by Mark Greig
Horribleness and greatness are two sides of the same coin and every time a new sequel is born, the gods will toss the coin in the air and the world will hold its breath to see how it will land. But sometimes, on very rare occasions, the coin will fall on its side and at an angle resulting in a sequel that is not one thing and only a part of the other.
‘Modern Warfare’ was the most popular episode of season one and the one that really established Community as something truly special. So it is no surprise that the writers decided to do a follow up. This was of course a huge gamble on their part. It is an established scientific fact (that I just made up) that sequels disappoint 80% of the time. Could the show beat the odds and bottle lightening a second time? The answer, sadly, is no. ‘Modern Warfare’ was something truly special. ‘A Fistful of Paintballs’, on the other hand, is just really, really good.
It is the end of year picnic at Greendale Community College and for some stupid reason Dean Pelton has agreed to stage another game of Paintball Assassin. Worse still, the prize now is something far more valuable than priority registration - $100,000. Nothing is guaranteed to drive people crazy faster than the promise of hard cash. As before, the entire campus descends into absolute chaos as the students battle it out until the last one standing claims the prize.
At the same time, a mysterious gunslinger, dressed in black and network TV handsome, is stalking the halls of Greendale determined to win. He’s good. Really good. A little too good to be a student at Greendale. Josh Holloway is basically just playing Sawyer here (even going so far as to give people nicknames), but I’m not going to grumble because I love Sawyer and wish he had been used more. There is nothing more annoying than a underused special guest star. Okay, there are a lot of things more annoying than a underused special guest star (like people who don’t say thank you when you hold a door open for them), but it is still pretty annoying.
Instead of action movies, the second Greendale paintball war is a tribute to the great American genre - the Western. Or rather the Spaghetti Westerns (made by Italians, filmed in Spain) of the great Sergio Leone, such as the Dollars Trilogy, the epic Once Upon a Time in the West (my all time favourite western) and the less well regarded Duck, You Sucker (also known as A Fistful of Dynamite, also known as Once Upon a Time... the Revolution, also known as “Fucking hell, is someone ever going to decide on a title for this movie?”).
I’m not surprised that they chose to homage just Leone’s Westerns. His films have a very distinctive style that is much easier to imitate than anything by, say, John Ford. Plus, you know, they are just so much cooler. Many of the references, such as the title sequences, Abed's poncho, the Ennio Morricone-style score and a Mexican standoff finale, are so obvious that even someone who has never seen one of Leone’s movies would likely get them. Others, like the flashbacks scattered throughout the episode, are less obvious. In true Leone-style, the wordless flashbacks seem irrelevant at first, but gradually build and build until their true meaning is finally clear.
As well as the Western motif, this episodes also differs from ‘Modern Warfare’ by placing the focus on Annie and Pierce, who were both killed early in the last war, rather than Jeff and Britta. Annie is essentially the central character of this episode. The past five hours of non-stop fighting have turned the group’s sweet Disney princess into a badass fighting machine. Annie’s got her gun and is showing no mercy, especially to bitchy cheerleaders. As Abed points out, she’s pretty awesome today.
While Annie was scaling new heights of awesomeness, Pierce sunk to even lower levels of dickishness. As the flashbacks revealed, the majority of the group has grown tired of Pierce’s behaviour and doesn’t want him as part of the study group next year (hallelujah!). The only hold out is Annie. She’s the key vote keeping Pierce in the group. The war may have hardened her spirit, but it clearly hasn’t hardened her heart. For better or worse, this group is her family and she doesn’t want to see it break up, even if it means putting up with Pierce for another year. But that was before he gave Jeff a gun filled with blanks. Now Annie is just as done with Pierce as the rest of the group.
So Pierce is now finally, FINALLY, out of the study group. And, after a season of flipping back and forth, it looks like he has also fully embraced his role as the villain of this story. But Pierce is the least of the study group’s problems. The black rider, who doesn’t actually ride anything, was merely a prelude to an even greater threat to the student body. An enemy army has invaded the campus. Their purpose? Unknown. Their leader? A giant ice cream.
Notes and Quotes
--Jeff's cowboy costume is the same one he wore in "Introduction to Statistics", Abed's is The Man With No Name and Troy's is a copy of Clevon Little's in Blazing Saddles.
--Because this is my review and I can do what I want, here's some actual Ennio Morricone music:
Annie: "What do you want, Jeff?"
Annie: "Stop trying to fluster me with your handsomeness."
Annie: "He's a jerk because we exclude him."
Jeff: "We exclude him because he's a jerk."
Pierce: "I'm the best."
Britta: "You're the worst."
Jeff: "Okay, Black Rider, now let's see who's attractive."
Troy: "Dude, you have a problem."
Abed: "Jeff wants to see you."
Annie: "And I want pants. A lot of people want a lot of things."
Jeff: "My forehead's not that big right?"
Troy: "It's not small."
Jeff: "I'm not risking my butt hauling ammo back for the guy who has Vicki dancing for twinkies."
Pierce: "She's a dance major, Jeff! And she likes twinkies."
Annie: "Kick, don't reach. Hey, Christina Ricci, I said kick."
Three and a half out of four Coldplay tickets.