Episode 304: Remedial Chaos Theory
Picking an iconic image for this episode is the easiest part of this whole review. Heck, this image could stand in for Season 3 itself (if not the whole show):
Prologue– a picture tells a thousand words (and it better because this is gonna take awhile so I need all the help I can get condensing things) :
It's a tale of two study tables, essentially.
A tale of two meetings in the evening– the time of the Pilot when the group''s creation was sparked as Steve the Pencil got snapped, and this evening when that die gets caught and all those possibilities for failure get pushed aside, albeit temporarily.
In the former, everyone's a little lost and embrace change for the better– what have they got to lose. In the latter, fear of change is the theme for the season– and it's a relief to the audience and the people in the shot when chaos is kept at bay.
You have the gang we love, in a place of comfort, yet everything is slightly off. Troy's assertion of manhood places him in the way of Jeff's usual adjacent seat to Annie, Shirley and Pierce are stuck in the rear view mirror of the group trajectory (not to mention Shirley and Pierce have swapped positions somewhat), and Britta never truly fits in anywhere (so she's just sort of inserted).
They're prosperous in school (no Dean Spreck antics or high stakes shennigans as of yet), but still on edge. They're playing a game where they don't even understand the rules ("OK! How to play Yahtzee…"). And as Abed says, they're trying to navigate this game together even when they excel (Pierce finding peace but losing Troy, Shirley gaining back Andre but feeling left out, Annie having independence but feeling apprehensive about her future, etc).
And MOST importantly– the two people who truly brought this group together, Jeff and Abed sharing eye contact. The two halves of Harmon– respectively externally and internally embracing the world with humor and pop culture filtering, sincerity and logic, both trying to make sense of things. But in this case, these are the two people holding the group back the most. One's keeping the group in stasis as a referee when he used to primarily serve as The Watcher– the other has the potential to act selflessly and keep things together but just doesn't know how to step forward the way he is right now. The majority of this review will focus on the referee– Abed.
I believe each Season of Community has a character who serves a dual role as primary protagonist and antagonist (who also features prominently in the paintball event for each season). Jeff being the central character of the series has the longest and most drawn out character arc to be sure, but his journey is most prominent in Season 1. Pierce gets his biggest and sharpest arc in Season 2. And Season 3 is all about the internal struggle for Abed.
I'll develop this point to a much stronger degree in just a moment, but I don't want to leave this awesome fishstick just yet– there's one more point to convey before proceeding.
Abed's words in this scene tell his whole story for the season– this die catch is his own personal Psychology of Letting Go moment, truly. He's saying Mother Pierce's words, but also holding Pierce's insecurities and delusions of control and stability amidst chaos.
"Chaos already dominates enough of our lives. The universe is an endless sea of randomness. Our job isn't to fight it, but to weather it, together– on the raft of life… It won't matter what happens to us as long as we stay honest and accepting of each other's flaws and virtues."
These words mirror speeches Season 1 Abed has given in the past– inspiring, poignant, and gripping– but they're just words. Abed needs to learn this Season that knowing the path is one thing– having the courage to accept the path for all its high and lows and taking it is an entirely different thing. It'd be like Bilbo Baggins writing There and Back Againwithout actually having gone anywhere– platitudes and uplifting statements with none of the weight of life's trials and tribbulations to bolster it. The blade needs to be tested in the fire sometime, Abed.
He SAYS they all have to weather chaos together, but he STILL grabbed that die– he still prevented the chaos. He talks of the conniving crafty nature of Jeff, but poor Abed /comfort. Abed himself has devised a system during this episode wherein he can try to keep everyone together without leaving anything to chance or making it seem like he's trying to control things. His actions show his struggle even when his words are all about enduring that struggle together. He has to learn to let that die go– everything will be ok.
Final point for this Prologue– one set of images that perplexed me over and over since my first RCT viewing:
My thoughts from the first viewing of this episode: "This episode is unbelievable– but why show this shot here? Why stop the action in this crazy timeline for that one shot of Abed course-correcting his Indy figurine?"
Here's my final analysis after years thinking on this in the back of my head: Regardless of if you want to view this episode as truly separate timelines or all in Abed's head (and frankly, the episode's so fucking awesome it works perfectly both ways), if the prior iconic image notes Season 3 in all its glory, this image of Abed course-correcting is the symbol for Abed in this episode and Season– his neurosis. Even in total chaos, even if it's all in his mind in a simulation– he HAS to have everything in its place– he has to keep this raft from falling apart. And those shots are a tip of the hat to that.
Minor digression within this prologue digression: Frank Oz's The Score : decent caper movie highlighted by Edward Norton, Robert De Niro, and Marlon Brando all sharing screen time. In the film, Edward Norton plays a con posing as an inside man to get info on the secure Montreal Customs House to steal a valuable relic– his act/con is that of a mentally handicapped, friendly, unassuming janitor named Brian. Just prior to the heist, Edward Norton as the arrogant Jack buys shoes for the job and then pretends for the final time to be Brian amongst the Customs House crew. His inside man's best bud in the place says, "HEY Brian– those are some really nice shoes." "Thank you, Danny– I know." Frank Oz in the commentary admits the awesomeness in this performance here in that it's the arrogance of Jack in the guise of Brian because Jack– he can't help being himself when he's got his eyes set on the prize all to himself. Jack being Jack as Brian.
Abed's actions in these images reminds me of that– even in an alternate history where Pierce is dying, his apartment's on fire, and they all have that shared history of the chloroform moment ("Ok I usually have only one foot in reality and even I'm freaking out right now"), or EVEN in a simulation of a possible timeline– Season 3 Abed has to be Season 3 Abed. This Indy effigy has to be here– got to keep everything together. And again, the journey this episode marks is one where Abed learns to listen to his own words and believe them– truly accept them in his life.
Part I: Holy Shit, wait… there are multiple parts? The Protagonist/Antagonist System of Community :
To be clear and comprehensive to start– everyone at that Study Table (+ Dean and Chang at least if not Greendale itself), has a Hero's Journey ahead of them from Day One. But the actions, the INTERactions, the plot, and the driving force of those journeys ebb and flow into one another– usually with one prominent journey in the foreground for each season. For my money– it's Jeff in Season 1, Pierce in Season 2, Abed in Season 3. And I just want to illustrate this quickly to emphasize WHAT's going on to Abed in Season 3 to make Remedial Chaos Theory so special, such a marker for his journey and that of the show.
Jeff's happened first obviously, but Pierce's journey is the easiest to depict in short form, so I'm going to do Season 2 first, then use that template to reflect on the other two Protagonist/Antagonist candidates.
A character exists– something happens to change that character– they fight and eventually accept that change, and then fight who they were, and then they're truly who they were AND who they've become– and then they move on to the next journey, and so on.
Psychology of Letting Go — Pierce's mom dies and he can't let go. Simple as that. He is fragmented, shattered, and desolate inside. What makes him him at this point? She gave unconditional love when no one else would be his friend, wife, or step child throughout the decades. His Season 1 complacency and words of wisdom– were they real thoughts he held or just echos from her trying to help him over the years (the umbilical cord story, etc)? What does he have left?
Pierce has a renewed adolescence (the B plot of Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples), he fights against the Piercenault identity his father thrust upon him (bashing Colonel Sanders, his loneliness at Christmas where he shares a moment with Abed, his desperation for attention in Celebrity Pharmocology). He rebels against his friends for fear of losing them (AD&D, IDF, heck the whole latter half of Season 2). And then when he finally loses everything, he finds himself and realizes Greendale is his center– now he has a new starting place of unconditional support and love. He's not fixed– he'll never be fixed. But he's no Piercenault either– he's Pierce Hawthorne, perpetual student of Greendale Community College. And his victory of the Paintball tournament symbolizes the conclusion to that journey.
Jeff's Psychology of Letting Go in Season 1 is obviously a mixture of the Pilot with Home Economics among other great moments– letting go of the first shell of Jeff Winger© and trying to find the human Jeff underneath the lawyer persona/defense mechanism. His relationship with Britta symbolizes the impetus/catalyst and a sort of divining rod throughout the season for progress in finding a real Jeff buried beneath duplicity (but in a human, organic way and not a "Jeff Winger thinks he knows everything but he'll find out soon DERPITY DERP DERP" cliche).
