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The Office: Family Affair

Pam smash! In the five-plus years of The Office, we’ve yet to see mousy, cutesy Pam Beesley do much more than swallow down the repeated frustrations and humiliations of working at Dunder Mifflin. But that was before she found out that Michael Scott was sleeping with her mom. Seeing Pam scream “I don’t give a shit about your happiness” right in Michael’s face: a truly shocking, needle-off-record moment. We couldn’t quite tell if Michael ending up in the hotel room of Pam’s somewhat unbalanced mother at the end of the wedding episode was a quick sight gag or the setup for an ongoing plotline. Now we know.

It’s difficult to blame Pam. We’re not sure how we’d handle Michael — who, typically, is making this all about his own wants and needs — calling our mother “baby” and “pickle,” either. There are several moments, like when he says Pam is “just as stubborn as your mother,” that we were honestly surprised she didn’t full-on slap Michael. It’s a rather ingenious move: No character’s romantic life, since Pam and Jim got together at least, has been more central to the show than Michael’s. We cheer for him to find a nice girl in spite of ourselves; we plead for him to get away from Jan, and lament his lost love Holly. So, the show asks us: How much do you want him to be happy? Enough that you’re okay with him dating Pam’s mom?

We haven’t seen enough of Pam’s mother outside of the wedding scenario — where she mostly served as a light, if clearly disturbed, presence, at least until she ended up with Michael — to be invested in what the hell she could possibly be thinking. (It is noteworthy that they recast the nice, more traditionally maternal actress we met as Pam’s mom in season two. She only recently became crazy, with the blame on her divorce from Pam’s father.) But as much as we might support Michael's finding a nice girl, we have to side with Pam: That her mother would start sleeping with Pam’s boss, a man she’s been complaining about for years, is reckless at best and sadomasochistic at worst.

If there’s any complaint to be had with this unusually dark episode, it’s that the tone is so vivid that you wonder where the show can go with it. If Michael insists on continuing to date Pam’s mom, which appears to be the case, it’s impossible to imagine Pam ever coming around on the relationship. The Office is usually about awkward silences. This episode is about primal screams. How can you dial back from that? We suspect the writers have a good idea. We can’t wait to find out what it is.

Photo: Courtesy of NBC