The Office Recap: ‘Pool Party’

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“They’re calling my speak-easy lounge a rumpus room!”

The easiest way to ensure an entertaining Office episode is to throw a party, and in last night’s “Pool Party,” it happened in the halls of Robert California’s Scranton mansion. Given the luxury of a huge house complete with an indoor pool and 1200-bottle wine collection, Dunder Mifflin gets another opportunity to reach easy breakthroughs thanks to alcohol, but without the stress of basic workplace etiquette like in “Christmas Wishes.” Mr. California leads the festivities like a mad poet, and the party evolves from a random idea by Kevin (“Let’s just call it a get-together – and let’s say no to food”) to a full-out carpe diem pool nudefest.

Robert’s in the office looking at the online listing to his house, which he’s put on the market because, as he tells the others, “the 1% are suffering too, people.” After spotting the photos on the ad, Kevin suggests they take advantage of the indoor pool and throw a party. Meanwhile, all seems to be lining up for Andy and his newish girlfriend Jessica – his parents have given him a Bernard engagement ring (with the diamond cut out because “it had more of a my little brother kind of vibe to it”) and he invites her to the party. While Andy considers proposing to Jessica, Erin finds out that Andy stalked her after the Christmas party and gets giddy, telling the camera “I should get a restraining order!” with an excited squeak.

While I enjoyed Robert California’s house tour with Jim, Oscar, Ryan, Gabe, and Tobey, the glory of the mansion and Robert’s material wealth (“Total waste of two bears” he says of his two-headed king-size comforter) end up getting overshadowed by some of the awesome pairings this episode put together, starting with Ryan and Gabe trying to outparty each other and impress Robert with their stamina and Kelly and Phyllis, who give Andy’s engagement ring a Viking funeral on a tiny napkin. Another great pairing was Oscar and Tobey, and watching Tobey BS his wine lingo was one of my favorite parts of the episode: “Note? It’s a symphony.” Other connections like Darryl and Val weren’t as strong, and I keep forgetting that Cathy, Pam’s replacement, still exists.

The flip-side to party episodes is drama, and The Office continued to pick at the Andy/Erin scab. Erin asks Dwight to flirt with her to Andy jealous, and after trying everything from awkward chicken fights to rubbing potato chip grease on Dwight’s face, she can’t seem to get Andy’s attention – he’s a little too distracted from losing the Bernard ring. Dwight asks Andy if he’s done with Erin and he can “go crazy on her,” and Andy says yes, to which Dwight replies, “You’re an idiot.” The whole idea of engagement is nicely mirrored with Erin offering the ring to Andy in a way that makes it seem like she’s proposing to him, or at any rate showing she is cool with his transgressions. Andy admits he’s confused. “I can live with confused,” Erin tells the camera a moment later. “I get confused. I totally get confused.”

After Andy and Erin rekindle their connection, harmony clicks inside the mansion and Mr. California looks around at his drunkenly happy employees. He spent most of the party lamenting about the wild times he had planned to have in the house: “Here we have the parlor. I imagined people would set down their coats, and symbolically, their inhibitions. This was the gateway - you enter this room a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher, a judge, but beyond it you are simply a penis, a vagina, a hunger, an ache. …Susan used this as a pilates studio.” But Kevin’s idea for a “last hoorah” turns out to be a big success, and Robert realizes at least some element of his wish has come true, even if it’s in a geeky kind of way. With plenty of wine to guide him, Robert takes off all his clothes and jumps in the pool. Only Ryan and Gabe follow suit, and the rest are left to witness California at easily his most wonderfully bizarre moment yet this season. It’s about letting go of old expectations and taking advantage of what’s present – a more than suitable lesson for this show as a whole right now, and certainly a good excuse for Dunder Mifflin to get drunk again.

Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.