It took The Office seven episodes to get here, but “Gettysburg” swerved away from all of the show’s scattered, listless, and Andy-centric problems and uncertainties and took a new direction, and what better place to do that than on a battlefield? Whether that battlefield is at Gettysburg with an overly-excited Andy or back in the office pitching “innovations” to Robert California, the one consistent thing is this cast, and when they’re served well like they were in this episode, I can finally remember every little moment, like Phyllis on the bus talking about Limitless (“Isn’t that the one where the guy becomes limitless?”), or Kevin’s list of different objects he’s turned into a pen (Phone Pen, Stapler Pen, Human Pen), or Stanley’s idea for “Papyr” – paper for women that’s “pink, scented, and silky soft.” These little gems are what The Office does best, but so far this season they’ve been stifled by the amorphous problem that is the show’s lack of a central driving force.
In “Gettysburg,” Andy invites the employees on a field trip to Gettysburg for inspiration. He tries to relate it to business, but it’s really to justify his own fascination with the Civil War and to gush to the poor souls who choose to come along and walk miles of fields wearing hot pink “DM does GB” baseball caps. Back at the office, Robert California arrives to find the laziest employees loafing, and he asks them to brainstorm ideas for company renovation. Ryan makes a strange high-power presentation about origami being “the sushi of paper,” Pam abandons her idea in the middle of explaining it, and Kevin’s idea has to do with what Robert calls “cookie placement” in the office vending machine (he says the cookies shouldn’t go in the A1 slot but D4, because “that’s where the eyes go”). Robert assumes Kevin has formed an intricate business analogy and is intrigued, and then he confronts his employees with my favorite line of the episode: “So what is Dunder Mifflin’s oatmeal cookie? What is the product that no one wants?” Robert presumes that Kevin is a kind of idiot savant and takes his nonsensical ideas as a kind of parable-spinning abstract form of genius, and it’s great to watch Spader’s eyes as California slowly realizes Kevin really is talking about oatmeal cookies and not revenue streams.
Dwight’s journey of preaching about, arguing about, then finally discovering the truth about the Battle of Scrute Farm (“the northernmost battle of the war,” regardless of what history says) was another episode highlight. First he and Oscar fight over influence of Erin’s vulnerable brain – Oscar wants Erin to know that the Battle of Scrute Farm doesn’t exist but Dwight tells her that it “makes the battle of Gettysburg sound like a bunch of school girls wrestling over a hair brush.” Dwight ends up learning the truth (through a documentary with sad old-timey river fiddle music) that it was not a battle but actually “the underground railroad for the sensitive and fabulous” who didn’t want to fight. On the downside, Andy drives a potentially fun outing into the ground by exhausting everyone with miles of walking across the battlefields and takes his “business is war” message to an extreme when he starts jumping and dancing around in a vain effort to inspire the others to play capture the flag, and the only thing that breaks up this awkwardly unfunny moment is when Darryl tells Andy he’s being disrespectful: “Andy, this is inappropriate. People died here, man.”
For as many bad things we can say about Andy Bernard as the Regional Manager, I think his desperate need for approval actually did some good this episode. When he calls Jim out for relying on sarcasm and snark instead of trying to get enthusiastic about Gettyburg history, he might be acting a little juvenile, but he’s also calling out Dunder Mifflin’s oatmeal cookie – a tired sort of cynicism that forms when characters are forced to repeat the same cycle over and over. But acceptance is the first step! It’s like when Robert realizes that Kevin’s cookie idea “was really was about cookies the whole time” – but the thing that makes California great is that he doesn’t get mad at Kevin, or even himself – he sees right away that there’s still a cosmic lesson to be learned from his overestimation of Kevin’s wits, and it’s a parallel to the lesson Andy learns about good management – it’s just a paper company. It’s not a war, it’s not a place for dramatic innovation or proving yourself worthy over and over again and making sugar-free lunches for all your employees, still scraping for admiration like a craven dog as Andy has been most of this season. Like his dad told him in “Garden Party,” Andy will win respect when he stops needing it so much. The Office seems to have decided to stop needing it so much, and to admit that maybe the show isn’t some epic saga but just a bunch of office workers trying to get through the day – maybe there’s a lesson for all of us there, that trying to have the most fun or to force your idea of fun on others only makes everyone miserable. You just have to roll with it and let the comic situations find their own way, and now that The Office is doing that, I find it genuinely funny again. Finally.
Sidenote: Aside from Gabe’s strange adventure as an Abraham Lincoln tour guide and Andy’s overly-enthusiastic storytelling, I don’t think this episode drew enough context from Gettysburg. Did they even film there? As a Pennsylvania native, frequent Gettysburg visitor, and expert Gettysburg ghost picture-taker, I was sad Andy didn’t take the others into town for lunch or something. Gettysburg is more than just a couple fields, people!
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.