Episode 204: Basic Rocket Science

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204 – Basic Rocket Science

This review doesn’t begin with this episode, but rather one of my favorite Community scenes of all-time: the very last scene of Season 1, in which Jeff and Annie smooch and set a billion Tumblr blogs ablaze. The reason I start with that scene is the line that comes before that entire conversation, a subtle catalyst to what we see being developed in this episode:

Annie: I finally decided to live in the moment, and in the moment, I realized…Greendale is where I belong.

Yeah, five simple words, but they express so much about the theme at the center of the show. As Janine Restrepo often reminds me, the reason Community is such a powerful show is the fact that it has one of the simplest messages: everybody is worth something, and we can best realize that when we see and bring out the good in each other. The show develops that theme constantly, but it has quietly expanded its scope from being a show about seven people who realize this fact to being a show about an almost mythical school, absurd beyond belief yet undeniably humane in its acceptance of everybody whom the world has rejected.

Annie’s revelation comes at the end of Season 1, but it’s not until Basic Rocket Science that the show explicitly takes a look at Greendale’s symbolic significance. Note that Season 2 is the only season in which the existence of Greendale is threatened by an external institution (I leave the Changvasion of Season 3 out because it’s internal strife, unlike the warfare going on between City College and Greendale.) Though the plot is carried by the characters, Greendale is the driving force in Basic Rocket Science: it may be an artificial stake, but what it divines about the characters is very, very real.

When this episode first aired in the fall of 2010 (I know, I can’t believe it’s been that long either), it was tossed off by portions of the fanbase as the show stretching too far into parody and losing track of the characters in the process. The main criticism was the characterization of Annie in this episode, which many saw as an arbitrary conflict introduced and dismissed only within the context of this story. Even the AVClub review of the episode states that the episode “doesn’t establish [this] character focus, and it gives us no real reason to think that these characters should either care as much as they do or be as concerned about this whole ride as they are.”

Yet consider the two scenes that open and close the episode; the first thing we see is the secret conference between the Dean and the school board as he lays out the stakes of the simulation space race for us, and the last thing is the Dean standing and beaming as the camera closes up on that ridiculous, dirty, awesome flag—the anus flag that is now Greendale Community College. I wouldn’t say that the closing shot isn’t done at least somewhat tongue-in-cheek (and wouldn’t say so for most of this episode, in fact), but it does demonstrate something that prior to Basic Rocket Science the show had never directly explored: the significance of Greendale as an institution and where it stands in the world Community exists in.

Two characters’ viewpoints of Greendale are particularly insightful: Jeff’s and the Dean’s. Jeff is always the snarky voice of reason by default, but his behavior throughout the episode has an unusually bitter tinge to it. Just a few things from this episode:

-He yells at Pierce when SANDERS gets on Pierce’s nerves.
-Annie: This is all my fault!
Jeff: Very much so.
-For that matter, he pretty much lets Annie fall on the sword for tattling even though he was really the one who revealed to the Dean that the study group made the flag.
-When Troy tries to get Jeff to cooperate, Jeff more or less verbally annihilates him—while he is trying to bust open a window with what I assume is a fire extinguisher.

The most telling moment is when he rants about how typical it is of Greendale to fail him in some way, shouting, “That place DESERVES an anus flag!” Of course, Jeff has never been open to caring much about anything, much less his crappy community college, so this isn’t exactly unprecedented behavior for him. The degree to which he dumps on Greendale in this episode, though, verges on contempt at times, which makes his third-act turnaround towards trying to save the day even more confusing.

It’s only when Jeff reveals that he was the one who tattled that this seemingly sudden shift makes sense. As we can see in many Season 1 episodes (Football, Feminism, and You shows this very well), Jeff is not somebody who easily admits to wrong, and he’ll go to hell and back to justify his actions. His callous attitude towards the other groupers and Greendale in this episode stems from the conflict between maintaining his aura of righteousness and the affection he is beginning to feel—however grudgingly—for his lame, toilet-shaped school. His declaration of “Nobody craps in [Greendale] but us!” falls perfectly into the middle of that conflict: it’s self-depreciating, sure, but affectionate all the same. And only when the others talk about how much they miss Greendale can he finally join in, finally forgetting about the mask he has to maintain to convince himself he’s still the same old Jeff Winger. But he’s not, and after an year at Greendale, he can’t ever be that person again, really. No matter how much he hates to admit it, spending time in a setting where he has to learn how to interact and care about things again has opened him as a person, and Basic Rocket Science shows that Jeff values that very much, if only unintentionally or subconsciously.

