Friday, August 8, 2014

Community 1.04: Social Psychology

Hey kids, remember the GREs? Of course you don’t. You don’t even exist. If you read this, you’re almost certainly a) about my age, or b) my mom (hi mom!), and grad school is either a distant memory or something you never really thought of. (Or maybe you’re taking them soon, in which case it might not be correct, strictly speaking, to say you “remember” them. Pedant.) Language has always been my strong suit, and I’d worried somewhat about the mathiness. I was pleasantly surprised, upon seeing my results, to see that not only had I done better than expected on the math, but that I had beaten my English score by 50 points.

Lifehack: Take the GREs on very little sleep, with one night of practice, while completely fucked up on cold medicine.

While gloating at work the next day, our genial psychology professor happened to be passing by. Upon hearing the news, he suggested I consider psychology, as it was a good field for humanities-oriented minds with an uncharacteristically analytical bent. I took this advice as seriously as I could, considering I was slightly more than one semester away from graduation, and that it would have taken somewhere between two and four semesters to accommodate changing my concentration into the social sciences. (In retrospect, this wouldn’t have been a terrible idea. With empirical knowledge of the intervening decade, it’s obvious I should have jumped from major to major until they kicked me out in 2026 for attempting to establish a concentration in phrenology.)

“But Peter,” you say, because we’ve gotten to know each other by this point, and some informality is appropriate, “what does this have to do with Community? Also, that story was boring. Like, really fucking boring.” I’m not going to disagree with you--I got bored enough that I went and read some Guardians of the Galaxy easter eggs in another window, and I’m writing the goddamn thing--but it’s a way of sneaking up on an increasingly obvious anomaly in my biography: why did I, an introspective, pretentious, somewhat primitivist kid with a weird sense of holiness and a fierce teenage crush on Joseph Campbell, never give the discipline of psychology so much as a passing thought when I had a chance to make it a meaningful part of my life?

I didn’t have a great sense of the interdisciplinary nature of gnosis, for one. Also, I entered college in a very Graham Greene sort of place, emotionally, and it’s probably not an accident that most of the women I’d spend the next four years trying to sleep with were firmly in the humanities camp. But I think the largest factor was that my older brother had already done the psychology track. Hence, a vast and thriving play space of human knowledge just seemed kind of quaint and redundant. This is stupid reasoning, of course. It’s also not a surprise; have you met 19-year-olds? It’s not uncommon among siblings, or any closed group: life is more a JRPG than an adventure game, and identity means specialization. Who we are is ineluctably affected--and is to some extent determined--by who surrounds us. Which is as good a way as any to get started on “Social Psychology,” written by Liz Cackowski and directed by Anthony Russo.

As we approach, Spanish class is coming to a close, with what might be an alien language scrawled on the chalkboard. Jeff leaves, but doubles back to find Britta. Not for the usual reasons; he’s just trying to avoid Shirley, with whom he is having difficulty managing small talk due to her aggressive lack of cynicism. Jeff points out that they've been growing closer as friends; "I'm really glad you're not hitting on me anymore," she replies. More importantly than the still-not-self-conscious will-they/won't-they in the foreground, Vaughn waves at Britta as she passes. Some interesting stuff about Vaughn. We'll follow up with Vaughn later.*

In the cafeteria, Annie catches up to the returning Professor Duncan in line and asks if she can participate in the psyche lab he's running later that day. Ignoring her concerns about her status as a freshman, Duncan does take the time to clarify that he's not allowed to date students. Annie is nonetheless interested, and the B-plot is established.

Meanwhile, Pierce receives a package containing Earnoculars, a head-mounted directional mic. Solid Snake could probably make it look pretty great, but on Clark Griswold it just looks kind of sad. Pierce's tech fetish will appear intermittently in the show. It's not exactly a character trait; the show will elsewhere get mileage out of the standard joke that old people are hopeless with tech. Perhaps it's meant to gesture toward overcompensation, which is essentially Pierce's defining quality. It's sort of an addendum to the Jeff/Britta plot, I suppose. Appropriately for an episode themed on navigating the competing demands of multiple relationships, "Social Psychology" helpfully reminds us that this show really hasn't figured out what to do with its cast yet.

Back in the actual show, Annie dragoons Troy and Abed into Duncan's experiment, providing me with a vital opportunity to use "dragoon" as a verb. "Do they do stuff to your butt?" asks Troy. When Annie assures him that they do not, he presses the issue: "Do you get paid more if they do stuff to your butt?" Again Annie says no, now clearly confused, but Troy says he'll do it anyway. Abed has plans, but agrees when Annie asks him to participate because of their friendship. Elsewhere, Vaughn is chatting up Britta, and Jeff goes over for what is almost certainly an operational cockblock, but we're going to ignore their story for the time being and head into...

...Duncan's lab, where he's instructing Annie and several other students--among them the delightful and thankfully recurrent Garrett--on the specifics of the experiment. The subjects are in the next room, waiting for the experiment to begin, but the waiting is the experiment. Duncan has hypothesized that they will prove the aptly named Duncan Principle: "the more control lost by the ego, the more gained by the id, resulting in the surprisingly predictable emotional eruption or breaking point, known to ma and pa," Duncan illustrates with a mime shotgun, "as a good ol' fashioned tantrum." Annie, smiling at this secret knowledge shared within the subgroup, goes out to tell the assembled crowd that they'll be starting in five minutes. Garrett also smiles, but it's not as charming, because Garrett is not played by Alison Brie. Instead, it's sort of unnerving. We don't get to dwell on it, because, upon being informed of the five-minute delay, Chang has a complete breakdown and leaves the room in tears, fury, and a smattering of Spanish.

