Episode 315: Origins of Vampire Mythology

 
 

“Origins of Vampire Mythology”

OVM is one of those episodes that many would cite as easily forgettable, “pizza”, or lost in a series of high concept episodes. However I think one of the main things that I find appealing about this piece of television is the level of pathos that it is built on, understandable seeing as it’s credited as written by Dan Harmon, who evidently enjoys making light of his characters’ flaws and insecurities (which is probably also deeply psychological). OVM is certainly not a perfect episode of television, but it is one that I find so interesting not only because of it’s moments that I love, butbecause of it’s flaws – Harmon famously said that he wrote this while he was drunk, and the self-loathing associated with inebriation can certainly be seen here (although it’s clearly been lightened up by the writers room and the studio).

Before I go into this I will mention there is the Air Con School plot in this episode, consisting of Laybourne making the Dean convince Troy to enroll, and the Dea failing. It goes nowhere, it’s bad crowbar-ing in of a plot that probably needed more fleshing out, it’s a waste of John Goodman. I probably won’t mention it because it definitely sours my taste of this episode.

The main focus here is Britta, scared of her own addiction to her ex-boyfriend Blade, a lowlife carnie. At first, the study group mock her for what they see as a very Britta-esque thing, demonstrating once again some of the spitefulness and nastiness that revealed itself within the characters during season 3. Eventually, however, Annie, Troy and Abed agree to help her (with the latter two only helping due to the fact that they’re going to watch Blade). The selfishness on display here is perhaps more a reinforcing of the bond between Troy and Abed and their perceived impenetrability – which at the end of the episode is brought down somewhat by Troy’s actions.

Jeff and Shirley, meanwhile, attend the previously mentioned carnival, eager to find Blade and laugh at the entire situation. Interestingly, they run across Pierce and Chang, or “plot C” – their relationship, built on a truly earnest need to connect to somebody, is heartbreaking in it’s own way. Both are more outcasts than Abed who struggle to keep up with the modern world – Pierce being ignorant of modern culture and Chang simply being too bizarre to truly fit in. So bizarre that their friendship is ended prematurely (played for laughs, of course, but it mostly works).

Jeff and Shirley’s once again spitefully treacherous attempt to find Blade in order to laugh at him and/or Britta are cut short when they learn that Blade lost the ability to feel shame due to a head injury. This speaks back once again to some of the psychology behind the episode. Through centering on Britta’s shame of being ‘addicted’ to Blade, stemming from feeling ashamed at herself (seen when the first nice thing that ‘Blade’ texts her turns her completely off). parallels are created between her and Jeff, who feels constantly ashamed of his past and himself. Of course, this is probably a very emotionally manipulative plot point, a heavy-handed way to allow Jeff to confront his own shame (something, perhaps, a drunk person might write, wink wink), but it does lead to a moment of realisation for Jeff, that to live one’s life without regret, we must live it without relying on others to boost our self-image or further our own ideas of ourself; we must live for ourselves and ourselves only. This is communicated through an intentionally disjointed and somewhat confusing “Winger Speech” – although it makes Britta not want to run off with Blade, it also does not seem to affect anybody else in the room. What follows is one of the best pieces of acting on Community ever, Britta’s realisation that Troy was the one texting her – Gillian Jacob’s facial movements convey every change in her thought process and emotions. Perfect.

Ultimately, “Origins of Vampire Mythology” lives up to it’s title in the literal, ha-ha sense, but also in the sense that it is about the vampiric nature of people, their need for constant reassurance or constant attention, or in Britta’s case, the need for Blade to treat her badly. Ultimately this all stems from how we view ourselves – usually through some variety of shame, but through Blade, Jeff seems to begin to understand the importance of self-reliance when it comes to self-image, as the only person who knows you best will always be yourself. If you feel shame at every little thing that you do, at every word you say or act you make to look cool, then you will always be in need of other people.

