Deangelo’s bizarre, Evanescence-scored act with imaginary balls served as a metaphor for the string of Will Ferrell episodes. Like the Dunder Mifflin staff, the audience wondered: What the hell is going on? Ever since Ferrell joined the show, commenters have complained about the inconsistency of his character. At first, he seemed like a little bit of a prankster, but with a mean streak. Next, he was losing his lunch owing to pre-Dundie jitters. Last week, he took Andy on a sales call that hinted at his possible derangement and positive ineptitude. Last night — well, maybe by the end of this recap we’ll have figured out what to make of the episode, because we begin with no clue except to say that by drawing Deangelo as an unpredictable person who defies logic, the writers freed themselves up to put Ferrell in what felt like a series of SNL skits.
After new, Michael-less credits concluded with the straightening of a Tusken Raider, Deangelo told the Scranton branch that “coasting time is officially over.” To the cameras, he confided that he didn’t want the staff sucking up, thereby figuring him out, thereby preventing him from figuring them out. His mind games included spoiling them — night classes for Darryl, a new chair for Toby, and ice-cream Thursdays. Deangelo: “As soon as I hear what I want to hear, I’m not gonna care.” Yet this proved to be completely false when he formed an unofficial Inner Circle of yes-men consisting of Jim, Darryl, Gabe, and Kevin. If, for instance, Deangelo thinks the conference room is about 320 square feet, Gabe agrees: “320. Just free-balling it.” And if Deangelo dunks a mini-ball in a mini-hoop, Darryl big ups his basketball skills with respect for his brother: “The man is paying me to take Chinese. I will say what I need to say and soon, I will say it in Chinese.”
In the lunchroom, Angela called the group what it is — a boys club — and accused Deangelo of sexism. Andy, with his authorship of The Penis Apologies and a “crapload of women’s studies classes” under his belt, wasn’t so sure, but she convinced him by pointing out that none of the female department heads were invited to hang out with their new boss. What Deangelo doesn’t know is that Kelly, in a particularly depressing plot point, has agreed to pretend that Ryan is her superior in exchange for him not bailing on dinner with the Kapoors, among other boyfriendly duties. Although this was not entirely out of step for her, it really tipped the scales in terms of how much pleasure we can derive from their power imbalance. What before seemed like a mutually unsatisfying relationship — her shallowness the perfect match for his narcissism — now translated as desperate and abusive. Kelly looked legitimately upset, too, even as she explained the situation in terms of Rango.
On the bright side, these characters actually got a story line for the first time in what felt like forever. Carell’s absence refocused the energy of a solid ensemble: Seriously, how many weeks has it been since Krasinski’s done anything? And in this episode, Jim, who will perhaps have logged about five hundred askew glances by the time this series is over, nailed a doozy of an expression last night. When Pam agreed with Angela and suggested that Jim do something about it, his face betrayed painful compliance — the look of a man who loves his wife, but doesn’t want to have to stand up for her in front of his friends. And bless him: In the most awkward, yeah-but-no way, he ran the idea by Deangelo and was promptly excommunicated from the group and replaced by Andy.
It’s a shame that a rather interesting plot development was practically overwhelmed by Ferrell’s schizoid antics. Once accused of sexism, Deangelo did the guilty thing and made a public show of innocence. “Who here has a vagina? Who here loves somebody with a vagina?” he asked, and though he was only holding up both of his hands because he had been demonstrating, he made everyone take notice of it, and Ryan and Gabe followed suit. In all this, it would seem that Deangelo actually wants to be kissed up to, he just doesn’t want to be able to detect it. But although he doesn’t flinch here, his unease registers later when Gabe calls him Magic Jordan, and whether that’s because he sees through Gabe or just finds him to be a disappointment, it’s hard to tell.
Here’s a classic line, from Phyllis: “I’m not a feminist, but I think the men in this office are being given chances that the women aren’t.” Where is Andy when you need him to lecture the woman who supports the actual cause and will eat her weight in erotic cakes (not a fat joke, a sexually liberated one), but still throws the term "feminist" under the bus? And then Dwight: “NBA, WNBA. One is a sport, one is a joke. I love sports, I love jokes. Room for all.” Wouldn’t Dwight appreciate tall, sturdy women for some agrarian purpose? Can we assume he’s insulting the NBA here? Did he ever watch the Liberty team circa T-Spoon? Either way, there was laughter because a joke, while potentially offensive, is still a joke, and this episode had very few.
Jim was beleaguered, now that both he and Pam were on the outs. Their only means of escape: his lottery tickets or her YA book series, The Horse Flyer. But for some reason, when Pam complained about the noisy game of mini-hoops, Jim was welcomed back to the fold. The game Deangelo is playing is so much more complicated than mini-hoops. In us, he had a desirable audience, because we couldn’t figure him out. Dwight, impervious to his new boss’s attempts to disarm him, became the most sought-after staffer as a result. But when Jim turned down Deangelo’s invite and instead challenged him to a dunk shot on a the makeshift court downstairs, Dwight scoffed at attending, prompting Deangelo to lash out much like he did at talk of baby Cece, except louder, threatening Dwight to come or else find another place to work. Dwight: “I respond to strong leadership.”
Eventually, Deangelo was undone by hubris and insecurity, two qualities that had a hold on Michael but never managed to claim him. In a feat of physical comedy, Deangelo took the ball to the basket without dribbling and jumped more than once, only to hang from the rim for one second too long and go crashing to the floor. Everybody’s expressions, and especially Ferrell’s, were priceless. Perhaps they were as shocked as we were that this is how it ends. Presumably, we’ve seen the last of Deangelo, at least for the season. He didn’t leave much of an impression, but as gestures to Carell go, it was a generous stunt. In retrospect, though, Paul Lieberstein’s assurances that The Office had Michael’s exit all figured out seem premature. Michael’s name went unsaid in this episode, and after all the welcome protracted farewells, his absence made itself known. Last night really did look like a juggling act for the cast, and while it was nice to see the staff responding to someone new, it didn't feel like enough to make an audience antsy to come back after a long summer. With two episodes left, will that change?