Episode 224: For a Few Paintballs More

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Unregistered Guy Named Eric

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.

Notes

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."

Also:

  • 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.

             Abed: "Juggernaut."

             Troy: "Juggernaut."

  • 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…..

DVD Commentary

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.

02/06/2013 05:14 AM

 

 

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Discussion:

  • A great writeup and a great victory for Communists everywhere.

    Pop WHAT Magnitude!? Pop what?

  • Thank you!

    It's a victory cause we finished all the reviews!! Yay!!

  • johnshinobi

    I concur about it being a great writeup. However, not a single mention of Dean Spreck in such a long post downgrades this review in my eyes

  • Magnitude is British?!

  • He's Lee Jordan from the first Harry Potter movies.

     
  • YOU JUST BLEW MY MIND

  •  Thank you for this beautiful review, Eric!

    I like FAFPM more than AFOP, precisely because of just how epic and exhilarating it gets. The fight scenes build up a genuine tension – and I love that the show plays it completely straight. There's a sense of urgency injected in every scene – which makes Pierce's melancholy exit so much more poignant because it arrives after such a joyous victory.

    And I especially loved your discussion of Annie and Abed kissing. It's probably my favorite single image from the show: the way it makes use of the widescreen format and the framing of the library windows makes it look like something from a comic book. It has an instantly iconic quality to it, and yet, as you well say, it's absolutely fleeting.

    Two more things: 1. Ludwig's score is amazing throughout, and it contributes massively to the epic feel of the episode.

    2. Denny's is for winners! (why this isn't in an ad yet, is beyond me).

  • These episodes had to be played completely straight. Any winking or reveling in the absurdity of it all would have absolutely ruined the episode. It was meant to be serious, and funny as a result of that seriousness, as opposed to being funny by pointing out how serious they were being. The former is what makes Community Community. The latter would make it into Family Guy.

    I don't know if that makes sense written down, but it made sense in my head.

  • It makes sense, and I agree. Even though a lot of the jokes (like everything about Denny's) emphasize the irony of them taking a game so seriously, it's still part of the overall legit action-movie-vibe. And yeah, everything that's funny about it is because all the characters are 110% serious. Jeff tries not to be, but he still is. That aspect of it is an improvement, IMO, on "Basic Rocket Science."

  • Thanks! I pretty much just wanted to convey what you're saying here in the review, though I wound up getting hijacked by my subconscious and going in a slightly different direction. ;-)

    There's so many great single images in this episode. Almost everything involving Troy fighting "the war" feels like it could be a poster for an actual (very weird, found-footage-looking) action/adventure movie. In the end, I forgot to talk about what a great single image The Kiss is (but then again, after I used it as my avatar for so long, I guess people know what I think in that regard). But you're right, it's totally framed. Everything in the ep has a watercolor look to it, but that is the most painterly visual. (Also, because they're using the distinct Star Wars colors, but the paint is actually more of a dark color, it ends up with a cool, Godard-esque feel. Alison Brie has an Anna Karina quality to her, anyways.) 

  • The scene has an incredibly earnest feel to it. It's played with a mixture of romanticism and despair that all but annihilate the fact that this is just a paintball war where the big bad is a giant ice cream cone. And, just like in CFS, it's nearly impossible to tell how sincere Abed actually is.

    EDIT: Aw, hell, posting these fishsticks is worth an edit stamp of shame:

    http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…

    http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…

    (excellent Goddard reference, btw!)

  • In his 'Fistful' review Tuna wrote a great analysis of how Pierce is cast in a redemptive light after all the acrimony of season 2. The other side of that calls for the show to lay scorn on the group for their part in Pierce's troubles and for their entirely superficial desire to have Pierce back in the group. The preceding struggle and victory are all the more hollow for it, if they weren't to begin with, since it's just a dumb paintball game that got blown out of proportion to accommodate everything else the show had to throw at us. I think you, Eric, point to a lot of the messiness of the execution but, where you were rewarded by some of the disparate ethereal goodies, I felt FFPM's ultimate responsibility was to bring closure to that core group story.

