S2E23: Before we get too far with this latest episode of Community, let’s keep in mind that while it’s certainly a worthy paintball redux, it can never really match the original “Modern Warfare.” It’s not possible and if you went in expecting that, you were probably disappointed. “Modern Warfare” is simply pristine, but “A Fistfull of Paintballs” was a fun, riotous companion to the classic episode and for the menfolk I’m sure Annie running in slow-motion in a low cut shirt was the singular reason this episode will be one of their top 10 favorite episodes.
The other factor to keep in mind here is that this paintball episode was actually made to be an hour-long one, but that the NBC schedule forced the show to split the faux-spaghetti western in twain and air it over two Thursdays. So, if you felt like you were left hanging or the episode felt unfinished, that’s because you’ve only seen half of it. With that in mind, I think we found a great set-up for the second half.
“Jeff wants to see you.” –Abed
“And I want pants. A lot of people want a lot of things.” – Annie
This episode is really Annie’s and that’s a beautiful thing. Beyond the fact that I have a total girl-crush on Alison Brie, Annie is a great character and while she hasn’t exactly been buried but she’s yet to have an episode that really features her first and foremost this season.
She opens the episode at Greendale, the school already deep into the game of paintball assassin, and she’s already kicking ass. She encounters the bully from season one and slays him before offering a duel to Fat Neil who promptly loses. Like the stop-motion Christmas episode, this one has a unique opening that had all the zeal of our favorite gun-slinging westerns.
Of course, being that Annie kicks so much ass, Abed (dressed as a Clint Eastwood-variety cowboy) enlists her and they save Jeff (who I’m pretty sure is wearing his sexy cowboy costume from Halloween last season) from the Math kids and Chang who’s jumping sides every chance he gets. The trio make an alliance and head out to seek Pierce who’s rumored to be sitting on an ammunition stockpile. There’s really not much to criticize here. Sure, they play up the camp, but that’s part of the fun. The result is a paintball redux with western flair and it’s simply a whole lot of fun.
“I’m not risking my butt hauling ammo back for the guy that has Vicki dancing for Twinkies.” –Jeff
Jeff’s having a hard time this episode, but we’ll get to that when touch on the Black Rider’s role. First, the trio runs into the rest of the study group outside of Pierce’s fort. Shirley (who’s kicking ass for someone who just had a baby), Britta, and Troy hold up Annie, Abed and Jeff but they eventually enter Pierce’s fort together. I would like to take a moment to commend Community for putting Troy in a costume reminiscent of a beloved western comedy while everyone else is channeling more serious cowboy gun-slingers. I think it’s safe to say his costume is a nod to Blazing Saddles – these guys are comedy writers after all.
The find Pierce at the vending machines, with a saloon set up and the men’s bathroom as his office (which is pretty damn appropriate if you ask me). Like so many eerily calm dinners with the enemy in movies, the group sits down to dine with Pierce and this is where the season-long arc about his separation from the rest of the group comes to a head. He’s jealous that they were playing poker without him the other day (and we assume that’s why each member of the study group has names like the Ace of Hearts – Annie), but as we find out later in the episode, they weren’t playing poker. They were using cards to vote him out of the group and Annie’s Ace of Hearts was the only red card and thus the only reason Pierce hadn’t been booted. Out of guilt, they all agree to seek the ammo Pierce asks them to find with the promise that they’ll split the $100,000 prize between them.
I like that they finally did something with this plot that’s been swirling around all season. It’s got a definite season finale feel without relying on cliff-hanger drama and Dan Harmon has said he doesn’t want to leave us hanging this season so that they can start off strong next season with a really great, new and different episode.
“Does that guy even go to this school? He's really good-looking. I mean network TV good looking.” –Abed
Of course, it turns out Pierce double-crossed them. The ammo he provided for the mission is full of blanks. It does manage to save Annie’s ass when she encounters the Black Rider (Josh Holloway) for the second time. He corners her and shoots her in the foot, but no paint comes out. This was probably the best part of the whole episode, with Annie resisting Rider and chalking her blushing up to a bean allergy – which I loved – and the slow-motion paintballs flying as Jeff and Abed come to her aid and Rider escapes. It was a really delightfully cheesy, high action scene.
When they finally do find the Dean in his impossibly skimpy cowboy outfit, they grab the ammo and I love that Annie ends up with Chang’s tiger gun from “Modern Warfare” as they head off to find Pierce and pay him back for what he’s done. The final scene was really great. It had everything: betrayal, drama, regret, and revenge (and for the guys, Annie’s boobs). Annie admits that the poker game was an attempt to vote Pierce out but that she voted him in. Because she feels so betrayed, she challenges Pierce to a duel, but of course the Black Rider comes waltzing in, arousing Jeff’s insecurities and we find ourselves in a four-way standoff. Pierce fakes a heart attack, because well, he’s Pierce and he’s a cheater, Rider falls for it and loses.
We knew his stint would be short, but of course we wanted a little more. I think he served his purpose though. He got to be Sawyer-esque, dark and mysterious (undercut by his affinity for Coldplay at the end of the episode) and he got to make Jeff feel incredibly insecure, which is always hilarious. (“Is my forehead really that big?” “It’s not small.”) Rider leaves right before admitting he was the mole for the ice cream company that's supposed to be supplying the prize money. Of course their backup plan is an elimination squad that swarms the campus at the end of the episode, led by the annoying giant ice cream cone mascot. This was the only part that really bothered me. A high-pitched voice commanding troopers from the inside of an ice cream suit just took the episode from delightfully campy to too much. I’m hoping it’s not too big of a part next episode, but from the looks of the preview scenes at the end, it will be.
As for now, at least we can say we had a bit of fun, let’s just hope we can say the same when we see the second half next week.