Professor Kane assigns the Biology class a terrarium project. When the study group ends up with lab partners from outside the gang, they beg Prof. Kane to let them partner up among themselves, which he grants with some exasperation. However, the partnerships of Troy and Abed, Britta and Shirley, Jeff and Annie, and Pierce and outsider Todd have quickly noticeable compatibility problems and the study group decides to shuffle pairs, which quickly gets way too serious.Meanwhile, Chang's desire to be a police detective expresses itself as an idiotically mundane Film Noir, which eventually leads to him inadvertently starting a fire and his illegal living situation coming to light.
The Community episode "Competitive Ecology" provides examples of:
- Alpha Bitch: Arguably the study group as a whole. They have all the qualifications of being the Girl Posse, and are even called "the mean clique".
- Bat Deduction: Plenty of insane, blatantly incorrect ones from Chang after he decides he's a detective, which lead to no good.
- The B Grade: Annie faints when informed that they failed the assignment.
- Brutal Honesty: Kane tells Magnitude that he believes everyone has been laughing at him.Kane: At least that's my theory.
- Butt-Monkey: Todd, Todd, Todd. Before the end of the episode, they even insult his newborn child.Troy: He wouldn't stop talking about his dumb baby!
- Captain Obvious: "[She had l]egs that went to the bottom of her torso. The kind of arms that had elbows."
- Cargo Ship: Chang x Mannequin Leg. Janitor: Homewrecker...
- Catch-Phrase: "Am I crazy?" and "I had to think fast" in Chang's internal monologue.
- "None taken!" for Todd, who even starts to say it without someone else saying "No offense."
- The Chew Toy: Todd, if you haven't caught that by now.
- Continuity Lockout: In-universe with Kane. He's a new teacher with no idea what the hell's been going on. The class gives a Collective Groan at the mention of dioramas, because most of them have been doing it all previous year."You guys have weird reactions to stuff."
"What is happening at this school? I have so many conversations that make no sense..."
- Then, when the study group asks him to change lab partners, they mention all the stuff they've been through together.
- Continuity Nod: The group's study table still has axe-marks from Jeff's attack on it in the first episode.
- Evil Laugh: Chang's crazy evil laugh when he is promoted to head of security. Inside his head.
- Film Noir: Chang sees several tropes of the genre that arenít really there, like a Femme Fatale, or Veronica getting Stuffed into the Fridge.
- Firemen Are Hot: The Dean certainly thinks so.
- Forehead of Doom: Todd.
- Foreshadowing: Chang accidentally starting a fire, and getting a position of authority.
- Freudian Slip: Britta in The Tag:Britta: Haha! Gotcha! This was also a test, and you all penised. ...Passed.
- Freud Was Right: In The Tag, Britta gives everyone a basic multiple choice psychological evaluation. Troy fills his bubbles to shape a pair of boobs. Britta mistakes all the other sheets for penises.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Britta shooting her fingers down with her Finger Gun because she's blatantly trying to Flip the Bird at Annie, but she keeps screwing it up.
- Going by the Matchbook: Chang tries to force this trope with disastrous results.
- Good Old Ways: Kane's monologue on how Legos have changed while he was inside.
- Hidden Depths: Todd has a wife, a baby girl, a promise to his dead father to graduate from college, and diabetes, and had fought in Iraq.
- Hypocritical Humour:Jeff: We don't even know him! He's a stranger!
Pierce: Jeez Jeff, it has feelings.
- Ignored Epiphany: The group seems to be veering in the direction of learning the Aesop of this episode. But the minute Jeff blames it on Todd, they all blame him as well (even though their troubles started before anyone but Pierce had even talked to him), failing to see how their own immaturity and instability caused all of their problems.
- I'm Standing Right Here: Everyone talks about Todd with disdain right in front of him. He never takes any offense, though, until he finally gets up and leaves after giving the study group a verbal lashing.
- Insane Troll Logic: Chang's 'investigation' quickly becomes this as he is making deductions and connections that make no sense whatsoever.
- Insult Backfire: Although it apparently doesn't backfire hard enough.Jeff: When did you even have time to do that?! You're pathological.
Annie: It's too late for flattery.
