Community’s episode 4.03, “Conventions of Space and Time”, is going to go down as the most controversial episode of Community of all time. One reviewer called it the worst episode of Community ever. Fan groups have fractured. The emotions have escalated since the episode aired, with some fans bemoaning that Community is done and everything that made it the show to watch was now gone. “Community is not about relationships!” was the rallying cry.
And you know what? It think that this episode was pretty much designed to set the fanbase against each other.
Why else would the Community Facebook follow up with retweets of Jeff/Annie gifsets (one with the hashtag “#WE SHIP IT”) and then a post asking, “What do you think about Annie and Jeff?” They weren’t baiting for approval. They’d known that half of the Community fans hated Jeff/Annie. So my take is that they knew exactly what they were doing: stirring up passionate arguments to energize the fanbase. So what if half the fans hated it? As Elie Wiesel once said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”
Now, just to get it out there: I’m a huge Jeff/Annie shipper. I root for these two because of the chemistry whenever Allison Brie and Joel McHale are in the same room together. Unlike some reviewers who think that the relationship has reduced Annie to the role of “has boobs/wants to f*** Jeff”, I think that the show has portrayed her as surprisingly complex. She’s often the most mature of the Greendale Seven, but she is still young and has moments when she lapses into childish behavior. As Jeff says, she’s driven. She owns a gun. She’s faced dark times with a pill addiction, missed out on her childhood, and is still trying to find her way in the world.
Meanwhile, when we meet Jeff Winger, he’s a jerk who think he’s got everything figured out. He’s usually brought down from his immense ego trip when Annie is involved. In “Debate 109”, for example, he’s recruited to the Debate Team, which is the epitome of dorkiness. Annie manages to bring him down to her level (using his ego against him). By the time the episode is over, Jeff Winger has fully committed to his role as a debate partner and he ends up having fun. (You know, beyond the obvious benefits.) So I love how everytime Annie brings Jeff down to her nerdy little world, he enjoys himself … and actually starts growing as a person.
I am such a huge Jeff/Annie shipper that I couldn’t watch the show past the Season One finale. The kiss between the two was so epic that I knew, deep down, that there was no way this was going to go but downhill. I refused to watch the next season because I knew, I just knew that this was going to be broken up as quickly as possible. And my suspicions were right: the show pretty much sabotaged the relationship by the very next episode. Suddenly, Annie was mad that Jeff slept with another woman (a close mutual friend, in fact) and claimed that she only kissed Jeff to be cool.
Here’s what some of the Jeff/Annie was that even the Jeff/Annie shippers weren’t to thrilled going into this episode either. The advanced notices claiming that Annie had regressed beyond repair were disheartening. This was bolstered none at all by the previews. One, specifically, set the fandom on edge. Annie pretends to be “Mrs. Winger,” after which she lets out a sigh and collapses on the bed. It looked like the criticisms were all true: Annie’s character was being regressed to a childlike state because all the fans were perceived to be teenage girls. Then there was word that there was going to be a fantasy sequence where Annie imagines herself married to Jeff. Oh, God. One fan even tweeted that she heard that this episode was going to be the one where Jeff outright rejected Annie… and this seemed to be a good enough impetus for it.
Things were looking worse than ever.
And then, after the episode aired, the Jeff/Annie fans were united like never before. At the same time, the Jeff/Annie haters were united like never before. This was the episode that split the fandom.
So what happened?
There’s actually two things you have to keep in mind about this episode:
1.) The episode opens with Jeff and Annie planning to go on a ski trip together. This is actually a pretty major step between the two already. Other team ups from previous seasons were basically forced on these two. For example, Jeff only gets into Annie’s Model UN, for example, because he needs to defend Annie’s honor against Annie Kim’s Model UN. But a ski vacation? This continues the “more than just friends” vibe from the previous episode, where Jeff planned a couples costume where he was a shirtless boxer and she was his sexy ring girl.