The Dean gets less meat than Jeff (hehe, meat) in this episode, but this episode does set up a nice little pair of bookends with Documentary Redux in Season 3. The defining moment for me comes right after his pep talk with Abed, where he wanders off and mumbles “Psycho!” under his breath. It speaks to a lack of respect that the Dean would say that about a student that was there to help him get his precious KFC simulator back; this pops up again in Redux, where Dean refers to Abed angrily: “All he does is follow people around!”

But as Luis Guzman will tell him in that episode, the Dean needs to stop worshiping the people that left and start worshiping the people that are there. The Dean’s problem in this episode is that he lets himself get sucked into City College’s game: the idea that a space simulator launch is going to swallow Greendale (hehe, swallow) is absurd, but he plays right into Dean Spreck’s hands. Greendale is nothing like City College: it’s far smaller, far less qualified, and far, far less professional. But it’s a school that exists for the people who City College wouldn’t take. It’s a school that’s willing to take them as they are, warts and all. The Dean is still holding onto the belief that he has to make his school great in the same way City College is great, not knowing that NOT being like City College is what has made it great all along. In this episode, he hasn’t matured beyond that point, and it’ll be a long road to Redux before he does.

Now that we have Greendale out of the way, let’s focus on some other characters, starting with everybody’s favorite fun vampire. Everybody tends to forget about her in this episode because of Annie’s prominence, but this is subtly one of the strongest Season 2 episodes for Britta, as it sets off at least four different developments for her that snake (insert turning it into a snake reference here) all the way through to the end of Season 3.

When Britta sees the KFCmulator, she talks about how she would go in there as a teenager and get to…doing something, until she realizes that Shirley’s there and saves herself by saying that they were just praying. It’s funny that Britta would try to hide that from Shirley, given how easily Shirley sees through a lot of the study group’s bull. In Interpretive Dance she calls Britta out on her complicated feelings for Jeff. She does it again in Pascal’s Triangle Revisited. And in The Psychology of Letting Go, the episode right before this one, she immediately assesses the Britta-Annie tension and knows that Britta is jealous of Annie’s ability to raise money. But Shirley just looks the other way in this episode, and both characters move on. This line is a brief moment of mutual enabling, but this relationship will be torn apart by Cooperative Calligraphy (and again in Mixology Certification). The ongoing conflict between Britta and Shirley has a lot to do with Shirley’s tendency to try and “fix” Britta to fit her needs and Britta’s resentment of Shirley’s moralizing, and a lot of it can be summed up simply by seeing how they deal with each other’s respective religions.

Is this moment a progression or a regression? It’s hard to say. The fact that Britta had no problem confronting Shirley about her intolerance in Season 1 points to the idea that this might be a step back for her, but you could also interpret it as Britta learning to pick her battles and being more aware of the people around her, which is a step forward. In any case, there’s a lot of quality Britta-Shirley work in Season 2, and Basic Rocket Science lays the plans for one of the most complex and significant parts of their relationship.

This is also a very good episode for Britta and Annie, as it builds on the tension between the two that has been building up for the first three episodes of Season 2. Britta clearly has a few issues with Annie she has to work out, and many of them are addressed (if not solved) here.

Britta’s first beef with Annie has to do with how she doesn’t consider what’s good for other people even when she acts like it. In Anthropology 101, Britta screamed at Annie about how she was stealing all of her boyfriends. In TPOLG, she gets angry about the schoolgirl routine she pulls to feign innocence and get what she wants. She holds a lot of resentment against Annie for ostensibly squealing here: almost every line she has references the heinous crime in some way, acting as if Annie was the reason that they were locked in and towed.

