This past Thursday saw the conclusion to the two-part season finale of NBC's stellar intellectual comedy, Community. Expanding on the premise of last season's paintball episode, this year's vision was much grander in scope. Touching on common tropes found in Western themed movies, as well as the Star Wars films and other related fare, the episode displayed once again that if one could choose a single word to describe the show's run to this point, that word would be ambitious.
I have opted instead of a review this week to offer a synopsis as a reference point for fans, as the episode was long and somewhat convoluted, and additionally in order to allow the comedy to stand on its own.
** spoilers begin here **
Part 1 begins with a classic Western theme, with Annie finding herself alone in the desolate wasteland that is the remnants of what was once Greendale Community College. We learn through flashbacks both Annie's current circumstances and the backstory to how she and the school have arrived at this state. The war began with the offering of a one hundred thousand dollar cash prize to the last student standing, or more accurately, the last student to be hit in any fashion with paint. The only rule is that all participants must be registered students at Greendale. Thus we find Annie after an evident period of mayhem, holed up in one of the chemistry classrooms, having set up a sort of base camp complete with a Bunsen Burner as a camp fire, in order to heat the standard and time-honoured canned baked beans. She eventually encounters Abed, who as usual, is embodying a character that seems most appropriate to the situation. In this case, it is the cliche of the cool, taciturn, silent outlaw who only appears to speak when there is an opportunity to unload a witty remark. Abed and Annie eventually encounter Jeff, who informs them of the fort which Pierce has established, where he is allegedly maintaining a monopoly on the game's ammunition. Along the way, they must avoid the attacks of a mysterious newcomer (played by Lost's inimitable Josh Holloway -- "Sawyer") nicknamed "The Black Rider" by Troy, even though he doesn't appear to be riding anything whatsoever.
On the way to Fort Hawthorne, the three gunslingers encounter the remainder of their group (minus Pierce, who is awaiting their arrival at his namesake Fort); namely, Shirley, Troy and Britta. They discover that the latter three have been working as deputies for Pierce and take the former into custody.
Fort Hawthorne is impressive. Pierce appears to have created a "safe zone" which not only successfully carries out its purpose, but also actuated by an apparent selflessness, something we have not seen from Pierce thus far. He invites his guests to dinner, where he persuades the group to seek out the rest of the ammunition that is not contained within Fort Hawthorne, in order to finally bring the game to an end. The gang agrees and sets out, running into Chang, who is constantly attempting rejoin new alliances after betraying the old. They also once again meet The Black Rider, who attempts to take Annie hostage. After a Matrix-like sequence where Jeff learns that Pierce has attempted to betray him by loading his gun with blanks, the gang is able to escape, whereupon they return to Forth Hawthorne to confront Pierce, only to find that it has been ransacked by The Black Rider and it is now dilapidated.
After confronting Pierce and declaring that they had been considering kicking him out of the group, they are interrupted by The Black Rider. After a few intense moments of stare-downs, Pierce is apparently struck by a heart attack, an occurrence which has no effect on the study group as they believe him to be faking. As the paintball war is really still a game, The Black Rider shows some levity in attempting to come to Pierce's aid, whereupon he is shot in the chest by Pierce and leaves the game disgruntled. On the way out, however, he divulges the information that he is actually a hired sharpshooter and that the significance and scope of the game may be greater than imagined. The episode ends with Pierce fleeing and a truck of hired sentinels unloading and entering the school.
Part 2 picks up where the first leaves off. Troy and Abed encounter the sentinels, and after a brief fight, the Dean of Greendale appears. Moments later, the leader of the sentinels and thus the larger conspiracy at hand reveals himself to be the Dean of City College. He states that his plan was always to have Greendale fight for a prize that they would never be able to win (due to the superiority of his fighters; contractually the money is still actually up for grabs), in order to cause them to destroy their own school and leave City College as the dominant campus in the city. He also states that he is playing by the rules, as all of his sentinels enrolled at Greendale in the weeks prior to the paintball event.
From here, Abed and Troy meet with the remaining Greendale members and inform them of the situation. Echoing Star Wars, they attempt to form a rebel alliance, a notion to which the others are at first resistant, as it would mean splitting the prize money at the end of the game. However, after a character named "Magnitude" is "killed" by an exploding paint bomb rover, the group decides to unite and join forces. Meanwhile, Pierce has been found and attempts to form an alliance with the Dean of City College in order to take down his old study group.
The rebel alliance moves forward, as Jeff and Troy have devised two different strategies to take out the enemy. As they can not agree on which one to employ, the group splits into two, one taking the outside and one remaining inside of the school. Concurrently, Abed's hilarious assumption of the character of Han Solo is actually beginning to seduce Annie, as the two become closer while left in close quarters in increasingly dangerous situations.
Jeff's group makes progress outside, though Jeff is eventually shot after an impassioned speech in which he forgets to keep cover, whereupon he nonchalantly leaves the game to great comedic effect Meanwhile, Troy's group is surrounded outside of the study room, forcing them to have to shoot their way out. In an excellent cliched hero moment, Troy, leading the group, inadvertently runs into the entire indoor squad of City College mercenaries and utters, "I always knew that it would end this way", before being shot repeatedly to the point of induced convulsion.
However, Troy's death creates the distraction which allows Shirley to put Troy's plan into action. She pulls the fire alarm, setting off sprinklers which are rigged to release paint, coating all of the mercenaries that remain in the building, along with Abed and Annie, who have found themselves in an embrace as Annie has finally fallen for Abed's Han Solo charm. However, as soon as the moment is over, Abed, in typical and uproarious fashion, reverts to his usual, borderline-autistic self. Outside, Britta realizes that she is the only remaining member of Jeff's group, which causes her great fear and pressure. Thankfully, Shirley, the only remaining member from the "inside" group, as she was able to exit the school before being struck by paint, pulls around in a golf cart and reunites with Britta. They subsequently embark on a shooting spree of the campus, in which Britta is shot, though Shirley survives and kills what seems to be the last of the City College troop. However, as she and the rest of the school celebrate, three more mercenaries exit a truck and shoot Shirley. The school is deflated as the three mercenaries celebrate, though this quickly turns to confusion as one of the mercenaries shoots the other two. He removes his mask and reveals himself to be Pierce, and Greendale realizes that they have won the game. Pierce opts to donate his winnings to cleaning and repairing the school.
Afterwards, inside of the school's study room, the group reflects on the events of the paintball game. Pierce enters, and everyone is glad to see him. However, Pierce offers a speech indicating his intentions to leave the group. He states that he has actually been attending Greendale for twelve years, and that this group is the closest he's ever gotten to anyone during his time there. He acknowledges his own role in his being partially shunned by the group, then says goodbye to the group and leaves the room. Jeff and the rest of the group greatly expect his immediate return, though he does not, and the episode ends with the group staring out through the doorway from which Pierce left.
Thus concludes this season of Community. This season was an even more ambitious undertaking than the last, leaving fans to wonder what may be in store and how this show could possibly push the boundaries of network television convention next season. Until then, enjoy what summer TV has to offer and I'll see you next season!
Andrew Burns says...
I never saw any promos for this so seeing Josh Holloway as the Dark Rider was awesome. Community could do a paintball episode every time and I would still watch the hell out of it. Great show