Episode 305: Horror Fiction In Seven Spooky Steps
Happy Halloween, everybody! I had Disqus rigged to flicker because it's the Halloween review, but don't worry. It'll return to normal
once you're done with the review once Halloween Review Week is over!
3×05 – "Horror Fiction In Seven Spooky Steps"
Part I: In Which I Attempt To Highlight An Overall Theme Within The Episode
"Fear. I kill because I'm afraid."
"Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps" marks a bit of a departure from the previous Halloween episodes of Community. Stepping away from the Halloween-in-setting-only approach of "Intro to Stats" and the zombie movie pastiche of "Epidemiology", "Horror Fiction" instead looks to focus on the emotion that runs beneath everything related to the holiday: fear. Usually it's referred to in a less emotional way, as "scary" or "spooky", but in the end everything rolls back around to fear. Harmon, as the credited writer, uses the episode, with a structure quite similar to "Remedial Chaos Theory" (though with a very different framing device), as a springboard to take a look at the various group members' inner thoughts and fears as filtered directly through their own sensibilities.
Part II: In Which Now I Guess I'll Talk About The Stories
"We can go to the dance in a bit, but first, why don't we tell some scary stories?!"
Remember when I said that the episode takes a look at each of the group members' inner thoughts and fears? I hope you do, because it was only two sentences ago. It's also not entirely true. Most of the group (Annie, Troy, Pierce, and Shirley) tell stories that directly reflect their fears, while Britta and Abed tell ones that simply showcase their overall mentality, and Jeff's is merely a Winger Speech in barely-disguised form.
The first set of stories, the ones that deal with the characters' fears, are also the most problematic of the episode. Perhaps because of the short time each story has to work with, due to the constraints put in place by the episode structure, the four stories here are all only superficially insightful at best, and rarely tell us more than we already know. Annie's shows that she's clearly grasped the central insipid metaphor of those Twilight books she devours; Troy actually states his fear out loud ("Forced to be together forever!"); Pierce is, well, Pierce; and Shirley is Christian, keeping her firmly within her character boundaries for this season. A couple of these stories do have interesting bits to make them more success than failure (the latter two fall almost completely flat, despite some good jokes). Troy's story probably has it the best here; though the "Troy and Abed grow apart/fear growing apart/fear being together" story is nothing new, his acknowledgement that Pierce tried to destroy them, only to make them more awesome bodes well for him attempting to fix things with Abed rather than simply giving up. Annie's story is pretty much surface-level metaphor, though at the conclusion Annie turns into a werewolf that feasts on vampires, suggesting that she's ready to grow up and quit being jerked around by Jeff, a step she would finally take in
"Virtual Systems Analysis" season four the future.(..?)
Interestingly, for an episode about fear and how it can color our perceptions, the two best stories are the ones that don't deal with that subject much at all, but simply parody the typical slasher movie. Britta's is an accurate, if brief, re-creation of one: nameless, personality-less characters make out, ignore warnings, do dumb things, get killed. There's possibly something to be said here about how she just views Jeff as "a horny man" who's only half-present, but mainly the story is quick and jokey, to get the premise going and let Britta secretly study everyone's minds. (Also note this story as being the first evidence of Britta's "sociopathy" that is revealed at the end of the episode.) Abed attempts to correct all of Britta's storytelling mistakes with his own tale, but overcompensates and ends up boring everyone– ironically, as this is easily the best segment of the episode. It shies away from providing insight into where Abed's at mentally right now, choosing instead to simply play around with the idea of what a "logical horror story" might be like, and is the better for it.
Finally, we come to Jeff. As mentioned earlier, his story is the typical Winger Speech put into story form in keeping with the structure of the episode. There's not a whole lot to add to that, as it's pretty straightforward; I just want to point out another parallel to RCT, in that once again Jeff nearly gets out of having to participate in what's going on (getting the pizza/telling a story), only to have to do so at the end, "saving" the group in the process. The difference being, of course, that here, the rescue is intentional.
Part III: In Which There's More To This Episode Than Just The Stories
"Jeff, one of our friends is… deeply disturbed!"
The framing scenes of this episode essentially establish it as one about Britta. Her overeagerness when it comes to psychology, coupled with her tendency to get ridiculous, bring good moments and drive the plot both at the beginning and at the end, tracing an arc from her studying the others' minds to realizing that she's been the "sociopath" all along (or, I suppose in this situation she would be a "htapoicos"). The "oops, I Britta-ed the test results" resolution is a better winky cop-out ending than the memory loss from "Epidemiology" (which gets referenced in this episode– what is this, season 4?!), and even provides a narrative payoff for the joke. The other characters are used in these scenes mostly to play off her, with a handful of exceptions. Unfortunately, because this is a relatively self-contained episode, there's very little in actual long-term character development for her (or anyone) here. But that's not what Halloween episodes are about, anyway, right? They're a chance to play around and see characters in new and unusual environments, and maybe find ways for those environments to illuminate aspects of the characters that we haven't seen before. "Horror Fiction" doesn't always accomplish this, and nearly fails completely at a couple of moments, but a solid episode construction, good jokes, and a handful of legitimately well-done insights ultimately outweigh the few overreaches Harmon makes here.
Epilogue: Stray Observations, Looking For A Good Home
"We've all learned an important lesson tonight. We should never make the Britta of Britta-ing each others' feelings."
– Abed and Troy's high-five: take note, Britta, that's how you turn it into a snake
– Michele Norris interviewing Errol Morris
– Jeff's costume strategy: wear something that allows him to buy a cool outfit that he can wear during other times of the year too. Stingo approves.
– The Dean in a costume? Now I've seen everything! (the dress thing has long since gotten old by this point, but I will never tire of the Dean wearing tiny hats)
– Outfits Corner with Stingo: Abed's flannel over long sleeves: yes. Britta's cashmere sweater: no.
– "Would you like to do it again?" "No." Something tells me that's not the first time Britta's gotten that reaction.
– Abed's tired "Pew pew pew" during Troy's story
– Pilates is a demon that eats your genitals.
1. Are there things going on in Britta's/Abed's/Jeff's stories that tie into fears that they currently have? I've spent quite a bit of time thinking them over, to no avail. It may be a case of just needing someone more insightful than I or some group talk to work it out, though. Get to it.
2. The episode hints pretty heavily toward Britta at least having certain sociopathic tendencies (the superficial story, her descriptions of the murders), though it's fairly light about it and tries to walk back from it pretty quickly with the test results being wrong. I think I recall that bit of plot as being rather contentious around these parts.
How likely do you think it is she'll be revealed as a serial killer in season five? How well do these fit into her character? Does this seem like a character tweak for the sake of the episode, or is it not a surprise that Britta would end up making herself look that way, even by accident?