For an episode guest-directed by Bryan Cranston, this episode of The Office was surprisingly light on people getting shot without warning. Though I will admit that, at the time of this writing, none of the usual deleted scenes have been posted to NBC’s page, so maybe there’s an outtake that will finally explain what happened to Gabe.
The Office has such a consistent tone that even when fancy guest directors drop by, there’s only so much of their signature style they can really bring (the producers have previously said it was just a coincide that Joss Whedon’s episode featured a vampire bat), but the cramped quality of “Work Bus” was well matched to Cranston’s talents. Breaking Bad is a show where people (usually Walt) are constantly trapped. Usually in their own minds. Occasionally in RVs.
Cranston’s aptitude for cramped might explain why there seemed to be an extra zip in all those scenes on the titular bus of everyone knocking into each other, spilling coffee everywhere and generally making it look like Angela was a few seconds away from a full-on meltdown. The physical comedy was well executed, and hats off to whoever blocked all those (probably more complex than they appear) interior bus shots.The zingers were also on point (best of all was Daryl and Clark’s apathetic response at getting left off the bus), but most of the character stuff seemed a bit slight, with one big exception.
After all of Jim’s worries about telling Pam about the entire taking-another-job-in-another-city-behind-her-back thing, Pam seems surprisingly cool with everything. I say “seems” because this episode was light both in giving Jenna Fischer many lines and is one of the only episodes of the entire series that I can recall that didn’t feature any direct-to-camera interviews, which is usually where we get our emotional counterpoints. We don’t really know if Pam is okay with everything (she probably isn’t or else this plotline isn’t going to have any legs), which makes the episode feel a bit lopsided and empty. But Jim wants to go out of his way to show her how much he appreciates her “being so incredibly cool about it” and/or alleviate his guilt. Perhaps his overcompensating will lead to a blow-up down the line. We’ll see.
Due to some faulty insulation, Dunder Mifflin might have a slight problem with electromagnetic fields. Naturally, Dwight is reluctant to do anything about this. (“It’s a wire, people. I’m not buying it a fur coat.”) The entire Dwight-as-landlord plot always seemed like a plate-spinning plot point that never really played off from a few seasons ago. The writers should have played it off or gotten rid of it a while ago, but here we are. But while Dwight is dragging his feet (“I can live very happily in a magnetic field. Most of my childhood heroes got their powers that way.”), Jim sees an opportunity to score some points and get a week off from work, so he convinces Dwight that the electromagnetic waves are making him sterile and also popping Jim’s kernels.
But instead of everyone getting a week off from work, everybody crams aboard a rental bus for a bravura mid-episode symphony of people stepping on each other. Eventually, Jim gets everyone to back him in a pie-based coup against Dwight. The things a man does when he knows he screwed up. But before the journey to get Pam every flavor but rhubarb completes, Dwight has a hissy fit and runs to the roof.
As much as the central relationship of the show has always been Pam and Jim, the Jim-and-Dwight dynamic is the one that provides a large part of the series jokes and has been the engine of many of its plots. Over the years, they’ve evolved from two people who genuinely find the other person annoying … to basically still that with some base levels of affection somewhere in the mix. Dwight confesses to Jim that he’s sterile (good to see the Dwight Is Not the Father plotline get some more payoff) and seems genuinely upset that he won’t have kids. While Jim lives to make Dwight believe elaborate lies, he rarely does so out of pure malice and this time realizes he inadvertently hit too raw of a nerve. So he does something he never does: He comes clean to Dwight. This series had better not end with these two hugging each other tearfully at the end, but little moments like these show how they’ve both matured and warmed to each other, at least a little.
Elsewhere, Nellie has decided that she wants to adopt a baby all of a sudden. She confides this in Erin, who has stories to tell about having a couple of sleepovers but never “getting in the in zones.” But even Erin concedes that her boyfriend probably won’t sign the employer form that Nellie needs, on account of him thinking that she’s a monster that should go to Loch Ness and all. But after Andy sees Erin crying over it later (the entire “not lovable” thing sticks with you), he relents and signs the stupid form. This plotline is either more proof that the writers don’t have any idea of what to do with Nellie’s character this season or Nellie’s manipulating Andy into looking like a heartless jerk in front of Erin as part of a long-term plan to turn his vengeful attitude against him. The second option is more promising, but we’ll have to see.
Finally, although Kevin’s character is sometimes written so broad that it seems like he’s playing a mentally handicapped child, Brian Baumgartner is such a pro. His look of concern when calculating how long it would take before he could eat pie or his sheer joy at getting said pie smashed in his face were probably the two best shots of the entire episode. I’m going to miss that guy a few months from now.