A Fistful of Paintballs
|"A Fistful of Paintballs"|
|Episode no.||Season 2|
|Directed by||Joe Russo|
|Written by||Andrew Guest|
|Original air date||May 5, 2011|
"A Fistful of Paintballs" is the twenty-third and penultimate episode of the second season of Community. It is part one of the two-part second season finale, along with "For a Few Paintballs More", and is a spiritual successor to "Modern Warfare" from the first season. The episode originally premiered on May 5, 2011 on NBC.
In the episode, Dean Pelton once again announces plans for a game of paintball, with the winner receiving $100,000. The group slowly teams up to help each other, but they find their friendship with Pierce being put to the test. The group also faces a new threat from a man only known as "The Black Rider" (played by Josh Holloway).
Mike (Anthony Michael Hall) and his gang are chasing "Fat Neil" down a corridor when Annie emerges and defeats the bullies. "Fat Neil" asks her for a paintball gun, but winds up shot when he tries to pull the gun on Annie.
In flashback it is revealed the paintball game was started by Dean Pelton and "Pistol Patty's Cowboy Creamery", an ice cream company. The Dean explains the reason last year's "Paintball Assassin" game was unsuccessful was that the prize was too important. He then lets the mascot Pistol Patty, a giant ice cream cone in western attire, explain the prize. Pandemonium breaks out at the announcement that the prize is $100,000 in cash.
Annie comes back to her base to find Abed, who proposes she join him, Jeff, and Chang in the library. Meanwhile, in the library, Jeff and Chang are trapped by the math club, so Chang betrays him. Abed saves Jeff, but Chang gets away. Jeff informs Annie that he is also low on ammo and they discuss whether they should join Pierce, who is hiding in the cafeteria, or steal his ammo since he has "more paint than a French kindergarten". They are interrupted by a stranger (Josh Holloway), who they believe does not go to Greendale, and manage to escape from him.
On their way to the cafe they run into Britta, Shirley, and Troy and find out they are working for Pierce, who has set up a safe zone known as Fort Hawthorne in the cafeteria. During dinner with Pierce, he expresses his desire to team up and split the cash. He informs them of the location of a stash of ammo. As the study group is looking for ammo, Annie finds Chang who is about to be "executed" by a gang of cheerleaders, whom he betrayed the math club to join. Annie shoots the cheerleaders, but Chang runs away. She chases him but is caught by the stranger, who for some reason is known as "The Black Rider". Jeff and Abed arrive and save Annie, but she finds out that Pierce loaded Jeff's gun with blanks. The study group finds Dean Pelton hiding in a closet and get all of last year's paintball supplies from his office. Annie takes the paintball machine gun Chang used last year and storms off to confront Pierce.
Back at Fort Hawthorne, the group finds it's been demolished by "The Black Rider". They find Pierce hiding in the bathroom and confront him. Pierce confesses he loaded Jeff's gun with blanks because he was offended to find the group playing cards without him three days ago. Annie admits that they weren't playing cards, but were actually voting whether to allow Pierce to remain in the study group next year or ban him. One holdout vote (revealed to the viewer to be Annie) prevented Pierce's ejection from the group. "The Black Rider" emerges, adding another side to the Mexican standoff, but Pierce appears to have a heart attack. As the only one in the room who doesn't realize Pierce is faking it, "The Black Rider" goes to help him and gets shot. Having lost the game, he leaves in disgust, revealing that he was hired by Pistol Patty's to keep the prize money. Pierce runs off alone, vowing revenge.
Chang is seen looking for another alliance to join when he is shot by a paintball machine gun from the Pistol Patty's van. Pistol Patty leads out a commando team in white, declaring "Plan B: Operation Total Invasion" to prevent any of the Greendale contestants from winning the prize money.
Originally scheduled to air as an hour-long season finale on May 12, 2011, the episodes were split into two parts airing May 5 and May 12, respectively. Regarding the concept of the two-part season finale and the return to paintball, creator Dan Harmon said, "It's designed to exist both as one story but also two separate episodes. [The first] one has a Sergio Leone Western motif, so there’s more emphasis on tension, scarcity of ammo, and who might draw on who. But the second one erupts – the Western motif falls away and all out war ensues. There's a kind of an epic, wartime, band-of-rebels-against-a-larger-force Star Wars feel to the second one ... If we only did the Western one, there might have been some people who said, 'Oh it's great, but it's not 'Modern Warfare.' And then there's other people who, if we had only done 'Modern Warfare,' would say, 'Eh, same thing again.'"
Fort Hawthorne is an homage to the Gem Saloon in Deadwood.
In its original American broadcast on May 5, 2011, "A Fistful of Paintballs" was viewed by an estimated 3.49 million viewers.
The episode received positive reviews from critics, much like "Modern Warfare". Several critics noted the obvious comparisons to "Modern Warfare" when reviewing the episode, saying it does not top "Modern Warfare", but is a worthy companion episode.
Emily VanDerWerff of The A.V. Club commented the episode "isn't the season's funniest episode, but it might be the most FUN, and that's where the episode, ultimately, gets me." She also said, "There are so many goofy, winning touches in this episode that it almost feels churlish to write too much that's negative about it." Although she graded the episode an A−, she felt "that it's hard to watch the first half of an intended two-parter and be able to say much about the work as a whole. I'll say that I think this is a pretty great set-up, but it's essentially ALL set-up, and that means a lot of how successful it is depends on next week's episode and how it goes." Kelsea Stahler of Hollywood.com called the episode "a worthy paintball redux" and "a fun, riotous companion to the classic episode."
HitFix critic Alan Sepinwall applauded the episode, saying "the new installment went for depth instead of breadth, focusing entirely on the style of the spaghetti Western and doing a very impressive job of it. The revamped opening credit sequence was gorgeous, the score sounded very much like Ennio Morricone's work on The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the different showdowns had the requisite number of close-ups, etc." He also enjoyed Alison Brie's performance as Annie, commenting that "She was so fierce, so kickass as a strong loner heroine that I could very easily imagine her as the lead of an actual, not-for-laughs Western." TV Fanatic reviewer Jeffrey Kirkpatrick loved the episode, saying that it even tops the original paintball episode and very much enjoyed the performance of Brie, calling her a "showstopper." Eric Koreen of the National Post said the episode "was daring, stunningly shot and completely unafraid to try to do more than any sitcom ought to."
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