Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious, Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6, and F9 have one thing in common besides having Vin Diesel in them (even if it’s for a cameo) — they were all directed by Justin Lin. Lin’s helmed the most Fast & Furious franchise films, followed only by Louis Leterrier, who’s set to return for an untitled Fast X sequel. It’s safe to say that Lin knows how to deliver to an action-eager crowd. But you won’t find his best action sequence in any of those movies. Way back when cult TV show Community was in its freshman season, Lin directed three episodes, including the epic “Modern Warfare.”
Dan Harmon’s Community had a troubled run during its lifetime, with episodes being pulled out of scheduling, the whole Chevy Chase situation, and being canceled by NBC but then brought back by Yahoo’s extinct Yahoo! Screen streaming service. None of those setbacks affected its quality (well, maybe Season 4 a bit) or its passionate cult following. The famed phrase once said by Abed (Dani Pudi), “six seasons and a movie” transformed into the fan base’s rallying call to get a final film — and now it’s been made reality. Part of what made it great were its running gags — the Halloween episodes, the alternate timeline, and “Troy and Abed in the Morning,” among others. “Modern Warfare” started a very particular Community tradition: the paintball war episodes.
What Happens in “Modern Warfare”?
After the cold open, Lin’s distinctive direction starts as Jeff (Joel McHale) wakes from a car nap, finding the campus looking post-apocalyptically abandoned. A brief attack lets him know the school has been turned upside down because of a paintball war. Abed (Pudi) and Troy (Donald Glover) explain why this came to pass: the grand prize is priority registration for next semester.
Lin works within the confined spaces of the school’s classrooms, hallways, and bathrooms with shots that transpire uneasiness and suspense. After they get together with Pierce (Chase), Britta (Gillian Jacobs), Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), and Annie (Alison Brie), they venture to open ground. The face-off with the glee club has several casualties (Troy, Pierce, and Annie), making it clear there’s no safe space.
When Shirley’s motivation to win is revealed to be able to spend more time with her kids, remaining players Abed and Britta agree to concede the prize, with only Jeff being resistant to do so. A short but effective battle ensues as the disco rollers enter the cafeteria, the group’s refuge. The dynamic angles show how agile and ruthless people can be on wheels. Abed and Shirley end up being dramatically eliminated from the game.
How Does the Paintball War End?
During the episode’s cold open, everyone’s shown as being annoyed with Jeff and Britta for their constant flirty bickering, which they think they should get past, since they lack chemistry and it’s not cute. Being the only ones from the group that survived, the pair end up in the library curing Jeff from a real wound. They finally consummate the sexual tension that had been building up since the pilot episode. But before Britta can decide whether to betray Jeff or not, Chang (Ken Jeong) enters the room as the Dean (Jim Rash) sent him to end the war.
Lin’s slow-motion shots illustrate how Britta and Chang shoot each other down and how Chang’s defeat only made him stronger by activating a suicide bomb that almost gets Jeff. After escaping, Jeff angrily confronts the Dean, and shoots him to make it clear he’s won. Jeff comes up as the winner of the war and the priority registration prize. He ends up giving the prize to Shirley, and the last shot shows Abed confused because “something has changed” (Britta and Jeff’s relationship).
Lin’s work on Community was a limited contribution of three episodes. Besides “Modern Warfare,” he directed “Interpretive Dance,” where Britta and Troy popped some very different dance moves and “Introduction to Statistics,” the first of the series’ traditional Halloween episodes, where Annie organizes a Día De Los Muertos party for the Spanish class.
It’s “Modern Warfare” that stands out, thanks to its action sequences and the homages to a handful of action films. It’s mostly a Die Hard tribute, with Jeff in his white tank top fighting the bad guys. But other films are also included and mashed up in many scenes: Jeff waking up amidst a zombie apocalypse as in 28 Days Later, Abed playing a Terminator/Riddick hybrid when he rescues Jeff, Britta and Chang’s face-off à la The Matrix, and Shirley reciting Bible verses is reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan, if only they were also shooting people in roller skates.
With “Modern Warfare,” Justin Lin directed one of Community’s best episodes. In it, he combined the best of Community with his ability to assemble action scenes. It’s a tapestry of homages to action classics, not only for the sake of the tribute, but also weaving the storyline of the competition in Greendale Community College. Whatever your opinion may be on the Fast & Furious franchise, Lin’s talent is undeniable, and this episode of Community is proof of what the director can do at his best.