Many of my favorite episodes of The Office revolve around holidays. Accordingly, tonight’s show explored the bleak, seamy underbelly of Secretary’s Day. The set-up was relatively simple. Andy, in a trademark fit of runaway, counterproductive romanticism, decides to bully everyone in the office into making Erin’s Secretary Day the bestest ever. His piece de resistance involved getting Michael to take Erin out to lunch.
Michael is initially reluctant: he sees Erin as a rube and fears/anticipates an excruciatingly awkward conversation. But Andy is nothing if not persistent and this grand romantic gesture, like nearly all of his others, backfires horribly. Michael finds himself stuck with a woman so devoid of social graces and self-consciousness that she borders on mentally challenged, a good natured but painfully naïve and immature woman-child who seems to exist in a different world than anyone else.
In other words, Michael found himself in the place of everyone forced to deal with him. It was a classic switch. For once, Michael was the bored, irritated one forced by circumstances to talk to someone he can barely stand. Psychologically, it rang true: Erin worships Michael and Michael has enough self-loathing to find that a deplorable and deeply suspicious quality.
So consciously or unconsciously, he completely destroys Erin’s fragile mental health and self-esteem by casually mentioning that Andy was engaged to Angela, something Andy never saw fit to mention. Erin is shattered. In a very five-year-old temper tantrum, she drapes her hair over her face so she looks like Cousin Itt from The Addams Family.
Erin can’t stand the idea of her beloved Andy fucking a sour-faced, joyless scold like Angela so she freaks the fuck out, first turning petulant and sullen and then lashing out at Andy for deceiving her. In an enormously touching moment, Pam, who has just returned from maternity leave, tells Erin that it doesn’t matter who a person has been with; only who they end up with. Erin’s response was perfect: she tenderly tells Pam that she hopes she’ll meet the right person, oblivious to the fact that Pam has already found her Mr. Perfect and just gave birth to his child.
Erin has really come into her own this season and tonight’s episode was her finest half-hour. For such a simple, child-like character, she showed surprising complexity, cycling through some very dark emotions as she struggles to come to terms with the disquieting fact that the people we fall in love with had lives before us and sometimes they involved getting engaged to people you hate and, alas, have to work with.
In interconnected subplots, Kevin is devastated to find that Oscar has put up a Youtube video that puts Kevin’s slow-witted drawl into the mouth of The Cookie Monster (though 50 Cent will tell you the Cookie Monster actually sounds more like Ja Rule). Soon enough, everyone is doing unconscionably cruel imitations of Kevin as the Cookie Monster. This attracts the attention of the new guy from Sabre, who tries to assert his authority by suspending everyone who makes fun of Kevin only to learn that he can only reprimand, not suspend.
In the second turnaround, Kevin wins back everyone’s favor by engaging in the time-honored tradition of picking on the new guy. Thankfully, he gives everyone a lot to work with by behaving like a doofus and looking like a stick insect.
Psychodrama, laughs aplenty, a dark night of the soul for Andy and Erin. Tonight’s episode had it all. I, for one, will never look at Secretary’s Day the same way again.
—It’s good to see more Daryl. He destroyed with his deadpan delivery of the line, “That’s some stone cold narcissism.”
—So what did we learn about Erin’s past tonight? Like Michael, I sort of tuned her out. She really did seem to speak for the sake of speaking, not because she had anything to say.