- It's Not You, It's Me: The study group breaking up with their lab partners. Everyone except Pierce, who gives poor Todd "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
- Kicked Upstairs: Chang, who gets the security chief gig after Sgt. Nunez quits in disgust.
- Left the Background Music On: Chang's Hard-Work Montage wherein he tries to in vain crack the (non-existent) case is accompanied by bluesy saxophone music. One of the montage cuts shows Chang playing the saxophone.
- Limited Social Circle: Lampshaded.Annie: [To Jeff] And who the hell are you always texting?! Everyone you know is here!
- Malaproper: When Britta tells Shirley that her homeopath said that sugar is like "baby meth," Shirley says Britta's "gay friend needs to keep his opinions to himself."
Chang: [V.O.] Arizona backwards is still Arizona! It's a palomino!
- Later, Chang says this about the Arizona Matchbook Company:
- Married to the Job: Chang, according to his conversation with the Dean.
- Meaningful Echo: Chang's "Maybe I will" in response to head security guard telling him to detect on his own time is immediately echoed in his Inner Monologue.
- The Mentally Disturbed: Chang, as Sgt. Nunez points out.
- Metaphorgotten: Chang does this frequently during his Private Eye Monologues.
- Mirror Monologue: Chang has one to convince himself to continue following the clues.
- Nice Guy: Todd. But don't push him too far...
- Only Sane Man: Todd is able to keep cool all night while the group squabbles and gets more and more insane. He finally snaps and tells them exactly what he thinks of them before leaving. Given his backstory, he is probably the stablest, sanest character on the show so far.
- Also the Head Security Officer, pointing out that Chang is probably mentally ill (and "it's not even funny"), the Dean is enabling him and that this cannot possibly end well.
- Out of Order: Shirley recognizing Britta's marijuana lighter and Pierce revealing he had sex with Eartha Kitt both refer to events in alternative timelines of the next episode to air, "Remedial Chaos Theory". This introduces a little Fridge Logic when you remember that the events that allowed both of these things to happen never happened in the 'real' timeline of the previous episode, but both can be easily explained as having happened differently at some point between episodes anyway. Or, if you prefer more of a Mind Screw, the Word of God-debunked but still popular theory that what we think is the 'real' timeline isn't the real timeline...
- To be fair, everyone knows or has assumed by now that Britta smokes marijuana, so Shirley could have just been making an assumption. Similarly, given Pierce's eagerness to latch on to any flimsy excuse to bring up his Eartha Kitt story, it's not hard to imagine that he just told everyone at a different opportunity.
- The DVD release changed the episode order back to the originally planned one.
- Phrase-Catcher: Todd. "No offense!" "None taken!"
- Private Eye Monologue: Done by Chang throughout, although heavy on the Mixed Metaphor and Metaphorgotten. The Dean joins in toward the end, but they monologue simultaneously and drown each other out.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Todd delivers a surprisingly awesome one.
- Serious Business: The group took until the next day to pick lab partners.
- Shaped Like Itself:Chang: My own words rang inside my head, like a bell inside a head.
- She's Got Legs: Parodied. Chang, in his Hardboiled Detective Inner Monologue:Chang: [Inner monologue] She was all dame. Legs that went to the bottom of her torso. The kind of arms that had elbows.
Vicki: Did you just call me in here to stare at me?
- Ship Tease: Britta/Troy. And Jeff/Annie as well, considering that they initially gravitate towards each other as lab partners. And let's not forget the "tight sweater" exchange between them either...
- Single Tear: Poor Todd.
- Strange Minds Think Alike: Chang and Dean Pelton, almost disturbingly.
- String Theory: Chang creates one but it is completely unnecessary, there are only five items in it.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: Troy's reasoning for wanting to be partnered up with Britta:
- Took a Level in Jerkass: The study group as a whole in this episode as it's shown once again how easily they end up fighting each other. Just that this time, they bring a bystander into the mix.
- Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonists: The whole study group takes up this mantle in this episode while becoming "the mean clique."
- What the Hell, Hero?: Todd to the whole group on their poisonous "friendship".
- Kane as well when he calls them "the mean clique".
- Sgt. Nunez pointing out to the Dean that Chang is mentally ill and shouldn't be enabled.