Advanced Criminal Law is that first marker– Jeff helps Britta and stresses it's out of friendship, not lust. And she believes him. And even though from the Pilot forward he was trying to find a way to break her down and "find a road in there," when the awkwardness of her drunken dial does break things down to his advantage in Communication Studies— he just wants balance restored (the Slater romance helps ground his reasoning but if Jeff Winger© wanted Britta at all costs, the Bootynater would have gone for it, no question).
It's a reversal of Pierce's arc in a way– being his lawyer persona does nothing for Jeff– and he doesn't need it to be accepted– allowing his inner sincerity to come out instead of defensive cynicism (he'll worry about losing everything MUCH later in Season 3). And it culminates partially in Modern Warfare and completely in the transition from Pascal's Love Triangle Revisited (his speech to Annie) to Anthropology 101 (the moment with Starburns where he realizes truly he's not the same Jeff he was a year ago– he wants respect and friendship).
MW is that tipping point though– Jeff and Britta commensurate all that season long sexual tension– but they don't lose their friendship– and Jeff does the right thing– not to placate Britta but because it's the right thing to help Shirley and he doesn't have to prove the world is full of bull**** anymore just to justify his lawyer defense mechanism (the world is full of lying, sucky people so it's okay for me not to care about them– he doesn't HAVE to make that concession anymore). The first part of his Intro to Finality transformation at that point hath begun.
And now we come to Abed in Season 3 (and I swear, we're ALMOST to discussing the actual darn episode, sorry folks). I talked WAY WAY back about Abed saying one thing in Season 1 and DOING another thing in Season 3. Let's get down to specifics here with his journey:
Abed Season 1 PE: "That's why I was willing to change for you guys. When you really know who you are and what you like about yourself, changing for other people isn't such a big deal."
Abed Season 3 DEoID: "I shouldn't have to compromise my craftsmanship to placate mediocrity."
But I thought the point of the fort was for Abed and Troy to spend time together and enjoy each other's company?
Abed Season 1 : "We are– BEST friends. That's why we shouldn't be roommates– we'll end up fighting, and putting a masking tape down the middle of our room…. if you and I move in, that'll Jump the Shark– that'll end it."
Abed Season 3 CI:
"Troy: You're gonna have to trust that… you're gonna have to trust me. "
Abed: "Well.. I don't want to stop being your friend so… I guess I'll let you tell me what to do sometimes."
If Abed Season 1 was so certain that he and Troy needed to be separated to keep things together, then why does he move in with Troy at the start of Season 3?
Not to mention Season 1 Abed didn't even invite Annie to the Study Group in the Pilot, but here he is in Season 3 inviting her to move in, and without discussing it with Troy first, to boot.
And on top of all that– how many times has Abed directly intervened in the actions of the group from Season 1 up to Season 3? Compared to how often Abed gets involved with everything from the background in Season 3 itself? It goes up CONSIDERABLY in Season 3.
Point is– The Abed of Season 1 who filters everything through TV as his language for embracing and connecting with the world and people IS a shaman– but untested. Season 2 tests Abed and he breaks— then the study group fills that void (much as it does with Jeff in Season 2).
And here, I believe, is the Event Horizon for that shift (he can't separate himself from the Study Group at this point):
He loses the stability of his pattern, his ritual in bonding with his mother– his centre is slightly cracked, and he filters that pain through TV– Christmas is still here as a special– Greendale is my Christmas special. Abed's life is now NBC's Community©. And then it ends with this:
The Study Group becomes his filter– becomes his #1 show– becomes his point of stability for facing life (or at least a key fixture of that). Before AUC, Abed's looking for sitcom plots in S2, trying to be Jesus, trying to be Robocop, connecting with Cougartown and Apollo 13 (and childhood nostalgia therein), and talking about Farscape because it's really fun talking about Farscape.
After AUC? Abed stays out of Jeff's texting shenanigans, course corrects like crazy to keep things stable as the impartial DM in AD&D, maintains his romance with Troy in ECR, and only uses pop culture as a focal point for connecting with Jeff the way he tried to use chicken fingers and Goodfellas to connect with his friends in CAP.
Even in CWT– he wants to take Who's the Boss seriously to discover the pathology and history of it all– who's in control of things (not trying to read too deep here– just saying it's not Season 1 Abed– he's shifting– trying to find a way to handle the chaos). Sure, he gets his grand western/Star Wars adventure but the campus almost breaks apart as a result. That's where we are in our reality– our perspective going into Season 3.
Part II: The Mind of Season 3 Abed as a Protagonist/Villain: WE HAVE TO GO DEEPER:
So we've made it to Season 3– a lot of crazy stuff has happened, and Abed hooks up with Troy, gets the construction approved for his Dreamatorium by playing Dinosaurs vs. Riverboat Gamblers. He has a place to daydream in his own way similar to Jeff's dream at the beginning of the season– projections of what he'd like to have happen versus the contingencies and chaos that can break everything down. And Abed has to know his time with the group and Troy is limited.
So I'm betting he looks back on everything that led to this moment, JUST before Biology 101. As such, I'm going on an Inception leap here and trying to view Season 1–>Season 2 events through Abed's mind of Season 3.
Community Events Analyzed By Season 3 "The Watcher" Abed :
Premise– "What if I didn't trade cards with Jeff to get that shirt I'd been eyeing since registration?"
Analysis: Abed doesn't end up partnering with Troy. There's a strong chance Pierce would pay Troy to switch cards, but regardless– it's either Troy and Jeff or Pierce and Jeff but with a different conclusion to the project's events. No Britta speech= no Jeff conversion. No Troy project with Abed= no comradery established with La Biblioteca song. With Pierce shamed or failing to bond with Jeff, the lightning rod is gone. Lightning strikes everywhere.
Conclusion: If I didn't trade for Jeff's shirt, the group would have broken apart.
Premise– "What if I didn't help Jeff drunk dial Britta back?"
Analysis: The awkwardness Britta feels would be so equitable to the self loathing and self destructiveness of her actions when cheating earlier in "the season" that she'd most likely leave the group or do something to necessitate her departure– better to fail on her own terms then have everyone break her down (note when Britta expresses this self doubt later, and on her own terms to the group– she is instead accepted and overcomes it– thinking she is helping and being accepted when she fails keeps her going). Jeff loses interest in the group, everyone's beliefs and goals become divergent. Tainted soil.
Conclusion: If I didn't help Jeff there, the group would have broken apart.
Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples
Premise– "What if I didn't reciprocate Shirley's selflessness?"
Analysis: Shirley has her baby, finds no one in the group will lend her an ear to her beliefs or her character– she's just an archetype to these guys and an extra grunt for their busy diorama work. She departs and the group loses the most giving person it has. Even if she stays– doing her movie had a side effect- it kept Duncan on track by declaring the internet broken by Abed– potentially gets him on the wagon.
Without the need to actually teach and focus on a task (as opposed to blatantly goofing off) at this exact point and time– maybe he gets fired in the Fall. Maybe he doesn't push Fat Neil with his "actuarial standpoint" comment to setup the events of the AD&D game. Maybe he's not there for Shirley's pregnancy and things go awry. Maybe the group's grade gets invalidated and in frustration everyone breaks apart. Too many variables to discern what would "really" happen– but it's certain all possible results ARE bad.
Conclusion: If I didn't reciprocate Shirley's deed with the movie, the group would have fallen apart.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
Premise– "What if I didn't create Kyle the Gnome Waiter?"
Analysis: Factually proven– Britta needs to feel she is helping– an essential function of her character. Corollary from previous premise– coming to something on her own terms allows her to relent as opposed to approaching her directly (which causes her to self destruct or push against authority in a destructive manner). Without a problem to solve in her own way (being the only person who speaks Gnome and cares about the plight of his diminished social standing), she keeps interjecting in Neil's journey. Pierce wins and/or Neil leaves depressed, and the group instead of pitying Pierce exiles him immediately. Pierce doesn't win paintball– the whole campus becomes a City College extended parking lot.
