Watching this week’s episode of The Office made me realize that as much as I’d like it to be, this is a different show than when Steve Carrell was the lead. In this season, Rainn Wilson took over as a decent lead – though surprisingly not as dominant as I expected. Because the writers are wrapping things up, we’re starting to see hints of plots being settled. And because there’s a feeling of “nothing left to lose” there are some darker subplots introduced: namely Jim’s and Pam’s marriage.
The title refers to a neat contest that the staff of Dunder Mifflin is participating in – each employee throws a paper airplane and the plane that goes the farthest, wins. Angela, Dwight, and Erin are the frontrunners – each throwing his/her airplane pretty darn far. This contest merely acts as a way of seeing troubled relationships unfold.
Angela, reeling from her divorce from the senator, has to cut down expenses, and is forced to live as a single mom with her menagerie of cats in a studio apartment. Because it’s Angela, she doesn’t share her woes with anyone and lets her pride drive her actions; she won’t go back to Dwight because she’s worried she’ll look like a gold digger because he had just inherited a big ass farm (in the failed backdoor spinoff pilot). Dwight, on the other hand, is dating a beautiful farm girl.
But this story belongs to Erin – she’s terribly competitive, and to Pete’s horror, she’s a terribly sore competitor – spoiler alert – she loses, and it’s great that Ellie Kemper gets to do some really nifty physical comedy as Erin’s fury consumes her and she tries to kick a cardboard box full of packing peanuts, and drives her foot through the box. There’s a poignancy to Erin’s quest for victory because she’s had to use her survival instincts to survive when she was in the orphanage.
While the employees are throwing paper airplanes, Andy’s working on becoming Marlon Brando. Viewers will remember that Andy hired a talent agent (a game Roseanne Barr) to make him a movie star. She got him a job starring in a technical video about laboratory safety. It’s great to see Andy using the Method to see who his hapless lab worker really is; but there’s an issue: once the lab worker gets chemicals splashed in his eyes, he must use the eye wash machine which freaks Andy out because he can’t do his own “stunts.”
It’s great to see Andy pull a diva move and call for his agent. Of course he’s not a movie star, so his agent is not helpful and it’s Darryl to the rescue who gets Andy to use the eye wash machine with a great pep talk. Despite Andy’s metamorphosis into a rather mean jerk, it’s neat to see his somewhat lopsided relationship with Darryl, who remains probably the most level-headed and intelligent character on The Office.
But all of this acted like a decorative frame, and the real story is Jim and Pam. Their separation seems inevitable, despite their therapy. They’ve overdosed in pop psychobabble, “appreciating” and “acknowledging” every gesture they make toward each other, no matter how slight and insignificant. It begins okay enough, but gradually the two start to get passive aggressive toward each other before they have a mini-meltdown; I say “mini” because at this point in their relationship, the two don’t feel like they can be honest with each other. Because Jim and Pam were seen as the perfect couple, it’s interesting to see their marriage being tested.
So of course, Jim’s at fault. He’s made some dick moves, but his heart’s in the right place. Even though I love both Jim and Pam I’m on team Pam right now simply because Jim’s arrogance is becoming disturbing. Which is why it was such a relief when he gripped Pam in a bear hug after she chased him down to give him his forgotten umbrella. After agreeing that their marriage therapy is working, Pam sort-of agrees, but isn’t as enthusiastic anymore; instead of saying sorry, he just grabs her and holds on – we get a quick flashback to their wedding in Niagara Falls, when Jim’s brother gives a heartwarming speech – and Pam’s shocked reaction to Jim’s sudden hug is worrisome at first – her arms are frozen in mid air, but thankfully, she returns his embrace with equal fervor and the two hold on to each other and say, “I love you” at the same time. Yeah, I guess maybe their inevitable separation may not be as inevitable as I thought.
There are only four episodes left in this season – the finale is rumored to be a reunion of sorts, with some grumblings of a return of Michael Scott. I don’t think his return is necessarily a great idea – The Office has moved on and developed into a different kind of show, with a universe that Michael would no longer fit into. I have rarely laughed out loud in the last two seasons – though Kemper has proven to be a deft comedienne and has handily stolen the show – albeit a show that’s been severely slowed down by the loss of its star. Still, viewer affection has me hooked to The Office despite its steady decrease in quality.