Community 1x05: “Advanced Criminal Law”
The Dean opens by attempting to convince everyone publicly over the PA system that Greendale is a real college simply because they will have their own song and a statue of prestigious alumnus Luis Guzman by the end of the week. He is projecting a lie that he believes, in an attempt to get others to believe it. Professor Duncan scoffs at his attempt at conveying respectability and meets with Jeff to discuss Britta’s relationship status. Duncan is interested in pursuing Britta, but he is not sure if Jeff is involved with her. Jeff is noncommittal and dismissive in his response, and we are not sure how he currently views his relationship with Britta. We must draw our own conclusions at this point. This episode is about self-deception and its external consequences.
Abed walks into class with Troy and asks if he thinks Luis Guzman will come visit the statue. Troy responds with sarcasm, and we are given visual cues in his facial features to see that he is lying and wants us to know because it is a joke. Abed does not pick up on the visual cues and Troy begins to lie straight faced, bringing Abed into a wildly concocted fantasy. Jeff sits down in front of them and tells Britta that he has discovered that she lied to him about her phone number. She says that she will give him the real number if he promises not to use it in a context other than friendship. He declines the number, and we are led to believe that it is because he does not wish for friendship, but he has still not revealed his intentions yet. Chang confronts the class about a tiny cheat sheet he has found lying on the floor of the classroom after their last test. He threatens punishment for everybody, unless the person who cheated confesses. He is showing how a tiny personal lie can harm others around an individual if it begins to show itself.
In the study group, Shirley complains about Chang’s stereotype of her during class and follows that up with an affirmation of the type. She is lying to herself about what she is living up to, and we can see Annie react knowingly to Shirley’s straight faced inner lie. Blame for cheating is passed around the table between the members of the group, and each offer terse perceptions of the person they think cheated, all of the accused accept their perceived character flaws except Pierce, who lies to himself and mishears the character flaw they gave him as a compliment (he turns the word stupid into genius). Jeff says that whoever cheated “wasn’t a real cheater, just insecure and naive,” and we are left not knowing for sure who has cheated. We can only read the visual cues the character’s give and draw our own conclusions. Annie changes the subject to her work on the school song, and Pierce tells her that he is a great songwriter and will work on it for free. He tells her this with confident visual cues. Troy reveals to Abed that the things he said earlier were lies, and Abed attempts to explore the foreign concept of lying by questioning the nature of concrete objects (“This isn’t a table, haha”).
Annie tells Pierce he is allowed to write the song and he now looks visibly worried, implying that his earlier brag was a lie. In class, Chang offers the cheater one last chance to confess. Everyone looks tense and Britta stands up to confess saying that it is not fair for Chang to punish the whole class. At this point, from her visual cues and speech, it would appear that she is lying to everyone to seem like a hero. Outside the classroom Jeff confronts Britta about being a cheat. At this point, we do not know what Jeff believes, but he is reaching out to Britta even though her lie has been revealed. She asks if he really wants to be her friend or is just hitting on her again, and he says he can neither confirm nor deny. His motive is hidden, and we are again left to draw our own conclusions.
Abed meets Troy and attempts to lie by questioning the nature of accepted reality again. He says “All dogs are blue now, every single dog in the world is blue.” Troy tells Abed that his visual cues give away his lies “you are not good at this, because you are not believable in your face, ok? Your face, it’s bad.” Abed begins writing in a notebook using a foreign language, and he says “it’s probably Arabic” when Troy questions him about it. Abed runs away making warbling spaceship noises. Abed is all the time giving us slight tells that he does not believe the lie he is acting out. He is pretending that he is alien and not of this world, which is a criticism many others have of him, and in pretending to be foreign he is embodying the way he saw lying earlier as a foreign concept. He has begun to act out how he thinks Troy wants him to act to be his friend, but he does not yet fully believe the lie judging by his cues.
The tribunal that will judge Britta convenes with a $6,000 table next to the pool area. The entire tribunal setup is a self-deception about its place and importance. Professor Duncan argues with Señor Chang over whether or not Chang is allowed to call himself Professor. Chang is lying to himself about his status, and Professor Duncan is lying to himself about his status mattering here (recall the opening scene in which he discounts the dean’s proclamation that Greendale is a real college). The dean makes a double entendre when he says that he “goes both ways” in his partiality in the case, but he asks to have that stricken from the record and clarifies that he is impartial. Regarding the tribunal, we know there is one side that likes Britta and wants to believe her (remember Duncan’s discussion with Jeff earlier), and an opposing side that does not like her and does not believe her (Chang believes she is a cheat). At present, we still do not know the truth and must also choose a side and draw our own conclusions.