Conclusion: Every time I don't act when I could– the group can fall apart or worse. And that can't keep happening. This show needs an Executive Producer.
And there we have it– Abed in Season 3 viewing his past actions– whenever he chose to act– chaos was averted– the group stability was maintained, and they could still be happy together. He can't let that change– too much has changed already.
So we enter Season 3 Abed's mind frame from Biology 101 to Remedial Chaos Theory— Pierce doesn't mind being the lightning rod, but he doesn't HAVE to be it anymore to be fulfilled. He's content to be a Greendale student. Shirley has Andre back and a chance at her dreams on her own terms. She doesn't need the group's acceptance and affection (though she still wants it and wants a focal point for her gifts and her love).
The parallel path Abed travels with Troy is reaching rocky ground– Troy can ascend to the heavens but Abed can only change so much– he has to keep things stable or the group will "fall apart." Annie has her independence and doesn't necessarily need Jeff or anyone else to be fulfilled, but she still has anxiety and trepidation on choosing the future path for her driven nature. In the same day she could bond the group together on an activity and just as soon break everything apart because she's decided she "found the real Annie." She needs a homing beacon. Jeff was the center of the group's admiration and stability– even when he brought tension everyone was bound for or against his actions– now everyone seems fragmented and Jeff doesn't want to be Jeff Winger© anymore, but he doesn't know how to change. And Britta is… Britta.
Not to beat the point to death– but AGAIN– Abed says he wants to accept everyone as they are and that's how to weather this storm, but what do his actions suggest this season? Even the most altruistic one that comes to mind (helping the Dean out in DF: Redux) is poignant and beautiful but ironically in light of all this serves as a symbol of Abed's anxiety this season.
Premise: if the Dean self destructs, who will help keep the group focused on fun shenanigans and keep the campus secure? The group will fall apart.
I don't say this to diminish Abed's wonderful act there– just to point out this isn't the Abed from Season 1– he's not JUST helping people now that he's learned to connect with them beyond the camera– he's acting to help because he NEEDS to as well.
That need to not only be The Watcher but also the Executive Producer for this season drives so many of this season's episodes, doesn't it? Regional Holiday Music, where Abed just wants the holiday happiness backs (if AUC made the chaos go away then, why can't it do it again?). Contemporary Impressionists , where Abed ODs on pop culture the same way Pierce ODed on attention whoring in Celebrity Pharmacology in his own S2 protagonist/villain arc. His insistence (note the INSISTENCE) that people focus on watching Blade during Origins of Vampire Mythology. Shipping only leads to chaos– let Britta be Britta and she'll come back. His clashes with Annie Part I (Nocturnal Vigilantism) and Part II (Virtual Systems Analysis), where he starts to mend himself.
And of course, Pillows and Blankets, Curriculum Unavailable, and Introduction to Finality. He finally battles the study group externally, in his fractured way. Succeeding in Paintball (not necessarily winning but being the victor of the Paintball scene depicted) only underscores the hollowness of Abed's actions this whole season. And ITF gives Abed his renewed center after losing everything. He's inadvertently breaking the group apart and hurting himself in the process– and all he wants this season is for them to stay together. It's heart wrenching. And Remedial Chaos Theory is a brilliant, subtle microcosm of ALL that– no joke. I'm going to analyze the episode now (FINALLY) under the filter of it being a series of predictions/constructions in Abed's mind– but really, as separate realities or as figments of Abed's creativity– Abed's the hero and the villain here.
Part III – Actual Episode!
PART III– We Finally Get to the Actual Episode (YAY!) :
OK, for ease of discussion and analysis, I'm breaking this down in the following manner:
But first– the mastermind behind the gifts and the invitations. Who's most likely to have orchestrated this housewarming party? Abed notes they "read a book on how to be the perfect party hosts." Not to knock Troy in any way/shape/form, and Abed's not necessarily studious himself (their coda with the fire alarm to avert failing a final comes to mind), but if Troy's primary student method is the following:
My guess is the impetus for this party was Abed's. Sure, Troy wants to be seen as a man, but he's just as happy to be Abed's playmate. And sooner or later Troy will try to break away and do his own thing anyway.
BUT– if Abed suggests to Troy to get a housewarming party organized (coupled with their registry at Linens n Things from Biology 101), it'll be Troy's idea to be a man and host a party for his very own place– but with Abed's Executive Producer skills at play. TheRaiders of the Lost Ark set in the middle of the apartment? Even the Dreamatorium by comparison is hidden away (since that's what's most essential to Abed's calculations for the group's stability). No way is some girl coming back to Troy's place and necking in front of that (not that there aren't girls into Raiders, just saying within the confines of sitcom plotting even in Community's organic world– and from Abed's mindframe viewing the world AS a sitcom– this plan is fullproof). Troy comes up with the plan because of Abed, and Abed helps him keep everyone together. Plus Troy's in such proximity to Abed he can keep a beat on things and prevent chaos from intervening at every step and turn in their relationship. Win-Win.
Next we have the gifts everyone presents to Troy and Abed. This is my favorite symbolism for the episode and just a real pleasure to analyze, I must say. Even if the Set Design weren't extradordinary for this apartment (and it IS and then some), we have gifts as thought out as the costumes from all the past Halloween specials.
Shirley's giving but also trying to insert herself into the group's activities from a pivotal standpoint– she must cook for them.
Annie gives a gift of hope and prosperity. A plant takes life in exchange for life and grows with the warmth of the apartment it inhabitats– its everything she hopes for the future and for Troy and Abed.
Britta's is a shiny package that could have anything underneath– a fancy card, a donation made in their name, a controversial CD or book– the point is Britta's Britta this season– she doesn't need justification or a cause anymore– she's just giving herself and while she's the most chaotic to Abed, she's also the one most content this season (next to Pierce and Shirley).
If we go by the deleted scenes and drafts, Troy's gift could either be his RELEASE THE KRAKEN plumbing skills or the sheer enthusiasm he provides for the group– the spearhead for playing games and telling the group just how important they are to his current happiness. To Abed, Troy's mere presence IS enough as a gift.
Conversely, Jeff just brings himself, and Abed had to trick him into showing up and staying (again, a parallel to the end of the episode where Abed taking control of the situation internally puts Jeff in a bad light externally towards the rest of the group). Back in Spanish 101, Jeff's presence alone was enough to get everyone but Britta to cheer him on with endless adoration. Now– only Pierce acknowledges him, and at this point just to share his Serbian Rum.
And Pierce is content Pierce, but he's still got that sinister spiteful side beneath. The Troll Doll trap ready to be sprung when/if needed, and the "OMG I'm such a rebel and STILL RELEVANT" alcohol to try to gain any attention from his fellow buddies. Like Shirley, he doesn't need it to complete himself anymore, but that doesn't mean he doesn't still desire it and gain joy from ANY attention received.
I think it goes without saying that if this episode were just the gang exchanging gifts and playing Yahtzee, we'd still give it an A+- the interactions and cohesiveness of their discussions with the rest of the show's history is just so vibrant and beautfiul. But then the pizza boy shows up. And a new Premise/Analysis/Conclusion MUST take place in Abed's head to avert chaos. And Remedial Chaos Theory takes us fully into the fear and anxiety of Abed for Season 3. This is Remedial Abed Theory.
Shirley and Abed :
Pre-Die Roll– let's let the picture set things up.
"We ordered REAL pizza."
Even if we don't include the draft with the Hannibal Lecter homage– Abed's not the Shaman from S1 here, is he? Not by a long shot. This Abed's scary and he doesn't mess around. But the show doesn't dwell on it– it immediately undercuts the tension because its point has been made– Abed wants things to go a certain way tonight. This party is to keep everyone together and happy– this isn't Shirley's party, it's the GROUP'S party (as controlled by Abed).
Actions during the Die Rolls–
I'm going to go out on a limb here and submit that Shirley might not even have a problem with baking, or that at the very least it might not be so pronounced as it is in her timeline.
