Last week, we noted that Baby Cecilia was surprisingly absent from Jim and Pam’s story line, but her existence was adequately acknowledged this time around when the Halperts arrive late to work because they were dropping her off with sitters, setting up a solid opening joke: Dwight’s Daycare. The approach is classic Schrute — forks and knives as playthings, a bucket for a feeding trough, an ICP poster — but the best part is Dwight’s “mwa-ha-ha” upon first conceiving the idea. Then a pause and: “I guess it’s not an evil idea. Just a regular idea. But there’s no good laugh for a regular idea.”
That’s true, there isn’t. Which last night’s episode established with two very unusual ideas. The first, and best, was when the staff collaborated to help — rather than harass — Dwight after he is treated poorly by a salesperson at the Steamtown Mall. “You need to go back there and Pretty Woman their asses!” chimes Kelly. One of the many reasons we love Kelly Kapoor/Mindy Kaling is her unabashedly girly, populist sense of humor. Pretty Woman might fall flat as a plot point for those viewers who didn’t at one youthful, misguided time believe, based on this movie, that being a hooker was a job with romantic prospects, but who among us hasn’t wanted to return to a particularly unaffordable store with an armload of packages just to spite the snooty staff? In this case, the store sold “precious heirlooms” (mall crap) and after an extreme makeover focused primarily on changing the part of his hair, Dwight, sans glasses and sporting an ascot, returns to the scene of the crime with Jim and Andy to deliver Julia Roberts’s memorable snap: “You work on commission, right? Big mistake! Huge!” And whaddya know? Turns out Dwight was refused service not because he looked too poor to buy anything but because — cue the trusty beet-farming joke — he arrived in overalls with his hands covered in the vegetable’s juice, which was mistaken for blood.
Meanwhile, Pam grapples with her own big, huge mistake: her decision to transfer to the sales department. Salespeople work on commission (theme alert) and she’s terrible at the job, so she scams Gabe into believing she had been demoted to Office Administrator right before Sabre took over. Perhaps all we can expect for the Halperts nowadays are these ho-hum diversions, though seeing the formerly ambitious Pam downgrade herself to a glorified secretary is decidedly un-triumphant. Like if Julia had returned to the seedy streets of Hollywood wearing that awful wig.
Picking up where last week left off, Michael must endure mandatory counseling from Toby for making the mistake of publicly paddling his nephew’s behind. The beef between these two is one of the great running jokes of the show — unexplained only in so much as the reason is never plainly stated but nonetheless understood. This is the other unusual idea: forcing them together for longer than it takes Michael to make one joke at Toby’s expense. Instead, a petulant Michael spends most of the session inventing explanations for his behavior — like how he was molested by Alf (“You never see his lower half, but there’s a lower half”) — until Toby tricks him using child psychiatry. Once lulled into compliance with games of cards and Connect Four, Michael lets his guard down and starts talking about his childhood dog and “[his] mother’s boyfriend Jeff, whom she married.” “So your stepdad?” Toby asks and Michael responds, “I guess I never thought of it that way.” On the surface, it’s a play on Michael’s simplemindedness, but the meaning feels a little bit more significant. Still, you can’t trick a trickster and once the patient gets wise, he unleashes a stream of insults, including, “You bitch! You can’t help people. You couldn’t help your marriage.” There’s a trace of pathos in their otherwise for-yucks relationship. But does Toby’s later giggling when Michael makes fun of Gabe suggest a change? Perhaps it suggests a future where these two unite against a new, unsuspecting target.
Or perhaps the lesson is you are who you are. Underneath the ascot, Dwight is a beet farmer on the hunt for a pewter wizard holding a crystal, Pam is the glue that keeps the office together, and Michael is a lonely kid lashing out at anyone who tries to make him grow up. And Erin: Well, who exactly is Erin? Was it funny or stupid when she takes a photo of Dwight with a disposable camera but then Amelia Bedelias it by tossing the camera in the trash?