I feel a great disturbance in the Force. As if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. It’s the Return of Karen, attempting to hire Stanley away to the Utica branch of Dunder Mifflin, where she is now Regional Manager. Michael and Dwight go on the offensive, and drag a reluctant, mufti-clad Jim along with them. As the sparks fly in Oneida County, back in Scranton, Pam’s “Finer Things Club” is having some difficulty getting any privacy — especially from Andy, who would join a a pack of lemmings if he thought there was something to be gained at the bottom of the cliff.
For a guy who doesn’t seem to be terribly happy, Michael certainly is emotionally invested in the status quo.
[Stanley has just informed Michael of his intention to take a better-paying job in beautiful Utica, New York. Michael now makes an announcement to the office.]
Michael: Hi, everyone, can I have your attention, please? I just thought you all should know that Stanley Hudson is planning on leaving us, because our old friend Karen from Utica is going to give him more money to work there. [General applause.] No, no, no, no! No, no, no, no — you completely misinterpreted my tone. This is a horrible thing. Clearly, Karen is trying to get back at us because Jim dumped her.
Jim: Oh, I don’t think that’s what’s happening.
Michael: Okay, smarty-pants, then why? Why is she trying to take Stanley from us?
Stanley: I think it’s because of my sales record.
Michael: That could not possibly be it.
I think there’s a technical psychological term for what Michael’s displaying here, but I can’t remember it. I just want to put out a reminder from everybody with a propensity to ascribe personal motivations to seemingly impersonal actions, to everybody who thinks we’re crazy for doing so: Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that.
[Michael attempts to poach Ben Nugent, Karen’s top salesman, in retaliation. Pam provides moral support.]
Michael: I’m going to cut right to the chase here. Do you like magic? Because I am a genie in a bottle, and I am going to grant you three wishes: To move to Scranton, to have a great job, and to be my best friend.
Nugent: Aren’t you the guy who hit the woman with your car?
Michael: [To Pam.] Get out. [Pam leaves.] Uh, yeah, I also saved her life. But I guess that’s not as grabby.
Nugent: Everyone says Scranton branch is worse than Camden. Didn’t everyone from Stamford quit like, immediately?
Michael: No, I fired them, and you’re next! . . . So, whaddya say?
It all started off so well. That “genie in a bottle” line is going to get anyone’s attention. Then, we move on to the creepy intimation of social isolation, followed closely by mistreatment of subordinates, defensive hostility, and rapid mood swings. They say you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. It sometimes seems like Michael’s trying to lure them with toothpaste.
[Michael lays out his plans for the Utica prank.]
Michael: All right, Dwight, here’s how it’s going to go down. You and I are going to sneak inside, and pretend that we are warehouse workers. Then we will Silly String the bejesus out of them.
According to dictionary.com, bejesus has no real meaning outside the context of an emphatic noun. In other words, there is no such thing as a bejesus. I find this simultaneously a little disappointing and kind of cool. I also learned that it’s a contraction of “by Jesus”. Anyway, it’s one of Michael’s favorite words, and I have to say, if one were going to Silly String the X out of something, it’s probably best if X = bejesus.
[Jim sits in the car, while Michael and Dwight, inside the Utica branch, communicate with him via walkie-talkie.]
Jim: All right, Great Scott, if you’ve found that choking hazard poster, just head on home.
Michael: We’ve got something far better. Their crown jewel: their industrial copier.
Jim: Isn’t that thing huge?
Dwight: It’s enormous. But it’s got wheels. We’re wheeling it down the hall into the stairwell. Get the car ready, keep the engine running.
Jim: No. This is a terrible idea. Don’t do this.
Dwight: Auggghhh! My hipbone!
[We hear the copier crashing down some stairs.]
Michael: We’re wedged between the copier and the railing! Ow! [unintelligible] Leave us, Jim! Leave us!
Dwight: Help! No! No!
Michael: Save yourself!
Dwight: Don’t leave us — help us! We need help, Jim.
Jim: Okay, first of all, stop using my name, and second, d — dammit, guys.