Again, Jeff and Abed are partners this season– the former has externalized fear of change and takes an ax to a table, the latter internalizes his doubts and acts indirectly. Jeff doesn't step up in any of the other timelines to push anyone around directly so negatively, period. He pushes back against Troy's manhood to make himself feel better about his own stagnation and insecurities. He pushes back against Annie's advances with his cynicism and awkwardness. He pushses back against Britta so she won't do her sing-a-long. But he outright shuts Shirley's plans down, period.
So I assert and posulate the following: This Jeff in Shirley's timeline is Abed speaking through Jeff. He's anxious about Shirley trying to bake for the group and take the reins away from him. So this vision of things that might happen when Shirley's away is Abed venting about how they must keep her from trying to dominate the group's agenda– to stop everything from being about her baked goods in exchange for love– she's not taking the hints.
But as listed above in my earlier parts for this review, this is EXACTLY what Abed's trying to do this season– domintate things (but "for the good of the group"). Shirley wants to help the group and be a part of things by baking– Abed wants to help things in his own way as well. But there can be only one cook in this kitchen. It wouldn't surprise me if Abed made sure Shirley sat close to him after the pizza incident so he could keep an eye on things– I mean if she's baking, wouldn't she want Pierce's seat (most adjacent with eye-line to the stove)? Plus it'd match the Study Table's usual setup more with her between Annie and Pierce. Food for thought.
And what of the events of this specific timeline– did we EVER see the gang bash Shirley's cooking or pushing her goods BEFORE this episode? Did we EVER see the gang bash Shirley's actions to give to the group with her pastries AFTER this episode?
Off the top of my head, there's the pivotal example of pushing faith and religion inComparative Religion, and her pushing the cosmetics on the gang (Abed included) inParadigms of Human Memory. But that's IT. What's to say Abed didn't take these earlier events and conclude that this one infraction (Shirley trying to contribute to the rarer and rarer group outings she can attend post pregnancy with some baked goods) was emblematic of a greater epidemic on the horizon? And if Abed doesn't act– the group might fall apart. And who better to voice this concern than Abed's chosen external protagonist, Jeff?
Post Die Catch–
Shirley wants to insert herself into things. I'll give Abed that. Shirley wants to still have a reason to see these people and be the person who didn't need Andre and who could run her own business if she wanted and who learned all this by being with these people. No question.
But Abed himself said, Shirley's giving. The Shirley after the Die Catch got to sing-along sure, but I don't think she needed the pies to keep from breaking down. I think Abed just saw it that way. That's not to say she wouldn't get upset the way she did in her timeline over their getting burnt. And that's not to say her cooking isn't important to her.
All I'm saying is what Abed is saying, BUT doesn't himself believe… yet– Shirley is giving. So, if the group is happy, and it comes at the expense of her pies, that's just the way it goes. THIS is the Shirley who humbled Abed in Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples. She did relent on the pizza without a fight this episode, did she not?
And this was BEFORE the die was rolled (I doubt, even done off-screen, her disposal of the self made pizza would have bothered her to so strong a degree if she still stuck around, pies in the oven or not). The Shirley who came to help hours before the party is the Shirley who fought in P&B to help Troy keep off the weed and Britta. And who wanted to stop her court case so it wouldn't hurt Jeff in ITF? The Shirley who left during her own timeline is Abed's fears of Shirley's actions spiraling into chaos, all the while Abed is being Abed even in that moment.
"I don't know why she's so upset– her pies probably didn't burn in the other timelines." Everything's still ok, remain focused. That's numberwang! Let's rotate the boards.
Annie and Abed :
Pre Die Roll-
There's the most appropriate house gift the learned man would appreciate– Annie's plant.
There's her warnings about the safety and security of the place, and her prior experiences of having lived on her own.
There's Annie keeping the ball in play in her own way by taking Abed away before he goes to town on Shirley for trying to make her own pizza.
There's Annie's jump when the buzzer for the pizza delivery man arrives.
So Abed sees Annie driven to help keep things stable for the evening, disheveled at her own living environment, and maybe some remnance of the Jeff/Annie romantic tension from earlier in the season.
Actions during the Die Roll-
"Not much to say about Annie's timeline," is pretty much the de-facto statement for any review of this episode, but time to do some brain wrinkling– yes this is primarily first to set up the continuity bits for the time shifts by the writers, but it's also the timeline where the least consequences stem from the character's departure.
Yes that's a very obvious statement, but let's take this back a step and say it in Abed's head viewing this: "I'm analyzing what effect this random event will have on the group dynamics, and Annie's presence adversely affects things the least, so long as she doesn't hang with Jeff too long."
She's a point of stability. As we'll see in Virtual Systems Analysis, Abed insists the Jeff ship is a point of chaos, and it takes until that point for Annie to correct that this was all resolved to a great extent from the events of Season 1 and Season 2– Annie loves the idea of Jeff, but the reality's not happening the way they are now and she's ok with that. So from THIS point in RCT– Annie to Abed is an asset to the group staying together– so long as Jeff doesn't deviate the course, so to speak. I won't go so far as to say Abed pushed Troy to sit between Jeff and Annie, but it's really interesting, isn't it? They're the exact same table setup they always have at the study table, but with Troy between Jeff and Annie. Knight to Queen's Bishop 3. In any event, let's review what we "learn" about Annie in these timelines.
Post Die Roll-
Does she really have a gun? Is her living situation that terrible? Would proximity to Jeff be that toxic to the group's stability? And why does Abed invite Annie to live with them when he didn't even invite her to the Study Group in the first place (not knocking Annie– just citing the irony– Abed jumps at the chance to do this at episode's end).
Abed could have easily inferred second-hand from Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design that Annie is becoming skilled at firearms (she handles that prop like a pro), if not from Season 2 Paintball events as well. But there's never mention of it again after this episode (I guess because she moves in with them, but all the same– this gun only shows up here). From the Ballad of the Exploits of Spaghetti, I won't question her horrid living conditions that we witnessed first hand in Celebrity Pharmocology. But again, the chaos from connecting with Jeff seems to me to be projection from Abed's fears of chaos.
To Abed right now, Annie can be what Troy says of her in Nocturnal Vigilantism– a buffer whose moving in is "supposed to tone us down." And that sounds like quite the Abed thing to say, doesn't it? That was probably how he explained it to Troy later. Annie has her own mind and instincts and drives– she may get swooned by Jeff, but NEVER eclipsed by the chaos of his own Season 3 problems. Again Abed witnessed their chaos in Geography of Global Conflict but he didn't learn from it– those two CAN survive and did survive tension with each other. Abed embraces Annie as an asset, but he still doesn't respect her virtues, her personality– who she IS. Once he does that, he can believe what he said at the end of RCT.
Until then, she's not allowed to have his buttered noodles or interfere with them. She can't be trusted around their DVDs. He busts out Batman but not the same way he did in Intro to Statistics, and she's not allowed to do their morning show initially or sing-along with them. His Batman is his defense mechanism now (not a filter with which to connect to people– but a shield like it was in AUC's beginning- to avoid reality's harshness). And Annie's there to keep chaos away (other girls, keep the place clean so Troy can still play around with Peter Pan/the Lost Boys)– they needed a Wendy, not someone to barge in and ruin his damage control with Troy or poke his increasing vulnerability. Annie BECAUSE of her drive, gets through to Abed eventually– but right now it's all words here– he doesn't truly believe in her virtue, not yet.</virtual>
[SUBSECTION B- ABED & PIERCE/ ABED AND ABED]
Pierce and Abed:
Pre Die Roll-
Pierce is Pierce and Abed is Abed. And Abed's right– "Pierce will never apologize." I might have the least to say about this one in terms of how it's reflected in this particular episode, but contrary to Paradigms of Human Memory, I think Abed and Pierce do have a unique relationship (one that simply was never really developed). A quick summation of this relationship below.