Britta’s second beef, though, is with what Annie is, what she isn’t, and how she has to twist Annie to fit her view. Regardless of who smooched who, she’s unfair to Annie in Anthropolo, where it’s somehow her fault that Jeff didn’t draw the line and she’s taking Britta’s exes intentionally. Annie has just as much of a right to use her sexuality as Britta does not to, and yields better results for it, but Britta has to slut shame Annie in order to deal with her own insecurities about her campaigning. That pattern of projecting continues in this episode; the sad thing is that Annie didn’t tattle, and even when Annie points that out, Britta sticks to her belief that she did. Only when Jeff confesses himself does she renege. This continually judgmental treatment of Annie stems from what Britta assumes of Annie and so isn’t completely fair, but Britta doesn’t acknowledge that at all, and continues to clash with her for the rest of the first half of Season 2. In fact, this conflict ends when Annie reaches out to Britta in Early 21st Century Romanticism, succeeding where Britta fails just by giving her a fair shake.

There’s only one bit to the Britta-Troy interaction in this episode, but it’s out of left field and it won’t be addressed again until the back half of Season 2. Nonetheless, it was a surprising moment for me when I first saw it and what’s done with this pair later on is nice, I must say. (Another theory: it makes sense that the two would be set up here so that they could go make Shirley’s Jesus film in Messianic Myths. Who knows, really?)

The last person Britta interacts hands on with in this episode is Pierce, and though we haven’t seen much of their relationship prior to this (they share one subplot in Debate 109, and from then on, their interaction is mostly limited to lesbian jokes), there’s one good moment here that pays off in Messianic Myths. When Pierce goes mad and attacks SANDERS, the group throws him into the gate at the back of the room, and we get this brief but sour exchange:

Pierce: You can’t do this to me!
Britta: We JUST DID.

This outburst can be attributed to Britta’s tendency to get caught up in the moment, but I like to think it’s a good bit of foreshadowing for her role as Pierce’s health advisor in Messianic Myths, in which she makes him get some damn broccoli, please. For all her protests to the contrary, Britta does display motherly tendencies towards the other members of the group at times, notably with Annie, Abed, and Pierce. Sometimes that is beneficial, but sometimes she lets her controlling side slip out, as we can see here.

The Pierce subplot takes a lot of the time in this episode, and it’s well-done, but I leave it here because there’s not very much to take apart (though Jeff gets in a nice Atari reference). This episode does mark the beginning of his long and slow descent into Grandpa the Flatulent, but it mostly serves as a jumping off point for later episodes to begin building on, and it’s a bit out of left field as a result. I’ll leave this arc for whoever’s doin’ Messianic Myths to begin unpacking.

The last thing I’ll talk about before wrapping up (and jeepers did I go overboard with this review) is my personal view of Annie’s motivations in this episode. Annie, as we know, ended her Season 1 journey in a place of acceptance and affection; Greendale is where she belongs. Season 2 directly challenges that ending from its beginning, though, throwing her into relationship drama off the bat, pitting her against Britta, and revealing darker sides of her character that fully unravel in Season 3 (chroloform, anyone?) In this episode, her defense is that she respects herself too much to go to a school that her friends keep dumping on, but that only gets to about half of the truth.

There’s no way to talk about Annie in this episode without at least partially conceding that her betrayal was borne at least partially out of her own insecurity. This has always been a part of her character; it is explored with her Troy woes in Football, Feminism, and You, in which she laments that if Troy gets the pick of the litter, she’ll never get to be with him. Later on, she’s insecure about her friendship with the study group in English as a Second Language, another episode in which that lack of confidence pushed her to make a decision.

Basic Rocket Science both parallels and stands opposite that episode; like English, its conflict stems from Annie’s anxieties, but this time, it’s born from the desire to break away instead of belonging. This is the first episode in which the group actually risks losing a member, and Season 2 continuously explores the tensions that these seven people face as they become a close-knit tribe (as the overarching class of the year, Anthropology, symbolizes).

Annie’s pride and insecurity are the two causes of this episode, but her pride is mostly wrapped up by the end of this episode, as she realizes that real pride doesn’t come from having a school that you can be proud of but simply being proud of your own school, even if your own friends decry it by making anus flags. They’ll flare up again in Mixology, but we can leave this episode knowing that, at least for a while, Annie found inner peace with Greendale.

