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The Office Recap: Trick or Trick

Lo, the Halloween episode is here, a chance for the gang at The Office to do what they do best: party, prank, and riff on pop culture. This is a chance for the employees, who, under the watch of Robert California, have become tightly wound coils, to spring into all sorts of hallo-high-jinks!

Or not. If the last episode, “Garden Party,” was the show redoubling its efforts on plot, “Spooked” is a drowsy about-face. Very little action actually transpires. Characters drift from scene to scene like … ghosts!

The problem of the week is Erin thinks Andy is behaving a little weirdly. And he might be, though their interactions are so vague and so uninteresting it’s hard to say. You see, he didn’t ask her to handle a few of his faxes. What does this mean? A manic Erin needs to know! Between Erin, Angela, and Kelly, the cramped floor at Scranton is replete with nervous, needy women. I miss strong Erin. Well, stronger, at least.

Andy is distracted and nervous about throwing the mandatory office Halloween party to impress Robert California and his tween son Burt. He asks Erin for help on decorations, and though this would be a perfect time to chat, Erin dons a shrinking violet costume.
Burt, dressed as a zombie, quickly sets up shop at Jim’s desk and finds a kindred spirit in Dwight. (Burt is the only person to recognize that Schrute is dressed as Kerrigan from StarCraft. But no Zerg rush joke? Really?) The bond makes sense, as the two have similar traits: Burt is unhinged, Dwight is a child.

Meanwhile, Jim and Pam flutter about, bickering because Pam believes she once saw a ghost and Jim can’t stand that. Is this a real argument a married couple has right before the birth of its second kid?

California makes an off-hand comment about the party being too kiddy, or at least that’s how Andy perceives the aside, so the regional manager recruits Angela and Phyllis to scrap Erin’s decorations. So Erin goes to Gabe, who just so happens to be an expert in making parties more scary. In his free time he creates “Cinema of the Unsettling” — basically, Un Chien Andalou shot in the suburbs.

Weird as the video is, the real spook of the episode is California, who drifts in and out of scenes to cut his employees down while collecting their greatest fears. Maybe this character has worn out his welcome. Michael Scott was a buffoon, but he was warm and loving, and the show tended to follow his lead. Under California rule, there is a dark, snippy undercurrent. Just look at this week’s A and B stories, less productive conflict, more couples nastily squabbling.

Andy eventually confesses to Erin that he’s been seeing someone. Thirty-one dates, to be exact, a number that doesn’t line up. He had that big party for his parents and friends, and this girl wasn’t mentioned or even thought of? Who better a person for him to call when he was in the dumps? Maybe she doesn’t exist. Maybe this is some oddball ploy to push Erin the Ex away?

This sort of stuff is the problem. None of these through lines make much sense, nor do they have arc, instead they bob like candied apples in a tub of cold water. The same couples rub against each other, pushing the ball forward by inches, for twenty odd minutes, and then Robert California stands before the entire office to tell a ghost story that, from a pet cemetery away, we know will resolve everything, because hey, this episode must end stat! Whitney's about to start!

So the ghost story: There once was a woman with a newborn child. Looking to settle down, she moved into a house that was haunted by the many weird and specific fears of Dunder Mifflinites. The end.

Indeed, the tale is a salve for every conflict. California delivers the proverb of the week, that fear can get the better of us, over a quick montage of all the people who had conflicts hugging and making up: Jim and Pam, Erin and Andy, even Kelly and Ryan, because why not. Though they don’t hug it out, the Dwight-Burt relationship is charming, particularly when they face off on the most dangerous animals and natural disasters. But the tag, in which Burt pretends to fire Toby under Dwight’s guise, is just plumb mean-spirited.

For whatever reason, the episode skirted not just what the show and the holiday have in common, things like fun and jocularity, but also The Office’s best attribute: heart.

Photo: Trae Patton/NBC