Episode 208: Cooperative Calligraphy
Episode 2.08 – Cooperative Calligraphy
Do you believe in ghosts?
Actually, allow me to rephrase: could you believe in ghosts? Funny how much of a difference that makes.
This is the ultimate question Cooperative Calligraphy poses. It’s a simple question, really. It’s direct. It’s unassuming. Heck, it’s downright silly. But of course, like most things Community, it is so much more than what it seems. This is a sneaky question – a clever question. This is a question in disguise. This question is not actually after your opinion on the existence of poltergeists, apparitions and ectoplasm. This is a question that when answered reveals much more about you emotionally than it does spiritually. This is a question about love.
But let’s hold that thought for a moment and just quickly remind ourselves how all of this started: Annie’s pen is missing… again. She has been bringing supplies to study sessions and they keep suspiciously disappearing. She’s tired of it. She wants whomever the culprit is to just fess up and return everything. Unfortunately for her, the group isn’t exactly motivated to take such an issue very seriously. After all, Jeff has a ‘catch to date’, Britta has her grandmother’s hands to photograph, Shirley has children to take care of, and everyone else has a Puppy Parade to attend. Besides, it’s just a pen. Naturally, Annie reacts to their indifference with complete composure and eventually persuades them all to reconsider. Thus, the famous bottle episode begins.
Finding the pen is the initial driving force of the plot. The quest may start out as a one-woman endeavour, but it quickly grows into a full-on search party as the situation escalates. One by one, every single member of the study group comes under scrutiny. Perhaps Shirley accidentally put the pen in her comedically huge bag? Or maybe Abed hid it to make life a little more like TV? Pierce is senile on a good day and he’s been using random objects to scratch his legs a lot as of late, so he is a definite possibility. Then again, Troy is most likely to be the thief, statistically speaking. Jeff also made it fairly obvious he took it as a joke and misjudged the severity of the outcome. On the other hand, Britta is Britta, so that automatically puts her as the front-runner (she’s the worst). And wouldn’t it be such a twist if it were Annie herself who had it the entire time but was too embarrassed to say? This constant back-and-forth whodunit element is basically fantastic. The pacing is incredible, the possible ‘motives’ are entirely within character and the jokes fly at a mile a minute. I was utterly convinced that each one of them had taken the pen at one point or another, only to be disproven moments later. It was truly a treat to watch.
Ironically enough, the more innocent everyone appears, the higher the stakes get. The investigation causes tempers to boil over, accusations to be made and secrets to be spilled.
It comes to light that Shirley has rekindled her relationship with Andre and as a result may be pregnant. This revelation has obvious long-term repercussions throughout the season (mostly to do with Chang and the paternity of the child) but what I enjoyed was the way it incited confrontation between Shirley and Britta. It fascinates me when these two butt heads because they are similar in so many ways and opposites in only a few fundamental ones, but this makes them completely different people. Shirley always strives to be a nice person because she believes that is something a good, devout Christian should do. At the same time, she tends to severely judge others for their perceived misconduct while holding herself to a higher standard. This is very expertly depicted by both her sweet claim that she would never steal and rather blunt surprise at learning Abed was not the offender. Oppositely, Britta rallies against the institution of religion but is still driven by the need to do the right thing by an invisible power: the power of expectation. Furthermore, she has also judged others for their political inaction, naivety, or lack of Upper East Side frequenting. Her initial outrage at rifling through Abed’s bag is touching, but note how quickly she changes her tune after Jeff explains who put gum in her hair. Basically, Shirley and Britta are both moral snobs who constantly call each other out on it, so seeing them argue about proper sexual conduct is always entertaining.
And speaking of sexual conduct: Jeff and Britta were totally doing it. Spoiler alert! Hee. Moving on.
Pierce’s incredibly defined descent into the role of Season 2’s antagonist is also built upon throughout the episode. We learn he is abusing the painkillers prescribed to him after the trampoline accident. This sets the stage for his imminent overdose and manipulation story lines in Early 21st Century Romanticism and Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking, respectively. At this point, Pierce’s mother has sadly passed away – something he has dealt with by, well, not dealing with it. He is also already beginning to feel belittled/neglected by the group, which was made apparent by his consorting with the Hipsters and fury at not being included by Jeff and Troy. At the time, cutting open Pierce’s casts seemed like just another crazy-yet-logical step in the search for the pen. Looking back, I cannot help but wonder if Abed’s words were meant to be foreshadowing in some way: “I’m afraid we’ve gone too far. This is how super villains are created.”
