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I have a confession to make. At some point during the past few seasons of The Office, I had to admit to myself that I was watching the show due to inertia, not because I still loved it. I faced each week’s episode with a sort of grim determination; each half hour was something to endure rather than enjoy. To be fair, I don’t think I’m the only person who felt this way. Remember the endless string of post-Michael bosses? Deangelo? Robert California? Remember Gabe as a main character? I think my inability to truly enjoy the show is fairly understandable given how the equality has dipped as of late. But I kept watching, and when I found out that this season was going to be the last one, I forged on. And though the episodes haven’t been up to the standards of, say, “The Injury” or “The Fire,” I have to give kudos to The Office for taking this whole last season thing seriously. This week’s episode, “Stairmageddon” had a few missteps, but for the most part, it harkened back to the old days of the show, in which old-fashioned buffoonery mixed perfectly with the pettiness that so often defines office politics. We got (some) resolution to long-standing dramas, and other issues still seem up in the air.
Let’s start with the opening, which (thankfully) didn’t make me cringe as much as last week’s ode to 50 Shades of Grey. Much thanks to the writers for leaving out the orgasm jokes this time. It seems that Dwight, who still hasn’t gotten it through his thick skull that he isn’t the manager of Dunder-Mifflin Scranton, has been using his position as owner of the office building to prepare the employees for upcoming elevator maintenance, an event which will force them to (gasp) use the stairs. The training hasn’t worked on poor Stanley, who treats a few flights of stairs like his personal Everest. On the much-anticipated maintenance day, Erin is there, cheering Stanley on like a demented Richard Simmons, but Stanley has to stop halfway to chug a 5-Hour Energy and arrives at work panting and sweating.
We’ve got about three additional plots going on this week, only one of which is related to the aforementioned Stairmageddon. Let’s start with the one that’s tangentially related to Stanley’s lack of physical fitness. Dwight reminds Stanley that they have go to on a very important sales call, for the City of Lackawanna School District. Stanley, typically, refuses to go. And if Michael were the one giving the orders, that’d be the end of it. (Remember, “Did I stutter?”) Michael was always cowed by Stanley, a fear he covered up by pretending the two were best friends. But Dwight is not so easily deterred, and he complains to Andy. The “manager” is too busy pursuing a career in show business that we all know is not going to happen (ugh, not this again) to care about, you know, work, which Dwight assumes means he’s allowed to get Stanley on the call by any means necessary. Dwight tells us that he’s been holding back for years. Really? Dwight’s been holding back? I shudder to think of Dwight unleashed.
It’s a tribute to Rainn Wilson’s acting, to the way he inhabits the character of Dwight, that his method of ensuring Stanley’s cooperation – a bull tranquilizer – seems perfectly reasonable (for Mr. Schrute). Meredith and Clark aren’t convinced, and Stanley doesn’t take Dwight’s threats seriously. Apparently he doesn’t watch this show, because tranquilizing a coworker seems precisely in character for Dwight. Down goes Stanley, which doesn’t stop Dwight from shooting him tree times total. Clark speaks for all of us: “Holy sh--.” He worries that Dwight shot Stanley too many times for his body weight, but Dwight compares the passed out Stanley to a manatee, and enlists Clark’s held to drag Stanley downstairs. Clark suggests a wheelbarrow. And so commences one of the best relationships on this show, about which I am duty-bound to complain even as I praise it.
Dwight and Clark proceed to have a hilarious discussion, while dragging bubble-wrapped(!) Stanley, in which Clark tells Dwight he’s a natural at this whole tranquilizing-a-coworker thing and Dwight preens, explaining he’s pictured this moment so many times. So question, writers: Why did you wait until season to bring on Clark (and, to some extent, Pete)? He’s become hilarious in his own right, the two actors have fabulous chemistry, and if the show was going to be around for another season, I’d want to see them get into hijinks together. Clark is a great foil for Dwight’s insanity, and he’s just simpering enough to go along with Dwight’s schemes. Ah, what could have been. Stanley is nominally coherent for the sales call, acting unnaturally cheery and friendly. His effusive compliments about the baby photo on the client’s desk land the sale. The end of the plot falls a bit flat, but it’s worth it for the great Dwight/Clark scenes. What should we call them for these last few weeks? Clight? Personal, I’m rooting for Dwark.
Unfortunately, we have to talk about the Andy sub-plot, which can’t be saved even by a deadpan appearance from Roseanne. So as we know, Andy is enamored with YouTube (I know, I know), and is convinced he’s going to be a star. He visits a talent agency, where Carla (Roseanne) is unimpressed by his resume, which includes acting in a high school musical. But she’s interested in Andy’s other(?) talents. Can he drive a car? Juggle? Dress up as a clown? Yes, he says, not bothering to realize that he’s being taken for a ride. (I’m pretty sure reputable talent agencies don’t charge you $5k up front to sign on with them.) And now let’s hope that this is the last we hear of this Andy-as-a-star B.S. I’m hopelessly optimistic; what can I say?