    After Pierce rejects the invitation to come back it should be up to the group to winhim back. That was the real war of this two-part epic. Think about it, this episode totally sidelines the A story from previous episode until the end to service a new story when it should have started with Pierce's poignant goodbye followed by the group's efforts to get him back for the rest of the episode. Because for all his faults, annoyances and hostility, Pierce had become family. Instead we got what we got and they pick it up back up in Biology 101 like nothing happened, suggesting that Pierce really is irrelevant and has no value to the group, and we got a season full of a creatively exhausted character largely stumbling along on the periphery not really mattering.

  • These are good points as far as there could have been a tighter larger narrative, a more complete continuation of Pierce's arc. I find myself defending shows a lot, it seems, like all of Doctor Who, or the end of Homeland, or kinda Downton Abbey, where criticisms of the long-term plotting are valid, but the results make up for it. Maybe parts of S3 would have been better with an overall plan that addressed more lingering issues, but I don't think any other version of this ep, FaFPM, would have been better than the one we got, or at least not an episode I emotionally connected with nearly as much.

  • It's not just about post-s2, though. I'm talking about the whole point of the two-parter; isn't it odd that a focused Pierce vs group story is effectively sidelined to accelerate everything but?

  •  You seem to assume that the main story is Pierce vs. the group. It's not. The main story is the paintball war, and the way the group first approaches it as in S1 by disbanding and going at it alone, only to then have to work together. The focus is always on the group dynamic. Pierce is an important part of that dynamic, since for most of the season he has been cast as the antagonist, but he's not in any way the center of the story.

    If anything, one of the interesting implications of both episodes is that the group can only relate to Pierce as an antagonist. When he's not there, or he's not the biggest bad, they seem to forget about him completely (as do we as viewers). The show has repeatedly dropped hints throughout the season that Pierce has depth and dignity, but they were always obscured by bigger, flashier things (usually, the feeling of victory – like in Advanced D&D). The end of FAFPM finally lies this selfishness (ours, the group's) bare when Pierce leaves. But his departure (like his winning the battle for Greendale) wouldn't work nearly as well if he hadn't spent the rest of the episode on the sidelines. I really love this. It's a subtle way to play on our identification with, and sympathy for, the better looking, cooler group members, and rope us into their oblivious dismissal of Pierce.

  • Sorry, I think this is an overly generous revisionism on your part.

  •  It may be generous, but it's not revisionism. That's how I've always read the episode.

  • This was a great read. That is all. 

  • It's over, you guys. The great season two re-review is over. I believe firm pats on the back, as well as some tears, are in order. ;_; 

    This is a great review, Eric. FAFPM had so many oddly exhilarating, resonant moments. I liken it to Epidemiology's Fernando in terms of containing these scenes that are strangely powerful in spite of their absurdity. 

    Like Lloyd I'm a little disappointed at the loss of the Pierce thread and wish there had been more emphasis on it but, ultimately, I think SBT is on the money about the ending. Pierce's poignant goodbye is only really poignant because of its timing. He's won the war, he's chosen to give the money to Greendale, which at first seems tantamount to reaffirming the group. So we think we've made it safely to the other side, but no. I love the note of discord the episode ends on because it's believable that the group and Pierce, for all season's strife, would end at an impasse. Most of them still don't take Pierce quite seriously, and Pierce, as we know, has "learned very, very little." Second, it opens the group up to the possibility of real change and introspection, to seriously examine Annie's words in the previous episode about picking and choosing — where does it stop? Bio 101 kind of explodes all of that, but it doesn't retroactively make this episode's handling bad.

    Here are other little things I loved about this episode: 

    It gave us, "These guys are ballers, yo. I hope you like getting balled." I find occasion to say this every now and then.

    The chalkboard behind Troy early in the episode bears the word "peen." 

    One of Leonard's best episodes. "Britta, I’ve been in a few real wars, but this one is
    actually the most terrifying."

    Also, I heard two examples of repeated joke structures that Lloyd was trying to gather the other day. First, Troy repeats part of someone's query verbatim and it is funny. Compare, "Oh, I happen, Jeff. I happen very much" to "They couldn't be more or less identical." There's also the Dean's, "Wait, did you say 'bean'?" and "Did you say 'S'?"

  • I too caught that "Oh, I happen, Jeff" one today! I will compile a list of more than 5 of these if it's the last thing I do.

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