Last night’s episode opens with Dwight cruising for a day laborer to remove a hornets’ nest from outside the office, which the guy does with a baseball bat as everybody watches from the window, horrified — except for Dwight (“When did the phrase ‘do or die’ become so corrupted?”). No matter, he has tidily established the moral of the episode: Don’t go poking around. You never know what you might stir up.
It all starts with a cold sore. Or a pimple. We’re not sure exactly what Michael was hiding under that fake mustache, but the kangaroo court of Dunder Mifflin Sabre hands down a nasty verdict: Michael has herpes. Expert witness Meredith swore to it, and she should know: She’s a carrier herself. When Angela and Kelly react with visible repulsion, Andy seizes the opportunity to teach a little tolerance — and a crash course in sex ed. But putting together a list of the pros and cons of copulating proves to be a challenge. Unplanned pregnancy? Darryl doesn’t want to hurt Jim and Pam’s feelings, so he calls that a “pro.” Health risks? Creed finds those “thrilling.” Turns out the Nard Dog’s real intention was to figure out if Gabe and Erin are doing it, and when he learns that no one in the room is practicing the safest sex of all (abstinence), his rage issues resurface.
We haven’t given Darryl enough love these past few weeks because his one-liners lose a little something in translation. But when Andy seeks him out for advice, he immediately responds: “We should schedule meetings, because the days can slip away with chitchat.” Something about his dry tone and deadpan delivery … You had to be there.
Elsewhere, Michael is looking for answers, too. He wants to know who gave him the cold sore. Against his will, he starts working backwards through his partners, chronologically, with Dwight looking over his shoulder (“I’m no doctor, I’m just a normal guy who enjoys revenge.”)
Michael begins with a call to married Donna, whom he nearly misleads to believe he has HIV because he spells herpes out slowly and incorrectly. Then he phones Holly. Despite some initial banter that suggests a candle still burns for their dork love, she eventually chides him: “You romanticize things. You made us out to be more than we were.” This knocks Michael off course — he can’t even tell her why he’s really calling.
Instead of informing his past partners of his infection, Michael seeks them out to ask them a question people have been asking themselves forever, but more specifically since the release of High Fidelity: “What went wrong? And did I make more of what we had than was really there?”
The answer — from Pam’s mom, Helene, from real-estate agent Carol, from Jan, and, yes, even Holly — is unanimously yes. Michael discovers that his fairy tales are all lies. Speaking of fairy tales, under the cold fluorescent lights of the hospital where Jan now works (when she isn’t raising a daughter and recording a self-released Doris Day covers album), Michael hears one that shakes him to his core. After he recalls their Jordan-and-Pippen-esque bedroom chemistry, Jan offers her version of events: “Imagine there’s a princess who falls for a guy beneath her station and the queen doesn’t like this at all. And the princess knows that the queen doesn’t like it, and so it makes her want to do it all the more.” Michael’s confused: “Am I the princess?” Jan: “No, I’m the princess. And the queen.” Can we just add that, while all roads might lead back to Holly, we love Jan and Michael? Theirs is a darkly funny, borderline depressing relationship worthy of the original British series.
But the return of Amy Ryan’s Holly is what the audience truly wants. In one of the more impassioned answering-machine messages since Singles, Michael leaves this one for Holly: “I remember every second of us. I don’t know why you downgraded what we had, but I did not make this up. And you should talk to a doctor because you might have herpes.” Mission accomplished. There’s always been a childlike quality to Michael Scott. You tell him that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, but he’s going to keep on believing whatever makes him happier. And, ideally, in this case, his determination will reunite him with his perfect match by season’s end.