I've said before that the idea of going back to the paintball well worried me. Community is a show that often goes to very high concept places for an episode, and while I think "Modern Warfare" was one of the best episodes of the show's first season (and one of the best episodes on television in that season), I wasn't exactly giddy about the idea of the show repeating itself, especially after I've been disappointed by the back half of this season. Community is one of my favorite shows on television. Not just one of my favorite comedies, mind you, but one of my favorite shows. I hold it up to very high standards because of this, and most of the back half of this season just didn't live up to those standards. I never flat out hated a single episode, which is two the show's credit, but I also never loved one of these episodes as much as I loved the first half of this season. So I was worried that the show was going to go out with a glorified re-run.
Fortunately, that was not the case. "A Fistful of Paintballs" had a lot of set up to deal with, mainly in why in god's name this was all happening AGAIN. Fortunately it has The Dean to take the fall for that in the squealy, terrified and overwhelmed way he does best. Add in an old time-y flashback to the Wild West end of the year picnic and a talking ice cream cone promising $100,000 to the winner (directly after the Dean joked the prize wouldn't be anything insane like last year's) and I was in on the premise.
The question of how to top "Modern Warfare" had to be crossing the minds of the writers when they decided to take on their most universally beloved episode (it isn't my favorite, but I recognize that is the consensus). They did this largely by reminding us why the first half of season two was better than season one (though the season as a whole has been much more uneven and ultimately, I'm not sure which I like better this soon). Where "Modern Warfare" killed off the show's "supporting cast" pretty quickly (think of how fast Troy and Annie died, a fact that would be insane to consider in an episode of this scope at this point in the series) to tell a story about the show's ostensible main characters, Jeff and Britta, "A Fistful of Paintballs" let's us know that this story is about everyone. Annie is at the center of part one as Jeff was in "Modern Warfare," but really, it's more of a Pierce story.
While the episode gave the whole cast a lot to do, it played most directly with these two, an important choice in my eyes for the fact that they have had the most problematic arcs this season. With Pierce, the problem is obvious, and addressed head on: after all the man has done to these people, all the truly awful things he's put them through, he really shouldn't be in the group. We learn that the group voted on whether to keep him in, and that Annie was the lone hold out that kept him from being expelled. This is an important character beat for Annie, who I think has been most underserved in season two. Most of the time this year, Annie has been brought up as part of a romantic subplot (see the second part, which I'll get to in a minute) and used sparingly otherwise. She is the character most clearly tied to Greendale-related plotlines (as the one truly dedicated student in the group, and the one who considers leaving the school for greener pastures whenever that's convenient), and since season two has had fewer of those, there has been less for her to do. Letting her be the lone gunman drawn into this episodes plotline was a smart choice, and seeing her bitterness at the rest of the group's willingness to splinter makes perfect sense. Part one ending with even Annie deciding it was time for Pierce to go was a pretty dramatic endpoint for the episode, and for Pierce's arc this season.
Moving into the actual finale, I was pretty happy, if a little disappointed. Look, the show was going to do a Star Wars episode at some point, and as things go, it went off pretty well. There were plenty of well crafted in-jokes, and it was damn exciting, which always impresses me (when the show manages to invest me in the story its telling beyond just the parody elements, I give it extra credit points, just how I like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz more because they are both parodies and work as members of the zombie and buddy cop genres, respectively). But I can't help feeling like this was a little bit of a letdown, hurting the progress made with Annie's character last week and playing similar (Though maybe different enough) beats in the Pierce storyline.
I know a lot of you will be upset that the show didn't do all of that much with Star Wars outside of making Greendale into an Alliance of Rebels and having Abed beat Jeff to being Han Solo (both of which were nice), but personally I don't mind. Star Wars parodies have been done to death, and I would have been very disappointed if the finale was more interested in being a parody than an investigation of the characters and their dynamics.
Again, I was upset that Annie was reduced here to "romantic interest" for Abed's Han Solo. I think that just confuses things, especially when she remains interested after he drops the act, and I think it delegitimizes her supposedly real feelings for Jeff. If Annie kisses people whenever there's a moment of drama and remains interested in them afterward, the thing between her and Jeff feels more like a reaction than an honest development. Plus, at this point she has been interested in every male cast member who isn't Pierce, and that's just a bit too sitcom-y for me, especially since we're only at the end of season two. As for Pierce, this episode ended on the exact same cliffhanger as last week's, which is kind of cheap, honestly. But I forgive it for the kind-of-obvious-but-still-pretty-affecting reveal that Pierce has been going to Greendale for 12 years, and never hung out with anyone for more than a semester until them. At the end of the episode, Pierce leaves the group of his own accord, and while we all know he'll be back next season, I hope the show takes its time getting us there and doesn't rush things in the finale. This is a storyline that needs to play out a bit.
While I did have minor complaints here and there, what I really loved about this episode was its focus not on our core cast members but on Greendale in general as a place for people in need of a second chance to gather. Greendale is a terrible college run by an incompetent Dean and filled with teachers completely unqualified to be teaching their subjects, but that has actually made it into a very special place. Greendale will take anyone, and that means that it accepts everyone for their flaws. The show has very slowly and naturally expanded its supporting cast into a huge band of misfits and miscreants, and many (though not all) of them get an appearance here. We get to see Leonard (who has been in two real wars but thinks this is the scariest thing he's ever seen), Magnitude (who dies, hilariously, jumping on a paintball grenade, giving Troy maybe my favorite single line of the night), Quendra, Fat Neil, the return of Anthony Michael Hall's ineffective bully, and several other recurring characters who may or may not actually have names, but who its nice to see rise up to defend their school.
And after two seasons and 49 episodes, that may be my favorite thing about Community. It really cares about all of these characters, and about giving them their second chances to be better people. It wants them to get better, to ultimately succeed over their own weaknesses, but when they fail, it supports them and encourages them to try again. Greendale is a completely insane place to be, but its perfectly understandable why everyone there begrudgingly loves the place and why Pierce gives the money to Greendale when he wins, even though he wasn't there for the rousing speech that told everyone else to do so. For Pierce, it's Greendale that will never abandon him, not any particular person at the school, and this strong sense of place gives me hope again that the show can return and deliver a third season that will dwarf the first two.
-These come only from this week's episode, "For a Few Paintballs More."
-"Why would someone who gets paid to do things be at Greendale?"
-I loved the City College reveal. It was obvious, yes, but I think City College as the fairly shapeless but obviously superior rival to Greendale is a great recurring gag, sort of on par with Eagleton over in Parks and Rec (though to this point, Eagleton has been handled better).
-"You're the worst!" "Ok, she's just saying that to fit in!" Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE kind of hate Britta. Except Troy.
-"Easy, Paradox. We're all on one side."
-"I think it's called a taint."
-"I'm calling dibs on the Han Solo role before Jeff slouches into it by default." Which is exactly what would've happened.
-"Pop What? Pop what?!?!? What is he trying to say? POP WHAT MAGNITUDE?!?!?" I laughed so hard at this, I hurt. GREAT delivery by Donald Glover, as always.
-Nice callback to Troy's incredible, Good Will Hunting parodying plumbing skills.
-"CHAAAAR"¦Well, I'm out."
-"I had a dream it would end this way"¦"
-See you guys in season three!