Episode 302: Geography of Global Conflict

Community3x02_0670
 

 

CRISIS ALERT!!!!

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.

On the AV Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/advanced-introduction-to-finality,97134/#comment-962647059 (page 132)

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Discussion

  • I don't think the focus on J/A came out of nowhere. The season literally opened on Jeff daydreaming about being with her.

    I always refer to Somalia now as "The tropical paradise of Somalia" and I really appreciate Community providing that.

  • Did they mean that from the writers' perspective it came out of nowhere? Based on stuff I've heard them say (ok, based on stuff I've seen Bobrow tweet), I really don't think they realized how much shipper-fodder they were continually giving Jeff and Annie, nor do I think they realized how that relationship seemed to be building as the series went on. 

  • Bobrow came out and admitted in the commentary that most of the J/A interaction in this episode (most notably their talk at the end) didn't make any sense given their established history.

  • I was always confused by the confusion in the commentary.  I think it was Gillian who said something like, "Did Jeff and Annie have a thing over the summer?"  And I'm like, "Huh?  They're not acting like they're dating, they're acting like friends who are attracted to each other and have danced around the possibility of a relationship, i.e., what they are."

  • I thought that was very weird that they said that in the commentary, as it's been a long time coming.

    Maybe they meant they were giving it a closer focus than they ever had, and that they felt wasn't quite warranted. Even 125 (which I very much disliked when I first saw it, that I thought came out of nowhere) and its resolution (which I was anxiously expecting and happy enough with) was almost done in passing compared to this episode.

    The first five episodes of the season at least mention a relationship between the two of them, I wonder if they decided to do something with it after noticing it existed, but weren't quite sure what. 
    They didn't build enough on top of this episode (one way or another) for me to think it was a way for them to buy time, and give the shippers a bone.

  • I think J/A being picked back up in Poli Sci after APS seemingly ended it was more out of nowhere.

  • Boutros Boutros-Ghali?!

    Remember how this episode was ranked 69/71 (65 from me)? Thank goodness for season 4? I feel like I'm going to be saying that a lot through this, because I'm finding it hard to see what's SO wrong with this now. I always found it one of the funnier season 3 episodes just because it wasn't bogged down by all the season 3-ness.

    Jeff's sudden use of 'kiddos' was really weird and forced. As we all know, Andy Bobrow hated that plot and the irony is that Bobrow actually intended for it to squash the 'ship. Poor Andy just doesn't like Jannie and he was burdened with trying to make something of it ("Justify this shit!" – Gillian on the commentary).

    username too long makes a good point about Chang and Britta being natural foes, as outlandish as the plot was. They've had a beef going back to the beginnings and they played well off each other.

  • That it was meant to put an end to the ship was the thing that surprised me most when listening to the commentary. If only because that absolutely didn't do that and the following three episodes will feature them as a couple or potential couple in one way or another. If anything I now have more of a problem with it that I ever had, as I didn't necessarily feel it needed to be justified.

    I wouldn't be able to rank episodes, but I'd be curious as to what was disliked about it. Is it the awkward way they treated Jeff and Annie?

    I was at times wondering if I wasn't trying too hard to shoehorn the episode within the lines I was setting, but I feel this episode is fairly representative of the show as a whole. My main issue would be that more characters than usual are being sidelined, but that's always bound to happen with that big a cast, and everyone is making the most of what they have.

  • Here's the group ranking we did of the first three seasons
    http://aclockworkoffense.com/g…

    302 was part of this group
    http://aclockworkoffense.com/g…

  • Thank you for that (and to Capt. Blicero too).
    I'll have to check it out in more details later.

    That's a lot more thought than I've ever given the series. Even if there are episodes I didn't quite like on first seeing them, I usually come around later and on rewatches I can't think of any episode I'd skip.

    I'll have to check the CWT comments in particular, I can definitely remember a few moments in that one that I loved.

