It took a full ten minutes after The Office ended for us to realize that, other than the opening, John Krasinski wasn’t in this episode. And, upon further reflection, we decided that it was actually kind of refreshing to not have every off-kilter interaction punctuated by Jim looking askance.
Another verdict: Halfway through the season, The Office really seems to have hit its stride. The credit here goes to Carrie Kemper, Ellie’s little sister, for her debut as the head writer of “Ultimatum,” which marks the fourth strong episode in a row, though there were a few minor misses. For instance, didn’t Dwight’s vigilante group, Knights of the Night, feel almost too Dwighty?
If we recap in order of favorite moments from good to great, then Darryl’s scenes have to come last, so let’s start with what passes for the cliffhanger: the saga of Michael and Holly. Before the holidays, Michael heard, via Pam, that Holly intended to give her boyfriend AJ an ultimatum: Propose by New Year’s or it’s over. Michael could barely contain his anxiety on their first day back at work, going so far as to enlist Erin to organize boxes for either outcome — happy and sad — while he prepares video pep talks for himself courtesy of himself. (Celebratory Paula Poundstone tickets? Nice touch.) Once again, Erin couldn’t resist negging Holly: “If Holly chooses to be with [Michael] he’ll be so, so happy and if not, he’ll be avoiding the biggest mistake of his life.” This could replace Toby versus Michael as the show’s best unexplained-but-nonetheless-understood grudge.
When Holly arrived, Kelly, Kevin, Dwight, Pam, and Michael were hot on her trail (it was a little unusual but also sweet to see Dwight immersed in this soap opera, and his offer to turn up the heat so Holly would have to remove her mittens was charmingly conspiratorial). So, ta-da, there’s no bling, a point Holly proved by gamely flipping her ring fingers in the air, to which Kevin angrily responds, “Hey, right back at you, bitch!” An aggressive reaction, but also kind of funny because it made us remember a time when Holly believed Kevin to be “special.” Perhaps that was his residual anger boiling up, but mostly likely it’s just his stupidity. Anyway, Erin and Michael went crazy with excitement, throwing confetti and doing the Cabbage Patch, but that was premature, it turned out, because Holly and AJ are still together — she decided an ultimatum wasn’t fair. Though it doesn’t need to be said again: Amy Ryan is fantastic. She totally commits to this role with little inflections and that mildly hickish accent and, in the process, she convinces us that something is at stake here.
Enter Pam’s New Year’s resolution board. On the surface, this was a little earnest and twee, but it served a greater goal, which was, first off, to wink at the staff’s idiosyncrasies. No recap could do Creed’s resolution justice, but regardless: “I want to do a cartwheel. But real casual-like. Not make a big deal about it. But I know everybody saw it. One stunning, gorgeous cartwheel.” Creed speaks the truth. Who doesn’t have a secret wish to execute some talent perfectly and with false modesty? His outbursts of “fuck you!” when Erin later landed her cartwheels were, like Kevin’s, hilarious for being mildly twisted at the same time. There was a lot of bleeping in this episode.
Other resolutions: Ryan wants to live life like an art project. One commenter asked if Ryan’s nerd glasses have been addressed yet, and consider this resolution his explanation. We suspect that Ryan spent much of his time in New York hanging out in Brooklyn. Kelly’s: Get more attention by any means necessary. Like Knights of the Night, that one’s a little on the nose. And yes, we hear you, we’ve been ignoring Angela’s gay boyfriend until he gets a proper plotline, but she plans to make time this year for romance with the senator. (“Oh, you mean the state senator,” corrects Oscar.)
Anyway, the other purpose of the board was to allow Michael the meta-means to chastise Holly for not following through with her ultimatum, which he does by going on a rant about the importance of sticking to resolutions. After all, the first thing he did on 1/1/11 was floss (“Bam, blood everywhere!”). This sends him into a rage that ends with him force-feeding broccoli to Kevin, who had vowed to eat more vegetables. Again, more strange, menacing behavior, but seeing Michael angry actually made him more human. When Holly realizes this was all directed at her, she storms out of the room, but Michael atones by having her witness his apology to Kevin and Creed: “I care about you very much and you loom so large in my heart that I crossed the line.” Creed, not missing a beat and yet missing everything: “I don’t think I’m there yet, boss.” And Kevin: “You need to get your own life.” At this point, it’s time to start spotting the lines that have a deeper meaning as Steve Carell’s departure draws near, and that was certainly one of them.
Okay, but the best payoff from Pam’s board is Darryl’s resolution, which piggybacks on Dwight’s, which is to “Meet a loose woman.” Darryl advises him to check out the bookstore by painting this vivid scene: “Hey, what book is that? Cool. Let’s hang out tonight. Sex already? Whoa!” Naturally, because Darryl’s savvy knows no bounds, this is all a ruse to get a ride to the bookstore because his real resolution is to read more. Once at the store, Andy and Dwight in tow, Darryl is introduced to the eReader, which he at first dismisses because it could put him out of business, but upon finding out that it holds not ten but ten-thousand books (“Holy shit!”), he’s sold. (“So light,” he raved. “Like a croissant.”) On the way back to the office, Dwight wants to stop at the strip club Temptation, but Darryl won’t have it because it’s Monday afternoon: “The day shift at a strip club? You can’t unsee that.” Finally, they head to the roller rink instead, and how wrong can a roller-rink scene go? Even Dave Matthews can’t ruin it.
The episode ended on a hopeful note for both of the office’s lonely hearts. First, in the wake of Michael’s genuine apology, Holly tells AJ she wants to take a break. Also, there seemed to be tension between Gabe and Erin. When Pam tossed Erin that Frisbee, Gabe intercepted; though it was just a second, Erin’s irritation was palpable. So Andy might not have to learn to make dinner for one after all.
For anyone who missed it, word got out last week that Steve Carell would actually be departing four episodes before the season finale, and Amy Ryan will shoot her final scene one or two episodes before that. What does it mean? Well, at least the rest of the season won’t be a matter of merely killing time until the end of May. And the serious money is still on Michael and Holly getting together (we actually don’t have any money riding on this, it’s just an expression). Next week, Ricky Gervais guest-stars, so expectations are high that this winning streak will continue.