In “Mrs. California,” Robert hurries to Andy’s office, bangs on the window, and warns him in a nervous frenzy that “in four seconds my wife is going to be coming through that door. I told her she could work here – under no circumstances can that be allowed to happen.” Robert rushes off to meet his wife and leaves Andy and Jim confused about what’s going on. When Robert returns to the office with her, however, he pushes Andy to do the opposite of what he originally instructed, trying to talk him into hiring her by saying he “would be eternally grateful” and “it’s not a bad thing to have a CEO owe you one.” Confused, Andy gives Susan a tour of the office and tries to discourage her interest in working there.
Maura Tierney guest stars as Susan California and gives a low-key but refreshingly sane performance that makes up for Robert’s sudden lack of zen-like coolness, but it’s not enough to make a great episode. Robert has moved from a likable yet manipulative mastermind to a man too afraid to deal with his wife honestly. It also confirms our opinion of Andy as a weak manager – he hires Susan then tries to drive her out after Robert demands that he “undo this. Undo it.” Still though, I liked the way some of the Dunder Mifflinites tried to drive Susan away, especially when Kevin flubs his attempt at condescension by telling her “If you have a question, just raise your hand. But I’m gonna save you some time, sweetie, and give you the answer now: I. Don’t. Know.”
Elsewhere in the office, Dwight’s interest in personal fitness starts with him installing his own standing desk and bragging about its advantages (“Picture someone doing something heroic. Now was he sitting or standing?…Not counting FDR.” ) and he opens up the Dwight Schrute Gym for Muscles in an empty room of the building where he’s set up workouts like a limitless phone book ripping table and a tire suspended from the ceiling for whacking – he even offers his coworkers his special “Pay What You Weigh” promotion (which I found as funny as Ryan’s business idea from earlier in the episode, the “Dream for a Wish Foundation”). Darryl’s interest in the new warehouse worker Val inspires him to try working out, and he gives the Gym for Muscles a shot even though he tells Dwight “This is not a gym, this is like a scene out of Saw V.” While I found it nice to see Val again, it’s for a total of two seconds, and I’m still left wondering why The Office keeps introducing new characters only to neglect developing them further.
Eventually Susan starts to catch on to the fact that Robert has something to do with all the weirdness and confronts him, Andy, and Jim (who also witnessed Robert’s original instructions), who runs away rather than getting involved. Andy’s caught in the middle, but it’s clear from Susan’s laid-back attitude to all the harsh treatment she’s getting that she’s used to Robert’s habit of tinkering with people’s minds. Jim climbs up the side of the building to avoid questioning from Susan and Robert, and aside from a brief but entertaining encounter with Creed on the roof, I found Jim’s wussy behavior worse than Robert and Andy combined. However, seeing the Dunder Mifflin roof also reminded me of when Jim and Pam courted each other up there in season two in “The Client,” and it made me groan to realize they’ve gone from being fun to one of those couples who think their mundane squabbles are something we’ll all find adorable.
It’s been two weeks since The Office traveled down to Gettysburg, and any last cravings for more of Robert’s weird goodness were quenched and then some in “Mrs. California,” the most painful episode yet this season. Maybe that’s just the thing about Mr. California – he comes best in small doses when we don’t get enough time to put all his pieces together and he’s either teaching or sabotaging his Dunder Mifflin underlings. As for Andy, we’ve seen him transition from a promising start as manager to a spineless chew toy always desperate for approval, but watching him get mentally tortured by Robert for an entire episode seemed a bit too cruel. “I don’t think we should be trying to make this place seem unpleasant,” Jim tells the camera not too long before Susan decides she won’t be working at Dunder Mifflin after all. “I think we should let this place just crush her spirit by itself – it knows what it’s doing.” I can’t say the same for this season as a whole, but hopefully The Office will soon learn to move on from the forced awkwardness that only Michael Scott could make successful – it’s time for something new.
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.