And seriously, you don’t have to blind to figure out what’s going on here. Ski trip. One hotel room (albeit with two bedrooms). The two of them together without any of the other Study Group. (A commentator once angrily pointed out, “Why didn’t Jeff also invite Pierce and Shirley?” Duh doy… you don’t invite third wheels for your sexy ski trip.) This isn’t even subtext. One or both of the parties were sorta hoping this trip would end in hot sex.
Those fans who claim that this is all a fantasy dreamed up by Annie? You can pretty much stuff it.
2.) Those fantasy sequences that Annie was having? That wasn’t pandering to the fans. They were being intentionally played up to as creepy. The clue here is that Annie somehow acquires Jeff’s hair and places them in the sink. Take that out, and her fantasy can be seen as cute … or childish “regression”, as the critics like to call it. But put that simple line in, and it sorta crosses the line. Even fans who like Annie, who don’t see her as some sort of perfect angel but as a very complex woman who’s still working out her issues, were taken a little aback by this.
So with those two items in had, you can figure that Annie was a little more crushed than would be normal than if this was just two friends hanging out. The fantasy sequence didn’t come from nowhere, either. We’ve seen Annie go all out when constructing a fantasy. When she breaks Abed’s DVD, she intentionally trashes her own apartment to cover up. When she’s asked to roleplay an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, she creates a sexy male roleplay character that makes everyone at the Study Group a little nervous. She has a deep an boundless imagination, and when she replicates a scenario in real life, she goes all out.
Eventually, Annie’s fantasy goes a little too far. Jeff had said he was leaving the convention, because he’d had to cancel the ski trip and the nerd convention just isn’t his thing. Well, he in a situation where the hotel staff finds him flirting with guest star Tricia Helfer. The hotel staff notifies Annie (who had assumed that Jeff had left), and she had to keep up her charade by pretending to be a jealous wife. The jig is up, and Jeff discovers the elaborate fantasy that Annie’s been building this whole time.
Annie explains that this was just a thing she does. She’s imagined being married to Jeff many times, as well as her previous crush Troy, and her celebrity crush Zach Braff. She also says that she did this because she was a little upset that Jeff ditched her.
Now, there had been some speculation that this was the episode that would break of Jeff and Annie forever. We’d heard that the new showrunners preferred the Jeff/Britta pairing. We knew that Britta would be the one accompanying Jeff in a future highly emotional episode where Jeff meets his father. So was this the end?
After all, there was the perfect setup. The situation was so creepy that Jeff would be in his rights to set Annie straight like he had done so many times in previous episodes. He could sit her down and tell her that such behavior wasn’t becoming of an intelligent woman, and that for her own good she would need to stop fantasizing. Annie would do it, too, because the shame of being found out would be too much to bear.
But then… the show does a complete 180 from what everyone was expecting.
And the entirety of the Jeff/Annie community was united in total, utter love.
Let’s unpack this scene bit by bit, shall we?
- Jeff wasn’t concerned at all about the creepiness of Annie’s hobby. In fact, he was more concerned about where he found her hair. Was he balding? This was typically Jeff’s ego, but this time, he was using it to make things better.
- When Jeff says, “Is this something I should be worried about?” he is a little worried about whether Annie thought their relationship was further along than they expected. For Jeff, a casual hook-up is just that, and he was more worried that Annie interpreted this ski trip perhaps to be further down their relationship than he thought it was. (Like, did he suddenly get engaged and he didn’t know it?)
- Annie says that this was something she fantasizes with all of her crushes. This shoots down the accusation from the Jeff/Annie haters that it’s this relationship with Jeff that’s ruined her as a character. You see, she acts like a lovesick schoolgirl because that’s who she is. If the writers follow through with the suggestion that Annie break it off with Jeff and find someone else, it’s going to turn out that Annie’s going to do the exact same thing to her next crush. She’s a daydreamer, a romantic, and ridiculously driven when she re-enacts her fantasies. (If you want to get kinky about it, I suspect Annie Edison is way into role play.)