Pierce is still lying to Annie and himself about being able to write a song, and she is starting not to believe the lie. He gets defensive when she picks the lie apart and dismisses her. In the commentary, Harmon reveals that “Pierce is a sort of mockery of me. My writing workflow is to shut myself in procrastinate and yell at everyone who comes near me. Tell them I’m a genius even though I’m not.”
Chang lies in his testimony to the tribunal. Britta is brought to the stand and says that she did not make the cheat sheet and that when she said so earlier, she was lying. The dean calls her a hero and she admits that she has just lied and she actually did cheat. The tribunal can be seen as Britta’s psyche choosing what to do about the revealed lie. She can either renew the old lie that she cheated or adopt the new lie that she is a hero. She rejects the new lie, and begins to renew the old lie of being a cheat.
Troy finds Abed talking to himself as if he is an alien again and Abed is now using visual cues about his lying to actually endorse the lie, by having his face lie about the fact that he is lying in pretending to be an alien. One school of thought says that self-deception has emerged as a survival mechanism because deceiving others while not believing in your lie costs more mental energy than conveying a lie that you believe. If Abed knows that he is not an alien, he recalls that first and then must act contrary to that to convey that he is an alien, but if he begins to believe that he is an alien, he can go right to that facade he has built within and project it outward with ease.
Jeff confronts Britta about her flip flopping testimony. She says “you know I have a problem with dishonesty” and Jeff reminds her that she is on trial for cheating. Jeff proposes that he will present her as a good person and she remonstrates him, saying “You don’t know that! You’re just doing all of this ‘cus you wanna sleep with me. I mean, you said it yourself, you don’t even want to be my friend.” Jeff never said that. Jeff did not reveal his motivations and left us and Britta to draw our own conclusions, and we now see the lie that Britta has projected onto Jeff which further enforces the lie she believes about herself. He tells her that her lie about him is wrong and that he does still want to be her friend, even as the lie she has been presenting to everyone is crumbling. Britta says she believes him and reveals the foundation of the lie she has built in herself “I have more experience being worthless, I think I left that crib sheet on the floor because I wanted to get caught. Im so used to screwing everything up i just wanted to get it over with.” The fact that she cheated is not the lie. Cheating is lying about personal ability and knowledge, and Britta has just revealed that that is her actual insecurity. The cheating is how it manifested. Having presented her rationalization for believing and acting on her lie about herself to Jeff, he deems her insane. He presents to the tribunal that they are all insane and the the whole school is insane. Everyone lies to themselves and rationalizes things beneath the surface (we have seen almost every character prove this so far). Britta is not anomalous.
Troy finds Abed talking to a pre-filmed version of himself. Abed is still acting out the lie, but now he is telling the lie to himself. The static paradox of self-deception says that at some point if you are deceiving yourself, there is a transitionary moment where you have to both believe and deny the lie. Abed on the screen is wholly into the lie because he does not exist outside of the lie, Abed talking to the screen is at that transitional moment, but Troy stops him before he crosses the threshold. Abed confesses that it was a lie and he was concocting the lie for Troy, because Troy told him that is what friends do. Troy tells him that it would be creepy if the lie were true and that “from now on, Abed friends don’t mess with each other.” Just as Jeff saw Britta’s lie crumble and revealed his desire for friendship, Troy wants to be Abed’s friend outside of the lie, and is there for Abed before he can begin to believe the lie himself.
Pierce has begin lying to himself in the quest to write the song. He steals “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” but rejects it once he realizes the lie. Annie comes to him as he realized this lie, and he admits to Annie that he is a fraud. She asks about his past success with the Hawthorne Wipes jingle and he reveals that it was stolen as well (from “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain”). Annie, having seen through Pierce’s lie, offers a personal story for him to relate to and says that she believes in him. Whether or not this is a lie on Annie’s part is unknown, but Pierce takes her parting words of inspiration and completes the song with them.
The statue is unveiled, and Pierce is allowed to play his song. We hear that Pierce’s song is a stolen Bruce Hornsby song, rewritten around Annie’s words, but Pierce does not know that and feels good about himself for completing his assignment and internalizing Annie’s (possible lie of) encouragement. He has believed the lie Annie gave him, but it was a lie that helped him succeed. While self-deception can be used to hinder yourself, Pierce demonstrates that you can believe a lie to help yourself overcome something, now whether or not this is good is brought into question when Abed asks if they can be sued for Pierce’s song and Jeff says that they can be.
Episode 1 Analysis
Episode 2 Analysis
Episode 3 Analysis
Episode 4 Analysis
Episode 5 Analysis
Episode 6 Analysis
Episode 7 Analysis