  • I couldn't get aclockwork to load, again, so here's the full list and details: link.

  • Good point about Chang and Britta's history guys– it really does go all the way back to S1 doesn't it?

    TURN ON HER:
    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    And the very first "You're the worst":
    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    Take about your mongoose and your snake combo.

  • And the unprovoked "ugh" at each other here:http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…

    • jmunney

      Good call about this one being funny.  While I liked Season 4 more than most, I would agree that it had on average fewer laughs than S1-3.  Even a lesser pre-Season 4 episode like this one had moments like Annie jerking the straw around, "Crisis Alert!", Cligoris looking so happy as he realizes that his night is going to be spent coming up with the Model U.N. contest rules, and Annie's tantrum (which, even if you have problems with on a character consistency level, you gotta admit is a great example of committing completely to a physical bit).

    • Adding to Shinigami's DoppelDeaner count,

      – Annie Kim aka Asian Annie aka Annie's "evil twin", foreshadowing the Evil Timeline
      – Earth 2 and the alternate Model UN
      – As username too long points out, the characters themselves are playing pretend to deal with some deep-seated issues.
      – Do Garrett's floating heads count?

    • It's SEASON 3!  Everything counts! /cheer
      We can even view the graphics used here as Harmon pushing the chaos to the forefront again to mess with the audience and break our comfort zone up.  So many cartoon-ish interludes and stills used this Season:

      http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

      http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

      http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

      http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

      So it's a highly stylized version of the show being inserted on top of the one we've grown so accustomed too– making things unsettling and artificial.

    • It's SEASON 3!  Everything counts! /cheer

      of course not everything counts! jesus, SAM, are you on coke?

    • Stellar review /cheer.  I really like your point about Jeff being so evolved and different from the way he used to be at this point in his interactions with Annie and the other characters this episode– it gives me this vibe of the following for him here:

      If Earth² can be viewed as the destination for the new self this season, it's like Jeff's stuck between his farting immature Earth One self and who he wants to be but doesn't know how to be in his Earth² self.  Goes all the way back to that pivotal conversation between Annie and Jeff in Pascal's Triangle Revisited about wanting to have multiple versions of themselves to live out all their impulses and sides.  Now Jeff's not as fractured internally as he's been in the past– but he's still unstuck because he doesn't know how to push forward yet.  So he's staying in this holding pattern and that's what makes his interactions with Annie so particularly awkward. This season's about moving forward no matter what chaos lies ahead Jeff- stop farting around!

      I will give praise to the conversation he had with Annie in COST in Season 4 as an Earth² flipside of the conversation he has with her here (NOTE BELOW THEY'RE EVEN ON OPPOSITE SIDES OF THE COUCH NOW):

      http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

      http://farm8.staticflickr.com/…

      They've crossed over and can converse amicably without all this unnecessary friction (relatively speaking since S4 obviously had its issues in that department too– I'm just saying COST's denouement wasn't one of them in my opinion).

      Also /praise Martin Starr for giving an ace performance with the limited screen time he has here.  Ton of classics here still used today ("The science works out!  (whispers) we did it!  Well… don't actually look that up!").  

      Season 3 Doppeldeaner Counter for this episode:

      There's of course, Earth 1 and Earth², the two UN groups, Annie and Annie Kim, and the past selves of everyone in this episode fighting the future parts of them that want to change (Earth 1 Britta vs. Earth² Britta, Chang, Annie, etc).  And note the theme of performing a meaningless symbolic gesture in trying to marry these selves together, yet it's by trying to do this no matter how meaningless that we change into something better, more real, and transcend the Annie Kim(s) out there who remain static in their determination and ambition.

      Britta and her activist friend of whom she's jealous.  Chang and Nunez.  
      Nunez's speech about a real cop vs. a fake cop, Pierce's version of Somalia as a tropical paradise vs. the reality; the connotation of Georgia in Troy's head as having southern accents regardless of being the Eastern European nation.  And Troy and Abed trying to play a mock version of Operation using Pierce in the Study Room coda.  And of course we have the multiple connotation for Uruguay and Pierce's homosexual slur to Jeff.

