. It's a surprisingly sad plotline for such a funny and outwardly happy episode, and it informs much of Pierce's behavior over the course of the following year.

Britta's actions, which culminate in her public declaration of love for Jeff at the dance, are a far cry from her behavior in the pilot episode. Without a doubt, she doesn't really mean what she says; hers is a decision made in the heat of the moment, and the consequences of that decision come into full view in the next episode. The key factor to note when considering Britta is that she doesn't do what she does for Jeff; she does it for herself. The story of the first season is in many respects the story of Britta's fall from that supremely self-confident woman of the pilot to the one that even Chang called "the worst". While this fall changed Britta from a boring cipher into one of the best characters of the show, surely it was a sobering journey for her. The fall is manifested in Jeff's interactions with Slater; this man, whom she had once rejected when she had him eating out of the palm of his hand, is now throwing her aside as if she were some high school student's mom. Just like in The Art of Discourse, Britta's latent competitiveness is activated, and her desire to win consumes all else. She does things she wouldn't ordinarily do, starting with competing for Tranny Queen (as Slater notes with surprise) and ending with that declaration of love. It is only when that announcement fails to have the desired effect that the realization comes of what has happened; Britta may not be a particularly guarded person, but (despite what Shirley thinks) she has certainly taken a step too far this time.

Then, of course, we have Jeff and Annie. Thanks to that last scene, they can't be discussed without reference to one another. That scene is one of the very best scenes in the whole show, on par with Troy and Annie in Mixology Certification. The conversation that Jeff and Annie have as they stand outside is a wonderful encapsulation of the meaning of the show, and it forms the underpinning for so much of this episode and this season.

Jeff gives off his mixed signals because he is genuinely conflicted between Slater and Britta. It's easy for us to dismiss Slater because she's not a particularly well-developed character and because she disappears entirely after this episode, but she does have her own appeal for Jeff. His perpetual adolescence was broken when he lost his job and his place in life; at Greendale, he must learn to become a responsible adult. Part of that is abandoning his life of one-night stands with Car Wash Redhead and Tube Top REM Concert and Juror Number Six and successfully pursuing a lasting relationship with another responsible adult. That adult is Slater; being with her is a big accomplishment for someone with the myriad emotional problems that Jeff has. He's willing to sit with her and watch Glee, and in that way he's breaking with his past. On the other hand, Britta, whom Jeff holds up as an ideal of self-realization, is an even greater break with the past. Britta is far from responsible; she proudly boasts to Slater that she hasn't done laundry in three weeks. Britta's appeal is that she knows exactly what Jeff is and doesn't reject him for it. Jeff is a huge nerd, and Britta is the worst. Whereas Slater represents what society expects of Jeff as a responsible adult, Britta represents what Greendale is making Jeff. He isn't ready to commit to either, since commitment would mean coming to terms with his life and what he will be in the future. Instead, he flees.

Annie's journey in the first season hardly needs to be stated. Pierce says that nobody wanted her in the group at the start of the year, and there's no reason to think that he's wrong. The Annie of the pilot is humorless and callously judgmental; she's not the sort of person one would want to have around for any reason except to provide the answers. She views herself as better than everyone else, and she thinks that she belongs at a better place than Greendale. While she rapidly becomes as important a member of the group as any, the issues at the beginning still remain in the background, unresolved; she is insecure about herself and about her place in life, and she is fundamentally immature. While that immaturity sometimes poses difficulties in writing, as it is wrongly used as an excuse to make Annie do whatever is necessary for the plot to work (Basic Rocket Science is the most egregious offender in this regard), it is employed perfectly here. For a character to move away and then come back in the same episode might be ridiculous on a different show; it feels perfectly natural here because it is based in who Annie is. Annie is self-aware and she knows that she plans things out too much, but her response is to plan to become more spontaneous. Of course, this sort of planned spontaneity is just spontaneity for her own sake, and it doesn't lead to anything positive, as Annie finds out when she sets out for Delaware. It is only at the end of the episode, when she stops actively trying to live in the moment, that she truly can live in the moment. It is telling that Annie is the first one to initiate the kiss as she leans in ever closer to Jeff; it is only the second time that Jeff truly commits himself.

The relationship between Jeff and Annie is a fascinating one, in large part because of the extent to which the two resemble each other. One suspects that a younger Jeff was very much like Annie; we've never seen that Jeff, of course, but we can use the clues that we have to try and draw some conclusions. We know that Jeff is incredibly self-confident; in flashbacks, we've seen his mom tell him how special he is. Jeff has had to do very little work in life, getting by on his charm and good looks; while Annie tried to work hard at Greendale and get good grades so that she could transfer into a real university, all Jeff had to do was fake his way into law school with his degree from Colombia. When Jeff and Annie have to cram for their debate, it turns out that Jeff is completely unequipped to do the necessary work to succeed, because he never has gotten anywhere in life by doing the necessary work.

