Community season 2 episode 23 review: A Fistful Of Paintballs Part 1

The Wild West comes to Greendale in the penultimate episode of season 2, leaving us, for the first time, with a cliffhanger to the series finale…

2.23 A Fistful Of Paintballs Part 1

It’s the end of the sophomore year at Greendale Community College, and in keeping with tradition, it’s time for another deadly game of paintball assassin, but this year, there are a few twists. If only all end of year exams were like that. The first of a two part season finale, Team Community have pulled out all the stops to treat us to one of the finest western spoofs you’re ever likely to see.

Told in present time and through flashbacks, A Fistful Of Paintballs takes us through the carnage, hilariously camp costumes and fragile alliances created by the offer of a $100,000 prize for the winner of this year’s competition. Which, frankly, kicks the ass of last year’s prize.

Thanks to the Wild West theme of the end of year party, the campus quickly becomes frontierland, a dangerous wasteland where it’s every student for themselves. Weirdly, Annie somehow turns into a cross between Jack Palance and Lara Croft, kicking ass, saving familiar faces, and being, as Abed rightfully points out, pretty awesome. Clearly, the loss of her skirt agrees with her.

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Jeff and Abed aren’t faring quite so well, thanks in most part to Jeff’s obvious, if never mentioned, insistence on keeping that new shirt as pristine as possible. 

The group has fractured and Britta, Shirley and Troy have formed an alliance with Pierce, who has inexplicably become the sheriff of frontierland. It’s amazing what you can achieve from the bathroom.

Pierce wants Jeff out of the way and sends Britta et al after him. The OAP isn’t the only one Jeff should be worried about. There’s a network TV handsome, overdressed renegade on the loose, taking out any student he comes across. It’s not the stranger’s paintball prowess that worries Jeff, though. Oh, no. For Jeff, the most threatening thing about the man in spurs is how pretty he is. Winger’s masculinity is threatened and this he does not like. Although, in that hat, his masculinity is the last thing Jeff should be worried about.

It transpires that, not only is the renegade (a brilliantly cast Josh Holloway) in the employ of the shady cowboy creamery running the contest, but that the group are seriously considering throwing Pierce out of the group, which is surely the best piece of news to come of Greendale for a long time.

During a Shane-inspired showdown at Fort Hawthorne, or the cafeteria, as it’s more commonly known, the overdressed renegade is taken out of the competition. At the same time, Pierce discovers that the group can’t stand him. Naturally, being the mature senior citizen he is, Pierce takes the news like a man. If man means petulant toddler, and taking it means turning tail while swearing vengeance.

With the renegade out of the picture and the remaining students digging in, the sinister ice cream company sponsoring the competition decides to send in the big guns to ensure the prize money stays safe. Dressed suspiciously like stormtroopers, and unbeknownst to the gang, they descend on the campus, taking out Chang execution style in the process. With the campus under siege, Community does something it’s never done before and leaves us with a cliffhanger.

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A Fistful Of Paintballs is an outstanding episode for lots of reasons. From the inspired title sequence, id stings and superb theme tune to the costumes, guest stars and general levels of hilarity, this is a masterful twenty minutes of comedy. The lacklustre performance of the last few weeks is forgotten almost immediately, as Team Community set their stall out right from the beginning of the episode. Clearly, they decided to end season 2 with a bang, and on the evidence of part one, they have completely succeeded.

Pacy, punchy and incredibly engaging, this is Community at its finest. The paintball episode from last year is considered by many to be the best ever, so it might seem unwise to revive something that worked so well, especially so soon. It isn’t. Like Coppola, Team Community know better. The storyline is far enough removed to be completely fresh. The western theme gives ample spoof and comedy opportunities, as well as the odd John Woo moment, and an excuse for the Dean to once again dress like Daisy Duke.

As sharp as ever, A Fistful Of Paintballs is already an instant top five classic episode, and we’re only half way through. From Jeff’s ridiculous insecurities, (although, to be fair, Josh Holloway’s dimpled presence would give any mere mortal pause) to the heretofore unseen levels of innuendo, there simply aren’t enough superlatives to accurately convey just how good this episode was. And while it’s been a long time coming, it was worth the wait.

This is our first taste of cliffhanger territory at Greendale. It may not be a life or death situation, but the wait will be just as agonising. Will the sinister cowboy creamery succeed is taking out the gang? Is Pierce really out of the group? And will Annie ever get her skirt back? These and many other questions will be answered in the next episode of Community. I’ll see you there!

Read our review of episode 22, Applied Anthropology And Culinary Arts, here.