I missed my chance to tour the Dunder Mifflin offices. A visit to Chandler Valley Center Studios—where The Office is shot (and also where Joe Dante apparently made part of his William Castle homage, Matinee)—was on the docket for the final day of this year’s Television Critics Association press tour, but by the time my TCA colleagues shipped out to sunny Van Nuys, I was already fighting the cold back in Chicago. And frankly, I’m a little torn up about it. In four months, we’ll all be saying goodbye to Dunder Mifflin Scranton, a place that’s implanted in our memories even though we only know it from two-dimensional images. It would’ve been nice to bid farewell in person.
It’s an increasingly hoary cliché to describe a TV show’s setting as an additional character (one might even assemble a 17-item list of such “places with personality”), and that observation only barely applies to The Office: The clumps and corridors of Dunder Mifflin are defined by their lack of definition. This is supposed to be Anyoffice, U.S.A., a blank canvas onto which Office viewers can project their own work life. And yet, I felt a mistiness arise as Oscar led his co-workers in a mission to liberate the hardwood floors of the Scranton Business Park during “Suit Warehouse.” It’s all going to be torn up any way—why not let thousands of honorary Dunder Mifflinites in on the set’s viking funeral?
Of course, in the world of The Office, Dunder Mifflin will carry on. (Unless Greg Daniels and company are planning some grand “going out of business” plot for the show’s last waltz—they certainly wouldn’t be alone in taking that route.) But for the people at home, the ones moving on just like Jim, Pam, and Daryl have to, Dunder Mifflin will cease to exist. It makes that transition all the easier if drastic changes are made to the physical space. It’s a touch on the nose, but as a symbol of the shifting ground underneath The Office, the carpet-destroying climax of tonight’s episode provides a bittersweet laugh. (It’s also a callback with a long tail, going back to the time Dwight put a bullet hole in the carpet.)
Another good-not-great entry in the show’s emergence from its season-eight rut, “Suit Warehouse” shows plenty of signs that The Office is still kicking: Rainn Wilson and Clark Duke turn in some solid character work on their faux father-and-son sales call; Daryl’s roller coaster of a job interview at Athlead ends with a visual gag that makes expert use of some fake dead fish. And though it might seem early to start turning off the lights, the episode is well-placed within the arc of the ninth season. Plots like these would feel perfunctory and rushed in a March or April episode. Giving Pam second thoughts about the Philadelphia move and setting Daryl up with an Athlead job frees up some narrative space for the episodes to come—or space to tell stories that aren’t so directly tied to the “Jim and Pam leave Scranton” chronicles. Then again, this might be a setup to Jim realizing that he’d be happier selling paper for the rest of his working life; those details about the failure rate for startups and Jim’s current lack of salary could foreshadow a full-time return to Dunder Mifflin.
But we’re not here to prognosticate: As has been common in the ninth season of The Office, “Suit Warehouse” sets up big payoffs in the immediate future, but its episodic concerns are wanting. In Dwight and Clark’s corner of the episode, plenty of the jokes land, but there’s a lot of stalling as the characters are forced to switch pitching gears multiple times over the course of their meeting with the father-and-son owners of Stone & Son Suit Warehouse. Then again, I much prefer “sticks to his guns” Dwight to “sticks to the guns chosen for him by an authority figure” Dwight, and the power shift that occurs when Clark is put in charge of the pitch doesn’t stick its landing. The whole storyline comes across as one beat of a plot stretched to the length of an episode. It’s a lot of maneuvering to return the characters to their season-première positions: Surrogate father and son. To the episode’s credit, this iteration on the setup does present a tantalizing ambiguity: Is Dwight or Clark the more conniving one?