Jeff is the way he is because he tries to stay detached from anything beyond the material (including religion, hence his agnosticism). In essence, Jeff is an anti-Buddhist. It seems that his conscious detachment is a result of his parents' divorce when he was young, which robbed him of faith in anything but the divorce attorney's car. Annie's parents are also divorced, but their divorce doesn't seem to have left the same sort of lasting emotional mark upon her. Despite her familial problems and her pill addiction that caused her to lose her scholarship and virginity, she has retained her faith in religion (while she may not be as overtly religious as Shirley, she strongly identifies as Jewish all the same) and, more generally, her faith in the system, which she is sure (at the outset, at least) will provide her with a transfer to a good school and then a graduate degree and then a successful and well-paying career. This faith is manifested in her attitude toward school; she does the extra credit assignments that to Jeff would constitute "failing", because she sees them as the true path to success. We can see the difference between the two clearly in their career choices. Jeff's motivations for practicing law are clear; he wants to exploit the legal system for profit. One the other hand, we never really know why Annie wants to go into healthcare management; one suspects that she has chosen it because it's a respectable occupation and one that makes sense for her, rather than because she has any real passion for health administration. In Mixology Certification, we see that she has doubts about the road that she is taking. Those doubts reflect the doubts that she has in the system; Jeff, on the other hand, has never had to face such doubt because he has never believed.

Despite their differences, Jeff and Annie are very much like one another; with regards to good looks and charm, theirs far exceed those of any of the other members of the group save Troy, who is utterly sincere and thus essentially alien to them. Annie is learning to use her good looks and charm, whereas Jeff's are beginning to fail him. The two are at different stages of their life, but they are fundamentally akin. Annie is viewed as good and Jeff as bad only because she cares and he does not; Annie is what Jeff could have been if he were less preoccupied with personal gain. Jeff recognizes that and he tries to protect Annie from the doom that he has made for himself; at the same time, his selfish desires counteract those efforts. He is vain, and his ego largely depends on the sense of superiority that she challenges with her perceived virtue. Even as Jeff tries to shelter Annie, he cannot bear to see her elected student body president based on her hard work and her qualifications; that would invalidate his beliefs about the futility of effort and the system, and so he has to take action to validate his worldview. Thus the relationship between Jeff and Annie is informed by its vacillation between cynicism and idealism; in Pascal's Triangle Revisited, the pendulum has swung strongly to the side of the latter. Annie is in her essence a romantic and an idealist, and in this episode she manages to coax the same feelings out of Jeff, if only once.

More than anything else, it is the living in the moment that Annie so desires that finally occurs at the end. To each other, Jeff and Annie represent freedom from the demands and expectations of the outside. They're not supposed to be together, and yet there they are, and nothing in the world could possibly make more sense than that. It's easy to look back at all of it with a jaded eye, given the extent to which Jeff and Annie have been put together and emphasized over the course of the next season and a half, but they were once fresh and new and different and special, and nowhere is that more clear than in that final scene. There's a beautiful sense of unalloyed optimism to the whole scene; these people surely belong, even if they don't quite know how. We can't always know what's going to happen or how, but we all have a purpose. All that is left to do is to make our choices and let them take us where they may, and wonderful things will happen.

Jeff and Annie don't know what will happen to them over the course of the next three years; none of the group does. They have each other, though, and they have this place that is willing to accept them for who they are. The first part of their journey is complete. As they prepare themselves to face the future, they do it with the knowledge that Greendale is where they belong.

Stray observations:

– There's no commentary review here because this was getting kind of long and the commentary isn't all that special. Donald Glover is amusing, though. He's a funny guy.
– While the above review comes out to five pages single-spaced in Microsoft Word, Vaughn is never mentioned. I'm not a fan of the way his relationship with Annie was handled; after they get together in Romantic Expressionism, it's never mentioned again until this episode, at which point we're expected to believe that it's so important to Annie that she would move across the country. It doesn't really work, although everything else is good enough that it hardly matters.
– There's some interesting symbolism as Troy arrives at Abed's kegger; he passes by guys playing hip-hop music and dances to the music a bit in recognition of his old self, but then he comes to Abed. Bonus points for the rap being Night Cap, which in addition to being hilarious was first heard in Interpretive Dance, an episode about Troy's doubts and self-perception.
– Annie's choice of words as she describes the Transfer Queen ceremony to Britta ("I'm so jealous, I want to murder you") has always struck me as a bit odd. I wonder if it means anything.
– When the people at the dance align themselves into Team Britta and Team Slater (a joke that is much funnier than it has any right to be), Star-Burns shouts out, "Bring Conan back!" Dino Stamatopoulos wrote for Conan O'Brien between 1993 and 1999.
– I'm of the firm opinion that this episode shouldn't be seen and then immediately followed by the next episode; while I do love that episode, seeing the cliffhanger at the end of this one immediately resolved ruins the effect. I spent the entire summer of 2010 talking about that cliffhanger with my friends; I would hate to see anyone miss it entirely. The difference in tone between the two episodes is a bit jarring, too.
– The day that "Greendale Is Where I Belong" fails to fill me with wistful joy is the day that I cease to have a soul.

