This post contains spoilers for episode 5.07 of Community, “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality.”
Newton’s Third Law of motion, in simplified terms, is that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In a practical sense, Newton was codifying the idea that for every choice we make, or do not make, there is a consequence. There is always a consequence.
“Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality” opens with Jeff and Professor Duncan chatting in the faculty lounge, where apparently Greendale’s budget woes hasn’t meant a cut in the quality of refreshments, if Jeff’s tumbler of scotch is anything by which to judge.
Duncan, in the least subtle way possible, opens by reminding Jeff (and the audience) that they’ve known each other for a long time, then segues into a request for help in seducing Britta. Jeff demures, but ultimately outlines a plan for Duncan: Find something Britta cares about, pretend to care about it as well, and he’ll be in like Flynn.
After prompting Jeff to give him an opening at the end of the (weekly? daily?) meeting of the Save Greendale Committee, Duncan mentions he’ll be attending a benefit for starving children with cleft palates at a local theater. Cue the ‘awwws!’ from Britta and Annie, but Duncan’s plan starts to fall apart when Britta wants to go – along with Annie, Shirley and Chang. Jeff tries to worm his way out, but bows to peer pressure from the others to attend.
Later, at the theater after the show, Annie and Shirley go for a bite to eat, leaving Jeff, Duncan and Britta to have a drink at the bar. (Slightly OT: Is it normal to have a full-fledged bar in the lobby of a theater? I was reminded of the bar/gay theater in that one episode of The I.T. Crowd, but I’ve never been to a theater with a bar as fully equipped as that one or the one on Community.) Britta leaves Duncan and Jeff at the bar when she sees several old friends from her anarchist days and goes to greet them. Duncan and Jeff discuss Duncan’s plan to seduce Britta, but Jeff isn’t interested in sticking around to watch what he assumes will be a train wreck.
One of Britta’s old friends, Michael (pronounced ‘Mik-hael’ because why not?) thanks the people attending the benefit performance, then introduces Britta to the crowd as a ‘passionate activist.’ Abashedly, she responds that she’s only a “high school dropout bartender,” but she manages to charm the crowd with her usual mix of self-deprecation and optimism. Jeff then decides to stay, as he confesses to Duncan that he now finds Britta attractive because of her sudden popularity.
However, Duncan convinces Jeff to “stand down” for an hour to give him time to make a move. Duncan’s opportunity comes soon after, when Britta’s old friends give her a hard time about not having a real, grown-up life with actual responsibilities, and she realizes it wouldn’t matter to them if she’d really ‘sold out’ or not: They’ll never take her seriously.
Duncan swoops in with a handkerchief, a friendly shoulder, and an offer of to go someplace – just as Jeff’s hour runs down.
In the car, Britta explains she’s always based her own self perception on how her friends respond to and think of her, but if her old friends think she’s a joke – and as she thinks she has no other friends – she doesn’t know who she is. In a fit of conscience, Duncan tells her she’s not a joke, but decides to take her directly home, for which she thanks him.
Duncan then returns to the theater/bar, and has an awkward friend date with Jeff.
While all this has been happening, Abed spends the evening, alone, building a costume Kickpuncher costume to wear while he crashes the premiere for the Kickpuncher reboot. He’s wandering Greendale’s halls when he hears Professor Hickey grousing in an office. Abed finds Hickey at his desk, fussing with drawings that Abed then shoots with foam. In a fury, Hickey handcuffs Abed to a filing cabinet to force him to learn the consequences of acting without thinking. They spend the evening bonding and arguing and bonding some more.
The hashtag for this week’s episode was #AbedsLesson, which arguably gave precedence to the Abed and Hickey storyline. Hickey gave answer to a question the audience has often voiced: How does the rest of Greendale Community College view the Study Group? Previous episodes have illustrated the Dean gives them special preference; and last season’s faceoff with the German foreign exchange students, in “Alternative History of the German Invasion,” showed the other students bear resentment toward the Study Group. But in both cases, the Dean and the students who joined the German’s anti-Study Group protest were all characters who’ve had direct interaction with Jeff & Co. The only other time we’ve had a perspective similar to Hickey’s was in Season 1’s “Introduction to Statistics,” when the group interfered with Jeff’s attempts to woo Michelle Slater and she, in turn, asked Jeff if he was legally responsible for them. As Hickey rants at Abed, explaining he cannot let Abed go until the younger man learns that all actions have consequences, and that not everyone will be content to pussyfoot around, giving Abed’s feeling special consideration.
It’s particularly interesting, given Hickey’s willingness two episodes ago to play along with Abed’s campus-wide hot lava game, although his motives were admittedly mercenary. (That is, paying for his son’s wedding flowers.) At the end of the game, when Britta “killed” Hickey, he was angry, but presumably because he lost out on the $50,000 prize. However, the specifics of Hickey’s rant, coupled with not knowing precisely how much of Britta and Troy’s effort to “save” Abed, means there’s at least one person at Greendale who’s been watching the Study Group for some time and is un-enchanted with their adventures.
The Britta-Duncan-Jeff set up indicated Jeff’s cynicism in “Repilot” hasn’t stuck, as he was passed on his shot at striking while Britta was vulnerable. And Duncan’s decision not to take advantage of her, when added to his attempts in previous seasons to help the other members of the Study Group, mean he has nobler motives than his usual self-serving comments indicate.
At the same time, Britta’s identity crisis reveals an intrinsic weakness in the study group: Despite three years (plus the gas leak year) of comic exploits and zany, madcap adventures, she doesn’t consider the Study Group her friends. This is far more troubling than her realization that she can’t always rely on being a reflection of what others think of her, as if she doesn’t consider herself integral to the group, it makes their bonds weaker. The weaker their bonds, the easier it is for wedges to be driven between them, and for the Study Group to be divided. And, when we consider that their purpose this season is to work together to save Greendale, Britta’s Freudian slip that she has no friends doesn’t bode well for the future of our favorite community college. After all, while adding people to a situation affects group dynamics, sometimes removing someone from the same can have even more dire consequences.
What were your thoughts on the episode? Let me know in the comments, and join us next week on Twitter at @WWFTP, where I’ll be live tweeting the East coast broadcast.