It has been a question hanging over the show since last year: How, in this economy, is a small regional paper company continuing to survive? This episode answered that question: It may not.
In a potentially delicious shaking of the Etch-a-Sketch, we learn that Dunder Mifflin is in danger of declaring bankruptcy, and not the restructuring kind of bankruptcy, either: As David Wallace puts it, they’ll be out of money by the end of the year. That’s soon.
How the office handled the news — by playing an extended, ridiculous murder-mystery role-playing board game, spurred by Michael, of course — is almost beside the point. Each season has had one major plotline develop. Season three was the merger of the Stamford and Scranton branches. Season four (truncated and skewed because of the Writers’ Strike) was about attempts to modernize the company, mostly through Ryan’s aborted reign as everyone’s boss. Season five was Michael’s (and others’) move to the Michael Scott Paper Company. This season, it’s how long can we expect this company to actually stay solvent?
It’s possible this is a false alarm; a successful series completely obliterating its setting and reason for being, midstream, would seem suicidal. But The Office has never been afraid to take audacious risks on the fly — with their quick turn away from the British version’s plotlines, it’s the main reason the show has stayed fresh and relevant — and we wouldn’t put it past them. This would seem like too big of a wrench to throw in only to back off in a couple of episodes.
There are a few other moments of note, the biggest one being Erin and Andy having a Moment of Misunderstanding That Stops Them From Getting Together, so obviously a riff on the old Pam and Jim business that the show actually winks by showing Pam turning toward the camera at the end of the scene. (Also, the pretend Mexican Standoff at the end was pretty brilliant — watch it below!.) But all that really matters, if they follow through with it, is the potential closing of Dunder Mifflin. Pam and Jim have a baby on the way and are facing the possibility of them both being unemployed. Michael could lose his whole reason for living. The rest of the staff could be thrown into the real world, facing unemployment, like 10 percent of the rest of the country. (Scranton’s actual unemployment rate is high, but still below the national average.) An Office without an office. Would they dare go there? Here’s hoping they have the guts. After all, as Dwight points out, there’s always jobs at Schrute Farms — as a human scarecrow. Though it doesn’t pay much, and you can’t unionize.
Alan Sepinwall says the Erin and Andy flirtation is “like a funhouse mirror version of the PB&J romance: goofy salesman pining after cute receptionist, only both parties are far weirder and more oblivious than the original models.”
Nathan Rabin at the A.V. Club thinks they’re writing more for Andy than for Dwight this season.
Margaret Lyons at EW.com says this one was pitched to people who weren’t necessarily hard-core Office fans.