Nellie’s pathology is not as clearly defined as Michael’s need for a family or Dwight’s maniacal faith in long-standing power structures, because Nellie as a whole still hasn’t been developed much past a currently frustrated power-mad schemer. But pairing her off with Pam could be a smart way to show different sides of the character and to nurture Pam’s grudge against Jim for making a major life choice for the family without telling her. After getting guilted into helping Nellie practice her driving, Pam decides that Nellie is “pretty fearless, and maybe even almost sort of fun” once she learns that Ol’ Old Balls tricked Andy into believing that he’s related to Michelle Obama, “the most popular person in America.” (This is why Andy shouldn’t order an underling that can barely turn on a computer to trace his genealogy for him.) But this friendship will probably come back to bite Pam in the ass before long. Being friends with assholes is only exciting for a little while, but for now, she can enjoy the hijinks.
At first, Andy is thrilled to learn that he’s (not really) related to Michelle Obama, scourge of fat children everywhere. But, of course, Oscar had to ruin it by pointing out that if they were related, it’s almost certainly because Andy’s parents owned slaves. Andy’s pathology centers on a need to be liked and to maintain appearances. (On a related note, I hope the new guys’ tendency to applaud Andy for every little thing isn’t a one-and-done gag. It would be worth bringing back just to recapture the weird look of pride on Andy’s face when he was praised for drinking water). As such, he gets testy after one too many jokes about Dixieland and calls a staff-wide meeting in which he reveals, via “careful” research that Nellie provided, that Meredith is related to Lizzy Borden and Phyllis’s ancestors helped spread cholera (just a great shrug here, by the way. I hope Phyllis Smith sticks with acting and doesn’t go back to being a casting director after this show ends).
Eventually, Andy’s mom tells him that the family never owned slaves, just helped transport them, so if anything, the Bernards are “moral middleman.” It’s a goofy main plot that has fun with Andy’s tendency to overreact to getting teased, though it’s rather slight on the whole. But it leads in nicely to an overdue development elsewhere. Andy is so worried about the whole slave thing that he ignores Daryl’s suggestions for efficiency improvements until his new assistant regional manager snaps. “I’m done,” he says, as he heads to the warehouse to seethe to Jim. “The better title I have, the stupider my job gets.”
The Office has not always known what to do with Daryl as a character and Craig Robinson’s unique blend of nonchalance, annoyance, and sweetness. The “that person has really gotten him or herself in to quite a predicament” efficiency callback was a solid demonstration of his skill at faking it just enough. Remember how last season they sort of gave him a love interest but never bothered to develop the conflict or the character beyond the most rudimentary level? But just like with Jim, the writers are now starting to lean in to his frustration that nothing ever changes at the office. As Daryl complains that it never gets better, Jim tells him about the sports marketing job waiting for him in Philadelphia. Daryl is in, and it’s great to see Robinson drop his character’s feigned cool to be both angry and excited. The problem is that Jim hasn’t told Pam about it yet.
This was a particularly overstuffed episode, with at least four ongoing plots. And as fun as Erin learning to speak Dothraki was (Dwight just can’t resist picking on the only one in the office who is a bigger bumpkin than him. And I wonder how thrilled NBC was that the phrase “HBO’s Game of Thrones” was uttered several times tonight?), it probably could have been saved for a different episode. In fact, the Erin dealing with Andy’s snooty family episode is long overdue. Though, to be fair, her fear about having to talk with both Andy’s family and Michelle Obama lead to an all-time Great Erin line: “What’s your stance on politics, or what’s the best war to do?”
But while there was a lot going on here, it still ended on the season’s main plotline, which took an unexpected turn when Jim told Pam about the Philadelphia job just three episodes in. I figured the writers would draw out the Jim-not-telling-Pam thing for a while and really ramp up Pam’s suspicions and make the impact of months of deceit really land. Instead, we got the sweet reveal that Pam knows Jim loves her too much to cheat (no rich Filipino boyfriends for her, Nellie) and the interesting turn that Jim thinks everything is fine now that it’s all out in the open. (“I have the best wife in the world.”) It’s not, as shown in the quietly heartbreaking last shot. Jenna Fischer delivered the line “I still can’t believe he didn’t tell me” with a perfect amount of resigned sadness. She’s not mad, she’s just deflated, and it seems like Jim is about to learn there’s some problems he can’t charm his way out of. The story of this season is clearly not going to go the way it initially seemed, which is great. It’s been a while since The Office was this surprising and moving.