Shirley meets up with Jeff, and wants to walk and talk. Jeff agrees to give it a shot; awkward silence ensues, followed by crosstalk. A connection is finally made upon the discovery of a topic for which they share a passion: making fun of Pierce. Soon, the conversation evolves to making fun of Vaughn. "He's the worst," says Jeff.

No, Jeff. Vaughn is not the worst. But we'll get there.

In the experiment, the crowd is beginning to thin. Troy breaks, in a shower of tears, and leaves. Only Abed now remains.

Back on the quad, Jeff explains the Complicated Situation with Britta, which is of great interest to Shirley. Not so much because she's a gossip, although she is, like most people are; Shirley's interest is specifically because she's a Jeff/Britta shipper. (Jritta? Beff?) "We're not pandas in a zoo," Jeff admonishes her, but is still a bit put off when they pass Britta and Vaughn making out on a blanket.

Depressed!Jeff leans against a vending machine. Britta apologizes for the awkwardness, and explains that she didn't tell the group about Vaughn because she didn't want them making fun of him. Jeff tries to be supportive, and Britta says he won't see anything like that again, and this conversation is many orders of magnitude less awkward than it is IRL. Maybe it's because they're fictional; maybe it's just because they're so attractive. The next time Jeff and Shirley walk together, he tries to refrain from Vaughn-bashing, resolving instead to friend the hell out of the green tea drinking drum circler.

Annie, drenched in sweat, is looking inappropriately attractive with her dissheveled hair. She apologizes to Abed for having kept him waiting for the last 26 hours, and asks that he wait another five minutes. With no visible irritation, he agrees. Upon her return to Duncan's room, Garrett freaks out and leaves. The Duncan tantrum has at this point gone viral, as Duncan has his own meltdown, and blames Annie for bringing Abed in the first place. He calls the experiment off; Annie unceremoniously opens the door and bellows at Abed to go home.

Jeff, far from this more interesting plot, has been trying to make nice with Vaughn. Over Spanish review, Britta confides in Jeff that Vaughn is getting a little relationshippy for her tastes, and has gone so far as to have written her a poem. Jeff sneaks a picture, and later shares the poem with Shirley.

Annie is still mad at Abed, and Abed is mad right back at her. He says he was "livid," but stayed--and stayed completely motionless--because she said they were friends. This is probably the emotional payoff of the episode, reminding us that Abed's inscrutability can be pretty unnerving when it's aimed at you. We have good reason to believe, from this episode and others, that Abed doesn't really know how to display anger in a way that's comprehensible to others, but his insistence on the importance of the label Annie awarded their relationship takes primacy in the scene. Abed gets labels, even if he's often extremely confused about what they represent. He understands the world in terms of nested categories, and he clearly places great importance on the category Annie placed him in. She was attempting to guilt trip him into giving up his evening on her behalf, but he didn't feel guilty. He felt honored.

But back to Sam and Diane.

Pierce arrives with the aforementioned Earnoculars and reveals to the group that Jeff and Shirley have been making fun of them. Upon being told that those jokes were about Vaughn and not him, he happily joins in, and the group momentum inspires Shirley to share the poem over Jeff's half-hearted objections. Britta enters with Vaughn, who is predictably upset: "This is the least tight thing that's ever happened to me." Britta stares daggers at Jeff, and Shirley is quick to throw him under the bus.

Later, Shirley and Jeff try to bond without ragging on anyone, but she has one more piece of gossip for him: "Britta told me she had a sex dream about you. You still have a chance."

Annie presents Abed with a gift bag containing the three good Indiana Jones movies, and Abed says they're cool. It's a really short scene; I'm not sure why I even brought it up.

Jeff apologizes to Britta, whom Vaughn has since broken up with. Jeff, defending his actions, says that he couldn't handle being "one of the girls," and asks if there's "a spot on the friendship spectrum between total stranger and having to hear about the guys you date?" They settle on cat-sitting, and there lies the Jeff/Britta ship, for now. Jeff takes care to rat out Shirley in retaliation, and Vaughn returns to his tribe, somewhat dirtied by the worrisome world the study group.

Later, Shirley and Britta are walking together, and Jeff asks to borrow Pierce's Earnoculars to eavesdrop; Pierce has since rejected the device, and opines on the nature of hearing and friendship: "You see, Jeff, there are certain things Man was not meant to hear. We were designed, by whatever entity you choose, to hear what’s in this range, And really, this range alone. Because you know who’s talking to us in this range? The people we love."

And so it stands, until the next one. I've been poking about, so far unsuccessfully, to find ways to cut the fat from these things, as I don't intend to have quite this much free time on my hands for the next five to ten years. The end tag has Troy and Abed making fun of people as they pass by the study room, unaware that they're easily within earshot. Upon being caught, Troy offers advice we can all use from time to time: "Just pretend like you're asleep. Just pretend you were sleeping."

First Appearances
  • Vaughn: casual.
  • Garrett: intense.
  • The tears of Troy.
  • "The Soul Train awards were tonight! You promised butt stuff!"
  • "Go kill John Lennon again, ya loser!"
  • "I can't believe I showed you that poem. Oh God, my life is Degrassi High."
What Have We Learned?

"Some worries, man. Some worries."

Parade of Tears

*And by "later," I mean in a later recap. I thought I'd get to it here, but I didn't. No worries.

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