As I’ve said before, one of the best aspects of this final season of The Office has been the way the various members of the deep supporting bench have gotten their time in the sun. Oscar Nuñez got the most prominent bump, but Kate Flannery and Brian Baumgartner were also both given prominent episode-length story lines, and both acquitted themselves well. And now we come to Leslie David Baker. His Stanley is such a defiantly stubborn curmudgeon that to reveal a soft side would seem like a betrayal of the cranky pants we have come to know, and an episode about the Many Loves of Stanley Hudson would just be icky. So instead, he gets to spend the middle third of his big episode as a prop. Fortunately, he’s a very good prop. The scene where he rams into the wall was by far the funniest part of the night.
Stanley is upset that the elevators are down for maintenance, even though Dwight explicitly warned everyone that Stairmageddon was coming. I don’t know if this was intentional, but the neither frowning nor smiling neutral face and “This Is an Inconvenience” sign felt like a callback to one of my favorite Direct to a Fault Dwight gags ever, his thoughtful card to Kelly that informed her It Is Your Birthday. After sweating and cursing his way up the stairs, Stanley makes it very clear there’s no way in hell he’s going to go back down to help Dwight on a sales call, even if the client is his sister’s best friend and flush with school-district cash.
Dwight’s motivation this episode is that a local review of The Office: An American Workplace (coming soon to PBS!) called him the “head salesman, forever chasing a manager position he will never get.” This irks Dwight, and after Stanley rubs it in with “you are not my damn boss, and you never will be,” he takes Andy very seriously when he says to get him to the sale no matter what. Though the upcoming premiere of the documentary has prompted, and will continue to prompt, a great deal of “this is not my beautiful house” soul searching, this particular emotional character beat seemed a bit shallow and tacked on, as there’s never been any real need to justify Dwight acting crazy before. But if that’s what it takes to get us to the image of Dwight shooting Stanley with three (!) shots of bull tranquilizer, then I won’t complain too much. (Clark implies that three shots seems excessive, but Dwight had to do something to neutralize Stanley’s five-hour energy drink.)
The image of Dwight and Clark rolling around a bubble-wrapped Stanley — wearing an Evel Knievel helmet no less — is one of the broadest things The Office has done in a while, but in an episode where a once central relationship frays apart even more and two others snap apart instantly, a plot that was unapologetically goofy was probably the right call. It seems strange to praise Baker for doing a good job of getting pushed down a stairwell, but he certainly was a good sport for most of this episode and more than made up for it when he finally woke up. Well, he kind of woke up, but no amount of coffee could have made him lucid in time. Fortunately his loopy demeanor and drugged-up fascination with the client’s baby pictures helped win the sale anyway. Who knew Baker could do giddy as well as he could do grouchy? Unlikely as it seemed, we did end up seeing a new side of Stanley. It was a side that liked to say “eeps” when you touched his nose, but a new side nonetheless.
In addition to providing a prime opportunity for Dwight and Clark banter (“Say arms and legs. That’s the vernacular that I’m comfortable with”), the Rolling Stanley plot was the only part of this episode that felt like it had a beginning, middle, and end, while the rest was just rearranging things to prepare for the final four wrap-up episodes. NBC has extended this season beyond the usual 22 episodes, and you can definitely feel the producers hitting the brakes to avoid burning through the story too quickly. I also detected a bit of “in case you missed it” vibe with the subplot where both Pam and Jim talked through the various problems in their marriage with Nellie and Toby respectively, in case some latter day lapsed fans had started to tune in once they heard that there was trouble in paradise.
Though there was a sense of wheel spinning, both sequences were handled with sensitivity, and it was kind of adorable how excited Toby got at the idea of Jim wanting to ask him about something personal. Now, it seemed a bit weird that both characters felt the need to talk about this stuff at the office now that they both know that everything they say will get picked up by the microphones, but maybe they just don’t care anymore, or maybe we should cut Greg Daniels a break about this stuff. Jim and Pam are going to see a marriage counselor, but before they commit to this they both wanted to air out their grievances to someone as a trial run. Their complaints aren’t new to anyone who’s been paying attention, but some of them still hit like shots to the gut. (“He’s always making these decisions for the family, and I’m left playing catch-up.”)