This may seem cynical to some, and it probably is. Harmon’s obsession with sentimentality is in harsh contrast to his sometimes vitriolic nature which seems to have turned some people off him as a human being. Although some aspects of the episode mentioned – mainly the Air Con plot – feel very much like group written, diluted content, Harmon’s interesting take on self-reliance does shine through, and although I may not necessarily agree with him, I find it very interesting indeed.

Discussion Points

  • The theme of self-awareness and self-image comes up in this episode. How far do you think it arises in other episodes, and is it perhaps a part of some overarching theme?
  • What is our opinion on the Dean in this episode? I found him to be an annoyance here, but most of the time during season 3 I enjoy his presence.
  • How much of this episode was Harmon's original script and how much was changed? I reckon it's about 70% changed stuff.
  • What if classic sitcom, "senfield", was still on television modern day?
 

Discussion:

    • I love how the theme of self-actualization flows through this episode (with both nuance and clarity *ahem*); a theme which our Psych Major Extraordinaire recognizes after Jeff's sober Winger Speech. As Annie says, "We are not defined by our limitations. We are defined by our potential". That's what the top of Maslow's pyramid is about: seeking fulfillment beyond base needs and desires and that starts, as EJ points out, with self-respect.

      I love the Chang/Pierce plot, as silly as it is, and I find this moment to be crushing: http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…. Chevy had no idea how good he was. I also loved the detail of Shirley driving Pierce to Casa Trobed before going home to her kids. I wish we could've got a small scene of them in the car.

    • Oh and the carnival set is one of my favorites the show has had. For one, it looks like a fully realized indoor carnival, and there's such a wonderful low key atmosphere to the scenes there. It's a sad people's carnival and those are the best kind, right? Right?

    • Any episode that features Jerley this prominently is going to be good. Once again, Jeff turns to Shirley because she's the only one who understands his petty needs and does not judge him for it.

      What I love about this episode is that it shows more of Shirley's life outside of Greendale. Shirley is a character who missed out on a lot by having children and getting married at a very young age. She is excited to attend the carnival with Jeff because she just wants to do fun carnival things. She's happy to investigate Britta's ex with him, but really wants to ride rides and eat food. I love how she gets increasingly uncomfortable with playacting with Jeff in front of Blade (showing how she's fundamentally different from Abed).

      But look at how cute they are together!

      http://www.fishsticktheatre.co…

    • I'd like to take a moment to talk about Annie. Specifically how this episode highlights how much Annie is driven by her sexual lust for Jeff. As in many episodes, Annie is placed in a position to help someone change. Only instead of Jeff, this time it is Britta. And this is even far more direct request than Annie is normally used (she normally has to manipulate in order to get to a similar point).

      But as the episode progresses, we fairly quickly see Annie write Britta off as hopeless. She puts in a good half-episode's worth of work into Britta, but then just gives up. Can anyone really imagine that if she was put into a similar position with Jeff that she'd ever express any resignation or allow him any leeway to return to his original ways?

    • When we spoke to Dan Harmon on the CommuniCon livestream humblebrag I asked him to describe the relationship between Annie and Britta and he said they're like sisters where Britta is a better older sister to Annie than Annie is a little sister to Britta. It was a long answer but that was the gist of it. There's some evidence of that (in 122, Shirley says they go shopping without her), but I actually don't see them as sisters. I think Annie initially looked up to Britta as her wiser elder (a Susan Sarandon who would rather keep it real than be likable) and then she saw the real Britta come out and now she's literally rolling her eyes at Britta. Annie probably thinks of herself as already more mature than Britta ever was and thus she has nothing to learn from her. OTOH Britta doesn't seem interested in Annie at all, especially with Annie no longer a "rival" for men. That's why I asked Dan about it because it's so odd that their relationship is so empty. At least it makes sense why Troy and Shirley don't interact much. I'm hoping to see a lot more Annie-Britta in S5.

  • I do like the banana usage here and Annie's past in NA to assist Britta, if for nothing else than as full reciprocity to Britta's assistance to Annie earlier in the season in Modern Movement. Annie is giving life experience to support Britta the same way Britta gave life experience to buttress Annie's attempts to change. A far cry from their conflict in Psychology of Letting Go.

