It’s not entirely clear why we had a double shot of The Office last night. This doesn’t seem to be a situation like with Parenthood, where there was a need to burn through the season so the network could finally air Smash, and sweeps don’t start quite yet, so it’s probably not a ratings stunt. (The ratings for The Office peaked a while ago, but it still does better than any of NBC’s other sitcoms.) I guess I could posit that the network thought that the first episode, “Junior Salesman,” was fun but as fluffy as Cousin Mose’s beard and should therefore be paired with something more substantial, but I can’t imagine a scenario in which networks actually think in terms like that. So what we are left with are episodes that weren’t meant to be aired together but work nicely as a peek inside the mind of warehouse Nate, which is clearly something everyone has been clamoring for.
“Junior Salesman” starts off by following up on the shocking (and quite controversial among fans and critics) reveal from last week with Brian the Handsome Camera guy, on notice for disrupting a shoot, checking to make sure everything is fine with Pam. “Mostly,” she says. After that bit of overarching plot business, we dive right into one of the silliest episodes in recent memory. For people who have been enjoying the recent character dynamics that came to a head last week, this change of pace might be frustrating, but this show has always had a tendency to hit the brakes after a big character moment in order to let things ruminate for a while. (You’ll recall that the episode after Jim told Michael he had a thing for Pam on the Booze Cruise was the episode where Michael burned his foot in a breakfast-in-bed mishap.) But if you’re the type of TV fan that enjoys picking out where That Guy is from, this one was a treat.
Dwight gets to hire a Junior Salesman to fill in for Jim when he’s out of town. Clark would like the job and makes a good point that he went “above and beyond … and under” with Jan, but Dwight insists on ballers only. (Clark’s complaint that it was unfair that “after twelve grueling weeks,” he had to compete for a promotion was some unexpectedly pointed entitled-millennial shade-throwing.) Unfortunately for Dwight, his first two picks for the job flame out in equally spectacular ways. First, Rolf, played by Venture Brothers voice king James Urbaniak, turns in a largely redacted résumé and then flips the job interviewing tables on Dwight (“How do I know you’re qualified to be evaluating me?”). Well, Urbaniak is used to interrogating people, so I guess we should have expected this. (Clark actually bringing up Homeland was a bit on the nose, though.) Former professional murderer Trevor, played by stand-up comedian/cable-access prankster Chris Gethard, doesn’t do much better, but who wouldn’t be rattled by tricky questions like “Are you a team player or self-starter”? (“No, no, and no.”)
Jim, realizing that Pam dealing with double Dwight would strain an already strained situation, decides to interfere and makes moves to get Clark the gig. After first making sure that Clark has basic hygiene down, of course. (“What am I working with? Peppermint? Wintergreen?”) Dwight sees Jim meddling, and takes it personally. All he wants is someone in the office who actually gets him for once, which is actually kind of sweet. Dwight being Dwight, he expresses it in terms of wanting someone who knows the difference between a rendering plant and a slaughterhouse, but still. So to counterbalance Jim’s schemes, Dwight recruits a whole room full of Dwights, which apparently smells like you would think it would smell.
Dwight, Kevin, and Erin are three of the more contentious characters on this show. They all tend to get pulled to cartoony lengths for laughs, and at times we are asked to believe things about them that simply could not be true of adults that are able to at least hold down a job. So a room full of Dwights is problematic in this regard. But then again, maybe we shouldn’t question whether Eric Wareheim really thinks he has superpowers. Maybe we should just laugh at the way he says “night hearing.”
Turns out that Dwight is friends with a murder’s row of character actors (Badger from Breaking Bad!) and pantsless weirdos, and what follows is a series of fun callbacks for longtime fans, from Dwight’s former babysitter and lover, played by Sparklemotion enthusiast Beth Grant, and the long-awaited return of Cousin Mose, played by Parks and Recreation showrunner Michael Schur. What a joy it is to watch Mose scurry away after being called on his false résumé (“I’ve never seen you go to work ever”). I still don’t know how it’s possible to run so fast without bending your arms and legs.
Eventually, even Dwight realizes these people are too weird to do anything other than play paintball. We occasionally see Daryl and Jim get unnerved from pressure, but we rarely see it happen to Dwight, so his gulped “I wish I could hire you all” after getting threatened by ticking time bomb Trevor felt like a very small turning point. After Dwight enlists Jim to break the news that no one in the Legion of Losers is getting hired, Rolf and the gang decide to go paintballing without Dwight (it was that weird time of the day when it was too late to make a slow roast and too early for a Swanson’s), and let him know that he wasn’t missed. (Nitpicky, I know, but the picture of everyone in full paintball gear flipping him off seemed to arrive a minute after everyone left the office.) Everyone outgrows friends at some point, but Dwight “just outgrew them all in the span of three hours.” We’re at the point in this series where the writers are trying to wrap up everyone’s plotlines before we never see them again. Plenty of fans think Dwight will eventually end up with Angela, but I’m just not sure if this is the type of character that needs to grow up. It’s perfectly fine that Dwight is Dwight forever. But if Dwight does get a bit more mature before curtain call, him getting rid of a bunch of associates that look like they got kicked out of a methadone clinic is an important mile marker.
Dwight’s slow maturity was just treated as a minor aside, but “Junior Salesman” was a light episode all around. (According to various fan sites, a subplot about Erin attempting to find her birth parents was supposed to be part of this episode, which might have given it a bit more heft.) The only other matters of import were that we learned that warehouse Nate would really like his chili recipe back, and we saw Jim botch his attempt to get David Wallace to invest in Athlead. We also saw Wallace cut Jim’s salary. This all isn’t working out quite like Jim hoped, which is just going to make it worse with Pam, who now seems to be vacillating between just not caring anymore and slow-boiling rage. Which brings us to the next episode, “Vandalism.”