Disclaimer:

Especially discerning readers might find some of this review familiar. A good deal of the stuff near the end is cribbed almost wholesale from comments I made here back in December; if I were to submit it to turnitin.com, the self-plagiarism alarms would be going off. What I wrote back then about Jeff and Annie seemed too appropriate to pass up; I hope you don't mind too much.

Nice things:

The conversation between Jeff and Annie is here reprinted in its entirety, because it's worth it:

"I thought you left."
"I couldn't go."
"What happened?"
"I guess as we were driving away, I finally started living in the moment and I realized that, in the moment, Greendale is where I belong. What are you doing out here?"
"Oh, you know, Britta and Slater told me they loved me."
"Really?"
"Yeah."
"What did you do?"
"I ran away. I don't know. It's hard. Slater makes me feel like I do when I write my New Year's resolutions. She makes me feel like the guy I want to be. And Britta makes me feel like the guy I am three weeks after New Year's, when I'm back to hitting my snooze button and screening Mom's phone calls, back to who I really am. So do you try to evolve or do you try to know what you are?"
"I don't know. I wish I could live two lives. One of me would go with Vaughn, and one of me could stay here."
"Yeah. One of me be back with Slater, the other could try it with Britta. And then we could all get together for some weird foursome. Um, I guess I gotta go deal with it."
"Good luck."
"Um… I'm glad you're staying."

Last words:

Since mine is the last review, I hope that nobody will mind if I say something about it. Three months ago, I signed up for two reviews without much knowledge of what that would entail. Since then, I've been taken step by step through the first season of Community, my favorite season of TV ever, and it's been wonderful. While the impending return has led to traffic here picking up and a lot of discussions going on all the time, for a while each new review was an important event, and one that I anxiously awaited almost as much as I would a new episode of Community. It's been really interesting to see the different ways in which people have approached their reviews; I've seen the episodes in a new way, and I've learned a lot. I can only hope that my own reviews are good enough to stand with the rest.

Special thanks to LloydBraun for making all of this happen and to seffina for preserving it for posterity. Thanks also to everyone who wrote reviews and everyone who provided insightful comments. All of you folk number among my favorite Internet people, and you've made the darkness of hiatus so much brighter.
 

30 LIKES
On the A.V. Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/regional-holiday-music,66270/#comment-464952749 (page 178)

‚ÄčDiscussion:

  • I hadn't seen this episode until AFTER I saw the season two premiere!  That's because I was catching up with season one the same time I was watching season two week by week.

  • Loki100

    I think this was the first time that we saw Annie had barely repressed violent tendencies. Annie being perpetually just shy of a psychotic break is my favorite element of the character.

  • Let's not forget about Annie banging Jeff's head against the table because she wanted to feel like an adult.

  • DavetheDouchebag

    This is probably the best review yet. This comment board has gone out with an appropriately eloquent bang.

  • This is definitely one of the best, at the least. And it's probably the only that provoked an actual emotional response from me. To call it, objectively, the best is hard to say because there's so many intelligent commenters here who wrote some really great stuff, but I think it might be my favourite review.

  • link 1 and 2 scrunched together.

    I almost used 3 out of 4 of those.

  • Oops. Thanks for the heads-up.

  • I really want an All 5 Dances shirt.

  • Automatic_Taglines

    In your first link the url is doubled.

    Edit: You fixed it. Yay!

  • Samesies, Janine Restrepo. I've been tempted to buy a Troy and Abed in the Morning mug from the NBC store, but I don't really drink hot drinks so it seems like kind of a waste. I wear t-shirts all the time, though.

  • I love Dean Pelton's "attempts" to break up the fight by patting the dalmatian all over.  Fantastic choice by Jim Rash.  As Janine Restrepo  pointed out in his review, it was a nice bookend that Duncan didn't help Jeff out in the pilot, but, even if unintentionally, he sure did in the finale.

  • Man, I think all of you review-writers are really impressive. I'm usually hard-pressed to come up with any commentary beyond saying "oh man I thought it was really funny when they did that one thing" and then just quoting the episode. Good job, all around!

  • wow, this was a great review. All of these reviews have made me really appreciate how amazing season 1 was. 

  • I was cool until you mocked Synyster Gates. When you mocked
    The Rev I loosed it. YOU SIR CAN FUCK OFF! YOU KNOW NOTHING! DO YOU HEAR ME!?
    NOTHING ABOUT MUSIC! Have you tried to play what Syn does? Well I have and it's
    a piece of FUCKIN' ART! Not only is he a skilled shredder. He also knows how to
    write? things that no one else can do. The scales he uses, the way he plays is
    amazing.

    You. Know. Nothing.

    CrisRon2000 4 hours ago

  • Automatic_Taglines

    This is definitely the Britta of gimmick accounts. 

    Though there is a possibility that this gimmick poster is just misunderstood and has trouble articulating what he really means. 