- Jeff drops the fantastic line that was meant to melt all our hearts: “If we were married, you wouldn’t find me flirting with another woman in a hotel bar.” This single sentence is ridiculously packed. First of all, this is Jeff Winger, who doesn’t believe in marriage. Yet he’s willing to dream up a scenario where he’s married with Annie. Second, it’s with Annie. He could have said, “If I were married,” but he used “we.” Third, he openly admits that he was flirting. He could’ve tried to reason that he was innocent, and that the woman was an obsessed super-fan. But he owns up to it. He was trying to impress Tricia Helfer.
- The age issue is addressed. When Annie wonders if Jeff doesn’t want to hang out with her at the Convention, she wonders if it’s because he’s older. He shoots her down and replies it’s because he’s not lame. His hang-ups over being older than Annie by 13 years are a thing of the past. It was also the major reason he never pursued Annie in Seasons 2 or 3. He was too wrapped up with being concerned about what others would think that he kept his distance. But now Annie is 22, and he can’t keep denying the chemistry the two have together.
- Finally, despite all that, Jeff decides that he wants to “hang-out” with Annie after all. (I’m assuming this means they’ll be staying together at that hotel room, huh?) Because he discovers that being in a relationship means doing something that you don’t necessarily enjoy, but you’ll do it anyway because you want to be with the one you love.
So when you unpack it like that, you’ll realize why this very moment was so very important to all the Jeff/Annie shippers. It was perhaps the first time Jeff Winger himself directly brought up their relationship, which was not an easy thing to do for a guy who resists opening up at all. Sex is easy for Jeff. But he’s also emotionally scarred, a guy who was beaten up as a kid and who has issues about being abandoned by his father. So to finally have an honest conversation without once reverting to a grandiloquent Winger speech… that’s progress.
And here’s the thing. Both Annie and Jeff may have been going on this ski trip with sex in mind. But this Jeff who was willing to open up his heart to her? That, in the end, was what Annie Edison really wanted. How do we know? Well, once he had Jeff order an appletini for her (which he resists doing because it’s lame, but he’ll do anyway because, well, that’s what people in a relationship do for each other), she does an adorable bounce.
This is a happy woman. Far happier than we’ve ever seen her in a while. And when it comes down to it, this is what all Jeff/Annie shippers want.
That’s what the critics just do not get. They want Annie to be what they imagine to be “mature” (or at least, not “regressed”) and to kill all her schoolgirl crushes. But Annie has been that mature, overcoming a pill addiction, abandonment by her own parents, and life in a bad neighborhood. She’s gone through a lot. And now it’s time to be happy.
The cynics take a look at the breadth of four seasons and claim that Annie has only been good for Jeff. Jeff stops being a cynical, self-centered jerk when he’s around Annie. But what, do they claim, does Annie get out of it? Is she there as a one-dimensional character whose whole purpose is to make Jeff better? You anti-feminist!
But Annie keeps pursuing Jeff for the sole reason that she does love him. If she was purely a romantic, she could’ve stayed with Vaughn, a decent man who once wrote a song for her. But with Jeff, she actually sees a soulmate, one who will make her better as well. After Virtual Systems Analysis, critics of Jeff/Annie point out the scene where she says she doesn’t love Jeff Winger after all. My opinion is that this is immediately reversed in the following episode. After Annie goes too far in pinning a crime on a fellow classmate, it’s Jeff who pulls her back from the brink and reminds her of her morals. They could get the better grade, sure, but there’s a chance the classmate is innocent. “Don’t be like me,” Jeff says in a very caring tone.
This is what Jeff brings to the table. The two are more alike than most fans give them credit for: they’re both driven, manipulative and deceptive. They are also both noble, loyal, and self-sacrificing. Annie is often viewed as the latter, and Jeff the former. But when they’re together, they both migrate to the good side of the scale, simply because seeing the other fall into despair is actually hurting them. The two have proven that, time and time again, when they’re together they help change each other’s lives for the better.
That’s what happens here, too. Jeff comes to the discovery that he was being selfish, and Annie is finally treated like an adult. All is well in the world.
And this is why it breaks the Community fandom forever. Unless you were this invested in seeing Jeff and Annie get together, you are just not going to get it.