Pierce is a hollowed out boy of a man– instilled by his mom with unconditional love but no outlet or methodology for embracing others, and beaten down by his father with platitudes on racial purity and obtuse ignorance where the only important people are the ruthless winners. Pierce's mom won out in Pierce's mind but he's still this Wounded Man that's all too much like Jeff– he wants to connect but can't reconcile his douche bag shell with the vulnerability inside. So instead he lashes out. Like an immature child. And he may have a center/a foundation from which to build Pierce 2.0 now via Greendale– but he's never gonna be rid of his dad's platitudes or his own social obliviousness/obsolescence.
I say all this because if Jeff and Abed connect on pop culture upbringing, Abed and Pierce can relate on their disconnect from society. No matter what, neither will ever truly fit in. Not even close to pretending they do. Pierce will always resort to some off color joke or bit to gain attention he feels he's being slighted and ruin the fragile deck of cards he has established, and Abed can't compromise the workings of his mind with the workings of reality– other people can have time shares in his imagination land, but that's it– regardless of what he feels, the brain trumps all– it is the final landlord.
So we learn over these years that Abed has someone he wants to nail in the group, from Pierce. We learn that Abed went to Pierce's place in the middle of the night that time he forgot how to fart. Helping him zip his fly up, etc. And Pierce may mock Abed's racially on pure instinct, and may mispronounce his name endlessly, but these are superficial details– and Pierce doesn't strike against Abed in IDF per se like the other group members. Pierce accepts Abed as Abed The Eternal Outsider the way no one else in the group does (not even Troy or Jeff) even when he's making some thoughtless racial slur (emphasis on thoughtless).
I say all this because I think Abed sees Pierce as a source of chaos this episode only in the most generic sense– he's Pierce– chaos incarnate, but containable as the lightning rod for the group. I bet it's actually MORE unsettling that Pierce doesn't escalate things as much as he used to– now the group can't just blame everything on him when things go crazy– Pierce is still Pierce but he's not actively poking at everyone as much anymore (aside from some of tonight's activities). Hence Jeff becoming the pseudo-patsy at the beginning and end of this episode– another course correction.
Actions during the Die Rolls-
So we have Pierce's boxed housewarming gift, but prior to the rolling of the die, we don't know what's inside. And we have his Serbian Rum to boot, plus the hilarious Eartha Kitt insinuations. But again– note the diminished presence of this chaos. Everything else bad that happens this evening is so pronounced– Britta and the pizza guy, Britta fawning for Troy, the fire in the apartment, Jeff banging his head. Pierce just acts like Pierce and tries to taunt Troy with a troll doll on terror steroids. He is always a source of chaos– but predictable and relate-able. And that's where things get a little interesting.
"Pierce is terrorizing Troy because he's jealous that we're moving in together."
"You're the one who's jealous!"
"Why would I be jealous?"
"Because you're lonely and CRAZY!"
Jeff and Abed are bonded by pop culture.
Pierce and Abed are bonded by perpetual isolation.
Jeff and Pierce are linked by A Christmas Carol Marley/Scrooge-esque fate:
And the above dialogue is ABED's version of that Bio 101 premonition.
On initial viewing, we think it's Pierce projecting his own insecurity about losing Troy as Abed's motivations.
BUT– if this is Abed viewing events, with him stuck in the middle between Pierce's chaos and Troy's perseverance:
Pierce's terror mirrors Abed's loneliness and craziness. This is a potential evolution of Abed talking to himself. He's starting to lose it. And let's say all that "This is how Abed just analyzed Season 1 and 2" stuff I wrote is true/canon– that emphasizes all the more how, with this episode's Darkest Timeline Coda, Abed's REALLY starting to lose it. Everything worked out with his die catch, but he still can't let go of this chaos– it hit too close to home. Why keep poking everything that happens following this die roll JUST based on this die roll– why not let this go?
"Because you're lonely and CRAZY!"
Post Die Catch-
The scene above definitely works both ways– but it's fascinating how this helps underscore Abed's dilemma in this episode. Again, so what if that doll is in there and Pierce gets it out? Everyone has a laugh, Troy shrugs it off unlike Shirley in Mixology (not bashing her, just point of comparison), and they endure the chaos. This is PIERCE– he messes with people all the time (and this DOES play out that way in Shirley's timeline!). But Abed can't abide even though he again– acknowledges Pierce's unrelenting personality as a virtue (which it is). Perhaps it just hits too close to home. How so? Let's check out Abed's absence as imagined by Abed.
If A= Abed then Not A = ? :
Since this whole darn review is Abed centric, I'll forgo the paragraph breaks and get to the nitty gritty. Abed's absence mirrors Pierce's presence in an interesting fashion. Let's take note– pre die roll Abed's determined to keep things stables, as he is post die catch. But with him gone, not much ACTUALLY falls apart, does it? Everyone interacts with their more chaotically influential partner, to be sure, since there's no referee or Executive Producer to keep things balanced and sorted. But the world doesn't end, either. I will say that aside from Troy's timeline (since I don't see Britta staying engaged to pizza guy for long), none of the events of the other timelines are that dire or consequential– but Abed's does seem to have the most potential for long term damage. Sure, everyone gets theirParadigms of Human Memory venting done, but it's very, how should I say, Pillows and Blanket-esque?.
Note how everyone's completely separated in gaze, poise, and position from where they were in the iconic image from waaaaaaayy back at the beginning of this review? And Abed's complacent with just finding a nickel in the hallway. I think he's underlining the potential for his obliviousness to all this chaos– if he shirks in his S3 duties, everything could break apart and he wouldn't even see it (everyone's hurt each other but out of his view and he's not great at judging emotional states from facial expressions).
Tonight, things might not be that ruined if he leaves, but the seeds of doom are there–
Shirley has an actual problem with Britta now and vice versa that they'll remember (compare this to their ACTUAL fight and quick reconciliation in Modern Moving– the fear of what might happen versus how it actually plays out in reality– but Abed doesn't see that occur).
Jeff and Annie connected briefly and now the awkwardness has been amplified– they know now they like being with each other but they hurt each other. In Abed's mind this could be a rehash of Communication Studies, but there's no way for him to assist this time ala drunk dial back, so to speak– he was out getting the pizza and the damage/imbalance is done.
Troy and Pierce struggle with gift giving and receiving, but now Troy's spirit is crestfallen. In Britta's timeline Troy said "you guys are my BEST friends":
In Shirley's timeline, Troy gets the doll straight up and the situation's defused.
But here with Abed gone we get "You're sick, sad, twisted old man and I hope you die alone."
This damage is for keeps.
I think what this tells us is that from Abed's perspective– he's doing what he's always done– more so since the latter half of Season 2– help keep things going for the synergy of the group's stability. And here the futility of his attempts to control things mirrors the futility of Pierce's attempts to induce chaos into things. They're both poking at a force of nature trying to be relevant to the proceedings.
To Abed in Abed's timeline– if he's not there– these people will be their darkest selves to each other and the damage is irreparable, but at the same time, when he is there– there's only so much he can do. And by comparison– Pierce's doll is a bad joke, his rum is a barely drank waste, and he's a non-event. BUT he's at least content with his new station in life for the most part. THAT'S where Abed and Pierce differ– Abed's still stuck in neutral.
Troy probably told Abed about the doll in stories of Pierce's Mansion, so we know he could easily infer that's in the mystery box (since in the canon timeline it's never opened). And yes, we have the twin doll with the missing spot in Season 4's Halloween episode, but there's also Pierce's LeVar Burton "gift" to Troy– Abed knows that Pierce knows how to poke Troy deepest. So if Troy mentions this doll as the worst thing about living at Pierce's mansion, case closed– that's what Pierce has brought because Pierce is Pierce.
But Pierce isn't fighting change anymore– he doesn't HAVE to punish Troy– he just doesn't want to be left out needlessly anymore and he'll attack if he feels slighted or threatened. He embodies chaos as an option to stay in the game as he always had– to lash out. And with his conquering of his Piercenault father issues this season, he really expels that part of him handedly. "Don't use 'Gay' as a derogatory term! Boo-yah! Good person!"
[SUBSECTION C….FOR BRITTA (DOH!) ABED AND THE BRITTA OF IT ALL(DOH!)]