Rewatching this episode for the first time in one-and-a-half years, with the immediacy of fandom reaction far behind me, I feel that this episode is an undercooked but underrated goodie. While it never fully addresses the Annie problem (and can only indirectly justify it at best), it does a great deal of development on Greendale itself and a fantastic job of kicking off character threads that would be paid off as far back as an year later. (Interestingly, the developments of this episode fit much better with the episodes that aired after it than the ones that aired before.

That said, I think ultimately this episode succeeds best in the view of the entire series. The reason that it wasn’t so well-received on first airing was because it took a while for the fruits of its labor to begin showing in the deconstruction of Pierce, the slow rise of the almighty Britta, and the myriad of relationships and themes that are probed in this episode. And that’s also a fine thing for an episode to be; it’s episodes like Modern Warfare that will remain in the fandom’s memory, but it takes episodes like Basic Rocket Science for us to get there. It took me two years to find the real merits of this episode, but some things just get better with age, and I can’t wait to come back to this one in another year and see what else I can find.

 

06/12/2012 12:01 PM     24 LIKES

On the A.V. Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/digital-estate-planning-the-first-chang-dynasty-in,73676/#comment-555280299 (page 108)

 

Discussion:

  • You, good sir, are both dope and legit.

  • Please direct all likes toward Mr. 888. Like Jake Gyllenhaal said to Chris Cooper in that coal mining rocket movie, "I don't want your likes!"

  • I directed to both….

  • I remember the NBC promos for this episode. I started watching the show shortly after this episode.

  • I don't know about you guys but I loved Basic Rocket Science. I literally laughed my pants off. Of course, this is the same person who has already written about 20 "Adventures in Being an Idiot" adventures since I think Saturday so I probably have the same amount of credibility as Pierce has in reviewing Glee on the A.V. Club.

  • Of course, the other side to Shirley's intention to "fix" Britta is seen in "Football, Feminism, and You" and a few other episodes, as Britta tends to read anything Shirley says or does as confirming Shirley as the stereotype of a Bible-thumping housewife. Much of the time, Shirley responds byliving down to Britta's stereotype, while Britta often goes after Shirley by living down to Shirley's stereotype of her. The whole thing arguably comes to a head in "Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts," where Shirley gets a chance to explain to Britta what marriage, domesticity, and the rest are actually like. Thereafter, a new sort of mutual respect, or at least detente, seems to spring up between them.

    Before that, however, Britta is all too willing to see shirley as a monodimensional stereotype. In "FFY," it's Britta who antagonizes Shirley, since Britta would rather score political points that listen non-judgmentally to a would-be friend. In "Studies in Modern Movement," Britta responds to Shirley's own judgmentalism by going to absurd lengths to tear Shirley from her high horse so Britta can climb onto her own. 

    This not only gets them stuck in a car with a delusional, racist maniac, but also takes them both away from their supposed purpose that day: helping Annie move. (If the hitchhiker hadn't been so impossibly creepy, would Britta really have driven 40 minutes out of her way and screwed up Annie's move even more?)

    Britta and Shirley tend to antagonize each other and exacerbate one another's worst tendencies; Shirley is rarely more judgmental than when Britta is around, and Britta, in turn, tends to act out around Shirley more than she ever does around Annie.

    Interestingly, Annie and Britta's occasional exclusion of Shirley — something that Shirley clearly resents in both "The Art of Discourse" and "The Psychology of Letting Go" — tends to affect Shirley the same way being excluded affects Pierce. Weirdly, Britta became friends with Annie, not Shirley, after "bonding" moments that seemed to include all three of them in episodes like "Spanish 101" and "FFY." 

    One could even argue that Britta displaced Shirley from the latter's burgeoning, early-s1 friendship with Annie much as Abed ended up displacing Pierce in his own burgeoning friendship with Troy. Season Two tends to refer back to both of these plotline shifts by having the displaced person deliberately provoke antagonisms in the group, but Shirley turns out to be both less vindictive and more empathetic than Pierce. The deleted scenes from "For a Few Paintballs More" suggest that this was meant to be more fully resolved there, but as it was, we had to wait until midway through Season 3.

  • Great points above and below.  With regards to Britta and Shirley, I feel the main reason they butt heads so periodically is they're two sides of the same coin– their defense mechanism of self righteousness. 

