Finally, a half-hour-long episode as weird, dark, and resonant as some of the show's hour-long excursions into personal and professional despair. Tonight, or rather last night's episode, poignantly echoed the Monica Lewinsky scandal as the mundane, pathetic details of a sordid sexual fling between two fundamentally lonely, sad people became dry fodder for a blackly dry comic legal proceeding.
Here, that legal proceeding was a deposition where Michael Scott testified on Jan's behalf in her lawsuit for wrongful termination against Dunder-Mifflin and ended up destroying her case. It was a can't-miss comic set-up that veered constantly into tragedy: Michael Scott, a giggly little boy whose self-censoring apparatus is perpetually on the blink, in a grey, legalistic world of adults and consequences and jargon.
It was a milieu where Scott's catchphrase, "That's what she said," inspired an extended semantic debate about the phrase's ultimate meaning that was half "Who's On First" and half Lewinskygate. As Michael was forced to choose between his beloved corporation and his woman, the black, black heart of his relationship with Jan was exposed to the harsh, unforgiving light of public scrutiny. A performance review where Jan recommended that Michael be demoted to sales is brought to light, as is the contents of Michael's personal diary, which is every bit as adolescent and leering and pathetic as you'd imagine.
Michael is so overmatched and confused that at the lunch table he gravitates to Toby, his perennial arch-nemesis, more or less by default. In what may be the darkest, most remarkable Toby/Michael exchange to date, Toby tries to open up to Michael in his hour of need by telling him about his parent's traumatic divorce and how he was asked to testify against both of them. It's a moment of heartbreaking vulnerability made even more so when Michael glares at Toby, knocks his tray on the floor, and walks away.
Toby and Michael are both innately nice people, but something about Michael's hatred of Toby rings true: he seems to represent every hall monitor or guidance counselor of mid-level bureaucrat who ever got in Michael's way. Back at the deposition, Michael and Jan take turns throwing each other under the bus. When forced to choose between his lady and his employer, he chooses Dunder-Mifflin. He's a company man through and through, a sucker for praise, however measured or condescending, when it comes from a guy in a suit.
As Jan and Michael drove home from the deposition, The Office offered a harrowing glimpse of relationship hell as the joyless couple coldly, dispassionately agree to have fast-food on the way home to save money. They're too weak and lonely to break up with each other or confront the Pandora's Box of dark, ugly emotions unleashed by the deposition. Along with the Toby/Michael lunchroom scenario, it's a scene whose eviscerating darkness lingers.
In the B-story, Kelly begins talking Olympic-level smack (or is it trash?) to Pam after her boyfriend Darryl opens up a giant can of whup-ass on Jim in ping-pong. Jim begins training hardcore to avenge Pam's honor, but it's Dwight who turns out to be the ping-pong prodigy. This strand understandably felt featherweight and inconsequential compared to the voyeuristic psychodrama of the Jan/Michael plot, but there seemed to be a lot of genuine anger and hostility in Kelly's "joking" taunts to Pam. Incidentally I'm usually quick on the draw, posting these blogs within an hour or two of a show ending but I wasn't able to do that for the following four reasons: 1. The internet at home was on the fritz 2. I'm on vacation 3. My grandma died 4. My dog ate my homework Three of those excuses happen to be true, though technically speaking my grandma died in 1986. What can I say? I take things these things hard (cue the single "That's what she said!" I will allow myself this entire blog). That's especially unfortunate as both 30 Rock and The Office were especially compelling and thought-provoking tonight. Don't worry, my TV babies. I won't let you down again. That's TV's job, not mine.
Grade: A Stray Observations- -I would wager good money that some enterprising soul has either pitched "The Secret Diary of Michael Scott" as a book or will do so immediately following this episode. -Can Michael and Jan's relationship be saved? Should it be saved? Perhaps for the twins' sake? -I can see the writers using Kelly as a vehicle to express fans' free-floating hostility towards Jim and Pam's far-too-perfect union. That'd be a terrific way to both give the audience more Kelly and Darryl and undercut the stomach-churning adorability of the Jim and Pam romance.