Britta and Abed- Abed is Batman Now– and the Opposite of Batman:
"She may walk like she just got off a horse but underneath all that clown makeup, she's… she's a good kid." Pierce from Home Economics
Abed sure is right and honest here– Britta's real wild card. She's a little apprehensive about changing her path in life (or rather, deciding to form one finally rather than define herself by combating everyone else's life choices), but she's the one most content with that path she has chosen (aside from maybe Pierce and Shirley). And she revels in exactly what Abed is trying to combat.
What happens if she gets to complete her sing-along?
What happens if she gets to smoke weed in that bathroom?
What happens if she sees that pizza guy?
What happens if she spends too much time with Troy?
Before the roll she over-enthusiastically supports the Raiders model and after she over enthuses her support/connection to Abed's speech. Conclusion: Unpredictable response. But throughout it all– she's just being Britta– anything could happen. But Abed doesn't take the right lesson from that, does he?
Abed says they need to weather the chaos together– accepting flaws and virtues equally. But more so than with any other party guest, I think Abed's projections here originate subconsciously to counter Britta's randomness. It's fascinating. Separately viewed, the timelines represent what people contribute to the group with their presence and absence.
But what's interesting HERE, viewing them sequentially under the filter of "Abed analyzing and countering Britta"– we can see a little course correction bit by bit– plate spinning, whack-a-mole, juggling, Groundhog Day– pick your preferred analogy. Each timeline compliments what came before and after as Abed reflecting, "ok, what if we tried THIS to keep things going?" So let's go quickly, sequentially through the timelines and note the randomness and the counter-attacks to it (adding the Premise/Analysis/Conclusion elements from WAAYY back in Part II).
Annie Timeline (Abed's 1st Analysis):
If Britta doesn't get to sing-along, she goes with Abed to the bathroom and smokes weed.
Conclusion: Relatively harmless, but playing Yahtzee with stoned Britta might turn Shirley off and ruin the evening– results inconclusive at this point.
Shirley Timeline (Abed's 2nd Analysis):
Britta still smokes her weed, no one protects Shirley's pies (which she shouldn't be allowed to bake anyway), and Troy encounters the troll doll. No way that evening's going well.
Pierce's Timeline (Abed's 3rd Analysis):
The picture doesn't illustrate the change aptly- but Abed points at Pierce to rimshot his joke.
Give Pierce recognition so he doesn't bring out the doll. Shirley can take care of her pies. But no Pierce means no contained chaos– lightning strikes. Jeff puts down Troy in Abed's mind– Troy seeks out the Opposite of Batman.
Obviously this shot is here to setup the chaos in Troy's timeline for when the ball hits the floor, but it's interesting to note Abed's expression here– he's lost Troy– this timeline can't happen. Even though things don't turn out badly, mind you. Why not grab the die and find some way to get Pierce to go get the pizza, Abed? It didn't have to be Jeff at the end– Pierce is easily manipulated ("HEY PIERCE, DON'T COME OVER HERE!").
Abed takes Britta to the bathroom so he's not around to keep Troy stabilized– battle lost. Chaos wins. Reset the board. Britta has to go.
Britta's Timeline (Abed's 4th Analysis):
There's NO music– so there can be no sing-along woes and no bathroom trip. Jeff hits the ceiling fan as planned so he and Annie can have a muted sexually tense encounter without things going crazy. Shirley's checking on her pies. Pierce didn't get to do his joke but Jeff's gone so things are stable. Then this happens and Abed reacts:
He already knows what's in there and that he messed up. We hit the lonely and crazy line, Britta still does something nuts that could mess with the entire fabric of the group (if she doesn't change her mind two seconds later).
Conclusion: Results insane.
Troy's Timeline (Abed's 5th Analysis):
Can't protect Troy by sending out Pierce or Britta– what if Troy goes to get the pizza? No conflict with Jeff, Jeff has Annie, Pierce can poke at Jeff instead of Troy. But all those little random variables all stack up.
1. The Raiders boulder knocks Indy to the side and hits the floor rolling.
2. Abed leads Britta to the bathroom without noticing the boulder.
3. Jeff hits the fan as planned, but Annie slips on the boulder and knocks the Serbian Rum down, and the gun in her purse goes off.
4. Pierce, getting up to react to the loss of the liquor, gets shot by Annie's gun.
5. Shirley and her pies get rained on by specs of Pierce's blood.
6. This moment (discussed earlier):
7. Britta STILL gets high, and inadvertently sets fire to the apartment.
8. Troy STILL encounters his Troll Nemesis.
Conclusion: This is truly the darkest timeline.
And note above how, in the Darkest Timeline where Troy leaves, we have, coincidentally, ALL the random variables Abed couldn't have predicted for the evening (the rum, the weed, the gun) all sort of escalating and conspiring against his best wishes. It's all his anxieties about chaos stacking up until he can't overcome them.
Abed's Timeline (Abed's 6th Analysis):
Ok, what if I go? I can get back fast like Troy, but not hit the boulder off the Raider's model. Shirley checks on her pies. I can get back before Pierce shares his gift. Only I can't. Britta still smokes marijuana. Annie and Jeff connect in the worst way.
Conclusion: No dice.
Jeff's Timeline (Abed's final Analysis):
The only way to stop this chain of events from spiraling out of control is to get Jeff out of there so Britta can sing-along, Shirley can deal with her pies if she wants, Pierce can do his sexual barb, Annie and Jeff don't have too awkward an encounter, and everything stabilizes.
So namely, if we view Britta from Abed's perspective as the most random element in all his projections and each of those projections seen as individual but sequential attempts to course correct that first problem (Britta doesn't sing, has to go to the bathroom to smoke weed, chaos spreads), we understand the Abed presented in the coda to this episode.
"Oh I LOVE how this is my fault somehow."
"It's mine– I've run through that night over and over again in my head and I keep coming back to one thought- I should have caught the die and not let you roll it. I failed to do that and we all suffered for it."
Note we don't get humility or shaman words of wisdom– we get certainty that it's all within Abed's power– it's his responsibility and his control to stop this.
"When I told you that if Gotham no longer needed Batman, we could be together- I MEANT it. But now I'm sure the day won't come when you no longer need Batman." Keep that little bit of randomness in check for now and everything's fine, sure (which necessitated Jeff gets the pizza). But Abed is still learning the wrong lesson or not listening to his own speech and truly embodying it. Messiah complex– thy possessor is Abed. "This IS the movie!" Anyhow– I'm simply saying in all this that Abed doesn't have to catch that die– he doesn't HAVE to stop chaos– he's just built himself up to believe that's the case. He HAS to be Batman here. Gotham needs him.
Contrary to her best efforts– Britta's the most normal/ordinary person in the group (in terms of outlook, capability, and sensibility). Because of her desire to be different and change, she comes off as a hurricane– as pure chaos– but even at her artificial craziest– she's still a force of nature– she's still life. She's not something to be averted or combated– she's the water for the raft. Abed accepting Britta and her chaos at the end of ITF signals the close to this conflict truly– but he doesn't accept it here. He only accepts that there's darkness on the horizon, but Batman's there to watch over things and save the night.
[SUBSECTION D- ABED AND TROY AND ABED AND JEFF]
Troy and Abed sewn togeth-er :
Let's start by listing my personal assumptions for the arrangement of this evening.
1. That it was all Abed's idea indirectly presented through Troy.
2. That Abed set up where everyone sits (keep Shirley close to him and Annie close but not too close to Jeff).
3. That they have pizzas ordered and a party game all set to go.
4. No direct movie/pop culture shenanigans– Troy and Abed being Good Hosts© only.
As stated earlier– I feel the whole point of this party is a variation on Abed's plan in Regional Holiday Music and with Paintball, etc– go back to the well of great group memories to help keep everyone happy and together. And it also serves as a love letter to Troy about how awesome living together is/will continue to be.
Given how much Troy and Abed's relationship plays out so thoroughly in the rest of this season, there's not much new to discuss here with this particular episode or Troy's die actions.
Troy butts antlers with Jeff because he wants to be a fully realized man of convictions too– but he's coming to that road naturally (Jeff's taking the long way around since he was on a phony trail as Jeff Winger© for so long).