    Britta embraces an Anarchist persona against any establishment to avoid exposing her socially awkward insecure interior (the cause at any given moment is her identity the way Jeff deals in moral relativism).
    And Shirley hides her selfishness and rage beneath a shell of Christian and family values (she can never be weak or wrong if she's doing it beneath a smile).  Sort of like how the main protagonist in Fight Club clashes with Marla Singer– "her lie reflected back my lie and suddenly I felt nothing"  It is indeed a shame given how effective the two are as friends throughout the series that they clash so often over so little and at the expense of everyone else.

    I guess Annie supplants Shirley since her own defense mechanism is diligence and drive; unless it involves being held back on a school project or her own personal agenda, Annie is more than willing to augment herself to fit in with the rest of the group.  And from the very first episode she doesn't see Shirley as someone to directly emulate over Britta, whom she mentions frequently as a model for coolness, at least initially. 

    Again, quite a shame Shirley gets left out.  Much agreed on the parallel between Shirley and Pierce.  RCT onward she detests those glaring similarities more and more, doesn't she?  And she's baking to fit in similar to how Pierce brings alcohol to wedge in to the group.

    With regards to Rocket Science as a whole, how awesome is it that Sanders is the spitting image of Pierce's dad and his oedipal issues get drawn out here early in S2?  That's some Air Conditioning Repair song reference level seeds being planted right there, and so effectively too.  It always guts me a little to hear Pierce's hallucination as a callback to both Introduction to Statistics and emblematic of his whole journey at Greendale:

    "PIERCE, PIERCE MY READINGS INDICATE THAT YOU'RE GOING TO DIEEEE ALOONEEE!!"

    Thank god we got DEP to bring some resolution to that arc. /comfort Pierce.

  •  YOU STOLE ALL HIS LIKES.

  • Will read and hopefully comment more later, but I had a skim of the closing arguments and when I read the word 'probed', I thought 'Is that Pierce and Abed amalgamation?'

  • If there is ever a Pierce/Abed shipping community, that is the name we will have to use.

    Honestly, I'm terrified about this review. I had so much I wanted to say and I think it gets pretty messy…all of the reviews so far have been wonderful so I have a lot to live up to, heh.

  • sll03

    This review is both dope and legit! I give it 10 Thumbs That Aren't Thumbs out of 10.

  • Basic Rocket Science was the first Community episode to disappoint me (and probably some other fans).  It was the first episode that had buzz and expectations around it, and while I enjoy the episode more now, at the time I thought it sort of fell a little flat.

  • Maybe it was because I didn't watch it live, and marathoned through the first season and a half, so there wasn't the same sense of anticipation, but I always enjoyed this episode for what it was. I reacted the same way to Epidemiology but I enjoyed that one more intensely.

  • I felt the same way at the time but enjoyed it immensely once I rewatched it. I think it was a combination of hype and the fact that this marks a turning point in the show that threw a lot of fans.

    It's very funny and the score is incredible.

  • It was really hyped up by Harmon on Twitter, in season previews and interviews, and what not, so it was a disappointment for a lot of us. But as bluelight points out, this will oddly not be remembered as a singular concept episode like MW but a setup episode for a lot of season 2 material. Dean Spreck's warning, "the next time you provoke City College you will lose more than a Winnebago," is chilling in hindsight.

    I also like bluelight's connecting the Dean's dots to Redux. One of the reason's the episode has grown on me so much is its abiding theme of patriotism. It's the first external threat and challenge to the school and that forces everyone, even Jeff, to buck up and fight for their school for all its shortcomings and their misgivings about being students there.

    I also love its technical and visual delights. The soundtrack, as we've been reminded recently by Ludwig's medley, is awesome sauce. The ultra-white jumpsuits really pop, the weathered KFC simulator looks like something that really exists, and the KFC placement itself was genius and irreverent–equal in greatness to Subway as the best placement in TV history. The camera work and cinematography are magnificent. The sun shines on the episodes like no other and it really adds to a glowing, triumphant feel to Greendale's win.

  • Yeah. I pretty much think the main weakness here is just Annie really. And even then it's not necessarily out of character so much as that itfeels out of character. Annie would be upset about the butt flag but it isn't enough to justify her turning on Greendale after her revelation at the end of Pascal's Triangle Revisited. There needed to be more built up to that moment, in previous S2 episodes, for it to feel earned. If the show had done that, Annie coming back around and helping the school could have felt like a real significant triumphant moment and would have been a strong point to the episode instead of a weakness.