If the pen is the match that lit the fuse in this explosive situation, Annie is the person who struck it. There are undoubtedly plenty of individuals out there who understand Annie's point of view in this episode: it is disrespectful to pilfer other people's things and then lie about it. However, there are also undoubtedly a lot of individuals out there who think she may have taken her vendetta a little too far. This was never an issue for me as I always chalked it up to her high-strung, slightly neurotic and immature nature. After the airing of Celebrity Pharmacology, it occurred to me that Annie was also struggling financially. She has enough trouble making rent, paying tuition and feeding herself as it is, but now her things are being taken, too? Her outburst is still over-the-top (hilariously so) but a little more understandable in light of those circumstances. Regardless, she is probably the only person who has any actual interest in locating the pen. Her recruitment of others is really only successful because they're all friends. These people would not have chosen to stay cooped up all night for a person they could care less about. They paused initially out of exasperation and stayed out of loyalty. Granted, the incentive to expose the perpetrator is also fueled by everyone’s humiliation at being accused and subsequent thirst for justice, but it soon goes far beyond that. It becomes a question of whether someone in their midst is capable of being this mean.
Being stuck in a room full of these emotions is terrifying to Abed. Even though hisMenstrual Cycle Cheer-Up Guide was undeniably awesome, it’s sad to think about what it means: he is acutely aware he does not always fit in. Despite the fact that he is arguably the most intuitive and observant member of the group, he still finds it difficult to properly relate or respond to them in certain scenarios. This disconnect can be seen when Abed beseeches Jeff to wrap things up with a Winger Speech and end the turmoil; he knows what the solution is (a Winger Speech does in fact do the trick) but may fail to understand why. It’s a little heartbreaking. That being said, in a lot of ways, I have missed this version of Abed. I miss watching him try to bond with people through ill-advised but well-intended methods: quoting The Breakfast Club, donning Don Draper (I know, I know, but I’m a sucker for bad jokes), creating a chicken finger mafia, becoming Rowboat Cop, keeping secret period journals, reenacting My Dinner With Andre, and the like. Knowing what I do now about his fear of being alone, these actions not only make much more sense but also seem very in tune with the kind of approach I would expect him to take. Abed searching for common ground in reality through fiction is always genuinely moving. Seeing him commit to the cause – even if he doesn't fully recognize why he should – was wonderful.
Sadly, everyone's efforts were all for naught. Now there is a stalemate. The pen seems lost forever and with it the group’s sense of trust. It is a grim-looking scene: seven Greendale Community College students sit despondently on the floor in the middle of the library. Tables are over-turned, chairs are knocked down, carpets are pulled up and bags are emptied. Binders, books, papers, pencils, markers and yes, pens, are haphazardly strewn about. There is a palpable sense of dread. Nobody knows what to do. What will this mean? What will this change? Will things ever be the same? Then Jeff has an epiphany. He has a way out: a ghost took the pen.
That’s it. That is the moment Cooperative Calligraphy asks the audience if they can believe in ghosts. That is the moment it implores you to overlook the little things (like, say, your perception of reality) to have faith in these characters. That is the moment when you decide if they love each other enough for this ludicrous proposition to make even remote amounts of sense. That is the moment where you choose to buy into the entire premise of Community: these rag-tag, quirky misfits somehow belong together and are a family no matter what. As far as the group is concerned, their response to this all-important question is a resounding ‘yes’. They unanimously opt to place the blame for the missing pen on a mysterious specter. Jeff happily defers to Troy for specifics about what kind of unfinished pen-related business is at play and it’s a nice moment which acts as a fitting prelude to Troy’s impending arc of maturity and growing up. And just like that, the dread is gone. You can see the calm wash over the room as everyone exchanges looks; they all understand the silent agreement that has been made. When they are finally able to exit through those library doors (all together, of course) the look of sincere sentiment on their faces is nothing but deserved.
So, what is your answer to the question? Personally? I don’t believe in ghosts: never have, never will. But for this show? I totally could.
Look out, drive-by Deaning!
I wanna lick it!
Accidents don’t just happen over and over and over again, okay? This isn’t budget daycare.
Maybe nobody took the pen. Sometimes I think I’ve lost something really important to me and it turns out I already ate it.
Oh it all starts with a quick looksee in someone’s bag and then it’s a brisk peek-a-rooni at our phone records and then before you can say ‘1984’ the Thought Police are forcey-worcing you to bend and spread!
Do they find thoughts in our butts? I KNEW I should’ve read that book!
Welcome to the MACHINE!
With every passing moment, these puppies grow older and less deserving of our attention.
It’s not a pen: it’s a principle!
Side effects: verbal dysphasia and octopus loss. I don’t see anything on this squirrel about memory, Troy.
I’m not hiding my own pen, you paranoid weirdo… everybody stay within each other’s eye lines please, one of you is a monster.
I hate bottle episodes. They’re wall-to-wall facial expressions and emotional nuance. I might as well sit in the corner with a bucket on my head.
Shirley: Mother Hen? I’m pretty sure we about the same age.
