Episode 302: Geography of Global Conflict
Community S3E02 – Geography of Global Conflict – Review(-ish)
After an eventful premiere that set the themes and introduced the new characters for the season, we return now for an episode that is more grounded in the Greendale everyday life and that only features the main cast (Craig doesn't even dean to appear).
A quick recap of the storylines of the episode: Annie discovers she has competition (her evil twin, Asian Annie) for the spot of best student in her Poli Sci class. She decides to assure herself the top spot in the eye of Pr. Cligoris by starting a Model UN, Asian Annie beats her to it, there will now be two Model UNs competing against each other.
Jeff being protective and supportive of Annie makes it very obvious that their relationship needs to be adressed.
In the meantime, Britta rediscovers her activist roots, and faces Chang who takes his new job as a security guard very seriously.
1) Greendale Community College is about becoming who you want to be
All these characters have come to college to address something that was missing from their life, as the opening scene of the pilot had very quickly and efficiently made clear, these characters were in situations they felt constrained by and college is their way out.
For Annie, it is the straightforward education she missed out on after her breakdown, she still very much intends on taking her education (and by extension the school) seriously. Competitive by nature, she wants to be the best, and the threat represented by Annie Kim is stressing her out, and bringing out her competitive side, she doesn't resort to drugs this time, but she does end up throwing a temper tantrum. She is still very much a child.
Chang wants to be a hero, season 1 showed us his dictatorial bent, season 2 focused on his desire for acceptance if not adulation (exemplified by his day-dreaming during the pop and lock-athon), season 3 sets him on a track to join both. Right now, having recently been made depository of authority, he is planning on using it and being the toughest cop on campus. The reality of his job gets in the way (for now), but he can start living his dream thanks to
Britta who is torn between her desire to be taken seriously and be a "normal" person (why she enrolled in the first place), and the activist on the fringe of society she wishes she were. We have seen previously that she was more into words than action, that was actually one of the first things we've learned about her, back in 102. 216 again showed that she was more show than anything else (rather than her material circumstances that make her fall into the trap that Pierce sets up for her, I find more revealing that she actually cannot think with any certainty of a charity to help, she doesn't know about these things). Here, news of a friend being arrested in Syria makes her reconsider the path she was so proud of just a few seconds ago, notice however that she didn't know about it until the actual activists on campus handed her the flyer.
It also starts up a competitive side of her, she has however gone too far on the side of respectability (from a societal point of view, not personal), and her protest is not only all show and done for personal publicity, but even sets out to achieve nothing. Thankfully for her, Chang is even more delusional than she is and is hell-bent on opposing the dangerous activist, who as Jeff predicted is bad at it, the genius touches being Britta's inability to even kick down the trash can or the chair at the Model UN meeting (according to the commentary, those were not planned, but it was so perfect that they kept it).
Jeff is the one character who has evolved so much through the course of the show that his motivations and principles are now different from what they used to be. He has fully admitted his attraction to Annie, but is actively pushing against doing something about it. Back in 118 he had no problem sleeping with Pierce's ex-step-daughter (who can't have been that much older than Annie), or in 125, he was perfectly fine kissing Annie, but he has now caught the disease of caring. You can easily argue that he wants to be with her (if anything from the opening of the previous episode), but he now seems worried about it being wrong, a far cry from pilot Jeff who was arguing that right and wrong were relative, he should do what he wants, if needed he would always be able to justify it.
Jeff now wants to be a good person, according to other people's definitions. This is not entirely new, and some of his arc this season will be about completing that change, but his attempts to keep Annie at bay are a big part of that.
2) Community is having fun pretending.
One of the things the show is most famous for is the many homage episodes; and that one, while not being stylistically a pastiche of anything in partcular, finds most of the characters playing pretend in one way or another. Everything in this episode is an attempt to mimic an existing respectable model, the very obvious Model UN, Chang wanting to be a cop, and Britta trying to be a protester. But as usual, everyone is being very serious about everything, and this is where most of the humour comes from.
The Model UN becomes a serious competition for the Annies, and Pr. Cligoris is more than happy to devise rules for the new situation of the UN face-off. The highlight of the episode being the apotheosis of the seriousness/ridiculousness: Garrett shouting more and more frantically: "Crisis alert!".
In this pretend universe, there can be two earths and, of course, Abed's interest in sci-fi and pretending is what will save the day (I won't go into comparisons with Fringe because I've never seen it; on first watching the episode it seemed like a fairly standard sci-fi trope, and the writer of the episode in the commentary says that that's all it is).
Chang and Britta are equally serious in being a cop and a protester, even if they know deep down that they're not doing anything worthy of the name. We definitely don't take them seriously, Chang's badge goes: "How's my smile?", Britta when confronted admits that she will not do anything illegal, and the show adds another layer of artificiality by filming their scenes together as a rom-com, putting them on the same level and belonging together (the logical culmination and my favourite part being Chang carrying her out of the Model UN conference and Britta telling him she knew he'd come before spitting in his face).
And yet at no point are they not committed to the roles they have assigned themselves, officer Nunez eventually letting Chang indulge in his fantasy in order to help Britta avoid future potential trouble.
Annie and Jeff don't really know what they are doing, they know what they would want to do, but realise they can't. They keep pretending a relationship that now looks just as creepy if not more as the one they are avoiding (for the record, I'd personally be fine with them being together, or trying, however, with this episode, the show is now officially branding the possibility creepy).
Pretending is all well but at the end, reality needs to take control again.
Every story line is resolved by reality getting its due. Cligoris declares Annie the winner of the UN-off because her team's actions are more compatible with reality than Asian Annie's decision that remains consistent with the made-up rules of the model UN-off.
The Chang/Britta episode ends with Chang actually getting to use some force in order for Britta to realise the implications of her actions.
And Jeff and Annie realise that pretending that nothing has changed compared to when they first met is no longer possible. For them, right now, reality is normalising/denying their relationship, in spite of Annie's initial plea to keep the pretense.
All in all an episode I very much enjoyed, it gives a nice recap on some of the characters, which is probably to be expected for the second episode of the season. And in line with the show in general, no matter how silly things get, we are never in a fantasy world, we are always dealing with people, and actions have consequences.
Stray Obversations (comedic highlights):
Pr. Cligoris interrupting the argument between the Annies regarding Jeff to refocus the conversation to what really matters: the Model UN
Pierce's praise of Somalia
"Now that made me sound creepy. But here's the thing…"
"The science checks out"
"Uruguay kindly requests that Somalia stops calling it Ur-a-Gay"
More random notes about Jeff and Annie: rather interestingly, the commentary seemed to think that that focus on their relationship came from pretty much nowhere, I don't necessarily agree as there's been signs (if not more) before, it was however apparently an attempt to close that chapter, that clearly didn't work like that, if only because the following three episodes will still mention or at least hint at a relationship.
I don't necessarily have wishes for them to go with it or not, the hesitation is also believable, I'm sure the creative team will do what feels right for them and we can judge then. But I wish they didn't make such an issue of the age difference, it's there, it also happens in real life, Annie is now in her twenties (not to mention that Alison Brie looks nothing like Annie's age), and while still immature in some respects, she is a bit more together than Jeff.