What's anyone's rank? We're all just dressed up as serial killers and strippers!
A Cobra attack force led by Destro tries to destroy the Taj Mahal. Their assault is intercepted by the G.I. Joe team lead by Flint. A part of the military unit is "Tight Ship" and "Buzzkill". They question why the tourist attraction is suddenly a terrorist target and why the U.S. is defending it. Another Joe codenamed "Three Kids" is there but is busy on her cell phone talking to her children. Squad leader "Wingman" join his team and shoots down the plane Destro is piloting. Destro ejects causing Wingman to shoot holes in his parachute. Everyone but Jeff looks on in horror as Destro falls to the ground and dies.
Wingman's squad: Three Kids, Buzzkill, Wingman, Tight Ship, and Fourth Wall.
Afterwards at G.I. Joe HQ, Wingman and his squad of Buzzkill, Three Kids, and Tight Ship are facing a disciplinary committee made up of Duke, Flint, and Scarlet. The squad is charged with mature actions unbecoming of a Joe. Wingman admits to the tribunal that he killed Destro but argues it's sometimes necessary when dealing with an evil organization. He adds that if they don't start killing Cobra they might as well just kill themselves. The committee is unmoved by his speech and sends Wingman and his troops to the brig with other G.I. Joe rejects. In an adjoining cell they meet a Joe codenamed "Fourth Wall." He hints at a higher reality and suggests what they are experiencing now is merely a syndicated children's cartoon show. Fourth Wall tells them about a mission he recently undertook infiltrating a Cobra excavation operation codenamed "Greendale."
A G.I. Joe disciplinary committee is held for Wingman and his squad.
As Fourth Wall continues his explanation, Wingman recognizes the codename from somewhere. Fourth Wall then presents an artifact to the squad that he found during his investigation, a miniature action figure of Duke. Wingman suddenly collapses upon seeing it and while unconscious imagines a kid's toy commercial. He wakes up to find himself still in the brig and Fourth Wall suggests he has a connection to the other reality. It's then that Wingman starts to hear through his squad voices unrelated to the G.I. Joe world calling him "Jeff." Over at Cobra Headquarters, Cobra Commander is eulogizing Destro when he interrupted by a communique. It's from Vice Cobra Assistant Commander who tells his boss about weird energy readings emanating from the Greendale site. Cobra Commander is too grief stricken to care and vows to make G.I. Joe pay for Destro's death.
Fourth Wall breaks the Fourth Wall.
Back at Joe Headquarters, Wingman's squad is still in the brig when Cobra forces attack the base. An explosion blasts a hole in the wall of their prison cell, freeing them. Wingman tries to help the Joes but ends up causing the deaths of several Cobra troopers and Lifeline, the Joe's medic. They are branded traitors by Duke and Flint and forced to escape aboard the "Submachopter." Wingman pilots the vehicle until Fourth Wall mentioned Greendale. This causes him to pass out and while unconscious he has more visions. He sees another toy commercial and a brief glimpse of himself in a hospital bed surrounded by his friends. He awakens to find Fourth Wall reassuring him everything is okay and that they have set a course for "Greendale." Upon arrival, the squad easily overpowers the Cobra guards and makes their way into the excavation site. Once inside they find an old, yet strangely familiar looking school building.
The Cobra excavation site has a familiar location: the entrance to the library.
In Vice Cobra Assistant Commander's office, Major Dick and XimXam are discussing their health care insurance. Overkill interrupts them and informs them the base has been infiltrated. The Assistant Commander sends the three Cobra officers to deal with the intruders but they are all dispatched by Wingman quickly. The squad makes it to the study room and Wingman's memories as Jeff Winger come back. He recalls who they all are in real life including the Assistant Commander who is overjoyed to see him. Wingman excuses himself and heads to Jeff's office where he finds his driver's license. He returns to the study room and tells his squad that in reality he drank a fifth of scotch and took some youth pills he bought in Koreatown. He did this because it was his birthday and he just turned 40.
Wingman discovers the truth.
Fourth Wall figures out how he can return to the real world but Wingman refuses, preferring fantasy over the reality of being a middle-aged community college teacher. They are interrupted by the arrival of the united Cobra and G.I. Joe forces of "Joebra." Wingman is taken into custody but soon freed after convincing them he wants to stay in this world. He quickly changes his mind when he learns cartoons can't indulge in adult pleasures. After a quick brawl back to the study room, he puts on his flight pack and flies to the barrier separating realities. Cobra Commander hangs onto Wingman's foot but doesn't survive the trip between worlds. Wingman awakens as Jeff in his hospital bed surrounded by his friends. He admits his true age but they tell him they suspected he was 40 already. After handing him his birthday present they have a group hug, happy to have him back.
Buzzkill and Fourth Wall appear in a classic G.I. Joe public service announcement. Buzzkill attempts to lecture two teens about the graffiti they are painting but Fourth Wall criticizes her approach as too preachy. He advises that cartoons should keep any lessons they want to teach simple and direct. He then tells the boys "Graffiti is bad, go play sports." Buzzkill starts defending her methods but Fourth Wall cuts her off by reciting the catchphrase "And knowing is half the battle!"
Replay: This episode has the same basic plot of "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas," with a character refusing to accept reality by imaging himself in a cartoon world. It was also credited as being written by Dino Stamatopoulos, who wrote that Holiday episode. However, Stamatopoulos has said that the episode as aired was mainly written by Dan Harmon.