One of the keys to the recent creative rebound of The Office is that the producers have stopped trying to make it about one central character and have instead cycled through a number of plotlines with various characters taking their turn as the lead. (They tried to do this last season, to be fair, but this is the season where it feels like Greg Daniels and company were truly committed to this approach.) But even with that approach, this has largely turned out to be Jenna Fischer’s show lately, and this was another strong showcase for her, this time directed by her real-life husband Lee Kirk.
Painting is one way to sublimate your anger at your significant other, and Pam has been throwing herself into this mural. She’s understandably outraged, then, when she finds that her work has been besmirched with some drawings of butts. She will not let these butts pass. When her attempts to occupy the warehouse and throw a super-secret classified conference room meeting to fix this don’t work out (Oscar: “I was politely saying nothing can be done. I thought I was clear” — this has also been his season), she allies herself with Nellie and Dwight (“If there’s anything I hate worse than art, it’s crime”) to track down the culprit.
Dwight forcing the warehouse crew to draw pictures of butts led to the best line of the entire hour: “It is my fetish. Also sign them. My fetish is signed drawings of butts.” But the trio doesn’t crack the case until it pulls the ‘ol Your Mother Is Dying trick on poor Warehouse Nate. (Mark Proksch has always been committed to being a wide-eyed moonface in this role, but what is it about Scranton that breeds naifs that will believe anything?)
It turns out surly warehouse denizen Frank is responsible. After taking a moment to groom his ear, he apologizes. Well, there were some sorrys in there, as Toby points out. (“Big deal, butts are funny. Maybe if you got the stick out of yours.”) You can say these things to people who can’t fire you, though maybe you shouldn’t.
After this, Pam starts having a breakdown. The mural is not the most subtle metaphor, but it works. She put a lot of time and energy and heart and soul into this thing. And for it to go as wrong as the home life she’s trying to distract herself from is more than she can deal with. She decides that she has to go scorched-earth on Frank’s face.
And where is this husband that’s really causing this distress? Being a total slob! Jim and Daryl are sharing an apartment in Philly together as grown, sexy-ass roommates. Turns out that without a baby to clean up after, Jim becomes the baby, leaving his underwear all over the place and letting dishes soak instead of actually cleaning them. As unseemly as this behavior is, I suspect that many of John Krasinski’s fans will let it pass in exchange for seeing his hair all disheveled. Craig Robinson is always at his best when Daryl is slowly losing his cool, and watching him fume at Jim for taking his thermos was amusing, though it seemed out of character that Jim would passively aggressively pour it out into the trash once he was called on it. This job really has turned him into a jerk recently.
The Office has a tendency to let a plot simmer for a while, bring it to a boil, and then cool off for a bit. But after several episodes of wondering, we finally get a glimpse into the fallout from Angela catching Oscar and the Senator. It would appear that Angela and her husband have some sort of arrangement that as long as he doesn’t embarrass her by being seen in public with Oscar, she won’t leave him. But then he invited Oscar to their son’s first birthday party anyway. Angela wasn’t going to invite anyone from work (or children, for that matter. Too much sharp-edged furniture at their place), but now she wants to bring her own stud to make him jealous. When Dwight ducks out (vengeance calls), she gets Kevin, which isn’t the most realistic turn of events, but it’s also not realistic that Angela wouldn’t have quit this job once she married the Senator and devoted herself full-time to whatever political spouses do, so let’s not nitpick anything that lets these characters bounce off each other.
The Senator can’t keep his hands off Oscar at the party, much to Angela’s embarrassment. Jack Coleman’s actorly way with the fey hand gestures was a bit broad, but it clashed nicely with his blankly delivered pablum about being a friend to the Latino community. Oscar eventually realizes he was invited just for PR optics, but he poses for a group photo anyway, blocking out Angela, who isn’t happy about it.
As the guests are leaving, the Senator asks Oscar and Angela if “they are all calmed down yet” in the most condescending way possible. Enter Kevin Malone, unlikely truth-teller, to put the Senator in his place. “You are, like, a terrible person. These guys care about you, and you’re just using them. Again, the food was very good.” Somebody had to say it, and that it came with Kevin’s halting delivery just made it better. Even Angela had to smile.
This moment, while surprising, was a long time coming. Pam and Dwight eventually get the most fitting vengeance possible, by painting on Frank’s truck. And look how far Pam has come! The shaded beard and grotesque man-boobs on the drawing of Frank were really quite spectacular. (That her art career started to take off just as Jim wants to move is one of the cruelest twists in her ongoing story line.) Frank didn’t appreciate the detailing, however. I haven’t seen Brad William Henke this mad since he almost killed Loretta on Justified. He runs at Pam, vowing to shut her up, when Brian clocks him with the boom mike. They both end up getting fired, but Brian doesn’t regret sticking up for her. “I don’t want to put myself where I don’t belong, but if you ever need me, you just call me, and I’ll be there for you.” Then Pam gets her “Oh crap, this guy likes me” face, which is a face we haven’t seen in a long time. It’s all coming back full circle.
It looks like we’re about to get into a Pam–Jim–Brian love triangle, which seems like the least interesting way this camera crew reveal could have gone (I don’t care how much of a jerk Jim is, I don’t buy that Pam will cheat), but I’ll give Daniels the benefit of the doubt. This season has already had some nice surprises, so I hope the writers don’t go down the obvious road this ending hints at.