    Since I speak gimmick account (though not very fluently), I will try to translate: 
    [translated]

    'I really appreciate your in-depth analysis of Pascal's (roughly translates to 'Three-sided house') Revisited. I thought your views on the mirror relationship between Jeff and Annie were well articulated but I find you near complete (translates to 'non-inclusion') of Shirley unfair to her character. I understand her role was slight in the episode but she deserved more than a passing (translates roughly to 'short stare'.) 
    'I loved your analysis of the foreshadowing in the Pierce story line. I feel that Pierce's motivations are similar to that of (roughly translates to 'Automobile') Chase return to a more public arena.
    'To add, I miss Slater as a character and wish that she had not left after season one. It feels like (translates to 'story') hole.
    'Good Job and I look forward to your's and others' review in the (translates to 'Unknown ahead time.')'

    [End of Translation]

  • i ain't have to say nun. yal told his bitch ass.

    -Sk8ghost, Aug 06, 2010 at 12:19 pm

  • Automatic_Taglines

    According to Reposted AvengedSevenfold Fan , this is a correct translation.

  • I really wanted to incorporate Shirley, but she doesn't really do much! I was hoping nobody would notice.

  • Fantastic review. These are always impressive; you guys always pick out things I'd never thought about and suddenly everything's new and shiny again.

    And you're right: that final scene is one of the best the show's ever done. The way it goes quiet after the music builds up in the previous scene, and cuts to that God's eye shot of Jeff and Annie walking towards each other… it's sudden and interesting and pretty to look at. And then everything you mention in your review.

    Also: To each other, Jeff and Annie represent freedom from the demands and
    expectations of the outside. They're not supposed to be together, and
    yet there they are, and nothing in the world could possibly make more
    sense than that.
    I think that's why I like them so much. Even if they've been overused or made deliberately weird or the dynamic's changed over the rest of the series, I still look back at that scene and think, "yep, can't not like them." and you've written it out all eloquent-like.

    Also also: Garrett's hilariously angry "it's called chillaxing. DUH." is, well, hilarious.

  • Wowee, Janine Restrepo what a great review!  I, too, have learned something new about or seen something differently in each episode because of these reviews and appreciate everyone's work.  In particular, you've really parsed out the individual motivations Jeff and Annie had for the kiss quite well–I have to say rewatching it recently I felt like the kiss really made no sense from a character perspective, but I think you've answered that quite well (and despite the fact that they've twice mentioned in the commentaries that Jeff and Annie are opposites, I agree with you that they're much more similar than they are opposite.  Quite frankly that's what makes them interesting.  If it were just an uptight girl/slacker guy opposites-attract situation without the fact that Annie is, deep down, just as conniving as Jeff and Jeff, deep down, is just as vulnerable as Annie it would be significantly less interesting).  The best thing about the commentary for this episode is how they all fall silent watching the kiss–it really is theatrical dynamite (well, that and then Donald flipping the heck out over it). 

    One tiny little moment I loved was Troy's insistence that the episode of Happy Days where The Fonz actually jumped over a shark was THE BEST ONE!!!  It's just a little funny, joke-y line and a little meta, but it's also an excellent example of how, yes, Community can be meta but it's never unearned.  It's absolutely consistent with who we know Troy to be–he would think that over-the-top display was awesome.

    My favorite huge moment? Jeff's questioning if you should try to know who you are or try to evolve.  What a beautifully-phrase expression of one of the biggest challenges of entering your early adulthood and what a great note on which to end the season.

  • SpongyandBruised

    That was very thorough and I have nothing of value to add, so here's rapping Duncan.

     http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

  • I think the best thing about it is the way he enunciates "Drop a beat!" I can always make my Community-loving friends (that is to say, my real friends) laugh with that line.

  • This is amazing Janine Restrepo .  Thank you for giving such perfect closure on these season one reviews. 

    What I have appreciated most by revisiting season one episodes is the writing – not just the finale, but overall.  There were a lot of connections made and the flow of the episodes is just perfect. The world building is definitely something that is sort of missing now (and not always necessary), but thankfully they have such a strong foundation from season one writers that it works.

  • the one joke that sticks in my craw more than any others is the "tranny dance" joke. i get that the joke is mostly on the dean, whose cultural/racial/etc. insensitivities are part of his character, but the word "tranny" is a pretty offensive slur and i get the impression that the show's writers didn't really get that. it definitely felt like the joke was more on the fact that the dean didn't quite get the double meaning so much as he didn't get the offensive nature of the term. which, ultimately, is better than the other way it can be taken: that it's just funny to reference transsexuals/transgendered people with this pun. 

    as you can tell, i am ambivalent about it, and i think the episode would've worked just fine without it.

  • It's definitely a point worth noting. The Dean is the only major character who doesn't conform to a heteronormative ideal; I'm not entirely sure how it affects the joke that he's the one who said it.

  • This was the perfect way to end this cold, painful hiatus. Love you, Janine, and love you all.

