"A Fistful of Paintballs" is the 23rd episode and part one of the two-part second season finale of Community. The episode originally premiered on May 5, 2011 on NBC. Acting as a sequel to "Modern Warfare" from the first season, Dean Pelton once again announces plans for a game of paintball. The winning prize being $100,000, the study group teams up. However, this year they are short on ammo and their friendship is once again tested. During the game a man only known as "The Black Rider" (played by Lost star Josh Holloway) appears.
The episode was written by Andrew Guest and directed by Joe Russo. The episode is inspired by Spaghetti Western films directed by Sergio Leone.
Mike (Anthony Michael Hall) and his gang are chasing "Fat Neil" down a corridor when Annie emerges and defeats the bullies. "Fat Neil" asks her for a paintball gun, but winds up shot when he tries to pull the gun on Annie.
In flashback we find out the paintball game was started by Dean Pelton and "Pistol Patty's Cowboy Creamery", an ice cream company. The Dean explains the reason last year's "Paintball Assassin" game was unsuccessful was that the prize was too important. He then lets Pistol Patty, the ice cream company's mascot, a giant ice cream cone in western attire, explain the prize. The company has made the prize 100,000 dollars in cash, at which point pandemonium breaks out.
Annie comes back to her base to find Abed, who proposes she join him, Jeff, and Chang in the library. Meanwhile, in the library, Jeff and Chang are trapped by the math club, so Chang betrays him. Abed saves Jeff, but Chang gets away. Jeff informs Annie that he is also low on ammo and they discuss whether they should join Pierce, who is hiding in the cafeteria, or steal his ammo since he has "more paint than a French kindergarten". They are interrupted by a stranger (Josh Holloway), who they believe does not go to Greendale, and manage to escape from him.
On their way to the cafe they run into Britta, Shirley, and Troy and find out they are working for Pierce, who has set up a safe zone known as Fort Hawthorne in the cafeteria. During dinner with Pierce, he expresses his desire to team up and split the cash. He informs them of the location of a stash of ammo. As the study group is looking for ammo, Annie finds Chang who is about to be "executed" by a gang of cheerleaders, whom he betrayed the math club to join. Annie shoots the cheerleaders but Chang tries to get away. Annie chases Chang but is caught by the stranger she met earlier. They find out he is known as "The Black Rider". Jeff and Abed arrive and save Annie, but she finds out that Pierce loaded Jeff's gun with blanks. The study group finds Dean Pelton hiding in a closet and get all of last year's paintball supplies from his office. Annie takes the paintball machine gun Chang used last year and storms off to confront Pierce.
Back at Fort Hawthorne, the group finds it's been demolished by "The Black Rider". They find Pierce and confront him. Pierce confesses he loaded Jeff's gun with blanks after walking in on them playing cards without him three days ago. Annie also confesses that they weren't playing cards but were actually voting whether Pierce should join the study group next year. She does not, however, reveal who played the card to keep Pierce in the group, stating, "Lucky for you, it had to be unanimous. There was one holdout. One red card". This information, as explained below, is revealed in not by the dialogue, but by the character introductions at the beginning, when each character is first met, although it is implied by the dialogue at certain points. "The Black Rider" emerges and gets into a stand-off with Jeff as Annie is still in the stand-off with Pierce. Just then Pierce starts to have what appears to be a heart attack, but when "The Black Rider" goes to help him Pierce shoots him as he was just faking it. "The Black Rider" reveals that he only takes a class online and was hired by Pistol Patty's to keep the prize money. Pierce runs off alone, vowing revenge.
Chang is seen looking for another alliance to join when he is shot by a paintball-machine-gun from the Pistol Patty's van. The back of the van opens up and a commando team dressed in white exit. Pistol Patty exits as the commando team bow to her. Pistol Patty goes on to say it's time for "Plan B: Operation Total Invasion".
The episode was written by Andrew Guest, his sixth writing credit of the series. It was directed by executive producer Joe Russo, his 15th directing credit of the series.
It was reported of February 28, 2011, by Entertainment Weekly that Josh Holloway would guest star in the season finale as a mysterious character.
Originally scheduled to air as an hour-long season finale on May 12, 2011, the episodes were split into two parts airing May 5 and May 12, respectively. Regarding the concept of the two-part season finale and the return to paintball, creator Dan Harmon said, "It's designed to exist both as one story but also two separate episodes. [The first] one has a Sergio Leone Western motif, so there’s more emphasis on tension, scarcity of ammo, and who might draw on who. But the second one erupts – the Western motif falls away and all out war ensues. There's a kind of an epic, wartime, band-of-rebels-against-a-larger-force Star Wars feel to the second one ... If we only did the Western one, there might have been some people who said, 'Oh it's great, but it's not 'Modern Warfare.' And then there's other people who, if we had only done 'Modern Warfare,' would say, 'Eh, same thing again.'"
In its original American broadcast on May 5, 2011, "A Fistful of Paintballs" was viewed by an estimated 3.49 million viewers.
The episode received positive reviews from critics, much like "Modern Warfare". Several critics noted the obvious comparisons to "Modern Warfare" when reviewing the episode, saying it does not top "Modern Warfare", but is a worthy companion episode.
Todd VanDerWerff of The A.V. Club commented the episode "isn't the season's funniest episode, but it might be the most FUN, and that's where the episode, ultimately, gets me." He also said, "There are so many goofy, winning touches in this episode that it almost feels churlish to write too much that's negative about it." Although he graded the episode an A-, he felt "that it's hard to watch the first half of an intended two-parter and be able to say much about the work as a whole. I'll say that I think this is a pretty great set-up, but it's essentially ALL set-up, and that means a lot of how successful it is depends on next week's episode and how it goes." Kelsea Stahler of Hollywood.com called the episode "a worthy paintball redux" and "a fun, riotous companion to the classic episode."
HitFix critic Alan Sepinwall applauded the episode, saying "the new installment went for depth instead of breadth, focusing entirely on the style of the spaghetti Western and doing a very impressive job of it. The revamped opening credit sequence was gorgeous, the score sounded very much like Ennio Morricone's work on The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the different showdowns had the requisite number of close-ups, etc." He also enjoyed Alison Brie's performance as Annie, commenting that "She was so fierce, so kickass as a strong loner heroine that I could very easily imagine her as the lead of an actual, not-for-laughs Western." TV Fanatic reviewer Jeffrey Kirkpatrick loved the episode, saying that it even tops the original paintball episode and very much enjoyed the performance of Brie, calling her a "showstopper." Eric Koreen of the National Post said the episode "was daring, stunningly shot and completely unafraid to try to do more than any sitcom ought to."
After watching the season 2 finale, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige gave Joe and Anthony Russo the job of directing the 2014 film Captain America: The Winter Soldier.