  • I was also underwhelmed initially. After Contemporary American Poultry and Modern Warfare, I was hyped for another "movie" episode. There was a lot of buzz from cast/crew at Comic Con about the Apollo 13 episode, and it just didn't live up to the high standards of the first two comparable episodes. 

    As blue_light_888 wonderfully pointed out, it did improve when looked at as part of a whole. Even though season 2 wasn't defined as the "serialized" season the way that this past one was, it still had a lot of beats and storylines that were established in this episode that paid off further down the line. It's not quite Remedial Chaos Theory in that regard, but there's definitely stuff that we can look back on, in context of seasons 2 and 3 and say "oh, that'swhere that joke comes from!"

    And then there's the Annie of it all. That didn't improve later on. In fact, as Greendale became more important to the group and the show as a whole, Annie trying to bail just stands out even more. It retroactively devalued Greendale Is Where I Belong, which is one of the clearest, most concise descriptions of the show that we have yet seen. Annie has long valued the study group more than many, if not all, of the other main characters. At the end of season 1, she embraced what Greendale meant to her as well.

    Compare this to Jeff. He's undergoing a similar evolution, albeit not as quickly.  As Jeff begins to realize how important Greendale is to him in this episode, albeit in the snarky, disconnected Winger way, he continues to follow that path towards embracing his friends and his school that began in earnest in Accounting for Lawyers and culminated in Intro to Finality. (And I never picked up on the link to Accounting for Lawyers until @blue_light_888 pointed it out, but now it's obvious. That's why these reviews are awesome.)

    At the same time, Annie unexpectedly and inexplicably backslides. As she has been more and more gung-ho Greendale, she stands out in even starker contrast to Jeff. Maybe if Annie's frustrations with Greendale had been built up over a longer period of time, just as her desire to make something more of herself was in season 1, it would have been more effective. However, nothing about her actions work in this episode except to move the plot forward. I kind of try to pretend that little bit never happened. 

  • Rather than pretend it never happen, I would like to think that Annie has been frustrated with the academics at Greendale in early Season 2 and we just never see it, sadly.

    That does not excuse her actions in this episode coming out of nowhere as, in order for her actions in this episode to work, we would have had to have seen those frustrations. But to pretend they're present on some level, as the episode suggests, would make sense and I prefer to take that route instead of pretending it never happened.

  • Really great review, blue_light_888 . I wanted to hit "like" about five times before I'd even hit the fourth paragraph.

    I always enjoyed this episode, without ever thinking too hard about it. But you're spot on: it fits so well within the rest of the show (and all the way forward to the Dean in season three!), and gets to the crux of what it's all about.

    This episode's got one of my favourite visual gags in it, too: the triumphant build up of everyone working together to finish the simulator mission, and then — slightly-too-long-a-pause — really underwhelming fireworks.

    Also: "When you're fishing, sometimes you catch a boot."

  • "Yeah, it's a sticker."

    This episode may not be perfectly solid as a whole, but it has a lot of little bits like that in it that make me like it. The butt flag runner is funny, Troy is great, the Dean is great (…those aren't thumbs.), and I even liked Chang's little power-rerouting bit. It's not great as a concept episode (I think I would rate almost every other concept episode higher than it), but it's still an overall solid episode of Community. B+ for me.

  • In regards to concept episodes, methinks I prefer it to First Chang Dynasty.

  • Semi's 204 capsule

    – Pre-credits sequence: the low angle
    shot of feet running, the board meeting, and the animation of City
    College "engulfing" Greendale reference "The Right Stuff."

    – Holy crap, how did I not see that before? The acronym for the City
    College Cosmic Program is CCCP – which is Cyrillic for USSR (thanks, TV
    Tropes!) I love this show…

    – The Dean's wallpaper is a picture of the two Dalmatian furries he met at the Tranny Dance in 125.

    – Callback to 107: the heated rivalry between Greendale and City College.

    – The lettering on the 1980s poster of the KFC space simulator looks like the Star Wars logo.

