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The Office Recap: End of Dunder Mifflin As We Know It

There’s a formula for season eight of The Office. Robert California informs Andy that he must solve some problem, and Andy asks the office for ideas. Whatever strategy they concoct causes some high jinks that morph into a separate story arc. And at the end of the episode, though the original problem remains unsolved, California reappears to deliver an inspiring, if not coldly abrasive monologue.

Turns out the branch is inclined to make costly mistakes, and after all these years, Robert California would like Andy Bernard to fix everything — in one week. Impossible? Absolutely! But what are the odds anyone will actually be held accountable? We know this, obviously, but somehow Andy still hasn’t learned he could crack open a sarsaparilla and hold out for the climactic speech.

California disappears, on cue. Really, where does he go for the middle parts of these episodes? Does he fly back to Miami to perform his duties as CEO? Okay, conspiracy theory time: What if Robert California isn’t the CEO of Dunder Mifflin? What if he just told everyone that? Makes only slightly less sense than the new head of a company operating from its worst performing branch.

Moving on, if there’s one thing this episode (and the season) proves, it’s that Mr. Bernard isn’t currently up to snuff as a boss. The mopey middle manager is charming, like when he croons Everclear in the cold open, but he’s not productive, let alone assertive. The de facto leader of the episode is Dwight Schrute, who just so happens to have an elaborate mechanism for increasing productivity and eradicating error. Now, outside the television we know this idea will be catastrophic, but Andy is such a pushover, he green-lights the entire thing sight unseen.

Dwight’s plan is positively insane. In short, complex computer software will register every mistake made in the workspace. If the team makes five mistakes in a single day, the automated failsafe will forward an e-mail to Robert California containing last season’s consultant report (you know, the one that recommended the entire branch be shut down). He calls it the “Accountability Booster,” but Jim correctly points out what it really is: a doomsday device.

Okay, we’ve tagged along for some unbelievable high jinks this season: We nodded when Andy got an ass tattoo; we bit our cheek when Jim wrote and sold a book on garden parties; but the notion that Dwight Schrute could program a computer system — one that recognizes every mistake in the office, and thus, could presumably know how to fix said mistake but doesn’t — is a bridge too far.

The employees recognize that the beet farmer is a sociopath and freak out, rightly so. That doesn’t make them more efficient, nor does their trying, at the behest of Jim, to hack Dwight’s computer. In no time, five strikes accumulate, and everyone assumes that’s it. The e-mail’s been sent and they’re all doomed.

But no, not yet! Dwight announces the system won’t e-mail California till 5 p.m. on the dot, and the only way to stop it requires Dwight entering his password. For a brief moment, it appears Dwight has constructed the perfect blackmail. The employees will do anything to get that e-mail unsent. And yet, despite everything we know about this character, Dwight doesn’t seem to care about the windfall of power.

Away from the cubicles, Gabe and Darryl vie for the attention of Val, a new woman in the warehouse. I mentioned this last week: The women of The Office have taken to playing second fiddle, from the leads to the supporting roles. It’s disappointing how little Val has to do, other than play sexual target. Val doesn’t want to date a co-worker. Along with her three lines, she’s got morals.

Andy has one pseudo-active moment. He sends Jim to distract California, who is playing squash (so that’s what he does), while he and some others visit the Schrute family farm. Jim sucks at racquet sports and the gang sucks at talking Dwight off the ledge, but that’s okay. Pam, in all her pregnant glory, tells Andy not to push Dwight. And Dwight, of his own volition, cancels the e-mail.

It’s like we got too much of what we wished for. Andy is too indecisive, always turning to the gang for help solving a tough problem, while Dwight swings too far in the opposite direction, relying solely on himself. His decision to cancel the e-mail felt like it would have happened with or without the interference of his co-workers. Really, can you imagine him endangering not only his job, but the company he loves?

“Doomsday” isn’t as apocalyptically dull as last week’s episode. In fact, it is quite funny and has some genuine stakes. The problem is none of this matters when the ending just sort of happens. Like California said, the office is prone to error, and in this episode, no one bothered to fix it.

Photo: Chris Haston/NBC