    The reading of Abed/Troy's interaction in this episode were particularly insightful, so props to that as well. And of course, you nailed the dichotomy between Jeff and Annie as well.

    I really love how what started off as a brief investment for Joel McHale and The Soup has turned into…this. Not just for me, but for a lot of other people as well. You guys are the best.

  •  fantastic review Janine Restrepo i'd say you were sending us out on a high note except all these reviews have been great.  We are just like Community: consistently excellent.
     i want to mention something that people probably know but is interesting anyway.  Pascal's Triangle is a mathematical concept relating to the binomial theorem.  The effect of Pascal's Triangle is that combinations build upon each other creating greater and greater numbers through their interplay.  So 1 +1 = 2 and 2+1=3 and eventually the triangle will continue to build until ever greater numbers are reached.  And yet on the sides of the triangle there are always 1's.  To me this has a lot of symbolism for a season finale.  The characters that we see here have grown and changed because of thier combination with other characters but lurking to the side at all times is their fundamental reductive state, their 1's. 
    We see this with Troy who is trying to make more of a break from his past.  By combining with Abed he feels he can reach a higher number, if you would, but more importantly he feels he can grow as a person.  Troy has come enough this season to know that he wants to reject his beginning state so even Pierce's offer is an opportunity for growth. 
    Britta too is trying to grow but she is trying to force her growth.  She is declaring her love for Jeff, as janine rightly pointed out, not out of actual love for jeff (though there certainly is affection there) but instead out of her innate competitiveness and i think she is trying to prove something to herself.  In some ways i see Britta as commitment phobic as Jeff is.  Her past shows us how many different things she has done and it is likely because she doesn't want to get tied down in anyway.  We also see in season 2 that she is perfectly capable of handling a fuck-buddy relationship without developing feelings.  But by declaring her love for someone publicly Britta is trying to change her commitment phobic nature. However, without proper motivation and emotional maturity this declaration is not truly about overcoming this aspect but is instead about a step forward in terms of taking chances, something we have also seen Britta a little afraid of in the past.  Britta takes a step forward here but not the one that she thought she was taking.
    Annie and Jeff however are battling the desire to grow with the pull of their more reductive states.  Annie decides to leave her reductive state behind to stay at Greendale but acknowledges how tempting it is to give in to it.  Jeff on the other hand is offered a chance for real growth at the Trannie dance and runs from it.  It wasn't important that Jeff choose Britta or Slater but it was important that Jeff did not face either of them.  Part of maturity is not running away from when a situation is painful or uncomfortable and Jeff failed this test.  But his conversation with Annie revealed he did not go all the way to his reductive state.  Where characters like Troy want to keep evolving, Jeff wants to keep his triangle value at a middling level or rather he wants to keep the same group dynamic that has existed for most of the year.  Jeff does not want to flee all the way back to his lawyer days (or perhaps he did but Annie stopped him) he merely wants to freeze everything in stasis so he doesn't have to face hard choices.  Because the end of a year inevitably brings on thoughts of end of school in general and Jeff is happy with the way things were.

  • I'm doing my best "Troy meeting Levar Burton" face right now. That's incredibly deep.

  •  thanks for the sentiment but i just wiki-ed pascal's triangle, the rest just made sense once i saw what it was.  the deepness is Harmon et al coding in a title like that to represent the growth of characters that has occurred over the season while also accounting for their desire to backslide.  Well selecting this title and not telling anyone what it means…

  • Oh, wow, that's really fantastic. Good call on Britta's fear of commitment; it's not something I gave a whole lot of thought to as I was writing.

  • I remember during the original run, Annie's actions bothering me more in this episode than her actions in "Basic Rocket Science."  Part of it was because this followed "English as a Second Language" where she selfishly ruined Chang's career and could have caused the entire group to fail just so they could all stay together.  And here she is next episode running off with Vaughn.  In that regard, I wasn't as surprised when she was selfish again in "Basic Rocket Science" – once again hurting Greendale and her friends who go there.  These friends that she was so adamant stay together in "English as a Second Language".  I had soured a lot on Annie from "English as a Second Language" onwards until "Mixology" came about.  It's probably why I loved that episode so much – it helped me understand Annie in the way Janine Restrepo already does.  The underlying immaturity conflicting with her drive and passion conflicting with her caring nature.  Again, fantastic review!

  • I reference Mixology Certification a number of times in the review, and it's really the basis for understanding Annie as a character. That's a big part of why it's my favorite episode and why my avatar is taken from there. When you consider the way Annie's self-doubt and immaturity are reflected there, everything else falls into place. The writing for Annie hasn't always been perfectly consistent, but when it's there, it's really there.

  • When it's there, I think she's still my favourite character on the show. Her story in Mixology is just as important as Troy's in my opinion. And how the two just come together at the end of that episode, is obviously, just so beautiful.

