Episode 11 – “Modern Espionage”
Right from her debut back in Community’s season six opener, ‘Ladders’, Frankie Dart has had one goal – save Greendale from itself. Ten episodes later it appears she’s made progress, enough so that her reputation of efficient nonsense-smothering has made her enemies. Who are they? No one knows. Some say they’re just a rumour, an unseen form lurking in darkness, ready to silence those who dare speak their name aloud. They’re everywhere, and nowhere…
But really, they’re just the Greendale janitorial staff.
“Modern Espionage”, Community’s foray into the spy genre, takes the increasingly popular “ghost organization” trope (Hydra, Spectre), adds some paintballs, and shakes (not stirs) resulting in what is sure to become a classic episode.
In response to Frankie’s anti-shenanigans policy, Greendale’s annual (yet completely unintentional) paintball tournament is forced underground. Jeff believed his days of paint-splattered mayhem were behind him, but enters the game nonetheless to end it before Frankie finds out what her school is up to. The rest of the plot follows a James Bondian course: Abed tracks down a skeevy munitions dealer (Mitch Hurwitz, Arrested Development) at a swanky club, Britta and Leroy go undercover as waiters at an upscale gala, Annie trades fire with a masked villain named Silver Ballz, and Jeff shoots a disabled kid in the face.
I don’t think Bond every did that last thing, but whatever. It was funny.
Where “Modern Warfare”, the quintessential paintball episode, was more of a ‘guns blazin’ action flick (Justin Fast and Furious Lin directed) “Espionage” aims smaller, swapping automatics and grenades for silencers and earpieces. The result is a smarter episode that relies on intrigue and plot reveals to build momentum instead of a rising body count. Even the shoot outs feel more mature, with Britta and Leroy expertly using their wits and surroundings to defeat the evil kitchen staff instead of the standard “duck and cover” manoeuvre the gang has deployed in the past.
The climactic reveal is that the shadowy figures backing the tournament are the Greendale janitorial staff, led by Silicon Valley’s Kumail Nanjiani. A filthy, paint-stained Greendale keeps them happily employed, and Frankie’s efforts to clean up the school herself threaten their very livelihoods. It reminds me of an article I recently read that outlined how horse breeders were among those who protested the railroads. I imagine their concerns went something like:
“Sure it’s faster, more convenient, comfortable, and safe. But what about the HORSES?!”
That sort of flawed and selfish logic is the antithesis of what Community is all about – friendship and self sacrifice. Jeff says as much by arguing a cleaner Greendale is good for everyone, students and janitors alike. The more interesting reveal, to me anyway, is that Jeff goes on record in favor of what Frankie it doing. Jeff endorses her methods and believes with Frankie at the helm Greendale has a shot at something they’ve never been before – competent.
It’s a sweet moment in a season that has been noticeably void of any romantic subplots. With that in mind, Jeff’s newly admitted admiration/affection for Frankie is something to note as we prepare for the home stretch…