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It took all year but paintball finally returned to Greendale this week as Community’s "A Fist Full of Paintballs" hit the airwaves. To say I was excited for the beginning of the two-part season finale would be a dramatic understatement given how phenomenal season one’s “Modern Warfare” was, and much to my complete and utter lack of surprise, it absolutely killed. Possibly not the best episode of the season as it has some fierce competition, but an absolutely outstanding twenty minutes of television nonetheless.
Throwing us in at the deep end, the episode opens with an introduction to the badass western paintball warrior version of Annie “The Ace of Hearts” Edison, saving Fat Neil before being forced to strike him down as well. You could kind of tell by this point into the episode that it was aspiring to do so much more than they did last year and they really didn’t let up in their efforts. The credits alone deserve a solid mention as the cowboy theme continued throughout them as well before we finally come to understand just why everyone is dressed like it’s 1865 and are hunting each other down once again. In a flashback scene we see that at the end of year picnic – sponsored by Pistol Patty’s Cowboy Creamery – the Dean announces that a lighthearted game of paintball assassin will cap off the year, but to stop the madness of the previous year, the prize has been downgraded from priority registration to a mere $100,000. The choice of using non-linear storytelling was an interesting one, but once it all pays off, it was actually a pretty great way of bringing it all together.
Five hours later, Abed “The Jack of Clubs” Nadir brings a ridiculous amount of cowboy charm as he convinces Annie to meet with Jeff “The King of Spades” Winger about forming an uneasy alliance to head into the newly erected Fort Hawthorne, and steal Pierce’s fabled stockpile of ammo. It would be a lie if I said that Abed wasn’t already my favorite character in the show, but moments like this one really remind me why. Danny Pudi’s ability to convincingly play anything from a charismatic cowboy to Batman is simply ridiculous, especially for a man that no one would ever consider to give an award to. Before they can head off on their mission the group encounters a heavily armed and thoroughly handsome cowboy known only to others as The Black Rider (played by Lost’s Josh Holloway). Declaring his intention to win the paint-filled bout, The Black Rider then forces our heroes into running as they are out-gunned. Coming across Britta “The Queen of Spades” Perry, Shirley “The Ace of Clubs” Bennett and Troy “The King of Clubs” Barnes – all working for Pierce’s group – Jeff, Abed and Annie are taken for an audience with the old man.
At Fort Hawthorne, a safe haven/saloon established in the cafeteria, the study group reforms a bigger alliance under Pierce’s rule with the intention of going to find the weaponry used in last year's fight so that they can finish the game once and for all, splitting the prize between them. On their way, Annie saves Chang from the cheerleading squad – one of the many groups he has joined and betrayed – before hunting him down as well. Another confrontation with The Black Rider reveals that Pierce loaded Jeff’s weapon with blanks and the group decides that his betrayal is one step too far. After arming themselves to the teeth with last year’s guns, they head off to take out Pierce.
The only real character-driven moments of the episode come when the group confronts Pierce and he reveals that he is hurt by getting left out all of the time – citing a card game he walked in on three days earlier. Annie, feeling guilty, reveals that the group wasn’t playing cards but was in fact voting on whether or not Pierce would remain a member of the group; requiring a unanimous vote, Pierce was saved by a solitary red card – Annie’s Ace of Hearts. As the group squares off in a duel, The Black Rider shows up one final time before getting taken out by Pierce when he fakes a heart attack. As Pierce flees the scene, The Black Rider reveals that he doesn’t attend Greendale, but works for the ice cream company and was put into the game to ensure no student took the prize. With his reported failure, we see the ice cream company move to plan B, “Operation Total Invasion,” as a group of Storm Trooper-looking paintball soldiers take to the college to finish off the survivors. The idea that the group would vote out Pierce came as kind of a shock to me; despite his racism and general demeanor his character has always been a sort of focal point for the group. Although they may not like him, everyone has had some sort of meaningful interaction with Chevy Chase’s persona over the season and though he will obviously be around in season three, the change in the group dynamic caused by this revelation will be interesting to see.
When all is said and done there is no other way to put it than to say that this is niche television. If you’re a nerdy 18-35 year old male, you’re genetically set to love it. If you’re a woman that likes attractive men, you’re genetically set to love it. Other than that, you’re basically going to be wondering what the hell is going on on your screen. Community has consistently done well at jumping outside of the box that anyone with half a brain has to respect it, but "A Fist Full of Paintballs" is nothing more than pure silliness and colossal amounts of fun. If for some reason you don’t like that, that’s your choice, but I have to ask...WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?? The setup for next week’s finale seems solid as the remaining students will band together to fight the ice cream warriors, and I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how they decide to wrap it all up.