The Office Recap: ‘Jury Duty’

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“That baby is a Schrute, and unless somebody taught Mose sex, that baby is mine.”

The Office turned a different direction this week, setting Robert California and his puppetmastery aside to feature a good old-fashioned conflict between Jim and Dwight, allowing all the Dunder Mifflinites to take turns adding to the suspense — for Andy it’s just another display of wimpy managerial skills, and in Creed’s case, it’s trying to get the Halperts’ new baby to suck on his finger. Dwight jumping with schadenfreude at Jim’s mistakes isn’t anything new, but getting a taste of Jim’s new life as a new father is, and suddenly all his smug, childish, and holier-than-thou behavior this season gets a solid excuse.

“…and then the next morning Pam was a little overwhelmed with the kids, so I took an extra day to help out,” Jim tells the camera, rationalizing why he was out all week for “jury duty” even though he was excused on the first day: “And then three other days happened.” When he returns to work he’s bombarded with questions from his coworkers, so he makes up an elaborate hit-and-run story. Instantly suspicious of Jim’s details, Dwight sets out on a mission to out him and later commands Andy to fire him for playing hooky.

Meanwhile, Oscar, Erin, and Kevin visit Angela and The Senator in the hospital to see her “new” and “premature” baby. (Gabe tags along, noting that he loves maternity wards for their “perfect blend of love and horror.”) Oscar already knows that The Senator is gay, but after seeing Angela’s nine-pound baby, he quickly realizes that not only did Angela have the baby out of wedlock, but that it’s probably Dwight’s. Angela tries to cover up her iffy recount of the birth by citing all the drugs — “I felt like I was at a James Taylor concert” — but after she tells Oscar the truth, he wastes no time in passing the secret on to Dwight who, without question or hesitation, immediately takes on a fatherly instinct with the baby.

Andy and Jim speak about his week off, and Andy spends most of the episode bending over backwards to avoid firing him: “We’re gonna do a Connecticut cover-up. Ever hear of it? No, because we covered it up.” But Dwight is relentless in his quest to expose Jim to everyone and has the popular food truck Ernesto’s (known for its location by the courthouse) deliver food to the office to test Jim (after Jim mistakenly calls it a “restaurant”). Despite Andy’s attempts to keep it under wraps, Jim eventually comes clean. While Jim was out, Stanley worked late all week to cover for him, Phyllis had car trouble visiting one of his clients, and Darryl got yelled at for one of his mistakes. So yeah, they’re pissed.

While I’ll admit that Jim has annoyed me for a long, long time now — probably ever since the wedding — I think in “Jury Duty” he redeems himself, though not in the way he smugly expects when, after seeing how angry everyone is with him, he decides to bring the kids into the office. First it looks like a failed attempt to distract everyone when Jim hands out handmade drawings by Cece, which turn out to be phony imitations drawn by Pam (Andy notes the advanced crosshatching techniques and Kelly tears up her drawing in front of Cece to see if she cries), but the magic doesn’t happen until both of the babies get cranky and the office realizes that, in Darryl’s words, “I have a kid. Last week, Jim at home, was no vacation.” It’s a nice touch that after a whole season of Jim’s smirky arrogance and clueless pranking, we finally understand why he’s so out of touch right at the same moment his coworkers do — he probably hasn’t had more than a few hours sleep a night, or a minute to himself, other than at work. No wonder he’s been so sophomoric and oblivious — work is his only chance to be a kid himself, and even Dwight is now catching the happy-but-weathered new parent vibe too, even if its all in his crazy square head.

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