    And I agree the little sister/big sister elements don't always mesh well with how these two are written. We can't necessarily say Britta has more world experience, because while she HAS traveled and lived a decade on her own, she's been very deluded AND diluted in that experience and insular. Annie hit life pretty hard the moment she went through that glass door. And while Annie's trying to keep everything on that assembly line of education to improve herself and get on the right track, she's no dummy when it comes to reading people.

    In the end, I think both women here are two sides of the same coin when it comes to life experience. They just tend to approach problem solving from opposite ends so that's why they ALSO tend to butt heads on things so much. Britta uses instinct and feelings to get through a situation, while Annie uses directives and mottos. Hence Annie using the banana to great effect here while Britta utilized a personal analogy earlier in the season.

    And yeah, Troy/Shirley deserves so much more than what has been received. But we aren't defined by our flaws, but by our potential /salute.

  • The thing with the banana doesn't feel so much like something Annie would do (phrasing for Dave) as much as it feels like something the plot needed Annie to do. After all, if anyone would psychologize with a banana it would be Britta. Annie's so far past thinking of Britta in any way that it comes through in outright derision sometimes.

  • Well put on all cases. I too am of the sort that feels this episode is more than meets the eye. I think this episode is a focal/fulcrum for Jeff's entire arc in this season, to put it simply. The Air Conditioning Repair arc gets very little plot surface here, and the only justice I can bring to it here is to point out that AGAIN– it's menacing and in the background as a certainty to Abed's point of view, but he's the only one basking in Blade to avoid it and trying to get others to do the same. It's clear Troy's focused on Britta, Annie is focused on helping everyone out, the Dean is focused on Troy, and Jeff is going through some stuff.

    Everyone learns something by the end of this episode but Abed though, yet again. And yet in a way setting up this Blade evening gave everyone a center from which to react to one another and build from this mess something beautiful all the same. Much like Pierce at the end of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons:

    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    And note that Jeff and Abed are inadvertently parallel again, as they're on the same journey (though at this point are at wildly different variants of success on that road– and I'm not saying this is deliberate, just awesome in how it clicks with the season long arc).

    And soooo true on Jeff's concept of self-image here and the turning point it represents. As Lloydbraun has astutely pointed out about this episode before this evening– we FINALLY get a real, true Jeff 1.0 speech and NOT a Jeff Winger© speech. He's breaking new ground for real this time and it's shaky and raw and human.

    And if we connect the Hero's Journey of Neil to that of Jeff:

    If this Foosball moment of "You were BIG CHEDDAR?!!?" is the equivalent of "You made up Fat Neil!?":

    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    Then Jeff's speech is IS essentially his very own: "For my turn, I pity Pierce Hawthorne."

    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    Ever since the beginning of Season 2 in Accounting for Lawyers, in his own way by his own words, we've seen the creation/origin/spark of Jeff's Ducaine, his persona to defend against inner pain during his childhood:

    http://fishsticktheatre.com/TV…

    His admiration for that lawyer who wasn't fazed by all the marital conflict going on around him. He rose about that and got in the sweet ride and moved on.

    AND now– now Jeff has faced the abyss the same way Neil met a gamer in AD&D who needed victory MORE than he did– who needed to feel the bigger king in that world more than anyone else. And both of them realized: "I don't want to be that– I need more than that– that's not me anymore." Neil isn't Ducaine or Fat Neil at that point– Real Neil comes out and wins the game. And the same thing happens here– we get a Real Jeff speech to save the day because Jeff doesn't want to be a man truly DEVOID of shame and avoid all consequences for his actions. He wants to feel things and care about things.

    I shall now draw a parallel here to Season 4 and make a compliment to the construction of that season– prepare for impact:

    Along those lines, because Abed's journey is taking longer, so he doesn't reach this point until Season 4:

    In Conventions of Space and Time, Abed faces his Chasm of the Abyss– stares into his darkness possible incarnation– its a friend who accepts his Abedness in full (in fact encourages it to be more aloof and embedded in fantasy to avoid the pain of the other "unexceptional" types).

    http://farm9.staticflickr.com/…

    But he realizes in the end he doesn't want just that in his life anymore. Yes, the execution is a tad on the nose and shaky. And it takes awhile to get to that point in the episode. But that moment is still there, and Abed still makes an organic choice to move past his past (while keeping it in tether). He doesn't need that defense mechanism anymore either. And he can trust that Troy or someone else will be there for him.

