The ratings, quality, and future of The Office have all been hotly debated recently, but NBC gave it a supersize 24-episode season anyway. So to help pad out a season that’s already struggled with ongoing plotlines, The Office recycled one of its best story arcs, which in fairness might be better for the environment anyway.
Andy apparently has nothing better to do (like, say, look for another job) than to go to his old workplace and make lunch for people. Even if not everyone appreciates his culinary skills. “Why is it when other people spend all the time at the office they’re rewarded for it, but when I do it ‘it’s a little much’?” After getting dressed down, again, by Robert California, Andy discovers that the Binghamtom branch of Dunder Mifflin was unexpectedly closed down the night before, and all their old clients are in play. Tired of feeling pathetic all the time, Andy outmaneuvers sudden best buds Jim and Dwight (nothing makes people closer than a fraud scheme) and Syracuse salesman Harry (played by HBO regular Chris Bauer, hewing closer to Frank Sobotka belligerence than Andy Bellefleur buffoonery) to win the business of the Eastern Seaboard’s finest junk-mail providers.
Now, a “rogue” former paper salesman should, obviously, not be able to net such an important client, even if the show is going to the Michael Scott well of “for all his personal faults he’s a dynamite salesman,” which … sure. Why not. But the whole ordeal was gamely absurd enough (the secretary was so accommodating and the junk-mail CEO so happy to have a guest that even Andy was confused) and Andy’s pitch so earnest and sad (come over to his house anytime. The Wi-Fi password is eatpraylove) that it felt like the writers saying, “Look, if we make this funny enough will you just not worry too much about the mechanics of this plot twist?” Which is pretty lazy, but it’s been a long season for all of us.
The episode ends with Andy offering Robert the client in exchange for his old position. Robert, unwilling to deal with an “ineffectual, privileged, effete, soft-penis debutant” politely declines the offer (“You don’t even know my real name. I’m the fucking lizard king”), so Andy approaches David Wallace with an investment idea and an opportunity for the suck-it king to get some payback for his sacking. (One more analysis of an absurd plot mechanism and I’ll stop. How could Dunder Mifflin double its value with the right leadership? Isn’t the whole point of this show that it’s sad that these people work for a company that becomes more obsolete by the day? Limitless paper for a paperless world and all that? Anyway.)
This is all remarkably similar to the Michael Scott Paper Company story line from season five with just a few details switched around (Andy was fired instead of quitting impulsively; it’s one big client instead of a bunch of regular ones). That plotline did a good job of injecting some real-world stakes into the show, and showed how resourceful some of these characters can be with their backs against the wall. Like most sequels, this idea hits the same beats but with diminishing returns, but we’ve got to send Robert California off and reinstall Andy somehow (and presumably make Nellie the new CEO or whatever), so this will do, more or less.
But while the main story line felt like just so much setup for the season finale, the B-plot reminded me how much I’ll miss Robert California once he’s gone. James Spader’s performance has existed in a weird netherworld between gamely playing a character who is aggressively disinterested and just coming off like he doesn’t give a shit. Still, he was really on fire this episode. It seems that after celebrating his divorce with some Australian reds and Colombian whites, Robert did some drunk dialing and some drunk downsizing. (This idea is honestly so funny that I won’t even ponder how impossible it is in real life.) Now, the whole putting people out of their jobs thing isn’t causing Robert too much stress (“I’m not going to start doubting my drunken self now”), but he is worried about Nellie’s reaction (“yes yes yes yes never”) to the voice-mail messages he can’t remember leaving.
As is often his way, Robert is content to completely ignore any business conflicts that do not involve him directly, and allows Jim, Dwight, and Syracuse Harry to bicker about clients while he goes on about geishas. But the idea that he might not get to have sex with Nellie concerns him, so he forces Pam to find out what he said. At some point in the show’s history, Pam went from finding Michael and the rest of her co-workers irritating to finding them lovable in their own way, Ryan and Angela generally excepted. So it’s been a while since we’ve seen Jenna Fischer’s annoyed face, but it was back in fine form tonight, with an extra dash of her horrified face. Why the show didn’t just go all in on James Spader’s natural perv vibe and have Pam constantly icked by Robert’s Robertness by the third episode of this season is beyond me, but the dynamic between these two was the highlight of the episode. (Pam’s look when she realized there was no way around doing Robert’s bidding was a nice reminder of how great Fischer plays defeated.)
After Pam’s attempt at girl talk with Nellie was interrupted by Angela and ovaries-in-his-scrotum Gabe, she steals Nellie’s phone. Robert plays the messages with Pam in the room (for some reason), but after hearing about Nellie’s problems with credit cards and adopting, her conscience forces her to delete the messages and give the phone back to Nellie. The two bond over Robert’s incessant need to talk only of sex, flesh, and bacchanals, and Nellie is so pleased to finally have a friend she insists on buying Pam some new shoes. Though the softening of Nellie from a cutthroat business woman to a cutthroat business woman who needs friends seems a bit abrupt, Nellie’s wild joy to finally have a friend in the office was a sweet moment from Catherine Tate.
Tune in next week for the season finale, when we learn what happens to Andy’s gambit, and get some closure on Dwight’s possible fatherhood, Daryl and Val, and whatever happened to that woman who hit on Jim a few episodes ago.