  • that hallway scene is great. Come to think of it – Troy/Annie is something I wish they would explore more. I know we say that about most of the multiple possible character combinations but I definitely enjoy they way their relationship has changed since early season 1 and it would be nice to touch on that again – Annie needs to interact more with Troy outside of the Abed context

  • I agree completely. I still think there's an awful lot of interesting territory to be mined in that relationship. It is one that, since Season 1 and Mixology, hasn't gotten nearly the amount of attention it deserves. Really, I think Annie, like Jeff (and, actually, Britta as well), is one of the characters who has "chemistry" with everyone else in the study group. You look at everyone else in the group and they all have an interesting, or intriguing dynamic, with her character.

  • I agree. Annie has something going on with everyone. 

  • I am not overreaching when I say this review is Sepinwall-esque, replicating his approach with shows like Mad Men and The Wire. It starts with a clear thesis that describes a single overarching theme, mood, or motivational driver ("characters acting in the heat of the moment"; nice) and follows with a perfectly structured examination of each plot and character arc. And it's a lot more eloquent than Sepinwall's layman's approach. Beautiful job, and I got insights I would have never thought about. It really is a perfectly plotted season finale.

    Britta's Flavor Country speech is my favorite Britta moment ever.

  • Thanks a lot! Thanks to everyone for all your kind words; it really means a lot to me. I feel like LloydBraun's avatar right now.

  • This is a really great review man. Those last two paragraphs are just a perfect way to conclude these reviews and that particular finale. I gotta say that this review has made me very nostalgic reflecting back on that season, and that episode. I wasn't fully on-board before but I'm convinced that it's pretty perfect season finale.

  • this entire season 1 review series has made me very nostalgic for season 1 and has made me appreciate some episodes, including the finale, in a way I had never really thought of.

    I look forward to reading the season 2 reviews in the summer and seeing how my opinions change. 

  • No kidding–before we did all this I pretty solidly preferred S2 to S1, but now I truly appreciate season 1 in a way I haven't before.  I can't wait to do the same with S2 this summer!

  • Same here, you guys. Janine's review made me oddly emotional actually. He did an amazing job and the way he made me reflect back upon that period of the show just made me surprisingly emotional. It almost made me tear up and I'm not even entirely sure why. 

     Walking NPR Before these reviews I was comfortable saying S2 > S1, but right now I'm really not sure. I'm still of the opinion that S2 reaches higher peaks more often, but I don't think I realized until now just how damn consistent S1 was. I always knew it was the more consistent of the two seasons but, man, it is even more consistently good than I previously remembered.

    I pretty much think it's a toss-up as to which I prefer at this point.

  • Stephen77 yeah, I'm with you – Janine's last paragraphs got me pretty emotional too.  I feel comfortable saying that this was probably one of the best reviews in the whole series, and better than most people who do this for a job!

  • The reviews that I've read here are just incredible, man. Absolutely incredible. Honestly, the reviews here are better than 99% of criticism I've read from actual critics. And if that is an exaggeration, it is only a slight one at worst. 

    You guys are amazing and many of you could easily do this as a career. If the A.V. Club ever needs to hire more reviewers, I recommend they look to this comment section and look at people like Janine, Loki, SBT, Lloyd, and others.

  • I think season 2 has more 'A' episodes but as a whole season 1 of Community is nearly flawless and fits together pretty damn perfectly. I agree with Janine Restrepo that it is one of the best seasons of TV ever. you've convinced me. 

  • I think they're both one of the best seasons of TV ever.

  • Stephen77 ha yeah that's definitely true, both seasons are among the best seasons of tv ever. I just think that sometimes people dismiss season 1 as just setting up what was to come later but Season 1 is pretty damn amazing in its own right.

  • Oh yeah. I think you're definitely right. It's an absolutely amazing season of TV.

  • Loki100

    I like the idea that Britta is doing this for herself, which fits perfectly with season two's opening. Britta is fundamentally worldly, but all her experience seems to have never stuck to her. It's like she's the Teflon woman. She get caught up in competition with a woman over a guy she doesn't really care about. That's purely selfish and immature, but perfectly Britta.

  • "She's seen the world, but doesn't get it" is such a perfect description of season 1 Britta and this goes along with that perfectly.

  • Loki100

    That was the quote I was thinking of, but I was too lazy to look up.

    In season three, she actually seems to finally be starting to get it. Such as per perfectly reasonable and realistic advice to Annie about living with roommates.

  • Right.  That's why I was about to say "a perfect encapsulation of Britta" overall, but then realized that season 3 Britta really is starting to get it.  Her presentation gets in the way of her message, but she really gets it more than most of the others at this point.

  • Loki100

    Britta is a character who tends to say the correct thing in the dumbest possible way (her pronunciation of Bag-El makes this perfectly clear). It's why I love her, and why no other character can take her seriously.

  • SpongyandBruised

    Bag-El is my favorite Superman side character.

  • sll03

    Wow.  Just wow.  100 giant cookies out of 10.  That is not an exaggeration.