    – The gang walking in pretend slo-mo references "The Right Stuff" and "Armaggedon"

    The Butt Flag (E Pluribus Anus) is introduced. TV tropes says it's a
    fan design that won a contest to be the Greendale flag. Either way it's
    going to be the source of great visual gags in 217 and 224.

    – Character callback – After 124, everyone suspects Annie of tattling.

    – Leonard is apparently respectable enough to be chosen for the inaugural simulator flight.

    – Simulator Simulator indicators: Doomsday Clock (22:10) Greendale
    Time (also 22:10), Food Supply (very low), Antifreeze Level (very high),
    Space-Time Continuum Gauge (no needle), an AM/FM radar, a Flux
    Capacitor ("Back to the Future" reference!), Hydraulic Fluid, Spin
    Control, Mach Power, Air Lock, Check Engine, Outer Space Pressure,
    Rocket Alt, Rocket Fuel, some kind of map where Earth is apparently next
    to Saturn. Also, the steering wheel appears to be a paper plate painted
    like a peppermint.

    – Troy and Abed are (of course) the first to sneak on board the
    simulator. The music that plays when Abed checks the place out is very
    familiar (maybe "Apollo 13"?).

    – Callback: Abed references his dad's apparently perpetually struggling falafel stand.

    – Character arc: Pierce being jealous of Jeff and/or replace him: "Ah, the 80s… Our teen years, right everybody?"

    – Mutilated doll heads: never not creepy!

    – Movie reference (maybe): the ship is controlled by a HAL-like
    computer – SANDERS (Systematic Android Network Diode Energy Rocket
    System). He appears as an 8-bit rendition of Colonel Sanders.

    – From here on, the plot follows the basic beats of "Space Camp."
    – When SANDERS announces he's sealing the doors and launching the simulator, everyone freaks out, except Jeff who smiles.

    – The shot of the simulator "taking off" with the KFC buckets standing in for rocket exhausts references "Apollo 13"

    – Wordless gag: Abed comes back dressed as an astronaut, doesn't find the simulator, looks left and right, and then up…

    – From this point on Abed being left behind, despite wanting the most
    to be on the simulator is in the Gary Sinise role from "Apollo 13."

    – Character inconsistency: Pierce confuses his iPod with a phone, yet
    in 201 and later he is supposed to be an avid twitterer, which should
    make him familiar with technology.

    – The Dean trying to rescue the study group with Abed's help is a reference to "Apollo 13."

    – Troy: "We are… 40 light years outside of the Buttermilk Nebula, although it is possible… Yeah, it's a sticker…"

    – Weird Dean fetish # 3625: he's turned on by Jeff's threats to step on him ("As much as I'd like that…)

    Seasonal narrative arc: Jeff and Troy fighting for authority, with Troy
    ending up being right (here about having to complete the simulation).
    Also shows up in 207, 208, 210 and 224.

    – Another season arc: Pierce's conflicted relation with his father
    surfaces in his fight with a mocking SANDERS (he's hallucinating, of
    course).

    – Film reference ("Apollo 13"): Chang: "I've worked on a way for them
    to reroute the power from the auxiliary battery!" Abed: "Reroute to
    what?"

    – Like Barry Zuckercorn, the Dean is apparently an afficcionado of truck stops and public restrooms.

    – Annie IS a tattletale, but not the way the group thought. Also, a
    character inconsistency – I'm not sure why she would want to transfer so
    badly all of a sudden.

    – Concise, yet convincing Jeff speech: "Our school may be a toilet, but it's OUR toilet! Nobody craps in it but us!"

    – I'm pretty sure some of the guys who help Abed get the group back
    were in the chess club that Jeff and Troy blow away in "Modern Warfare."

    – Hey, Jeff's a tattletale as well: "He kept NOT seeing it!"

    – Pierce, smashing the SANDERS screen: "She's (?) my mommy and I'm her man!"

    Hey, it's Dean Spreck's first appearance! He seems to be just as
    sexually ambiguous as as Dean Pelton. Also, Dean Pelton is attracted to
    him (or maybe he just likes being bossed around).

    – A ledger by Abed's head says "Sunnydale."

    – Shipping fodder: Britta falls into Troy's arms. Also, Pierce falls into Jeff's, but that's more shudder-worthy.

    – Sign on the Simulator's wall: "Gravy Thermal Shields."