He's apprehensive about his future in the same vein as Annie and Britta, but following Mixology Certification he and Annie can support each other in their dreams, and from Interpretive Dance onward, Britta's unbridled spirit and enthusiasm challenges Troy in a positive way (which only fuels Jeff's insecurity and resentment towards him).
I say all this because it's clear Troy has a path and knows what it is, but he's not taking it. And Abed knows this too but he's not letting his friend go either. Why not choose Annie's timeline, Abed? Again, Jeff didn't have to get the pizza even if you caught the die– Implore Annie's goodness to make her get the pizza. Why not Pierce's timeline? Why not have Britta be enaged to the pizza guy? I think Abed really grabs that die because he can't accept the possibility of Troy's timeline EVER happening. Take control JUST to be safe– THIS time (and the next and the next and the next and the next).
And the saddest thing is– in the deep recesses of his mind– the fallout's still going to happen, and still potentially affects who Abed is in Season 3 and what he does. He's just trying to hold onto Troy and that connection as long as he can.
In Abed mind, when Troy leaves for just a few minutes– potentially all those random variables, all those things he can't predict or form contigencies for– they all come back to haunt him. He can anticipate the Troll doll, but not the Serbian Rum. The gun, the rum, the weed, the boulder, the pies– it all falls apart at once. Troy needs to be in the picture for now– it's just that simple.
HUGE Suikoden III Digression that Ties into the Above
(Complete Disgression– skip ahead if you wish– this is just me connecting the end plot of an old Playstation 2 antagonist to Abed's motivations with regards to Troy and Abed's place in life– if you stick around, bless your patience, truly).
Suikoden is this RPG series of games primarily from the Playstation/Playstation 2 era, developed by Konami. In this series, you have what's basically a mixture of Chinese folklore, War and Peace, and Star Wars. The main mystical element at play are Runes– specifically True Runes. It is foretold in each major conflict of the world in Suikoden– 108 stars of destiny (108 people who will possess regular Runes and True Runes) will come together and change fate. True Runes are essentially the nuclear arsenal of Suikoden's world of magic– they give you immortality (I think it's better to say they rob you of your mortality though, given Suikoden's sometimes morose, sober outlook), they have the power to devastate cities and countries if abused, and their the most divine elements available to mankind.
Long story made less long– In Suikoden I through III, one of the 108 Stars of Destiny is this clone named Luc. You see, one of the evil empires out there is this place called the Holy Kingdom of Harmonia. And the major limitation of the True Runes is you can only hold onto one per person. So the Emperor of Harmonia got the idea long ago to make clones bred and trained to hold onto HIS runes. And in the first game– that's all Luc is– a glorified, surly vessel. He aids the typical protagonist in turning the tides of war and crushing a rebellion.
And in the second game he does so again– he's just there on the side, watching, acting where he can. He seems throughout all this to accept his fate– he exists only to house a rune for his owner– he resents his lack of control, but it is what it is.
Then at some point and time– he encounters and rescues Sarah– unique because she is BORN with a Flowing True Rune already attached (usually you encounter these things in ruins and perform a ritual or some such to connect with them directly). She's outcast as a witch and continually abused by groups who want to exploit her power for their own interests. But Luc rescues her and helps her form her own path– her fate's not set in stone like his is. But he doesn't exactly let her go off on her own, either.
And then we reach Suikoden III. Someone's collecting runes and testing out exploding/imploding them. Someone's using subterfuge and trickery to convince different nations to go to war as a cover for these thefts and other insidious deeds. Evil nations from past games even band together with the protagonists from this game to figure out what's going on– it gets so bad. And it turns out the enemy is Luc– he wants to collect enough True Runes to end human existence.
He figures– the runes are from whatever created mankind. And all these dark empires, all this human corruption– it'll just destroy whatever goodness people have– take over their lives– he's seen it again and again already. Even when you win a rebellion, you just become the next empire that needs to be overthrown. And his own fate is to wait for the Harmonia kingdom to collect all these runes, and then what? One major empire? Blow up the world anyway? At least THIS way, he has control of the chaos– they can smite the gods for trying to manipulate them, and get people true freedom once and for all.
Obviously this is a sad and tragic contortion/distortion of the Hero's Journey all the other Suikoden protagonists faced– this as if someone watching Luke Skywalker save the world twice over decided it's better to be Darth Vader and built his own Death Star. But through Sarah and her devotion to Luc, we see his irrational plan, his insanity, for the poignant humanity within. His hideous deeds emphasize his most inhumane qualities, but the motives for these actions highlight that he is a person– not an empty shell.
When Luc's plan fails and he's about to die, he apologizes for pushing Sarah to help him when she could have had her own life on her own terms (something he could never have). He askes her to leave his side but she won't let him die alone. It's clear however crazed his plan was– he just wanted to be a hero in his own way. He just wanted to stop the chaos. And because he had the hope of being with Sarah eternally beyond whatever this echo of life he had, he wanted it on his own terms.
Rescuing Sarah and living for her welfare gave him the impetus to change his life–by getting hope from Sarah he finally tried to stop being Harmonia's clone– to be something more no matter how destructive that turned out. And that's not the act of some cloned entity devoid of a soul, used to house some divine/alien/transcendent rune– that's pure humanity.
He couldn't learn the lesson that– despite all these hardships, people endure and live on together– no matter how fleeting things can seem– the time inbetween when these 108 stars intertwine is when LIFE happens. It just always happened beyond his reach– but Sarah DID help him gain a piece of that for himself.
END OF SUIKODEN III DIGRESSION
Connecting this all the way back to Abed and Troy's connection in Season 3– Abed doesn't even mention Troy's virtues in his speech. I think it's because he needs Troy so much words just won't do justice (or maybe it's again that tragic blindsided obliviousness where Abed can inadvertently not register Troy at all because he's so stuck in his own mind- EVEN when he's trying to think of a way to keep Troy with him).
Humanity always just beyond the grasp of his Chicken Finger plans, but Troy gives him hope. Not to mention the fear from the despair isolation from Troy would bring. Abed knows Troy must move on someday– it's inevitable– he just can't accept it yet. Not if he still a chance to keep things going (as opposed to future Season 3 moments where he accepts the inevitable even though it slowly means the end of everything inside his head– the darkest timeline is encroaching!).
The darkest timeline in Abed's head at the end of this episode is the embodiment of Jeff's fear of looking uncool in Physical Education and Pierce's fear of losing the study group inAdvanced Dungeons and Dragons. It's an exemplification of him giving in to despair that he can't control or change anything, least of all himself, and there's nothing left– so he might as well destroy things his way– be chaos incarnate himself and control things that way ("Jeff may lose an arm in the darkest timeline, but larynx damaged Troy and I are still together!").
And just as with Luc– that irrationality in grabbing the die– in holding onto that fear of the darkest timeline and letting it stir his thoughts over and over again in Season 3– they affirm Abed's humanity. He's not some filter of pop culture cliches or a computer to calculate popularity within the group. He's someone who doesn't want to lose his friend or his current life to change and it scares him– but he still thinks he can think his way out of it because what else can he do?
Jeff and Abed- Where it all Started :
Suppositions on my part–
I believe that if Abed set Jeff up to attend the party no matter what, he also setup Jeff's mishap with the fan. If he knows about the cold spot in the apartment with the AC unit from his stand-up routine later this season– he has to know sitting at the table there with a certain height makes you a target for that fan's blades. Pure and simple.
And even with Troy between Jeff and Annie (and in light of their friction in Geography of Global Conflict ), they're getting close to each other. So Jeff banging his head means Annie will go into medic mode (I don't imagine anyone other than Shirley jumping to help Jeff and as it turns out Shirley was pre-occupied with her pies). In an enclosed environment with everyone else present– any sexual tension they have will be minimal (they can really do it in the bathroom with these shower curtains [I wonder if Abed got this JUST for that possibility? DUN DUN DUNNNN]).
