Five years in, The Office continues to surprise us on both a macro and a micro level. As my college professors would say, it is textually rich, a gift that keeps on giving. It began as one kind of show, then changed into another following the cold open, then took at least two more intriguing turns. It was a bravura exercise in misdirection. What initially appeared to be a middling, place-holding entry in the ongoing Office saga developed slowly but surely into an intriguing, surprisingly satisfying exploration of the minds and psyches of the Dunder-Mifflin gang.
The misdirection began with the cold open, which found the gang giddily gathering at Michael's door to celebrate their boss' impending nuptials. The only problem: said engagement exists only in Michael's fertile imagination. I was wholly prepared for an entire episode about Michael pretending to be engaged to Holly but the show unceremoniously dropped a premise rich with tragic-comic possibilities following the cold open. How did you guys feel about that? Is this truly the end of Holly?
We then segued into the real meat of the episode: Dwight and Jim are both horrified to learn that they've scored shockingly low on customer surveys conducted by Kelly. Dwight immediately smells a far-ranging conspiracy out to sully his good name, a paranoid conviction only strengthened by the fact that Jim spends much of the episode ostensibly talking to himself. Has Dwight finally lost it? Is Jim finally succeeding in his bid to gaslight his mercurial colleague?
Ah, but there's a reason Jim spends so much of the day making conversation with someone who isn't there: he's actually communicating round the clock with Pam via a tiny little Bluetooth that allows them to communicate for a solid eight hours a day. With this development, Pam and Jim officially made the leap from adorably in love to creepily co-dependent.
Concerned that Dwight and Jim are backsliding professionally, Michael tries to coach them on improving their sales pitches by proposing some role-playing. Jim pretends to be a surly customer named Mr. Buttlicker. It was a merely O.K bit until Michael takes the make-pretend phone from Dwight and secures a million dollar sale from Mr. Buttlicker on the grounds that Dwight be fired. I loved how genuinely ecstatic Dwight and Michael seemed to be over their fake sale to an imaginary figure with a ridiculous name. Everything might have been preposterously fake, but Dwight and Michael's sense of achievement felt hilariously real. It was another example of The Office's ability to mine humor from handling utterly absurd situations with deadpan realism.
Eventually it turns out that Dwight isn't so crazy or paranoid after all. For it appears that dusky, exotic Kelly really did fuck them over on their customer surveys as retribution for skipping her "America's Got Talent" party. The Office gang are all about protecting their silly little fiefdoms, like leadership of the party committee, and abusing what little power they possess.
The Bluetooth subplot, meanwhile, paid off dramatically when Jim overhears a character I like think of as New York Jim–he shares his wry humor, infectious affability and scruffy, non-threatening sorta good looks and wants to travel a Jim-like path from friendship to good loving body rocking knocking boots all night long–making his big speech admonishing Pam to stay in New York so she can concentrate on her art. And by "concentrate on her art" I of course mean good loving body rocking knocking boots all night long.
Andy and Angela's marriage of the damned takes an even creepier turn when Angela huffily shoots down Andy's wedding plans–"We can't get married in a tent like hobos" she fumes in the show's funniest line–in favor of getting married at Shrute Farms. How fucking sick is that? Angela and Dwight solidify their creepy bond by giving each other conspiratorial glances when poor, cuckolded Andy agrees to pay any price to get married at the beet farm of the man his bride-to-be is secretly fucking. Hell is truly other people, those people being Dwight and Angela. Good stuff.
Grade:A- Stray Observations– –Boy, Dwight has really made the leap from Urkel to Iago over the past season or so. He's downright virile and evil. –I liked how not only did Dwight eventually realize that Jim was talking on a Bluetooth; he even knew the exact model he was using –Poor Michael. So much heartbreak/leftover guacamole –I similarly liked the way Ryan has completely romanticized and mythologized his New York stint. Those were the days, man, those were the days –Hey, tonight's episode was directed by Stephen Merchant. Neat –You juked the stats, cupcake –That was some nifty detective work on Jim's part to crack the Case of the Surprisingly Sub-Par Customer Surveys. Encyclopedia Brown would be proud