If you missed my thoughts on part one of this glorious two-parter, you can check them out here.
I’m actually not sure how much I have to say about “For A Few Paintballs More.” Clearly, it was a tremendously fun episode with a number of great gags and lines, but it had less stylistic and narrative depth than last week’s first part, which is most certainly fine. I’ve written about this series a lot this season (more than anything else, in fact) and would prefer to think about the whole season for a bit before really diving into it. I really don’t want to take anything away from this episode because it was still fairly awesome. I laughed a lot, I smiled a lot and the ending was more than I could have ever expected.
That’s where we have to begin, right? For most of the season, Pierce has been an antagonist, someone who has disrupted the group dynamics and “togetherness” with his pettiness, his drug problem and his general Pierce-ness. Dan Harmon has been doing the usual post-season round of interviews and he’s said some really interesting things about the Pierce character and his role in the series. In the EW piece with Harmon, he mentions that he never officially planned more than six episodes ahead and that Pierce’s role in the season was perhaps more defined by the need for a weekly villain than anything else. But clearly Harmon paid attention to how he was using Pierce, which allowed him to craft the narratives of these last few episodes where those weekly build-ups now create a larger picture of awfulness as far as Pierce is concerned. I don’t need my sitcoms to have a season-long plan, but I like what Harmon said here.
In any event, I think we were all waiting for Pierce’s big redemptive moment, which actually altered the way we were viewing the story to begin with. Pierce was so terrible for so long that it seemed like there was absolutely no way that the series could redeem him in a satisfying and believable way. That’s where so much of the frustration came from. We knew what was coming, but couldn’t really fathom how the series would get there. Fortunately, it seems like Harmon and his team knew that from the beginning, as Pierce’s “redemption” in “For A Few Paintballs More” does not come in the way that I expected. Sure, Pierce ends up officially winning the paintball tournament for Greendale, saving the school and looking like something of a hero. But just as the group has finally realized all those things we already know — they’re miserable people who need one another, no matter how annoying they can each get — Pierce has had enough. Pierce has been such a sad-sack all season, but his speech about going to Greendale for 12 years and pushing people away was so tremendously honest (albeit a bit on the nose). Pierce apparently acts the way he does so that people will just go away before they can really reject him, but the study group didn’t do that, so their eventually rejection hurt really badly. He’s still an asshole and I’m not sure his speech can really forgive that at all, but at least there is some major rationale behind that. We’ve been wondering all season why the group would hang out with Pierce, but that street goes both ways. He’s had enough and now he’s left the group.
I have to be honest, I couldn’t believe how well that ending worked. As I wrote about in a piece for yesterday, this whole season has really been about the end of the honeymoon phase for the group and what it means when everyone realizes they don’t like the person sitting next to them as much as they thought. The group has been fractured from the very beginning (since that fight in the study room in the premiere) and instead of dealing with the group-wide problems, it feels like Jeff and company just blamed it all on Pierce. That was the easy thing to do. But now he’s gone and I wonder how quickly it will take the group to realize that he wasn’t the only problem. He might have been the loudest one, but things aren’t going to be smooth from here. I thought Chevy was very good last week, but he was even better in that final scene. I’ve seen a lot of Chevy Chase’s work over the years, but that might have been his best dramatic work ever. Pierce is still awful (Harmon even said that he isn’t interested in making him “better”), but in that scene, I totally understood his perspective. ALL of these people are awful, just in varying degrees. I want to watch the whole season again to see how right I am, but I think the Pierce arc ended up working fairly well. There were some spots that probably could have used some contextualization, but with this ending, I’m ultimately satisfied with how it was handled. We were skeptical of the series pulling us in with a happy ending to the arc and they did the exact opposite, that’s kind of impressive.
Moreover, Pierce out of the group could mean so many great things for the series next season. It would give Harmon and company even more of an excuse to make him a flat-out villain (which critics and fans might embrace as well). He could team up with Chang, StarBurns and any number of the group’s quasi-enemies to really try to make them all suffer. And again, having him out of the group also means interesting things for the group dynamics as well. Who becomes Jeff and Britta’s scapegoat now (Well, except the escape goat from season 1, obviously)? Do people have less patience for Abed, or even Troy now? What about Shirley, who will probably be spending less time with the group next season because of her baby? The possibilities are sort of endless, which makes this decision even more intelligent.
As for the rest of the episode, I really don’t have that much to say. The episode smartly touched on but didn’t hammer home the Star Wars parallels and basically just relied on the charm of the Greendale universe. From Leonard and Garrett to StarBurns and Magnitude, this series has quickly established a large stable of recurring characters who populate this zany, wacky world (not unlike The Simpsons) who are just as fantastic as the main cast. Magnitude’s “death sequence” was probably my favorite part of the episode, with Leonard’s speech about participating in “a few real wars” coming in a close second. Because of that deep bench, this episode could be less about plot or pop culture homages and more about hanging out with awesome characters. I fully approve. And I cannot wait for season three.
- Annie really has a problem with kissing study group members in finales. Poor Troy.
- I thought for a second there that Britta was going to win the game by herself, thus putting a nice button on the “YOU ARE THE WORST” stuff, but I’m still okay with Britta just being the worst.
- Troy and Jeff’s power struggle was a nice little nod to Troy’s development this season. Troy came into his own this season and is probably the series’ most “heroic” character. He tries so hard.
- Jeff’s speech about Denny’s and the subsequent “Denny’s is for winners” had me stitches, for really no apparent reason.
- Cougar Town crossover!