The Office has done a good job of showing both character’s points of view and articulating why each character feels the way they do, but ultimately it’s clear that the show is mostly on Pam’s side. It’s understandable that Jim would feel stuck in his career, but for him to make a huge decision for their family without telling Pam was hurtful and inconsiderate, and it’s clear that she’s more wounded that he hid this from her than anything else.
The considerable faction of this show’s fan base that have grown to find Jim smug were given much to work with in this episode, particularly the line “If I didn’t do certain things without telling Pam, she’d be … married to Roy.” And well … yes. Part of any real relationship is pushing the person you care about to be the best version of themselves. But you don’t have to be a jerk about it, Jim. But the thing to keep in mind is that clearly Jim was feeling scared and defensive, and people say dickish things when they’re scared and defensive, and when Toby forced Jim to admit that he wasn’t sure how much longer Pam would have to wait, the look on John Krasinski’s face made it clear that his character finally realized how little he had thought about things from her perspective.
Based on that elegant last shot of his hand falling off her back before they got in the car, as well as a guess for how this whole thing will wrap up, it’s clear that counseling alone won’t work, and these two will be separated by the next episode or two. Which will make the inevitable reconciliation that much better. Right? (I for one don’t think Pam and Brian the Boom-Mike guy will actually hook up, though watch the first shot of next episode being them waking up together, just to teach me not to predict things.)
The other major plot point arrangement this episode was that, following a mention of “a lurid subplot [that] reveals the hypocrisy of a local public figure, embroiled in a gay affair while preaching family values,” the Senator calls a press conference, and accompanied by his best darn wife, finally admits that he is gay. Everyone at Dunder Mifflin, watching on Erin’s way too fancy large monitor, is shocked by the announcement. Except for Falstaffian Accountant Kevin, who brags that he knew and kept the secret like a big boy. But he’s not the only one who can keep a secret: As soon as he’s out of the closet, the Senator thanks Oscar … and then reveals he’s being seeing his chief of staff. So now Angela and Oscar have gotten dumped at the same time.
The Office can show its characters being selfish and petty, but it is ultimately not about celebrating the worst parts of people. So it’s understandable that Oscar sleeping with Angela’s husband has been a tough plotline for a lot of people to accept. I liked it because it gave Nuñez a lot to work with, and his ability to balance his character’s guilt, shame, and elation has been a revelation. But while Angela and the Senator’s marriage was always a lie and Angela was more attracted to the life that man represented than the man himself, it doesn’t excuse what Oscar did. And frankly, no one has told him that to his face, and someone needs to before this series wraps up. And both Oscar and Angela need to tell the Senator off once and for all. Heck, all three characters can tell each other off at the same time; if the writers nail this one it could be the highlight of the season.
This show can be dark, but it’s almost never cruel, so I don’t think Andy’s attempts to capitalize on his nascent reality TV show/Internet fame will go as dark as it possibly could. Besides, there’s neither the money or time to film an episode where a desperate-for-a-sixteenth-minute Andy finds himself on whatever VH1’s current analog to The Surreal Life is.
Wounded by the Workplace review description of him as “a rudderless trust fund child slash middle-manager, whose incompetence is emblematic of a declining American economy” and either uncharacteristically smart enough to know the documentary will ruin his business career or (more likely) deluded enough to think this could be his big break, Andy decided to get a talent agent. When the direct approach doesn’t pay off (“William Morris Agency. I need to speak to your best agent who represents your biggest stars.” Yes, he’ll hold.) he looks up Carla Fern, Scranton’s finest talent agent. (“Not just an actor’s agent. She does writers, directors, travel and real estate.”) After chitchatting with series director/Freaks and Geeks creator/Great American Hero Paul Feig, Andy gives Carla his song-and-dance routine. Carla, played by a gamely unimpressed Roseanne Barr, isn’t too impressed, but she’ll happily take his $5,000. This upfront agent fee would be a bargain even if it didn’t include head shots. Which it doesn’t. “I need this so bad,” Andy says when she takes him on. “I really think this is what could fix me.” Sounds like Jim and Pam aren’t the only ones who need counseling. Hey, Toby is always happy to talk about personal stuff.