    In any event– thank you so much for doing justice to one of my favorite episodes of Season 3. /salute.

    I'll post the Doppeldeaner count in another reply because I'm spamming this enough as it is at this point. My apologies.

    • "What is our opinion on the Dean in this episode? I found him to be an annoyance here, but most of the time during season 3 I enjoy his presence."

      I did like the reading of "What's wrong Annie. You came out and your smile faded as you leaned against the door" because Jim Rash can make anything funny, but it's also emblematic of how phoned in that part of the episode is. They needed to remind everyone that Laybourne is still pursuing Troy…so he enlists the Dean do it?

      Edit: Pardon the "phoned in" pun.

    • I like it for actually bringing up this plot point (even if they summarily dismiss it just as much): "Why hasn't the Vice Dean used the Dean to get to Troy? The Dean got Troy to do Football, after all."

      So at least it was addressed here, and we DID get "I need help reacting to this" out of the deal. Plus Jim Rash IS awesome– but it wasn't really that dynamic a plot point here. And yeah, that may have been the point to subvert expectations, but that doesn't make it a strong point for the episode in any event. My 2¢ on that.

    • "Edit: Pardon the "phoned in" pun."

      What are you, The Good Wife?

      —-

      I actually liked him in this episode a lot more than in some other spots in S3. At least we have that scene of Laybourne threatening the Dean, so it doesn't seem quite as farfetched that he would make the Dean do his dirty work. And we've seen the previous episodes establish the Dean's partiality for the group.

      After Redux, they didn't really develop the Dean's character even though he played a role in quite a few plots. I'm not sure what they could've done, really, but anything that could've prevented the S4 storyline of him moving in next-door to Jeff would've been wonderful.

  • My cynical view on it is that Jim Rash needed to be in the episode because he was a series regular for S3 and is therefore contractually required(?) to be in a certain number of episodes.

  • Ok, Doppeldeaner Count for this Season 3 Episode:

    We have Blade and Jeff, Annie and Britta, Chang and Pierce as two different kinds of needy, co-dependent crazies in one relationship (and in its own way a parody of random shipping and obsessive love in a microcosm), and the Dean against the Vice Dean again; BUT also against his earlier self in Football, Feminism, and You (where he DID successfully get Troy to choose an elective the Dean desired for the benefit of the school's well being). Now the Dean's content to pay lip service for the Vice Dean just to spend time with everyone else and be a part of their group experience.

    I guess in his own way we have Abed mirroring Blade the most here out of anyone else currently in the episode. He has one focus, one objective– keep the group together and keep Troy from leaving, and everything else bounces off of him. He IS bothered by the current turn of events, but he's not letting it get to him (in his own mind at least this is how Abed interprets it, I feel). And it all will come to a head (or rather, did come to a head this week in discussions) with Virtual Systems Analysis. Wherein Annie's doggedness to improve everyone by her standards bashes directly with the immovable object of Abed's structure.

    Though what's most interesting about this episode and the parallels it draws to Blade is that they all obsess on Blade's reserved, unfeeling nature– his action stoic side (both the carnie and the vampire hunter). But the real premise and draw of Blade is that he, like Spock, is a marriage of two worlds. His character arc in comics/movies, etc is to rise above the limitations of both– to fulfill his potential. But no one in the episode latches onto that except for Annie in concept and Jeff by trial and error.

    Jeff marries his own insecurity to moving past being immortally unwounded and shameless (if you can live for thousands of years+, why care what other people think?), and Annie has long since joined together bettering yourself through conflict despite what anyone else tells you to do (even if she doesn't always execute that directive). And in the end, Troy's the one who changes the least but needs change the least– he just acts like Troy free from Abed's control and helps Britta by being Troy. It's a shame it ends up hurting him, but it's interesting to note that the shameless being taking center stage heredoesn't have an immediately direct doppeldeaner parallel to anyone in the episode by the end of it (aside from perhaps Abed). So noteworthy Non-Doppeldeaner element there.