So yes– I believe the fan blade assault was intentional– it only happens if Jeff gets up from the table– Jeff's our leader– we need him here to keep the group together. If he stays, no problem. If he gets up– he'll be with Annie before he gets mended– all the more reason to stay invested in the party afterwards. Win-win.
I also believe he had Shirley placed closer to him rather than Pierce so he could keep an eye on this pie situation (shame since maybe he could have dealt with that Troll doll variable if Troy or Pierce had been adjacent to him instead).
And finally, I believe another motive for getting Annie to stay with them is to keep her from getting TOOOO close to Jeff (moving in or near him so she doesn't have to stay in her bad neighborhood anymore, however unlikely that option would be). Annie stays with them– Jeff's not going to be able to inadvertently shake up the group dynamic without Abed noticing and being able to contain things.
Princess Annie gets to be "saved" by Troy and Horsebot 3000 (Abed's narration, mind you):
So prior to the die roll– everything's in place to keep things fun and light– everybody wins. Except Jeff's going through some stuff himself and everything he does breaks the group dynamic apart. I'd say, with the exception of his rant about Shirley, we can confirm everything Jeff does in Abed's projections fits his personality both before the die roll and after it is caught.
Jeff taunting Troy out of insecurity? He does it just as badly in the beginning of the episode as he does in front of Annie later with the Troll doll and the mahogany bunk beds. Jeff connecting with Annie over their feelings but his cynicism and self doubt breaking everything apart? Jeff was all too happy to think he was just going to make a superficial appearance and then be out of there, ASAP. He wants Annie but he doesn't want to deal with any of this now.
That ax attack and his own fear of change is eating at him too much. I think Abed gets that too– this is the Jeff that avoided Abed post AUC (I again assert that this is because he thought he'd just make things worse for Abed if he tried to hang out with him as Jeff Winger©). When in doubt and potentially capable of embarassing yourself, divert and avoid– that's Jeff Winger©. "I don't like being excluded, Jeff, do you? YES!"
Frustration with Pierce? Putting down Britta's randomness and cheer? All seen in the Season 3 episodes prior to this one, if not the series as a whole up to this point. And just like in CFS– he's stuck at an awkward outing he didn't anticipate– but this time it's just hanging out with the gang– what's the problem, Jeff? And later on he'll avoid Annie's Moving Day and we'll get a part of that reason– which the gang will accept. Because they've all been there.
But right now, he's entirely in a defensive formation– keep the weirdness to a minimum, play some Yahtzee, get the heck out of there and sulk about the future at home while you work out upside-down and then drink booze alone. Again, he's externally working through all the issues Abed's internalizing.
And you may think the key to all this is that Jeff is subconsciously combating Abed's control of the group– which is what I thought about this episode before writing this review. But I don't think that's correct now.
I think the most wonderful thing about Intro to Finality in retrospect is how Jeff's courtroom speech answers all of Abed's fears here– all his theories, his analysis, his plans– it counters them ALL. This is the answer to Abed's Schrodinger's Pizza Dilemma.
"So I guess we all walked in here pretty bad. But now Shirley's gone good. Shirley's helping me. It's that easy: you just stop thinking about what's good for you and start thinking about what's good for someone else…. and you can change the whole game with one move."
The way to avert this chaos was in Jeff's possession all along (and everyone there, really). Slowly stand up to avoid the fan, say "you know what, guys– I didn't bring anything to the party– I'll go get the pizza– don't have too much fun while I'm gone." We'd be denied the fantastic episode and this really frickin' long review, but ITF's speech applied here proves it's really just that simple.
And that's the last lesson Abed has to learn from this– from his RCT speech. Jeff may be a conniving son-of-a-bitch– but he doesn't HAVE to be the bad guy either. He can change for the better in a given moment, he can do what's good for everyone else, and still retain his Jeff-ness. Abed says to accept everyone's virtues– but Jeff still ends up the bad guy, and Abed still gets to hold onto that die when it's all over.
But at least we know from watching the rest of the season that it doesn't have to end this way (with Jeff in the Abed position of The Watcher who can't connect, and Abed trying to keep everything in check as a hidden de facto leader).
Part IV: Conclusions
Conclusions (Hurray!) :
Anyone still reading this? Really? Wow– you are a trooper, truly.
First, let's do the Season 3 Doppeldeaner Counter for this Episode : Infinity and beyond– because every lovely second of this show had some duplicate element to it.
Second– I was going to originally use a gimmick doppelganger account to post a negative opinion of this episode in reply, but after reviewing these 22 odd minutes over and over again, I think I'm gonna pass on that idea.
While I wasn't going to bash the episode at all, more merely point out that from a given perspective, it can be seen more as an exceptionally executed episode of television than an ESSENTIAL episode of television (as opposed to, say, Mixology Certification and Advanced Dungeons and Dragons in my opinion). But everyone's struggle this Season to keep things together– all it all breaks down and re-asserts itself– how every action real or duplicate or fantastical reverberates and escalates exponentially throughout the remaining episodes here– I think it transcends that minor "criticism" by a wide margin.
Besides, gimmicks and meta comments already dominate enough of our lives. We reflect on things to gain substance but sometimes that introspection can hurt so much we can't deal with life's troubles directly– so we use pop culture and jokes to filter it and make sense of it all in the aftermath.
And we can best utilize Community to that purpose by being honest and accepting of its flaws and virtues.
Long story short– I think I saw a better ice cream place back there… "the place I was gonna take you was… kind of depressing."
Stray Observations :
1. I don't know about you guys, but no matter how many times I watch this– I still want to see how that Yahtzee game turned out(no matter what the timeline). I just like spending time with the characters.
2. Possible Discussion Topics:
A. If you want to discuss that possible "criticism," I'm game- namely that the episode's more essential for fans of Community and in particular Season 3 than a stellar singular episode of television in its own right. Or that it mirrors elements from more prominent episodes (Mixology and AD&D) without contributing something substantive beyond the timelines element. Does it stand well on its own as an episode of television? With core themes and values– or is its worth measured more by its reflection of the show's mythology (these are where the characters have been and where they're going– essentially the characters looking into a mirror for 22 minutes in an interesting way)?
B. There's also the good ole inquiry: Would this episode be just as good if you dropped the timelines elements and had them just hang out together (see Observation #1 for my response to this)?
C. Is there any "foreshadowing" or other notable elements in this episode you were disappointed didn't get more screen time/expanded upon in the remainder of Season 3 (Jeff potentially being an antagonist to the group's progress, Annie and Jeff connecting, Shirley's baking, etc)?
D. Make your own Timeline– What if the Pizza Guy gets let in by someone else?
[Let’s say Rick the landlord or even our friendly neighborhood Officer Cacowski– heck anyone you want– how would your Abed analysis play out?]
E. I largely tried to avoid breaking the Coda apart so why not break that down? Or more importantly– do you feel the attention and callbacks it received since airing has tarnished its initial awesomeness? Does the Darkest Timeline still hold up today when watched?
F. Since I focused primarily on these Timelines as part of Abed's "Science Fiction" projections (to paraphrase VSA), how do you think/feel about the relationships depicted in these different versions of reality (as if they actually occurred)? Is Jeff/Annie a bond for the ages only being denied due to bad luck/circumstance? Does Pierce just need the right organic setup to become leader of the group (see Origins of Vampire Mythology for a counter example)?
G. Six sides to a die and six possible avenues of discussion– roll to see which of these discussion points you answer? If you do roll– just so you know, you'd be making six different timelines.
3. Seriously– how painstakingly detailed and wonderful is the set design here? Everything's perfect. "He is Risen" indeed. I can't praise it enough.
4. Now everyone say, "Single Malt Platinum Boobs and Billiards Club" out loud so you know how it sounds in your own voice (if you've never done it before).
5. "Wait… there are other timelines?" I guess Pizza Guy never saw that Next Generation episode Parallels with all the different Worf timelines. He probably likes Troi episodes too–stupid jerk– don't hook up with him, Britta!
Well, that's it. Thank you so much as always for your patience, time, and effort in reading this. And thanks to everyone for the opportunity to contribute to our series of reviews for this glorious television program. Fake Beards for everyone (Goatees)!
So, whaddya think, sirs?