Episode 224: For a Few Paintballs More
224 – For a Few Paintballs More
"It seems we've left the Western motif and are entering more of a Star Wars scenario…"
Part of the reason that Community can get away with such wild, varied concepts, with simultaneously incorporating and satirizing such far-feteched dramatic worlds as Spaghetti Westerns and Star Wars is it's precision, it's economy, it's presentation and sharp wit. The other part is the commitment from us watching, the willingness to glide over the occasional gap in a journey we want to take, with characters we want to follow, to see how they react in extreme or unusual situations. No episode tests (and rewards) that faith as much as "For a Few Paintballs More," the episode that asks for the most participation, the most imagination to accept. Both in it's ambitious story telling within apparent visual limitations, but also in the characters we've come to expect intelligence and consistency from having surprising, intense reactions with a limited amount of time, space or provocation to justify them.
As to that first part, Dan Harmon has said things like "I felt like when people are charging across a field in this big paintball war, we hadn't captured any of it on camera…You can't tell who's winning and who's losing." The episode tries to convey a semi-real sense of war through tilted, chaotic handheld camera work and often abrupt cutting, with heavy, flourescent lighting that sometimes betrays the brighter colors and makes everything feel murky. More than that, it tries to address a lot of Season Two's important character dynamics (especially Pierce vs. the Study Group and Jeff vs. Troy) in a rushed way. It makes the scope and the details of the episode very difficult to appreciate on first viewing. But Harmon also said of the ep "What I didn't count on was the fact that TV as a medium is a closer cousin to radio than cinema and that you can get away with a lot more just by saying: I'm a hero. I feel this way. This is a huge battle and we're scared. People respect the effort." It's easier to respect that effort because of the punch and energy the actors give the material across the board, and what's lost in defenition is gained back double in emotion. Muddled twists over who's winning or who won the Paintball game are finally secondary, because the triumph of winning is just to bring into focus the more bittersweet emotions. Given a willingness to examine the episode more closely, we get in return a surpising, dignified exit speech from Pierce that clarifies his fight with the group throughout the season season; We get to see Jeff's "heroism" and "leadership" from an ironic distance that allows both he and us to realize that Troy's more genuine approach can be just as useful without having to crown him the new Alpha of the group; We get renewed commitment to Greendale and bravery, respectively, from Shirley and Britta, as well as a willingness to work together, that's fairly satisfying even though their subplot wasn't especially well set-up; Finally, we get to see an awkward, meta-removed-from-reality romance develop from awkward to surprisingly fulfilling between Annie and Abed, before instantly fizzling away when it hits cold reality.
It's the kiss between Annie and Abed that best demonstrates the episode's power, it's thrill in ephemeral moments and ideas. The buildup between Abed-playing-Han-Solo and Annie is thrilling, especially after she reasonably rebuffs his out-of-character advances. It's teasingly hard to place what exactly happens in these exchanges. Does Abed feel an empowerment as Han that he wouldn't normally feel, or is he just obeying the rules of the character he's playing (For certain, once he's commited to the role, he feels no shame about anything he says or does, so is that liberating, or does he just not think about it)? When he tells Annie "You need more immaturity in your life," he's clearly hit on her weak spot, the neurosis about having to grow up too fast that she spills when play-acting a character of her own, Caroline Decker, in "Mixology Certification." After the paint-filled-kiss, when Abed coldly walks away from an impassioned Annie, is that cruel, is there a way that his inherent innocence justifies that coldness, or are they inextricable from each other, part of the same character trait? The question of whether they had a real moment together, or if one or both of them just got away with something they normally wouldn't, is the same question asked about the episode and "Paintball War" as a whole. Is it more real because everyone involved has to make believe, or are they/we all just kidding themselves?
The lasting beautiful image of Abed and Annie kissing as paint falls over them is one of several in the episode that's made so powerful and immediate because it's so fleeting. Because something so kinetic and emotional can only be really experienced, seen for it's value and even rendered immortal (or, at the very least, as a great memory) in hindsight. The sharp cruelty of seeing a love that addresses what both characters are missing, what they need, then is promptly abandoned, makes the moment they had together so essential. This is what pop songs are basically built on: How indispensable love feels right after it's gone. That image, to me, is like Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl," a pleasant, even ecstatic evocation of a love that's actually a vague memory. The idea of time or youth passed, gloriously etched forever in the rearview mirror.
But it's twinned by the lengthy shot pulling away from the Study Group, having just watched Pierce finally assert his pride, now all aware of just how happy, comfortable and natural they had felt with him there, a part of their band, just earlier that day. Or before that, in the middle of the paintball battle, the sense of lonliness when an isolated Britta sees what seems like the whole student body, some covered in paint, anticipating her next move. It's her team, her army, but it feels like it could be her trepedation made literal, a sense of not just disconnect, but of everyone she knows palatably waiting for her to live up to expectations. There's something about these raw emotions, crucial to the characters but not precisely placable as beginnings, middles, or endings. Something about the exciting, action movie (or video game) movement we get from Troy and Abed exchanging fire with City College Stormtroopers, that sits on the margins of reality, or believable storytelling, but never falls totally out of it's frame. Something about transplanting the sheer childhood id of Star Wars onto one's own little world, an often dull but very personal microcosm. The full, everything-at-once rush of love, war, family, friendship and final triumph together inside the tiny box of an ordinary day at Community College that feels exactly like a pre-verbal childhood thought process, and a full circle of self-contained, constant nostalgia, like a snow globe, except with orange paint instead of snow.
