“Spooked” fills the standard Halloween mold – everybody’s wearing a costume, there’s a party, and there’s talk of fears, ghosts, and whether or not mummies are real (for Kevin, at least). There are a few good costumes, like Dwight as Kerrigan from Starcraft, Erin as a pitch-perfect Wendy, and Meredith in a half-assed duct-taped Kate Middleton costume, but like the other episodes this season, there’s a lot going on at once: Erin makes the Halloween party too childlike, Gabe makes the Halloween party too creepy, Dwight bonds with Robert’s son over a love of video games and natural disasters, Jim and Pam butt heads over the existence of ghosts, and finally, we see Andy for the kindofajerk he really is. I’ve stuck up for Andy enough. I liked him when he stood up to Darryl and defended the “losers” a few weeks ago, but he lost my support this week with his wimpy, passive-aggressive way of handling Erin and lousy construction worker costume.
Andy puts Erin in charge of organizing the office Halloween party, but when Robert arrives, his young son Bert says the decorations and games Erin’s set up are “for babies.” (“Wow, who shot our grown-up party with a kiddie ray gun?” Andy nervously asks in front of everyone.) More concerned with impressing Robert than Erin’s feelings or efforts, Andy sends ex-Party Planning Committee members Angela and Phyllis to tear down everything and make it less juvenile. After a weird confrontation with Andy where he says they need to “mix a little PG-13 into the G” and tells her he’ll talk to her at the end of the day, Erin thinks she’s going to be fired and asks Gabe to help make the party more adult-friendly. Gabe ends up playing a bizarre conceptual horror film (from the “Cinema of the Unsettling” movement) that grosses everyone out and ends with Erin pulling out a pack of x-rated “pecker poker” cards in a clueless but desperate attempt to fulfill Andy’s request for a Halloween party suited for grown-ups.
Maybe I’m overly bitter toward Andy because I think Erin is the only fresh, eager energy on the show right now, and she’s pretty pure as far as malicious intent is concerned. Sure, she can be a little on the ditzy side, but at least she’s not trying to be anyone else – she’s a lot like Michael that way. It’s Andy who’s being the childish one, dancing around a girl he can’t get over by shielding her from the girl he’s seeing now – he tells her (in front of Robert, even) he’s had a girlfriend for 31 dates and she hasn’t called the office because he didn’t want it to be weird for Erin – oh my. These two have both made some strange, eyeroll-inducing relationship decisions, but only in Andy’s case are they preemptively calculated.
Aside from Erin, the only other new vibes come from Robert California, who does a consistently amazing job at anchoring such a large and seasoned cast that’s continuing to figure itself out. Robert steals every scene with his wonderful secret plans and mental manipulations like his horror story, which was the culmination of him spending the entire party confronting each employee about their deadliest fears, like Creed (snakes), Darryl (buried alive), and Kelly (not having a husband):
While I want to complain about the uncertainty of The Office this season, it’s also been an exercise of living in the moment: Is Robert gone forever at the end of this season? How much longer can these characters continue to develop? Will there even be another season? Earlier this episode after everyone sees Gabe’s bizarre video, he tries to justify its disjointed style it by saying “Maybe the filmmaker realized that even narrative is comforting.” It’s a brief line but it stood out in terms of the audience awareness The Office has taken on since Michael departed, when the employees of Dunder Mifflin were left with the same questions that we had as their audience. What we’re left with is a cutesy-annoying ghost argument between Jim and Pam that seems as forced and unrealistic as a dime store rom-com and Andy’s continued pathetic groveling before Robert California, the only Office character who manages to scare and inspire at the same time (that’s what a good boss does – not the wimpy professional-to-personal flip-flopping Andy’s doing). Erin’s the only character daring enough to stay human and changeable – she may be naive and childlike, but this episode she proves that she’s also awake – carnal, complex, honest, and committed. She’s the Alice in a drab Pennsylvania wonderland of costumed characters already halfway to becoming wax museum portraits of themselves. “Fear plays an interesting role in our lives,” Robert says near the end of the episode, and I couldn’t agree more. Maybe I should just accept the fact that the question while watching The Office no longer is Who can I lean on as a leader?, but Can I be okay with not leaning on anyone?
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.