This post contains spoilers through the April 5 episode of Community.
There’s a way in which “Pillows and Blankets” is the platonic ideal of a Community episode: it’s the ultimate example fans of the show can pull out to explain why they love it, and critics will use to demonstrate why the show is obsessed with concepts and detached from actual emotion. The show is a funny facsimile of war movies, a brilliant breakdown of the elements involved in the trope, but one that has precisely nothing to say about how we actually ought to tell stories about war, or what it means to be in combat or conflict.
I’ll admit to a certain amount of squeamishness about reducing the Civil War, the conflict to which this is the most obvious analogue, to a pillow fight, or to the suggestion, as Jeff put it, that “Some conflicts are so pointless they just have to play themselves out.” And while this assessment depends heavily on what comes after, I thought this was a remarkably facile means of dealing with the really profound issues that plague Troy and Abed’s friendship. Recognizing that you enjoying spending time together isn’t actually enough to mend the fact that you have significantly different worldviews, goals, and standards for treating people.
The recitations of war cliches aren’t bad. “There was a point where all I saw were feathers. And I started swinging. And I hit someone. And hear someone fall. It might have been someone from my side,” Shirley admits. Herry Jefferson, who we’ve never met before, talks about the camaraderie of war, explaining that “New Fluffytown didn’t care who you were. You were surrounded by softness.” Jeff’s platitudinous speeches mean he’s well-prepared to deliver lines like “We fight not because we want war. We fight because we might gain peace.”
But the fact that these forms are cliches doesn’t mean they aren’t meaningful, or that they don’t exist for a reason. Saying things like “The Rambo titles never made sense. And neither does war,” is cute, but it’s a statement doesn’t even remotely stand up to scrutiny. The episode does the same thing Jeff does at the end while writing in his diary, takes a potentially authentic moment and turns it into pure performance. At its best, as in “Introduction to Mixology,” Community’s capable of being wildly performative and achingly meaningful. This episode doesn’t live up to that standard.