Britta: Sure, unless time is linear.
Shirley: I’ll make your ass linear.
Britta: That doesn’t make any sense.
Shirley: I’ll make your ass sense.
I can explain. Oh, I thought you’d keep yelling over me. Okay, I can explain.
I guess it’s true what they say about the sync-up.
Annie: Well, well, well, Harvey Keitel.
Troy: Well what do you know, Henry David Thoreau.
Britta: My oh my, Mike Ty…son.
Annie: You wanna go there?
Annie: I’ll go there!
Annie: I was born there!
Annie: There’s a placard there commemorating me!
*Annie begins to unbutton her sweater*
Troy: What’s going on and how can I help?
Be careful – it’s the last pair we have. Also, don’t cut his legs.
Let him finish!
Dean Pelton: What the hell did you people do in there?
Abed: Something you and your puppies could only dream of, you non-miraculous son of a bitch.
- The term ‘bottle episode’ was coined on the original Star Trek series. The crew would use the phrase to describe episodes that never left the bridge.
- A few hints are scattered throughout the episode alluding to who the real pen thief is:
- Right after Annie’s Boobs steals the pen, Dean Pelton exclaims, “I expect all of you to lend a paw!”
- Check out the multiple mentions of monkeys in the last line of notes on thewhiteboard.
- Troy mentions Abed released his pet monkey.
- This episode marks the second Beetlejuice mention.
- Pierce’s wheelchair isn’t breath-controlled after all?! How many lies have I been living?!
- For anyone who hasn’t seen it, here is Annie’s Boobs caught red-handed.
- There is an advertisement on the whiteboard for Student Government, but according to Intro to Political Science, there has never been a Study Body President at Greendale. Conspiracy?
- Apparently NUCLEAR BOMBS! are still a concern at Greendale – look at the yellow flyer on the wall to the left of Britta.
- How awesome was the music in the last scene? I loved the way it started off spooky to give the false impression that an actual ghost really was the culprit and then abruptly stops as soon as Annie’s Boobs hops out of the vent.
- Other interesting items Annie’s Boobs stole: a Troy and Abed in the Morning! mug, a set of keys, a Fossil watch, a small Dalmatian figurine, Pierce’s earnoculars, a bracelet with the Scrabble letters W.W. on it, Troy’s Student ID Card, a Human Being doll, the hat Britta wanted to put on a frog in The Science of Illusion, a coin purse, approximately six of Annie’s pens, a banana peel, a crumpled up piece of Spanish homework, a valentine with Troy’s name on it, and we all know monkey took my spoon.
- This is Dan Harmon’s favourite installment from Season 2. He explained that if one episode had to represent the show, he would want it to be Cooperative Calligraphy because it has a “timelessness to it”. It’s my favourite, too!
- Harmon wanted Annie’s pen to be a better device that forces the study group to all stay in the room than hokey reasons old 80’s episodes used (i.e. the door is locked, there’s a snow storm, etc. etc.). He felt it provided a more emotional lock.
- Joe Russo mentioned that he intentionally made the camera work more erratic as the episode progressed to mirror the state of the study group.
- The episode was shot chronologically – a rarity for the show – and in only 4 days.
- The contents of Britta and Shirley’s purses were discussed at length by the female writers to make sure they reflected the characters properly. Specifically, Karey Dornetto served as inspiration for Britta’s used Q-Tips and wayward pair of panties.
- The reaction the study group has when Pierce’s casts come off was not in the script. The waffle house line and everybody's strong aversion to the smell was all improvised.
- Megan Ganz had to personally ask Joel McHale (the day after she had met him, no less) what kind of underwear he would be wearing during shooting in order to make the joke about his cotton-soy blend more authentic.
- Chris McKenna came up with the name for Shirley’s pregnancy test.
- Harmon mentions how he thought this episode did a fantastic job of showing Shirley’s often thinly veiled rage. At the time this commentary was being recorded, the writers were preparing for season 3 and he wanted to address more of Shirley’s past and what her volatility stemmed from.
- There was a lot of concern Joel’s butt crack would show during the scene where he starts tearing the study room apart (which was also improvised, by the way). I am personally of the opinion that they should be encouraging these kinds of accidents to happen, but I may be biased. It is too early to tell.
- ‘Gwennifer’ is in fact Jeff’s code name for Britta. The writers decided the two had started hooking up around the time of Basic Rocket Science and began intentionally leaving clues from that point on. ‘Gwennifer’ is also the name of Harmon’s Twitter foe who used to frequently bash him online for not including enough diversity in the study group.
- Harmon was initially concerned that having Annie’s Boobs steal the pen would be too much of an inside joke and not accessible for new viewers. However, Joe Russo helped him realize that at the end of the day, it was still a random monkey stealing a pen, which is pretty hilarious in of itself.