Why hello there, Community episode we've all been waiting for: It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance. As a loyal fan with a "Troy and Abed in the Morning" mug currently warming my frigid-as-usual hands, even I had my doubts when this very special show's most recent offerings were … tepid, at best. And after a fall that boasted one of the greatest half hours of comedy I've ever witnessed -- I'm talking, of course, about "Remedial Chaos Theory" -- some (Err, Chevy Chase) began to wonder if Dan Harmon's recent writing would ever top the early days of Greendale glory.
For me, tonight put those doubts to rest. Community is a show that prides itself on its one-of-a-kind "special episodes" — from the paintball to the Dungeons and Dragons to the spoof on a traditional television "bottle episode" — the show is often at its best when it's taking on genres and generally pushing the crazytown envelope. And boy, did "Pillows and Blankets" deliver.
The basic set-up was a war between two beloved best friends, presented in the style of a Ken Burns PBS documentary. Everyone, of course, took on a traditional war-doc role: Troy and Abed were the respective feuding leaders of Blanketsburg and Pillowtown, Annie became the Florence Nightingale of Greendale (focusing mainly on testicular injuries), and Shirley let loose as a merciless pillow-killer. Jeff, of course, flip-flopped to serve his own agenda, Pierce stayed Pierce, and Britta hilariously tried to be a Tim Hetherington-esque war documentarian. Oops — Britta'd it.
When we left Troy and Abed last week, the battle had just begun — the first shot had been fired by Lord knows who (Starburns), and the cracks in their formerly solid friendship had begun to form. And when we re-entered Greendale tonight, the scene was more Walking Dead than Animal House: Abandoned halls and flying feathers suggested that irreparable damage had already been done. (This opener actually reminded me of the similarly post-apocalyptic world Jeff woke to after the first paintball cornucopia in "Modern Warfare.")
"It was awesome," Troy mused to the narrator. "But also, it wasn't?" Yes, we could tell right away that it wasn't — Dean Pelton had enlisted a typically ambivalent Jeffrey's help to bring the former BFFs together, but even the ultimate peace offering (an invisible friendship hat) couldn't mend their fences. Diplomacy simply wasn't on the table today — Troy and Abed insisted on their respective "All Tomatoes" (ultimatums) being met in a timely matter. They were two Cersei Lannisters, without a reasonable Tyrion to make sense of it all.
So the two men returned to their fort(resses), for what should have been a night of peaceful cease-fire. Instead, the residents of Pillowtown were invaded by a gang of feverish Blanketsburgers, in a frenetic scene that I hope will be mirrored in the upcoming film World War Z. Great book. You guys should read it.
And the battle raged on — of course, Britta Hetherington tried to heroically capture all of the action, but unfortunately, "Just because something is in black and white, doesn't mean it's good." (Does anyone else think that Britta has finally found her stride as the insufferable liberal arts student that everybody hates? Is it bad that my brother and my cousins call me Britta? No?)
Jeff tried to use the escalating situation to his own advantage, providing anti-violence, anti-Braveheart speeches to both sides in a poorly disguised "Ferris Buellerian attempt to delay schoolwork." He got away with it in the eyes of the wartorn masses, but not with the only one who ever seemed to matter: The age-inappropriate Annie Edison, who started ignoring his text messages as a sign of disappointed defiance. "Your words don't mean anything," she said when they finally met in person. "They're just things you say to get what you want." When he defended his actions, she replied with "Maybe you should just shut up," making her my official soul sister of the week. Hey, manipulative liars: MAYBE YOU SHOULD JUST SHUT UP.
Finally, the battle hit way too close to emotional friendship home for Troy and Abed (And for us, their devoted viewers) when Abed sent out a devastating email to his entire team, selfishly highlighting Troy's weaknesses: "Loud noises, the color red, smooth jazz, shiny things, food smells, music boxes, bell bottoms, boobs, barking dogs, and anyone saying 'Look over there!'" Sadly, it got worse: "He's insecure about his level of intelligence. His greatest vulnerability of all is his emotional frailty. It's incredibly easy to make him cry, and he's incredibly ashamed of that fact."
Now, I know the commonly accepted diagnoses for Abed is Asperger's Syndrome (Which greatly hinders one's social skills), but coming from a recapper with Asperger's in the family, that was way harsh, Tai. Troy responded with an equally hurtful, friendship-slandering text message, and it started to seem as if John Goodman's Vice Dean had finally won -- the greatest friendship Greendale had ever seen was soon to be no more, leaving Troy with no choice but to accept his fate as a legendary Air Conditioning Repairman. The roomies even agreed that the loser of the pillowfight would move out of the apartment, giving up all rights to the Dreamatorium.
But at the end of the day, Jeff — of all people — was able to bring the duo back together. After a battle that the Guinness World Records guy called "the world's biggest mistake," the rest of the campus retreated, leaving Troy and Abed to hit each other with pillows all by their lonesome. Jeff realized that their inability to pull themselves away from each other meant that the friendship still had a chance, so he again offered the magical friendship hats they had rejected once before. "You left the magical friendship hats at the Dean's office," Abed said with a smirk. Troy shook his head in a sign of amused solidarity, then eagerly accepted his peace token once Jeff returned with the previously abandoned hats. They did the secret handshake, and off to the Dreamatorium they went (I assume).
In an equally sentimental turn, Annie told the camera crew that she was proud of Jeff for leaving for an extended amount of time to make Troy and Abed believe that he had actually gone all the way to the Dean's office to retrieve the hats. A Jeff voiceover and some found footage proved that Jeff actually DID enter the Dean's office, and he handled those hats with utmost care. For the first time ever, Jeff was playing along.
All in all, a fantastic episode. Harmon and co. not only provided a thrilling documentary that should be shown on PBS -- they packed an emotional punch and advanced Jeff's character in a way that didn't seem forced or cheesy. They did NOT Britta this one.
Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna