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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Office: "Mafia"

Illustration for article titled iThe Office/i: Mafia
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Hello again, Office peeps!  No, Nathan isn't socializing again.  He's not that popular, or, if he is, I've asked him not to talk about it because if cry too much I look like Johnny LaRue.  He's up in Madison doing a reading from Inventory, the exciting new A.V. Club book that I'm sure you've all bought already.  Me, I'm down here in San Antonio, where my readings from the book are attended only by whichever one of my cats isn't hiding under the bed at the time.  So it falls to me once more to handle the latest hijinks at Dunder-Mifflin Scranton.  In an Office-like moment (it says something about how much a part of our cultural currency the show has become that we now think of quirky workplace occurences as Office-like, rather than goofy events on the show as lifelike), I won my office security-code pool today, so I'm in the mood for fun and grading like a slut.

This episode, with its wacky premise and its tricky set-up — it's always a gamble when main characters are missing from a sitcom, and Pam and Jim are away on their honeymoon — promised to be a thorny one.  But "Mafia" manages to turn this to an advantage in an unexpected way — one which sheds some light on exactly how immersed everyone is in the dysfunctional madness of working with Michael Scott.  First, though, the cold open:  Michael, giving his staff a sales training talk, makes the mistake of engaging in some weekend small talk with Meredith, which ends in disaster.  Mentioning offhand that he could write a book about what his employees don't know about business, Michael is challenged by Ryan to do just that; cut to his office, where he begins recording the beginning of his book (in an incomprehensible affected voice) until getting bogged down about six seconds in.


The plot kicks in with a pretty dopey premise:  a pushy, burly, Italian-American insurance salesman (played by beloved character actor Mike Starr, a.k.a. Frankie from Miller's Crossing) tries to get Michael to purchase some insurance.  So far, so good; Michael's unimpressed with the guy's sales pitch, but it's not until the lunatic tag team of Dwight and Andy get involved that he becomes convinced that Starr is really a mobster trying to extort him.  This opens up a neat twist on the usual Office dynamic, with Michael initially occupying the rational role and the two salesmen bringing the crazy, albeit in opposite directions:  Andy advises folding to the insurance torpedo's demands, while Dwight recommends fighting back.  It's here that Jim would normally step in, but since he and Pam are on vacation, and Toby long ago stopped caring, "the Coalition of the Sane," as Oscar puts it, "is extremely weak."  In a telling sign of how codependent he is on having at least one rational voice to sound off, Oscar actually calls the happy couple on their honeymoon — and he's the first of many.

Writer Brent Forrester also weaves what seems to be a weak B-story into the main narrative and makes it unexpectedly strong:  hapless Kevin occupies Jim's office while he's away, at first as a depository for his potent bodily odors, but eventually just because it's nicer than his house.  This leads to his accidentally getting Jim's credit card cancelled, and when he tries to help, he makes things even worse, resulting in the saddest Kevin face since he did his Kool-Aid Man impersonation.  He tries to get Oscar to help him out, but Oscar's already overtaxed; what's a man to do but sit back and gorge on M&Ms, hoping everything works out for the best?  (Besides further interrupt Pam & Jim's honeymoon with another phone call, of course.)

Back in the main plot, Michael, Andy and Dwight meet with the insurance salesman, with Andy assuming the guise of an auto mechanic for no immediately discernable reason.  In a panic, Michael signs the insurance policy (at the cost of just a cup of coffee an hour), but later regrets his decision; and, naturally, the first person he hits up for advice is the honeymooning Jim, who fucks with him as usual.  Oscar's mighty reason powers hit upon the obvious solution — just cancelling the policy — but Michael won't accept it until it's suggested by Dwight and Andy, who 'pretend' that they were wrong about Starr being a mobster.  Although they tip their hand later, Michael is satisfied; he may hate liars (and he wishes the Mafia would kill all the liars), but not as much as he loves being a phony tough guy.  Telling the office he faced down the mob is worth any number of imaginary threats on his life.

Overall, this was a strong if not essential episode — it didn't move any major story arcs along at all, but it was solidly funny, and proved that the show can survive taking both Jim and Pam out of the picture for a full episode, while still showing how completely woven into the madness of Dunder-Mifflin they always are and probably always will be.  After the sweeping spectacle of last week, a nice quiet laugh-focused episode is welcome; and by the end of the episode, a couple of characters who aren't even on screen have served as a realistic reminder to every cubicle-dweller of how, no matter how hard you try to get away, you're always in some way back at the office.


Stray Observations:

- Toby seems unusually beaten down of late.  I like it.

- "I caught my son taking a dump on the upper part of the toilet.  He calls it an upper decker."


- "Over one million copies sold.  More than the Bible.  I'm not surprised."

- "More trunk space.  Or should I say, more corpse space."

- "R is among the most threatening of sounds.  That's why they call it 'murder' instead of 'mukduk'."


- "I think we should let the criminal use the card a little longer."

- "You got a leaky spark tube, so your car is totalled.  You're gonna want to get a refund on that."


- "Just to be clear, he backed down an insurance agent from Mutual of Harrisburg."

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