      The only other thing that comes to mind is how cool the foreshadowing here is with Abed insisting "we can't ignore Earth² forever– it's out there."  Sure it's a simple joke– but we also see subtlely to the extent Abed's been racking his brain so far this season about all the different versions of actions and people there are out there– so many ways for everything to fall apart if you don't play things JUST right to maintain balance.  The change that is Earth² is something theoretically he doesn't want to ignore, and he's part of that solution here– but Abed really doesn't want change to happen in reality, that's for sure.

      The only discussion question I had is whether the couch conversation fits in with the Annie/Jeff timeline from Debate 109/Pascal's Love Triangle Revisited to COST or if the general consensus for everyone here is the writers blew it here just to get a quick resolution to a trumped up conflict.  I think there was a kernel of a good idea here that just had shaky execution and it still fits with the Annie/Jeff dynamic we know from before and after this– but that study couch conversation is pretty roundabout and aimless.  

      And username too long already discussed this comprehensively and set up the discussion for it perfectly as is /cheer.   The only other piece I can contribute is relatively speaking, the lack of development for Annie this season period trumps the awkwardness of the Annie/Jeff conversation here by leaps and bounds, but that's not much of a consolation, is it?  Oh well.

      A great read /praise– and watch out for Earth² username too short– our unchanged and overchanged selves are always lurking, waiting to overtake our inner stability!  (translation: I just love using ² ascii code and this is the only chance I'll get to do it all year, sorry!…. Earth² Earth² Earth² Earth² Earth² Earth²!).

    • What the hell was I thinking trying to do the DoppelDeaner list myself?

      *bows*

    • can we all just sit back and marvel at the name "cligoris" for a while?

    • Kid Tested- Hitler Approved likes this post?

    • I don't think there's much else to discuss for this one. Anyone have random stuff to share?

      Annie poo-pooing Annie Kim
      -Alison and Donald's physical comedy bit with the straw and cup was a great visual gag
      http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
      http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…
      -I loved every one of Nunez' scenes in his three episodes. His line readings were so great. Mel Rodriguez was one of the saving graces of Running Wilde. I'd like to know the story behind the extended parking gate convo because it was really random.
      -An adorable Chang fishstick: http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…. This was the best Chang was all season, where "best" is defined as me not wanting to murder him.
      -"The science works out" would have been a classic line in a better episode.

    • I just want to add that "Ready…set…PEACE!" is such an underappreciated joke. (And the look of glee on Martin Starr's face is priceless.)

    • This is a fine episode. It's not great, and it's definitely underwhelming by Community standards – it's pretty much completely inessential, which is unusual for Season 3. It almost feels like it's trying to be an early Season 1 episode with its simplicity, but it doesn't have the elegant structure or strong character-grounded feel that made S1 what it was. The entire A-plot ending in one big fart joke was also pretty lame and below Community's standards, and the Jeff/Annie stuff felt really, really forced.

      But it's still a fun episode to watch, with two generally well-constructed plots and a lot of solid jokes. Out of the bottom tier Season 3 episodes, I think I prefer this to something like Contemporary Impressionists or Course Listing Unavaliable, because its biggest crime was just that it didn't aim as high as we were used to from the show at that time. All in all, there's not much about it that's overly offensive, and parts of it are really hilarous. Like LloydBraun said, the lower quality of Season 4 really makes me appreciate some of these "weaker" S1-3 episodes.

    • I think quite a bit of the low stakes can be attributed to its place in the running order. The show has always been struggling to increase its audience, and it probably seemed a wise decision to have something fairly basic that had something to do with community college for potential newcomers to the show. What I assume would also have been one of the reasons for pushing back Remedial Chaos Theory.