    – Film reference: Kids running in slo-mo after the Simulator crashes at the ceremony ("Armaggedon", possibly also "Apollo 13").

    – Overcome by emotion, Troy hugs a random lady and cries.

    – Aaaaand… one zoom in on the butt flag to end the story!

    – Tag: Troy and Abed do some kind of space movie parody after cutting
    the Simulator Simulator in two. As tags go, it's pretty unmemorable.

    – Of course, the whole episode is a giant KFC product placement.

  • My additions
    -Dean mentions that all they have to brag about is their foosball table. — In 220, Troy tried signing up for the Foosball blow-off class but there was a waiting list.
    -Annie: Guys we can't be in here./ Troy: Then, get out. [Similar to a joke in 203 where Jeff says he needs to be alone and Nurse Jackie tells him he can do that be leaving]
    -Character note: After Pierce reveals he is claustrophobic, he says "I'm not strapping myself in no coffin". — A small hint about his weariness of death.
    -Continuity: In 213, Pierce watches reel footage of his father, who looks a lot like Col. Sanders, which is why he hallucinated SANDERS taunting him.
    -Character note: Pierce's exact words as he's stomping on SANDERS are "Get-off-my-mommy-I'm-her-man!" — Pierce and Jeff seem to have the same Oedipal complex. And most of the group hate their fathers.
    -Character note: Troy "pulls rank" on Jeff and tells him to man his station. Jeff shoots him down but he later does accept Troy as his "captain". I like the way Troy's face lit up when Jeff did that. This thread of Troy wanting to be the leader is brought back again in the finale where they had their little rivalry.
    -Foreshadowing: City College's Dean Spreck says "The next time you provoke City College, you will lose more than a Winnebago." [224/225]
    -Britta: How many schools would let you get a degree in Theoretical Phys-Ed? [As seen by the blow-off classes, Greendale has many bogus classes but this is my favorite]
    -Reference: The split-screen thing when everybody takes the controls is from Voltron.
    -Reference: The "A Troy and Abed Thing" title card in the tag is a nod to "A Spike Lee Joint".

  • And now we (hopefully) have the further escalation of the Dean Spreck threat in season 4. Good seed planting there. 

  • I like how Annie and Troy take charge here (Annie drives the simulator back). Something similar occurs in the two-part finale as Annie takes charge in Fistful and in FaFPM Troy and Jeff have their disagreement. But Annie also takes charge again when she declares they can use both plans.

  •  If I like this post, will it make me look vain and narcissistic?

  •  So apparently there was a review posted this morning and I didn't get the memo. Damn!

    Great job! This is indeed an underrated episode, despite the clumsiness of the Annie resolution. It's so strange to me that they went with that – my guess is that they wanted a symmetrical resolution to the crisis by showing that both Jeff (the group's most duplicitous member) and Annie (the most honest) were equally guilty for the mess. But where Jeff's confession actually says something very important about him, Annie's confession is more baffling than anything else, coming as it does on the heels of her actually refusing to leave Greendale in 125.

    And you're right: the episode plays really well in retrospect, when one considers all the rippling effects that have come out of it. I'd add Cornelius Hawthorne to the list. When I first saw BRS I thought that the joke was that SANDERS was just a cartoony Colonel-Sanders-type mascot that Pierce randomly invests with authority in a fit of madness. Seeing that Cornelius actually looks and speaks exactly like Col. Sanders in S3 was not only a fantastic joke, but also worked really well to deepen Pierce's character. What looked before just like the ranting of Pierce, the "sundowning" old dude, appears in retrospect as the product of fear and, very possibly despair. Since it happens in the wake of The Psychology of Letting Go, it's not hard to infer Pierce's anxiety at realizing he's lost a parent who cared about him and loved him, and is now left only with the nightmare father for whom he will never be good enough.

    As much as I love Jeff's speech in Celebrity Pharmacology, I think I like the one he gives here even more. "Greendale may be a toilet, but it's OUR toilet! Nobody craps in it, but us!" is such a great summation of Jeff's reluctant love affair with the school. It's also, quite atypically, very sincere, and I think it highlights once again Jeff's tendency to stand up for the bullied and the disadvantaged – only in this case, it's a whole institution, rather than an actual person.

    P.S.: Why would any campus censor The AV Club?