After two off-site episodes in a row, the problem of a forgotten password relocated the comedy back where it belongs: the drab, quotidian confines of the Sabre office. The opening joke — the staff’s struggle to remember the actual name of the IT guy while Michael’s mental Rolodex included Turban, Ear Hair, and Fatties One, Two and Three — hit the right note in terms of identifying the dehumanizing aspects of a real-life workplace, where everyone is taken advantage of sometimes.
By virtue of the calendar, this should have been a Thanksgiving episode, but the writers mostly resisted the holiday, the only exception being the Hay Place. Dwight’s attempt to re-create the paradise of his agrarian youth by stacking mattress-grade bales of the stuff in a parking lot maze attracted a surprising number of local children, but when he skipped another tryst with Angela to usher them around in the back of a moving van, a.k.a. a hay ride, she bailed (sorry). With the voiding of the sex contract, Angela’s back on the market, though her flirtation with Heroes’ Jack Coleman suggests another love triangle. Nobody could woo a crazy cat lady quite like Dwight, but we welcome the opportunity for someone else to try.
Though can any couple match the magic of Ryan and Kelly? No, not even Michael and Holly. B.J. Novak’s chemistry with Mindy Kaling makes the rest of the cast look like they’re in this for a paycheck, so maybe that’s part of the reason why both of them are so often kept on the periphery (the other part being that they’re writing for the show). But not last night. When Wuphf.com, Ryan’s gambit for social-network domination through total communication overkill, ran the risk of bankrupting its investors (Pam, Andy, Darryl, Stanley, and Michael), they called a meeting. Ryan tried to calm them with some promotional condoms, but Kelly stormed in, ingeniously revealing that the idea for the site was born from her smothering tendencies: “I said to Ryan, ‘I try to call you and you don’t have your phone. I try to IM you and you’re not online. I wish there was a way I could do everything, all at once, like a little dog going ruff ruff ruff.’” The crucial scene here was when Ryan went in for the shut-up hug, a trusty move often used on certain hysterical girlfriends by certain sleazy boyfriends, the likes of which Novak nails almost too well.
Thus far, this was all for fun, but then Pam gently broke the news to Michael that Ryan was using him for his money. Michael tested her theory by asking Ryan out to dinner and saw that she was right when he declined after allowing Michael to consider a second mortgage on his house, adding, “A lot of people are doing that and there don’t seem to be any consequences.” That was a depressing little moment, and strangely universal. We always knew that Ryan was hanging out with Michael for the same reasons the popular kid hangs out with the geek he can copy homework from — although as analogies go, that doesn’t quite work since Ryan is that new breed of jerk who was both the bully and the nerd. Still, as Michael’s life lessons go, this one was more truthful than usual.
Darryl’s best line — these practically demand a weekly shout-out — was when he grabbed Ryan from his closet-office, saying: “Consider it a ‘wuphf’ in person.” Michael rallied, though. He can’t be convinced to give up on Wuphf: “I would rather go broke betting on my people than get rich all by myself on an island like some castaway. There is no middle ground.”
Just when it seemed like Steve Carell’s last act lacked a much needed hurrah, Michael Scott showed up. Not the scenery-chewing, Über-doofus whose antics have driven too many recent story lines, but the lonely, earnest Michael who strictly adheres to the mantra of “work together,” which may or, as was the case here, may not include selling paper.
The experience leads him to reminisce about his employees using the same schmaltzy tones an Aaron Sorkin boss might, which fits an episode that could have been called “The Other Social Network.” Michael thinks in terms of a deck of cards: Jim’s the Ace, Pam is a solid seven, Phyllis is the Old Maid, Dwight is King, Oscar is Queen, Ryan is a two (“though sometimes twos can be wild”), Toby is “the instruction card you throw away,” and Michael is “the joker, of course.” A farewell speech? Obviously still too soon for that. But hints of emotion, even when played for laughs, go a long way on The Office. Here’s hoping for more plausibility as the season progresses.