Pierce Gets the Last Word:
"You know I've been coming to this school for 12 years? And I've never been friends with anyone here more than a semester. Probably for the same reason I've been married seven times. I guess I assume, eventually, that I'll be rejected. So I, you know, test people, push them, until they prove me right. It's a sickness, I admit it. But this place has always accepted me, sickness and all. This place accepted all of you, sickness and all. It's worth thinking about."
I get a little teary eyed just typing it up.
A lot of the ep's most memorable lines are just tossed-off insults, but it does have a few really funny bits. Including one of my all-time favorites, Garrett instantly screwing up Troy's plan by getting stuck in the air duct, then trying to underplay it:
"I may be stuck in this vent. It is too early to tell."
Magnitude: "First of all, Pop Pop! Second of all, Magnitude's a one man party. A one man party can't be part of an alliance, that's a paradox."
Paradox: "I agree to disagree."
Troy: "Easy, Paradox. We're all on the same side."
So quick and weird, almost like sketch comedy, but somehow funny enough not to be too outlandish.
Jeff: "Everyone look alive. Leonard, good enough. Greendale, it's been a pleasure fighting with you. Some of us won't make it, but there is a place where we will all see each other again, and that place is Denny's."
Leonard: "Which Denny's?"
Jeff: "We'll figure it out later, Leonard."
Leonard: "The one near the 15 Exit, I'm banned from there."
Jeff: "Then I guess I'll see you in hell."
Vicki's LeRoy Jenkins moment, which I didn't get until like six months later.
Troy: "They are an unstoopable Juggle Knob.
Dean Pelton: "That doesn't make sense. Why would someone who gets paid to do things be at Greendale?"
Dean Pelton: "Now your whole evil plan is clear as day. But if you need to explain it to your men, I understand."
That amazing tag with Jerry Minor as the Janitor. There's a few jokes contrasting the intensity of the Paintball War with how silly it is in real life. But none as clever as just seeing how not interested Minor is in Abed's story. "No plans."
As probably everyone recognised, Jeff has Chang's gun from "Modern Warfare" (which he found in the storage closet in "A Fistful of Paintballs").
Let's not draw this out…..
This is a quality commentary track, with Donald Glover, Danny Pudi, Joe Russo and Hilary Winston. All four, but especially Glover and Russo, get into a lot of aspects of the episode and Pierce's S2 arc. I don't want to transcribe the whole thing, because it's all pretty good, but I'll try and hit on some highlights:
As I mentioned in the review, Russo changed the lighting to match the Star Wars motif. I don't think it flatters the actors or the attempted epic scale, for the most part. Also it seems that the excessive brightness was turned up even another notch for a lot of Season 3. Still, there's a lot of beautiful shots, and the general Star Wars scheme of distinct block colors contrasted against each other is at least clear at times.
At the beginning, when Troy and Abed jump the desk, Pudi apparently slipped pretty hard.
They hired a Paintball Professional to fire the gun at them. So in scenes where you see someone getting hit, they had a guy offscreen to shoot them precisely. But a lot of the hits are apparently effects augmented in Post. (Glover talks about, in the scene where he's shot a zillion times, no one actually shot him, but he could feel the air coming from empty guns and just that was scary by itself.)
They talk about Luke Youngblood/Magnitude, how it's weird that he's British because he does such a good impersonation of a stereotypical Black sitcom character. Glover jokes that "Pop Pop" is such a terrible catchphrase that it goes back around to being good again.
Apparently, the 2-part paintball finale was filled with long days, and actors getting script pages just before going to sleep for 4 or 5 hours (Joel and Yvette both slept on set at least once). They worked 17-18 hour days, and during the last 3 days of shooting had 3 units shooting different scenes at the same time.
They respond to criticism that Pierce was too unlikable in S2. Russo says the Group needs an adversary, and Glover and Pudi talk about how it's like having a family member you don't like, you still have to deal with them all the time, you still have to care about them. Russo says that Internet-style feedback tends to be very immediate and emotional, and people don't like seeing Pierce be an asshole, but over the course of a whole season it makes sense.
Alison had talked about in interviews back in S1 how the only person she didn't want as Annie's love interest was Abed cause she and Pudi are such close friends. But since the kiss, Danny's mostly just made jokes about how great it was (wanting more takes, etc.), which I take as just assuming it's what the fanbase wants to hear. Like, if he complained about having to make out with Alison, he'd alienate us, or something to that effect. Anyways, they got a lot of paint in their mouths, it was one take, and Russo says his wife loves the Annie/Abed stuff, and Donald says "I'm not gonna lie and say I haven't done stuff watching this scene."
Winston says "What's so great is how seriously everyone takes everything, even Quendra." I totally agree. Russo says they'd play the theme from The King's Speech on set to convey how elevated and epic the tone was supposed to be, like scenes from Saving Private Ryan (which in turn makes it all funnier).
Though Jerry Minor didn't actually have to clean up the set, somebody got stuck with it.