    I remember when this episode first aired and many viewers felt underwhelmed by it as far as season finales go.  If I recall correctly, a lot of issue was taken with Britta's declaration of love and the seemingly unfounded Jeff/Annie kiss.  I never felt that way.  For reasons Janine has effortlessly outlined, practically every part of Pascal's Triangle Revisted has always felt completely earned to me.  

    The slow build-up of Britta's character from the Pilot until this point was just so deliberate and well-crafted  – it is truly something to applaud.  I think for the most part, what we see of a sitcom character's personality in any form of media is meant to be taken at face value.  We know Chandler Bing is really sarcastic because he's constantly quipping. We know Ron Swanson is tough because he's always crafting fine wood products and monologuing about various meats. We know Jim Halpert is a prankster because, well, Dwight.  We know all of this is because we as the audience are meant to see someone like Chandler or Ron or Jim from the same point of view as the rest of the characters on their show.  It usually never occurs to us that (for whatever reason) who the character appears to be and who they really are may not coincide.  This is exactly the case with Britta.  I believe it was LloydBraun who mentioned Dan Harmon explained on a commentary that the writers were playing a shell game with Britta all season long.  In the beginning, she fulfills the role of policing Jeff's slacker of questionable morals, but we soon see that she really only took on that part because she believed it was expected of her to do so.  It all ties in to her insecurities: she wants to be cool, hip, progressive, kind, rebellious and anti-everything, but deep down, she's just as petty as Jeff, as dumb as Troy, as guarded as Pierce, as volatile as Shirley, as vulnerable as Annie, and as lost as Abed.  In this way, I completely bought her actions in this episode and while I do not deny she may have actually had some real feelings for Jeff, they quickly took a back seat to her competition with Slater.  Even so, her expression after seeing Jeff skulk out of the dance made me want to give her a hug.

    As for the whole Jeff/Annie situation, this is absolutely my favourite scene between the two.  After reviewing all of season 1, it's become even more apparent to me that much like Britta's characterization, the Jeff/Annie dynamic was very intentional and quite grounded.  The words they exchange before the kiss seem to resound so much more because of how we've come to understand them both up until that point and in the years afterwards.  I really cannot articulate it any better than this: "There's a beautiful sense of unalloyed optimism to the whole scene; these people surely belong, even if they don't quite know how. We can't always know what's going to happen or how, but we all have a purpose. All that is left to do is to make our choices and let them take us where they may, and wonderful things will happen." Sadly, their relationship has definitely faltered since then, but in the same way a lot of people look back at this particular scene a couple years later and appreciate it a little more, I like to think we'll be doing that with some more recent moments, too.   

    Favourite Quotes:

    Don't wear as much make-up as you did on Valentine's Day.  Your mouth looked like a coin purse.

    I forgot saying that summons him.

    I will find a loophole… then I'll kill you.

    I'm sorry, I have to go.  I just won a contest for being hot.

    I got a REAL big penis and I drink lots of tea!

    Pierce: You, me and Jeff and Rainman and Big Boobs and Medium Boobs and Black Boobs. We're a family.
    Troy: Am I Black Boobs?

    Since we're all being mushy and sentimental, I would also just like to say that being able to read and comment on these amazing reviews and having such a welcoming place to hang out over the hiatus has been truly jagerbombs. This board is the security blanket I really needed.  You're all aces.  Cheers to tomorrow!

  • I will find a loophole… then I'll kill you.

    The whole Lost bit is kind of a forgotten gem. Really weird, but it's the only context in which the stuff with Chang and Duncan works. Plus, I just like whenever the show does an extended satirical bit which goes above and beyond a simple reference into outright parody, but is still grounded in  the characters' behavior.

  • Well said, about Britta in particular. I don't like when all a show gives us about a character is a reliable well of traits to cycle through. That's mostly true even for a great character like Ron Swanson. The writing for Britta asks us to question our feelings about her.

  • sll03

    True story.  I love when a show forces me to second guess myself and re-evaluate a character I had previously written off or decided I did not like.  It's a bit strange, but basically, I enjoy being wrong.  Somehow, it makes everything much more interesting.

  • Enough with the teasing. Where's the rest of it?

    Seriously, good work on your Encyclopedia Communitanica. It fits that for the last review you would so comprehensively sum up each characters' arc by what this episode says about them.

    I'm mixed on the ep in a lot of ways. It's got a lovely, heady, romantic atmosphere and it seems like everything big is happening at once. Also there's a lot of funny stuff (especially Britta and Duncan at the dance) that is more unhinged than what we usually get from them and all the more charming for being a one-time thing (although they both got a little crazier on the whole in S2). I can't help but put it in the Top 10 of S1 cause every time I see it I feel like the characters are considering and making big decisions.

