Since returning from hiatus, Community has struggled to match the creativity that made earlier episodes so amazing. With “Pillows and Blankets,” though, Community has outdone itself in terms of sheer brilliance and inventiveness. Possibly the best episode in the show’s short, but impressive, history, “Pillows and Blankets” may be a landmark episode in television history. Not only have the writers continued the arc whose seeds were planted long ago (Evil Troy, Vice Dean Laybourne, Chang’s army), they also intertwine a masterful homage to the Ken Burns-style documentary, a medium Abed has flirted with since the show’s inception.
Our tranquil Narrator (Keith David) opens the episode by recounting the events that led to the Greendale Civil War of 2012, which was essentially a massive pillow fight. As recounted in last week’s episode “Digital Exploration of Interior Design,” Troy and Abed’s longtime friendship comes to a decisive moment when the men have two very distinct (and conflicting) visions of the type of fort they want to build. Abed wants to continue building the pillow fort (New Fluffytown) that he and Troy set out to make. Troy, however, wants to set the world record for biggest blanket fort and secedes from New Fluffytown to create Blanketsburg.
During a standoff in the study room, a stray pillow collapses a portion of one of the forts, leading to the first pillow battle in what will become a legendary pillow war.
When Dean Pelton (whose fault this all really is) tries to intervene, Troy (head of the Legit Republic of Blanketsburg) and Abed (leader of the United Forts of Pillowtown) refuse to come to an agreement, blaming the other for the war’s escalation. Troy gives Abed an “all tomato”: either take down the pillow fort or the violence will increase. (In Troy’s words: “You give me the whole tomato or else.”)
With their loyal (and not so loyal) soldiers by their side, Troy and Abed strategically plan how to destroy each other’s fort. Shirley “Big Cheddar” Bennett pledges her allegiance to Troy, hoping to prevent Britta from getting him on the weed in his time of vulnerability. Pierce pledges his loyalty to Abed, after first pledging his loyalty to Troy and then switching to Abed’s side because Shirley became Troy’s second-in-command. Leonard, who as it turns out fought for the North Korean army in the Korean War, is also aligned with Abed, but doesn’t appear to have done too much in the way of actual fighting.
In the midst of all the carnage (well, maybe not “carnage,” per se, but certainly a lot of feathers), Annie, a Health Management major, sets up an infirmary in the neutral zone for students who have suffered casualties like broken glasses and lightly grazed testicles. Through a voiceover narration of their text conversations, Annie commends Jeff for a rousing speech he delivered to Troy’s army, but then scoffs when she learns he did the same thing at Abed’s camp just because he wants the war to continue so that he can keep missing class. (The dean aptly inquires, “Doesn’t anyone here go to class?”)
The war takes a dark turn when Troy catches wind of a Doomsday weapon Pierce is preparing to build for Abed. In a pre-emptive attack on the United Forts of Pillowtown, Troy enlists the help of Chang, Greendale’s Head of Security and possible psychopath, and the group of security interns he recruited to help fight crime on campus. Dubbed the Changlourious Basterds, the small army of teenage boys are lethal pillow fighters, having fought more recently than any of Greendale’s students. As they stalk the land, they take to wearing necklaces of mattress tags as symbols of their conquests.
In response, Abed unleashes Pierce and his impenetrable suit of pillows. Pierce’s rampage is the most gruesome and disturbing event in the war’s history.
Just when the two armies are about to collide in the cafeteria and massive fatalities are sure to be suffered on both sides, Dean Pelton marches in to inform Troy and Abed that the Guinness World Record folks will not be coming to Greendale because the representative was fired under mysterious circumstances. The armies retreat (actually, they just sort of wander away), but Troy and Abed have suffered too greatly to end the war. They continue hitting each other with pillows, realizing that it will be the last thing they ever do together since their friendship is over. But, with a little help from Jeff and a couple of magic friendship hats, Troy and Abed are able to put their differences behind them and resume being best friends.
This episode is outstanding for a variety of reason, mainly the complete dedication the writers had to this style of historical documentary. Nothing is played for laughs; the comedy comes from the juxtaposition of the serious approach with the absurdity of the premise. The voiceovers of text messages and Facebook posts are read with the sincerity of an actor reading an actual letter from a soldier to his sweetheart back home.
Instead of the reenactments that the History Channel is known for, the writers utilize the “found footage” style that has become so popular lately in filmmaking (see: Paranormal Activity, Chronicle, The Blair Witch Project). This “cell phone footage” fits in perfectly with not only the documentary approach, but the show’s predilection for reflecting today’s society.
“Pillows and Blankets” will likely become one of the episodes of Community that fans will know inside and out, like “Paradigms of Human Memory” and the paintball trilogy. It is a reminder that Community hasn’t lost its brilliance or creativity and that now, more than ever, it deserves at least six seasons and a movie.
-“Real Neil with pipes of steel.”
-Pierce’s erectile dysfunction on the battlefield
-“Leonard likes this post.”
-The Greendale Public Television telethon at the end of the episode.
-Jeff gently nudging someone away so as not to be directly involved in the pillow fight.
-“There were feathers everywhere.”
-Running commentary on the ridiculousness of the Rambo titles
Matthew Newlin lives in St. Louis, Missouri and has been a film critic for over six years. He has written for numerous online media outlets, including “Playback:STL” and “The Weissman Report.” He holds a Master’s of Education in Higher Education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and is an Assistant Director of Financial Aid. A lifelong student of cinema, his passion for film was inherited from his father who never said “No, you can’t watch that.”