Discontinuity: This episode retcons Jeff's age. It is possible he was lying the entire time, however this revelation conflicts with information in previous episodes as well as statements Community creator Dan Harmon himself had made early in the show's production about Jeff's age. Below are several "Community" episodes which hint at Jeff's age.
"Early 21st Century Romanticism": In 2011, Ben Chang steals Jeff's drivers license which clearly says "November 21, 1971" (this is actor Joel McHale's birthdate). On DVD commentaries for this episode and also in a tweet to a fan, Harmon dismissed this as a production error and suggested that Jeff was several years younger than him or Joel. At the time McHale was 40 and Harmon was 38.
"Intro to Political Science": In 2011, a videotape of Jeff's audition for "The Real World: Seattle" is shown. Jeff says he was "like 19" when he recorded that tape. The Real World: Seattle premiered on June 16, 1998, and if it followed the production schedule of other Real World shows, then it accepted audition tapes the previous year in 1997. This then suggests that Jeff was born around 1978. That puts Jeff's age around 33-34 range back then and should make him 36-37 in Season Five.
"Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism": Jeff claimed he was 10 years old when he met Shirley "Big Cheddar," who was 12 at the time. Either he was lying, and older and small for his age (14-15), or Shirley's age gets increased to 42.
"Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations": in 2012, Jeff very specifically tells his father he faked an appendectomy in seventh grade "22 years ago." The average age of a seventh grader is between 11-13, older if Jeff had failed a grade and was held back or younger if he skipped a grade (unlikely as it would probably be something he'd brag about). This is consistent with previous episodes as it places his age at that time to be around 34-35 which would make him 36-37 in Season Five. Additionally it's unlikely Jeff could get away with lying about his age to his own father.
School supplies: The fine scotch Pierce bequeathed to Jeff in "Cooperative Polygraphy" can be seen on Jeff's desk. It can be assumed that this is the fifth of scotch he drank when he downed the Korean pills.
Wingman states his appreciation of Tight Ship's rack.
Attention students!: Vice Cobra Assistant Commander announces to the Cobra troops that Wingman's squad has infiltrated Greendale.
Awww!: Tight Ship and Three Kids react when Wingman recognizes them as Annie and Shirley.
"Yo Joe!" is used in this episode.
"I have three kids!" is repeatedly said by Three Kids.
"Knowing is half the battle" is spoken by Fourth Wall in the PSA end tag.
Raging against the machine: Buzzkill gets off track when she starts rambling about her political views while trying to impart the lesson to be learned in the closing PSA.
You're a huge nerd: In "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" Abed imagined the entire episode as a stop-motion animated cartoon as a way to deal with bad news. In this episode, Jeff's imagination goes to a similar place under similar (but more dramatic) circumstances.
Product placement: This episode has live action sequences done in '80s style commercials which features several real G.I. Joe products such as the Duke, Destro, and Cobra Commander figures and vehicles like the H.I.S.S. tank.
Use your allusion:
Abed's cartoon character in the G.I. Joe world is codenamed "Fourth Wall," referencing the meta aspect of his character which often uses the narrative device of "breaking the fourth wall." This is where a character in a story directly addresses the audience or acknowledges in some way his awareness that he is just a fictional character.
Shirley's cartoon character is codenamed "Three Kids," referencing her children which she constantly mentions she has. This can be seen as alluding to criticism that her only identity on the show is being a mother.
Ben Chang's cartoon character in the G.I. Joe world is "Overkill," referencing actor Ken Jeong's comedic style which has been criticized as over the top and excessive (1, 2).
The G.I. Joe character codenamed "Sleep Apnea" resembles "Community" creator Dan Harmon, who also provides the character's voice.
Buzz Hickey's cartoon character mentions hazard pay to Dean Pelton's cartoon character. This references the "Breaking Bad" episode "Hazard Pay," in which Jonathan Banks plays character Mike Ehrmantraut.
Up against the wall: Abed mentions that Jeff shouldn't care about his age since he is still in the 18 to 49 range which is still viable. This is a reference to the 18 to 49 demographic for TV shows which appeal to advertisers and sponsors.
G.I. Jeff was produced by Starburns Industries, Harmon's animation studio that also created "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas."
Behind the scenes
The cast of "Community" voiced their cartoon counterparts on the show. Community creator Dan Harmon also provided his voice for the character codenamed "Sleep Apnea." Two of the G.I. Joe cartoons original voice actors reprised their roles in this episode: Michael Bell returned as "Duke" and Bill Ratner returned as "Flint." Original G.I. Joe actress Mary McDonald-Lewis also provides a single line in the episode ("Snakes at six o'clock high!"), but the line is delivered from offscreen, and the speaking character unseen. McDonald-Lewis's character in the original Joe series was Lady Jaye, but the credits of this episode misidentify her as the voice of Scarlett.
Director Rob Schrab and "Community" creator Dan Harmon are real-life friends and longtime collaborators. The production of the episode was held up for a time while Harmon finished tweaking the script. As the deadline drew nearer, a friendly Twitter feud between Schrab and Harmon began with Rob insisting that Dan complete the script. This feud culminated with Harmon getting Jon Kimmel (the G.I. Joe theme singer for this episode) to sing a parody song about Rob which was originally posted here and later put on YouTube with the video on the right (WARNING: NSFW lyrics).
On April 5, 2014, animator Brent Noll published production artwork of this episode on his Tumblr. Brett also works on "Rick and Morty," Dan Harmon's Cartoon Network show.