Director: Anthony Russo — Writer: Maggie Bandur — Aired: October 6, 2011 —Season: Three — Number: Four Summary: The study group spends the night trying to decide their lab partners; Chang investigates a conspiracy.
Professor Kane tells his biology students that their lab partners for their new terrarium project and for the rest of the semester will be the people sitting across from them. The members of the group realize that the people they sit across from are unknown to them. The group enters Professor Kane's office and requests that they be able to partner up with each other. Professor Kane grants their appeal, and the group goes to tell their partners why they can’t be with them. Afterwards, the group tries to figure out how they’re going to divide each other up. Pierce, of course, is left out, partnering with an easygoing student named Todd. Meanwhile, Chang meets with Sgt. Nunez and tells him that he’s ready to be a real detective.
They're kind of a study group.
Sgt. Nunez tells Chang that he has only been there a month and has barely done anything. After this conversation, Chang delves into a hysterical film noir-like montage in which he resolves to solve any crime at Greendale. Over in the cafeteria, Annie is annoyed that Jeff isn't listening to her ideas for the Biology assignment. Elsewhere, Troy and Abed are initially excited to be lab partners but start to recognize the fact that they may be spending too much time together. Meanwhile, Shirley is getting on Britta’s nerves by showing her numerous pictures of her children. In an attempt to get away from their respective partners, Troy and Britta find each other outside and realize that they want to partner up; the rest of the group finds out that they’re thinking of changing partners as well.
They meet in the study room to decide on a fair way to split up but are unable to come up with a definitive way to decide how to go about it. Jeff proposes that they make a list of names with a preferred order of who they would like to work with. Back in Chang’s place in the cafeteria boiler room, he finds a matchbook in the bathroom and tries to figure out who might have left it there. He attempts to solve the mystery by putting together a crude evidence board to help him solve his case. A ball of yarn he was using for his board rolls towards the boiler and accidentally catches fire. The Hot & Brown coffee shop is burned down because of this. Afterwards, Sgt. Nunez tells Pelton that the firemen explained someone had been squatting in the utility closet causing the fire.
The Dean ends up backing Chang’s conspiracy theory story to avoid police involvement. Upset with the Dean's actions, Sgt. Nunez quits his position. The Dean then promotes Chang as the new Head of Security. In the study room, Abed used an algorithm to put the least popular and most popular members together to determine the lab partners. Due to this, the group quickly figures out how their rank among their friends leading them to argue and refusing Abed's selections. Todd tries to leave, citing his newborn as an excuse, but Jeff won’t let him until they’ve decided something. When Britta uses her lighter to try and destroy Abed's list, she almost kills Todd’s turtle in the process. Todd finally loses it, angrily berating the group for their dysfunctional dynamic and storms out.
Abed, the computer.
The next day, the group shows up to class without their terrariums as a result of not being able to resolve their issues (Annie does actually complete hers, causing Jeff to label her as pathological.) Troy says that their ideas didn’t work out, and Jeff concludes that they just have to work with their original lab partners. Professor Kane calls them “the mean clique,” saying that Todd called him crying about the way he was treated, and makes the study group become a lab group of 7 to avoid letting them partner up with the rest of the class. This seems to sober the group up enough to realize their mistakes. However, they later blame Todd for all their problems and make fun of him, not realizing that he is listening from an adjacent table.
Discontinuity: Pierce claims to have had sex with Eartha Kitt, a reference to one of the recurring plot points from Remedial Chaos Theory, an episode which was produced before Competitive Ecology but aired one week later.
Middle Eastern Magic 8 Ball: During his numerous narrative voice-overs Chang repeatedly questions his own sanity, foreshadowing his growing break with reality throughout the season.
TV Guide: Troy breaks up with his lab partner, claiming he wants to catch up on Breaking Bad.
Use your allusion:
Chang's detective fantasy is an homage of film noir and detective films.
In the DVD commentary, episode writer Maggie Bandur explains that the fire in the cafeteria was modeled after the Reichstag fire which Adolf Hitler used to consolidate power in Nazi Germany. In the aftermath of the Greendale fire, Chang is named head of security after Sgt. Nunez quits.
Everyone's a critic: Jeff states that Abed is a computer. Abed agrees. Many viewers and critics find Abed's character unrelatable.
Up against the wall:
The entire class groans when Professor Kane assigns a diorama for Biology homework. Greendale students were assigned 20 dioramas for Anthropology 101 alone.
When assigned lab partners for the semester, everyone in the study group is initially teamed up with somebody outside the group leading to many awkward stares. Troy quietly asks, "Who are these people?" This is a nod to the fact that everything that happens at Greendale revolves around the study group members.
The group requests to be lab partnered up amongst themselves and Britta explains, "It's kind of a thing, we've been through a lot," laying out the premise of the show. Kane responds that he has "so many conversations that make no sense."
Troy and Abed suddenly notice how much time they spend together.
Abed assigns lab partners according to optimal audience appeal. The rest of the group then discusses their relative
Abed breaks the fourth wall by looking at and pointing to the camera.
Annie wonders who Jeff is always texting since everyone he knows is already there. It would be only until season four that Jeff confesses that he pretends to be texting while he is, in fact, just staring at his phone to avoid getting close with others.
Jeff interrupts a group argument and Troy immediately assumes that Jeff will heal the group with another Winger Speech.
Todd scolds the group with a diatribe about the dysfunctional nature of the study group.
In the Community The Complete Third Season DVD commentaries, Gillian Jacobs points out that she is wearing a large band-aid on her left forearm for this episode. This was due to a malfunctioning squib that burned her arm while she on the set of indie film Let Go.
“I've been walking my beat a long time, sir. A long time. I've kept my head down, paid my dues and, well, I think I'm ready to make detective.”— Chang
“You've only been here a month, you really haven't done much of anything and there's no such thing as security-guard detective.”— Sgt. Nunez
“If loving worms is stupid I don't wanna be smart.”— Britta
“It is, and you can't be!”— Annie
“What is wrong with you people?! Huh?! I thought you were supposed to be friends! I thought you were supposed to love each other! Your love is weird! And toxic! And it destroys everything it touches!”— Todd
“I think you knee-d it.”— Chang
“Ha, ha. Gotcha. This was also a test and you all penised.”— Britta