Back in the office, Nellie is reading a review of the upcoming documentary. This scene works perfectly, because it’s obvious that the reviewer has seen in our office mates all of the characteristics they’ve tried to hide. You know how the characters sometimes acknowledge the cameras at awkward times? This feels like an extension of breaking the fourth wall. Nellie informs us that Dwight has been haplessly chasing the manager position (yes!), that Andy is a trust fund child and an incompetent middle-manager (YES!), and that the documentary includes a local politician embroiled in a gay affair (Oops). The co-workers muse about who that politician might be, with Oscar looking on sheepishly. (Katie Couric, Erin? Really?)
In related news, Angela and the Senator hold a press conference. Angela has pledged to be the best damn wife (correction: darn wife) she can be, but her philandering husband has a surprise for her. He announces on camera that he’s gay, and we see the office mates (except for Oscar and Kevin) looking stunned. But no one is more stunned than poor Angela, who looks like she’s been punched. You know, Angela has been a somewhat insufferable character over the years, but seeing her so thoroughly humiliated is really painful. Kevin gets to dance with glee at having kept a secret when the Senator reveals, on-air, that he owes his honesty to Oscar, but the joke’s on Mr. Martinez when the Senator introduces us to his new love…who isn’t Oscar. Ow.
And since it wouldn’t be an Office episode without some Jim and Pam drama, we find out that the marrieds are starting marriage counseling. Well, good. This news is filtered, somewhat improbably, through Pam’s confidant Nellie, who can’t believe that Jim bought a house and took a job without consulting his spouse; and Jim’s confidant Toby, who seems convinced that the very mention of marriage counseling means Jim and Pam are headed for divorce. However, one we do get one important revelation out of an otherwise lackluster sub-plot. When Toby asks Jim what the endgame is, Jim doesn’t know, causing every viewer who’s wanted to throttle Jim lately to yell, “Exactly!” Pam tells Nellie that she doesn’t want to move to Philadelphia while Jim tells Toby that if Pam doesn’t move, they’re going to need a lot more than marriage counseling. Uh-oh. Please, writers. I’m begging you. Jim and Pam are a loving married couple. I don’t mind the introduction of conflict. But don’t completely forget that what made them work as a couple was their ability to communicate. Why didn’t Pam ever tell Jim that she was upset when he bought a house without telling her? Why hasn’t Jim explained to Pam that his vision for the future includes their family, not just his new business? Can they just talk to each other? Here’s hoping that next week’s show involves some progress in counseling. Please.
Over all, this latest episode represents The Office as it has existed over the past four seasons or so. We have classic conflict and farce mixed with some rather flat, charmless plots. I’m willing to put up with the latter in order to enjoy the former, but there are some plots that we really need to resolve, and quickly. There’s no way that the writers have spent nine years setting up the uber-couple, Jim and Pam, only to rip them apart at the last second. So I’m going to believe that we’re enduing a long period of difficulty with a happy payoff at the end. I have to believe that. I have to believe I haven’t invested almost a decade in this couple (and in this show) for no reason.
Notes & Quotes
-- Clark had the best lines this episode, didn’t he? When Dwight informs Stanley that he’s going on the sales call whether he likes it or not, Clark asks meekly, “Can you just let me out of here before whatever comes next?” Gold.
-- Andy is irritating as usual. This episode illustrated perfectly why he’s so unlikeable compared to Michael, who, let’s face it, was awfully obnoxious pretty much all the time. Steve Carell’s performance reminded us that beneath Michael’s bravado was a skillful salesman and a loyal friend. Ed Helms is a terrific actor, but his Andy is one-dimensional. There is nothing to love about Andy anymore. I just want him off my screen.
-- What happened to Erin and Pete’s supposed relationship? Truth be told, I don’t care about either of them, and I have no idea what supposedly makes flighty, naïve Erin so irresistible to the men of Dunder-Mifflin. Still, we spent weeks setting these two up. We endured the awful plot about Andy and Pete’s ex-girlfriend. (Remember that? Ugh.) And for the past two weeks, these two haven’t so much as looked at each other. Maybe the writers are as sick of them as we are. A girl can dream.
-- I hope the Senator’s intentional outing isn’t the end of the Angela/Oscar duo. When the Senator introduced the world to his new lover, I felt for both of them. Neither Angela, who had tried so dutifully to be a good wife (minus that whole infidelity snafu) to a man who wasn’t interested in her, and Oscar, who spent so many years closeted, deserved that kind of humiliation. Especially on TV.
-- The best lines came from the press conference. The journalists’ questions: “Were you always gay, or did your wife turn you gay?” and “Question for the Senator’s beard…” I never thought I’d be saying this, but poor Angela.
-- I know I harped on the Brian subplot last week, and I sure would like to see Pam with someone to confide in, but Nellie? Really? Doesn’t Pam have any real friends? And why would Jim choose to talk to cowardly Toby, a man he’s never respected in the least? Those choices don’t ring true. And I could’ve done without the scene in which Nellie and Toby sit together as Pam and Jim leave for counseling and agree that the two deserve each other. I know this show has always thrived on sarcasm, but that seemed especially mean-spirited.