    On the other hand, a lot of this mode (and the resulting musings) are clearly forced. I can buy some last day impulsive decisions, especially from Jeff and Britta after their abrupt hookup 2 eps earlier. But other parts overreach: Annie thinking about leaving, Britta opening up in therapy even though she seems to find Duncan to be a useless lech, Slater being eager to get back with Jeff. They all have explanations, but none of them were really part of the show before this ep. So you end up with two unusually long-winded metaphors: Troy and the cookie, which is a parody of dumb sitcom metaphors but still really dumb, and Jeff's consideration of how Britta and Slater fit into his life (which everyone but me seems to find profound, but isn't prefaced by anything that's happened in the series prior), which is immediately undermined by Jeff kissing Annie and revealing his much more honest motivations.

    Complaints aside, it remains a borderline essential ep that's funny and sexy and college-y. Community is the best at portraying being outdoors at night, and how it makes even the most pedestrian get together crackle with excitement.  "Anthro 101" is practically a reset, but an awesome one, and one that gives some (small) sense that the dynamics have changed, if not in obvious, tangible ways.

  • I think some of the expediency of the plotting is Dan Harmon commenting on the very idea of a season finale ("giving things a finale vibe"), especially for a show where a summer hiatus for us is a hiatus for the characters as well. Doubly so because Harmon always has to write with the possibility of cancellation in mind.

  • While it would obviously have been really sad if Community had been canceled after one season, it certainly feels to me like the show would feel complete if it had to end here. There's a sense of resolution at the end that no other episode has (Regional Holiday Music comes closest).

  • The Jeff-Britta-Slater triad in this story — leastaways, how Jeff explains the kind of person he'd be with them — never quite sat right with me, either. This is one of those scenes where Jeff is struck with amazing prescience and self-awareness and is able to expound on his situation in such a way that is articulate, logical, sounds good to all us armchair psychologists, etc. And that's fine but in this instance it annoys me a little, since, as you mention, it doesn't quite ring true when held up to what we've seen so far in the series in terms of these relationships. 

    I agree 100% with Janine that Jeff's relationship with Slater was a huge step for his maturity, but there's no super compelling evidence for me that she made him feel all shiny and new as his speech to Annie would have you believe. The problem is of course the (dumb) way they had to write off the relationship with Slater, leaving the whole thing undercooked. As for Britta — the more Jeff gets to know her, the more he must realize their similarities; it's logical enough to think that she wouldn't challenge some of his worst old-Jeff impulses, given that she shares them. But is this something he'd have processed to that extent after one tumble, or is simply based on the trivial patterns they fall into as friends? 

    That said, Jeff's struggle with his past and future ideal is very real. So are his feelings for those two lovely ladies. I don't think kissing Annie undermines any of that, even if you buy into the logic the show presents — it just complicates it. Giving into Annie's impulsive kiss may be the more honest move, in a way, a betrayal of what Jeff really wants, but I don't really think so, given that that is an attraction that has been mounting season-long, largely unconsciously, and because it was a perfect moment to temporarily forget about the past and present. So I do get it, regardless of whether the speech in the moment that leads up to it is fully developed. And it is still a lovely moment between those two. 

    Too tired to summarize, sorry if rambly.

  • You did a fantastic job here. I especially appreciated the comments about Britta and how well you articulated her motivation for what she does in this episode. Sure she has some feelings for Jeff, but her declaration is rooted in her own hang-ups and insecurities, an escalation in an arms race with a woman who's brought out the competitive side in her from their first meeting (PhD vs. GED!).

    This finale makes me really regret the way Jeff and Slater's relationship ended this season because I think this could have been a better, fully-formed episode in terms of their triangle (to be quadrant? only Slater immediately disappears so it goes back to triangle), as sort of articulated in my other comment in this thread. However, I do love this episode very much regardless, and you did it justice. I love that we get to revisit so many arcs and already loved side characters however briefly; it feels so rich and complete. And yet it ends on this lovely note of possibility too. It is wonderful.

    Also: 

    My name is Ian Duncan and I'm here to say
    I'm going to rap to the beat in a rapping way

  • You raise some real interesting points in this comment and the one above it. I hadn't really considered this from Slater's perspective, since she's not a part of the group, but there's certainly a strong element of competition for her, too; she constantly needs to assert her superiority. She introduces herself as Ph.D. (which, of course, leads Britta to call her pretentious in Introduction to Statistics) and she makes a telling remark about Jeff's intellectual inferiority when he tries to get with her not long after. She certainly looks down on Britta; she's just as surely suspicious of her closeness to Jeff. Losing to Britta would basically kill her.

    While Anthropology was a lot of fun and very satisfying (I watched it half a dozen times in the weekend after it aired), it didn't really provide a true resolution, since it simply erased Slater from the equation without giving a reason. It's a real shame, since a lot of the insights about Jeff's relationships with Britta and Annie come from Season 2, and we don't get that with Slater.

    For Jeff, impulsively kissing Annie is a way to escape from that tug-of-war between Britta and Slater, but it also shows what he really feels. That's not to say that Jeff and Annie are destined to be together forever or anything; this isn't a fairy tale where love conquers all, and it's not really about love nearly as much as it is about desire. It's quite possible that Jeff wants what he can't have. Someday he'll have to deal with it, but at the end of this episode all of that lies in the distant future.