    Oh, and Shirley's got a past doppeldeaner moment here too– instead of making Jeff's behavior worse through friendship as in Social Psychology, her presence is supportive and helps Jeff reach self actualization. So, go Shirley /cheer.

    • This episode made my heart flutter. And that has only happened one other time on this show. No, not that time. That smile was the best. Small moment of pure happiness.

    • Great review, Jack.

      Quite a few s3 episodes have a little streak of Patented Harmon Bitterness, and often they end up funnier for it, and still find ways to be friendly by the end. But for me OVM, and specifically the Britta/Blade/Troy stuff surpasses all of them. Even though Britta having to be kept in a room away from her phone seems like an sitcom-worthy absurdist exaggeration, the neurosis here is pushed to a darker level than I think any petty or neurotic romance subplot on any comedy, even Seinfeld. Britta gets no fun from her fixation on Blade, no sense of aloofness or empowerment from doing what she wants even if it's irresponsible. She's just addicted to feeling beneath someone.

      I think the fact that she doesn't come to a sensible conclusion, that she goes as far as harshly dismissing Troy's nice-guy text while thinking it's Blade, takes it to another level. The fact that it has to be earned by Troy accepting that he feels that way about Britta even if he'll be rejected/emasculated for it, and Britta only understanding on her own after all that takes place, makes it a very bittersweet ending. One that can be felt more long term, rather than giving any immediate satisfaction (That's how I felt, anyways. For some it might not seem quite as barbed). So as a whole it's hard to call it cruel or negative, but for it's concentration on attraction as something so cruel to everyone involved, so casually abusive, it's the only episode that seems almost too real to me.

      Epilogue: The takeaway of some s3 episodes seems to be that the slow-building bond between Troy and Britta is the one potentially healthy relationship in the group because it has patience and honesty in the face of all the crushes and hookups built on urgent yearnings that turn out to be self-loathing and love/hate type feelings. But s4 never knew where to take that couple, and by the end if they're better off as just friends, it doesn't bode very well for any long-term romantic attachments coming out of the study group.

  • "People can find the good in just about anything but themselves.[…]You are all better than you think you are. You are just designed not to believe it when you hear it from yourself."

    "No woman, none of us have to go to anyone. And the idea that we do is a mental illness we contracted from breath mint commercials and Sandra Bullock. We can't keep going to each other until we learn to go to ourselves. Stop making our hatred of ourselves someone else's job and just stop hating ourselves."

    Throughout Community when self-image is discussed is in correlation with self-loathing and people surrendering to a narrative of themselves that they've created. Britta "doesn't want to succeed because she doesn't think she can, so she goes out of her way to fail". Pierce assumes "eventually I'll be rejected, so I push people, test them until they prove me right". Shinigami Apple Merchant below talked about how Pierce at the end od AD&D and Abed at the end of this episode are still psychologically stuck after witnessing someone reaching an epiphany. People create a malignant story circle and then condemn themselves to repeat it. it takes multiple powerful blows to take one out of this cycle; here Jeff just pulled himself out, Abed decided to stay in. The ultimate Winger speech in 322 basically broke all the malignants story circles. One season 4 theme could have been: "what do you do when you're free, and how do you not go back to that same trap?"; we saw snippets of this theme but most of the time the effects of Intro to Finality were totally ignored.

    The Harmon of it all: Having listened to every Harmontown episode it kind of makes sense that this ep has Harmon's signature. Dan is obsessed with the workings of narrative, and is angry at society and how it pressures people into being something else from themselves. So i guess having an episode end with the moral of "stop letting others write your story" was an obliged step for the show. Another thing is how the "breath mint commercials and Sandra Bullock" reference puts the Winger speech in a wider context, not just interpersonal but social. It would be interesting to analyze Community in terms of its modernity and how it represents the society we live in today.