|Donald Glover, Danny Pudi and Alison Brie in "For a Few Paintballs More." Cougartown actress Busy Philipps can be seen in the background.|
The epic game of paintball has now concluded, and I feel that I can safely say that this year's two-part finale managed to top "Modern Warfare" in terms of both scope and laughs. There was even a nice, emotional coda at the end that wrapped up the season-long arc of Pierce's villainy and alienation, while leaving the study group reeling. This move promises good things for next season, and exemplifies one of the best features of Community: the show's ability to have major character growth even amidst the paint-splattered craziness. (Note: SPOILERS. All sorts of spoilers. Seriously, stop reading if you haven't finished the season.)
I realize that this is almost the same thing I said in yesterday's review of the Vampire Diaries finale, and that's probably not a coincidence. (In fact, it's definitely not a coincidence.) I appreciate The Vampire Diaries' go-for-broke pacing as much as I appreciate Community's absurd wackiness, but those features would certainly ring hollow without the character building moments that both shows are so good at. This is one reason that I prefer these two shows to something like Glee, which has all the wackiness of Community but without the underlying character stability. (Todd VanDerWerff of the AV Club makes this point excellently in his otherwise questionable article about why Community and Glee are basically the same show.) The show's character relationships ground the general insanity, and the finale was a perfect example of that.
But you didn't come here because you want to hear me pontificate about Community (if you did, leave a note in the comments and I'll be happy to write more pontificating posts for you); you came because you want to Talk. About. Paintball. And so do I. I have a lot of thoughts on "A Fistful of Paintballs" and "For a Few Paintballs More," and I can't wait to share them with you. So, here goes.
One of my favorite things about the finale is the way that it tied in references to previous episodes of the show. In my profile of Alison Brie, she mentioned that all the recurring characters would make appearances and that conflicts from throughout the season would come to a head, and the episodes lived up to that promise. I was a particular fan of the way that Troy's plumbing expertise, revealed in the Season 1 episode "English as a Second Language," was put to good use when he rigged the library sprinklers with paint. The final conspiracy theory, which revealed that Greendale rivals City College were behind the paintball war, was also a nice nod to the ongoing rivalry explored in "Basic Rocket Science."
There were other, less direct references as well. One of the most intriguing and revealing moments came when Annie, impressed by Abed's Han Solo-esque rebellious persona, began to fall for Abed, and ended up kissing him in the (paint) rain. This was both a nice throwback to the kiss between Jeff and Annie that closed out last year's season finale and an insight into Annie's character. Annie is the romantic of the study group, someone who spent part of the first season hopelessly in love with Troy and was crushed when she found out about Jeff's affair with Britta. Annie's vulnerability was on full display here, and Brie played the moment when Abed drops character and leaves with a detached "Cool," beautifully, showing us Annie's devastation and her disbelief that she ever could have considered a relationship with Abed.
The episodes were also impressive for the deft tonal shift that took place between the first and second parts. The Western motif in the first half was very funny, especially Josh Holloway's mysterious gunslinger and the saloon culture in Pierce's hideout. (Vicki's table dancing was a great detail in that scene, and Garrett's put the whole thing hilariously over the top.) The Star Wars vibe in "For a Few Paintballs More" was also great, even though it was fairly understated; despite Abed's Han Solo impression and the paintball players dressed as stormtroopers, the second half followed a fairly straightforward action plot rather than a specific Star Wars plot. I really like that the show didn't feel the need to stick too closely to Star Wars; if the Family Guy parodies have taught us anything, it's that reenacting the entire movie is not actually funny. Like, not funny at all.
I also really enjoyed Troy's power struggle with Jeff, as it highlighted some nice tension from the season as a whole. Even though Jeff is generally called upon to be the leader of the group, Troy is the one who has to step up when no one else wants to, a fact that was nicely demonstrated in one of my favorite episodes of the season, "Mixology Certification." It was really nice to see Troy assert his independence, and even better to see Jeff acknowledge Troy's value in the finale scene. The Troy and Jeff pairing is not a particularly common one on the show, particularly since Troy and Abed's relationship is so strong, but I like to see Troy insist on his own importance on occasion, particularly since the character is my personal favorite. (It doesn't hurt that he's played by Donald Glover, who is just hilarious all the time. Warning: the first and third link are fairly NSFW.)
I also liked the role that Shirley played in the finale. Shirley is often the group's voice of reason, and she kept up that role nicely here by reminding the other characters, through lines about wanting to go home and see her children and missing CSI, that this was a paintball war rather than an actual war. Shirley's nun costume was a great nod toward the character's roots as a stereotypical Black Christian woman as well as a nod to how far she's come. I also really liked that Shirley and Britta were the two members of the study group who made it to the final moments of the paintball war, and the scene in which they rode in on a golf cart, guns blazing, was both funny and triumphant. Even though I really like the final scene with Pierce, and the way that his win (and subsequent donation of the money to Greendale) set up Pierce's relationship to both the school and the study group, I really wanted Britta and Shirley to win.
Speaking of that final scene, it was a great way to humanize Pierce and redeem him, at least partially, for all the nasty things he has done this season. It was also a great set-up for some major conflict next season, as the group comes to terms with their treatment of Pierce and, presumably, tries to woo him back. The final scene was sadder than I expected the end of the PaintStravaganza to be, but it was appropriate to the tone of the season as a whole. Plus, the tag before the credits both brought back the funny and acknowledged the people upon whom the real burden of the paintball war fell: the Greendale janitors. Funny and classy, the tag was a great way to end the season and lighten the mood a bit after Pierce's sobering exit from the study group.
A few stray lines and moments that I enjoyed, but didn't have time to fit into the review proper:
- Leonard telling Jeff that he was once a Little Rascal
- The slow-motion shot of Annie's boobs (the anatomical parts, not the monkey) bouncing as she ran away from Holloway's character
- Troy's anguished howl at Magnitude's sacrifice: "Pop what?!"
- The cameo by Cougartown stars Busy Philipps and Dan Byrd
- Annie's rejection of Abed's vest, because it smells like Starburns
- Holloway's "Sonuvabitch!" (yay Lost reference!)
- Vicki's final charge into battle
- The return of Quendra with a QU
- Speaking of recurring characters, where were Rich and Slater? I would have liked to see them at some point.
- Pierce's two fake heart attacks were hilarious, and a great paintball strategy!