“Sometimes I wonder if I have ovaries in my scrotum, because I am great at girl talk!”
Despite all of the hilarious anger outbursts and banjo ditties he’s brought us over the years, Andy could have left for good any episode this season and I wouldn’t have thought twice about him, but “Turf War” won me over because it returns to the roots of why this show takes place in an office where salesmen work: Andy might have been a desperate wussy approval-seeker lately, but when there’s a big client ready for the taking and nothing stands between his ambition and the sale, he finally unleashes the Nard Dog, and the becalmed office suddenly takes wind once again.
The opportunity knocks after Robert shuts down the Binghamton branch during a drunken stupor, and a three-way battle for Binghamton’s biggest client goes down between Team Scranton (Jim and Dwight), Team Syracuse (new guy Harry, played by Chris Bauer), and Team Big Red (Andy going rogue). Instead of complicating the central conflict with unrelated B-plot tangents, everything in this episode grows out of the fight to win the new client – the CEO of Prestige played by Dan Castellaneta. Everything is juiced to its full potential – there’s the set-up between Jim and Dwight’s fake salesman Lloyd Gross and Robert’s very disturbing downward spiral/hangover in which he vomits in Jim’s trashcan and rambles about his geisha training, and then there’s the conflict itself where Andy transforms from a pathetic visitor pass-wearing, cherries jubilee-cooking loser to a determined one-man band who wins Prestige’s business then marches to David Wallace’s front door with an attractive investment pitch. (It should be noted that last week, Wallace reveals to Andy that he sold a patent to the Army and is now a multimillionaire.) When Harry, Jim, and Dwight sit outside the Prestige office brooding in their defeat, Harry says that Robert is going to run Dunder Mifflin into the ground: “We won’t be doing this in six months.” Jim sarcastically says he wants to start a beet farm, which I guess is a very early teaser for Dwight’s 2013 spin-off? Is this inferring the imminent end of Dunder Mifflin as we know it and the rise of the Big Red Empire AKA Dunder Mifflin reboot take two?
During Robert’s blackout, he did more than shut down the Binghamton branch – he also left Nellie a voicemail that he can’t remember, so he enlists a reluctant Pam to retrieve the messages. It seemed a little out of character for Pam to steal Nellie’s cell phone for Robert, but after they hear the first few messages she reverses her decision and deletes all of them, then returns the phone to Nellie in yet another one-on-one Nellie bonding scene. But this one was by far my favorite, because Pam goes into it already aware of crushing details like 1, Nellie is miserable and thinks everyone hates her; 2, Nellie is in debt; 3, Nellie’s adoption application has been denied, and 4, Robert left her a disgusting message. “Robert is a filthy beast,” she confides to Pam. “The man talks of nothing but sex.” When she tells the camera that she might be a mother soon, has MasterCard “right where I want them,” and has a new friend at work, it’s adorably heartbreaking in a way that might go down with the best executed moments of sentimentality on The Office. The fact that Nellie shares that moment with Pam – who was the root of the show’s best and most heartbreaking moments of fragility in the early seasons – is just icing on the cake.
If I have to offer a gripe about “Turf War,” it’s the absence of characters like Kevin, Phyllis, Kelly, and Darryl, but at least there was Toby finding sudden self-confidence via taking over the identity of Lloyd Gross (“Lloyd gross eats bullies like you for breakfast!” “Hey, text from the wife…gonna take that!”) and Robert’s line “You don’t even know my real name. I’m the fucking lizard king.” But I’ve got to hand it to The Office – they surprised me this week. I really didn’t think I’d come back to liking Andy by the end of this season, or ever. But when a broken and disheveled Robert confronts him in the kitchen and asks “Andrew, what do we have to do to get rid of you?” it’s like TV land and real life land crash into each other, and Andy turns from what Robert calls his former “privileged effete soft penis debutante” to a resourceful businessman too caught up in his passion for the sale to worry about who approves of him or how his girlfriend feels about him or whether or not blackmail is a good idea (it is!) – and Robert devolves into a hungover cokefiend heading towards the sex addict skids. Sure, he had a mystique going for a while that I totally fell for, but beyond the initial aura, Nellie’s right – he’s a filthy beast, and he’s sulking in the conference room while Big Red Paper Company is stealing his company. Let’s just hope Andy doesn’t wuss out of this one.
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.