Before we get to the rest of the episode, let me go ahead and state for the record that were I in the position Erin was in, I would have done the same thing. I love a good oatmeal cookie, and I hate a nasty dehydrated raisin, and I don’t care how many people have told Famous Amos (or just “Famous,” if you’re Erin) that.
Dwight and his … “hard won” doesn’t seem like the right phrase here, so let’s go with “hard settled on” instead … team are in Tallahassee to get to work on the Sabre Stores initiative, just as soon as Dwight wakes everybody up in the cold open. Hey, you’ve got to give Ryan at least 90 minutes for his morning ecstasy. And let me just say, I am surprised by how glad I am that The Office writers have remembered that Ryan is a supposed to be a douchebag; his attempts to seduce Erin (“I’m so glad this is happening”) were a reminder of how many different shades of sleaze B.J. Novak can play, from triumphant to scheming to lazy.
This episode mainly served as a reintroduction of U.K. comedian Catherine Tate’s character Nellie Bertram, who interviewed for Michael Scott’s position last year, both inner and outer textually. Bertram and her whopping penis are now in charge of the special project after an out-of-control piano-buying binge and an appeal to Jo. Tate is an ace at chewing scenery and had lots of odd bits tonight, from forcing Ryan to set up her introduction to recalling a passionate night with Hugh Grant’s older, “just a little bit uglier” brother achieved through sheer force of will. We haven’t gotten much of a sense of who her character actually is yet, except like every figure of authority on this show (and most comedy on TV) she can’t detect social boundaries and is oblivious about how her bravado makes her seems pathetic. Which is to say she gives off a Ricky Gervais vibe, which is by no means a slam or unwelcome on this show. Hopefully she’ll get fleshed out more before the inevitable love triangle between her, Dwight and probably Robert California. (There’s also the possibility of the always tricky love quadrangle if Todd Packer gets involved.)
But before the inevitable fight for her Nellie’s love, Dwight is fighting to be the vice-president of special projects, appendicitis be damned. Rainn Wilson skillfully underplayed Dwight’s pain increasing through the first half of the episode, and his attempt to fight through to pull down a screen while pretending that nothing was wrong was a highlight in what’s become a banner season for Wilson. And yeah, there’s probably no way that Dwight would have been able to leave the hospital a few hours out of surgery. (Between this and Justified, it’s been a weird week for characters pushing on past organ loss.) It’s also unlikely that in eight years only one person in a Scranton paper supply company would have gotten laid off, and only one would have left for a better job. Repeat to yourself, It’s just a show; you should really just relax.
But return to the conference room he did, especially after hearing that Jim would be taking over for the team and presenting against the hated Todd Packer, back again and as annoying as ever. As a character, Packer is never even slightly funny, but the character traits he brought out in Michael Scott and in Dwight tonight make him a useful idiot. Plus, it’s nice to see the show embracing its continuity again. (The pretzel day shout out in the open was also welcome.) A competitive Dwight is a funny Dwight, and the thought of Packer getting his position was enough to motivate him to push on past a bleeding shirt to deliver Anderson’s Three Pillars of Retail (“ingredients/burgers/killing royalty”) and earn the respect of Nellie for working even though his body was open like a cabinet just hours before.
A lot of the big plot points introduced in the past few episodes were, annoyingly, pushed to the back in order to give Catherine Tate more room to chew scenery. Dwight’s (maybe) son was mentioned twice in passing (the littlest Schrute might have to kill Cousin Mose one day, which seems like a fair enough fight) and Kathy’s home-wrecker machinations were limited to admiring Jim’s taste in baby-appropriate hand puppets. Side business was limited to Jim hanging out with Stanley, drinking booze at work, and rocking the Loggins (no Messina) in Stanley’s midlife crisis mobile. After watching Stanley listen to music during a meeting, Jim realizes he has more in common with his co-worker than he ever thought possible, and still has a lot to learn about not giving a crap about your job. (“I’ve spent so much of my life telling myself ‘please don’t end up like Stanley,’ and now I’m wondering if I even have what it takes.”)
Andy’s plot seems slight at first. The phone rings, he and Pam have a power play about who’s going to answer, and he breaks. And then he discovers that he likes being a receptionist. Before long, he’s leaving out mini-pizzas, making encouraging signs, and constructing Sharpie architecture. It’s not much, but it says something insightful about his character. On his most basic level, Andy just wants to be liked, much like Michael. He may have thought being the boss would accomplish that, but he realized that helping people in a non-obtrusive way and receiving their gratitude made him happier than his more impressive job, even if Daryl and Pam seemed determined to throw water on his enthusiasm. It might just have been a small character moment, meant to off-set some larger business elsewhere. But maybe, as demonstrated by his “I miss her too” comment about Erin later, Andy is beginning some long overdue self-reflection.