Last week’s episode of The Office, “The Work Bus had some pretty good writing and went to some emotional depths that were rarely reached in the past couple seasons.
Jim, still feeling guilty and grateful because of Pam was okay with Jim going off and joining his college buddy’s sports marketing scheme without letting her know. Of course, we all know that Pam’s not thrilled with the idea, but because she loves Jim she lied and said she was – and what was worse was the betrayal. And even though Jim doesn’t know the depths of Pam’s hurt feelings, he’s still going nuts trying to figure out just how to pay her back.
As I wrote last week, I wasn’t thrilled with the evolution of Jim’s character from awesome husband to dishonest asshat, and so this episode was a welcome return for Jim the good guy.
The office is at risk for EMF – Electromotive force. Basically the wiring in the building isn’t insulated, and there are health risks involved, but Dwight is not willing to pay for the repairs. To push the repairs and get a week off for Pam, Jim pranks Dwight into thinking that the electromotive force is making him infertile
The prank is pretty awesome – he throws a bag of popcorn into a microwave and heats it for about a few seconds, allowing for a few kernels to pop. He then slipped it under Dwight’s desk, letting him think that the electromotive force is so strong it can pop kernels of popcorn.
But Jim doesn’t get the upper hand for too long. Dwight rolls into the parking lot with a work bus – a big ass coach. The workers are filed into this thing and are cramped, and knocking things down and getting into each other’s spaces. Jim still intent on getting Pam a good day, pushes Andy to order Dwight to drive the work bus to a roadstop pie stand. With everyone in the bus chanting “pie!” and Andy pressing him, Dwight reluctantly acquiesces and they’re off. Pam notices that Dwight’s feeling down, but Jim just chalks it up to sour grapes.
Eventually we get to why Dwight’s such a sourpuss – he thinks he’s shooting blanks. Jim’s prank really got to him, and Dwight’s worried that he’ll never have the chance to be a father. Jim and Dwight have a lovely heart-to-heart while sitting on top of the work bus, and Jim convinces Dwight that all will be well, and that Dwight should look at his co-workers as his children. Ginned up from the pep talk, he drives them at top speed to make it to the pie stand (it’s great seeing the Dunder-Mifflin crowd scatter around the bus like Skittles while Dwight is driving the coach like a race car).
While Jim and Dwight are battling, the war between Nellie and Andy continues, as well, and children come up in their latest duel. We learn from the last few episodes that Nellie’s interested in adopting a child. She needs a letter of recommendation from her employer – unfortunately, her employer is also her archenemy. She asks him to look over the letter, which he agrees to do. During the crazy bus ride, Nellie confides in Erin, who was in foster care her whole life, so she has some insight to Nellie’s problem. Just like with Pam, Nellie bonds with a coworker, when she lowers her guard – it’s actually a tender moment, free of the usual creepiness that accompanies Nellie (with the possible exception of Nellie telling Erin she’d like to transform her back into a “childless 5-year old” so she can snatch her up).
Nellie and Erin work on the letter and Andy dismisses it because he’s an asshole now, and has finally completed his metamorphosis into an acrid version of Michael Scott. While checking up on the others, he overhears sniffling behind a curtain, and assumes it’s Nellie crying over the letter, but realizes it’s Erin, hurt at Andy’s reaction to the letter – what’s more shocking to him, is that Nellie is taking care of Erin, being lovely and kind. Again, it’s been a while since The Office bothered with human feelings in such a sincere way – my eyes still sting when I think about Michael Scott coming to Pam’s art show and being sincerely proud, or Pam’s and Jim’s wedding, or Michael’s goodbye (especially the silent kiss/hug he shares with Pam). Catherine Tate, so far, has been oddly used by the writers – anyone who’s watched her sketch show from the UK know that she’s a brilliant talent, but she hasn’t been used to her full potential – this episode improves on that a bit.
So Andy sees how he hurt Erin’s feelings, which in turn, made him realize that for all his anger toward Nellie – some of it justified – he cannot stand in the way of her being a mom. He signs the letter, but adds a few more endorsing comments about her suitability. It’s a nice moment.
And as promised, Dwight gets everyone to the pie stand and they all sit around, stuffing their faces with pie. Jim and Pam share a moment – he’s relieved that he’s able to deliver, and she lovingly sets her head on his shoulder. It’ll be interesting to see if the show explores Pam’s possible feelings of resentment, or has she simply moved on – I hope for the former.
“Work Bus” is a decent-to-good episode. It wasn’t as funny as last week’s “Andy’s Ancestry” but it is much better than the other episodes of this season. I’m not happy with Andy’s character now and am hard-pressed to figure out why a catch like Erin would still be with him. Jim and Pam are still reliable for some smiles, and it’s a relief that the writers are seemingly pushing away from the soap opera tone that was creeping into their marriage earlier with Jim’s lying. Still, there’s a palpable feeling when watching the show – even during a good episode like this one – that it’s really the end of the show – the jokes zing a little less, and the characters’ quirks – Kevin’s obsession with food, Oscar’s need to be correct, Angela’s prissiness, Meredith’s grossness – all seem a bit stale and rehearsed.
What do you think? Did you like “Work Bus”?