Preparing the landing gear for Jim, Pam, Dwight, and Daryl also necessitates a claustrophobic casting for the episode’s C-plot—a fitting state of mind for a storyline where the employees back at the office get weird with the help of a brand new espresso machine. The journey into the gang’s K-Cup hole benefits from well-paced escalation, yet suffers from a lack of dynamics; when everyone’s acting crazy, no one’s acting crazy. The episode takes a risk on a plot that only works because we know how these people usually behave. There are 186 episodes of the characters acting as their own straight men, essentially, and that’s what keeps this part of “Suit Warehouse” from sinking into the mire of easy “drug use yields irregular activity” humor.
That storyline is also salvaged by the way it hooks into Pam’s reticence about Philadelphia. The stability of the office environment is in question—Andy’s on permanent vacation, Jim’s splitting his time between Dunder Mifflin and Athlead—which makes Pam a crucial linchpin. She leaves for a day, and the whole place plummets into bedlam. She turns the keys over to the Chaos Muppets of Dunder Mifflin, and the Order Muppets that remain (Oscar, Angela) are too hopped-up on the bean to restore the calm. Long story short, if Pam was there, the carpet would stay glued to the floor. But Pam doesn’t need to see what’s happening in Scranton to find reasons not to move to Philadelphia; she’s busy mulling them over throughout “Suit Warehouse.” The Office is a series built on silent reactions, and Jenna Fischer’s face says it all during her scenes at the Athlead office: Pam’s not ready to move on. The fact that Erin is wigged out at the mere thought of receiving a pen order is the tip of the iceberg.
Pam’s apprehension is palpable even in the scenery. The shrinking budget of an aging show is visible in some of the chintzier aspects of the Athlead set—this may come as a shock, but that’s not The City of Brotherly Love’s famed Screen Printed Scenery District out those windows—but “Suit Warehouse” still uses its secondary setting to present a well-executed contrast between the friendly confines of Dunder Mifflin and Jim’s new Philly digs. The surfaces are harsher, the colors more striking, the layout enticing yet alien. The warehouse’s basketball hoop isn’t dangerously close to a lamp and a fish tank. Jim tells his Athlead co-workers a lot about Pam, but it doesn’t appear she’s learned a lot about them yet.
Change is scary. Saying goodbye is hard. It stumbles at times, but “Suit Warehouse” finds an intriguing way to articulate these thoughts in its tale of two offices. While touring the Athlead offices, Daryl muses that the space gives off a “Facebook energy.” This isn’t a throwaway line—the writers are illustrating that all the hip trappings of Daryl and Jim’s new place of business are no less cookie-cutter than the nondescript look of Dunder Mifflin. At this point in the series however, the look of The Office’s main setting isn’t cookie-cutter—it’s Dunder Mifflin, and any longtime viewer would be able to identify it as such. Who would’ve thought that gray cubicles, motivational posters, and Venetian blinds would prove to be such a distinctive look?
- I don’t care that it introduces a facet of the Jim-Dwight relationship that we’ve never seen before (and just because we’ve witnessed a lot of the characters’ work lives over the last eight-plus years doesn’t mean we’ve seen everything they do during business hours), “Handsome And Stinky, Paper Brothers For Hire” is a great cold open. The costumes are good, but it’s the combo punchline of math humor and Dwight “Not The Next Bob Newhart” Schrute that really makes it sing.
- “Suit Warehouse,” of course, could describe either of the non-Dunder Mifflin workplaces visited during this episode. However, neither are to be confused with Soup Warehouse, my proposed retail outlet that offers premium broths, bisques, and consommés at wholesale prices.
- Who knew Daryl was such a big fan of Jeff Koons?
- It’s way too motormouthed/stuffed with onomatopoeia to properly reproduce here, but Erin’s “Busy body, lazy bones” talking head is your Ellie Kemper all-star moment for the week.
- While shopping for suits, Clark proves he could be a new Jim and Dwight Jr.: Dwight: “You don’t want Italian. You’ll look like a mafia don. Next thing you know you’ll be doing life in Rikers Island.” Clark: “Better than looking like the undertaker from Boring Island.” Dwight: “That place doesn’t exist. It’s not a documented island. Cartograph much?”