[Karen walks by. Jim notices, and attempts to hide.]
Michael: Move over a little bit. Oh, my bladder!
Jim: Oh my God. Oh my God. Karen is back.
Michael: Take her to to a hotel. Make love to her.
Jim: No, I’m not doing that.
Michael: Say you want to get back together.
Jim: No! I’m not doing that.
Michael: It doesn’t have to mean anything, just . . . do it for Stanley. Come on, Jim, just climb on top of her and think about Stanley. Ow, God. Jim, if this is it for me, promise me something . . .
[Karen knocks on the car window.]
Michael: . . . host the Dundies.
First of all, the decision to play this scene as essentially a radio show with reaction shots from Jim was a great one. Frequently what’s left to the imagination is funnier than that which is spelled out explicitly.
Beyond that . . . well, there’s a lot going on here. It seems right that Michael would be the one telling Jim to save himself — it fits a certain part his self-image so perfectly. Of course, if this were an actual war-type situation, I think we’d see him saving himself first. Also, his dying thoughts are of the Dundies, which we haven’t actually seen in more than two years, but which seem still to loom large in his psychological landscape. And then there’s the horrifying mental image toward the end (would you rather “think of Stanley”, or “think of England”?), Dwight’s continued need to play with the walkie-talkie, and of course, the highly embarrassing reunion with Darth Va — er, Karen.
So, exactly how much Dwight is too much Dwight? That’s a question we’ll address later; for now, let us remember that almost every episode of The Office has at least one line that is truly classic, and often as not, that line comes from our man Dwight.
[Jim listens from the car as Dwight and Michael attempt to infiltrate Dunder Mifflin-Utica.]
Dwight: We are in a stairwell. We are climbing some stairs. I’m breathing heavily.
Jim: Okay, you know what? You really don’t need to be updating me as much as you’re updating me.
Michael: Woah, there’s a guy, there’s a guy.
Dwight: It’s a security guard. [To the guard, brightly.] Hello! We’re warehouse workers. Would you like more proof?
Michael: Whew. Oh my God, that was very close.
Dwight: I can see the security guard’s eyes.
Jim: No! Don’t do anything to them!
Dwight: I have to do something to his eyes.
[Cut to a talking head with Dwight.]
Dwight: The eyes are the groin of the head.
That’s why they made Dwight sempai. He knows the pressure points.
Hell hath no fury like a, um, a whatsit somethingorother — what is that saying? Pachyderm shorn? I wouldn’t want to shave an elephant, that’s for sure. I guess that’s not as relevant here as I thought it was. Anyway, Jim’s been pretty happy for a while. He’s about to have a really bad day.
[Michael and Dwight have convinced Jim to come with them to make a “monster sale”.]
Jim: We just missed the exit for Corcoran.
Michael: [badly feigning surprise] What? What? We did?
Dwight: Surprise! [he and Michael high five]
Michael: Yes! Look at his face! Look at his face!
Jim: What are we doing?
Dwight: [waves hands in Jim’s face]
Michael: What are we doing? Dwight, what are we doing?
Dwight: Well, gee, Jim, I don’t know. I guess there’s no sales call today!
Michael: We are going on a panty raid to Utica, is what we’re doing.
Jim: We’re going to Utica?
Jim: I’m not going to Utica right now.
You can practically see his tongue sweating. And it’s only going to get worse.
[Michael and Dwight show Jim their pranking supplies.]
Michael: Here’s what we got. We brought uniforms from the warehouse. We brought Silly String. Dwight brought gasoline and chunks of rubber to make stink bombs.
Dwight: Or real bombs.
Michael: No, no. No bombs.
Dwight: C’mon, it’ll be so badass.
Michael: Eeh — maybe. I don’t know. I don’t know. That’ll be badass. It will.
Jim: No. Absolutely we’re not doing this.
Dwight [holding up a Molotov cocktail]: But I already filled the bottles with the gas! It’s gonna be so badass!
What’s the matter, Jim? Prank on Dwight, and it’s “Absolutely I do”, prank on Karen, it’s “absolutely we’re not”? Where’s your sense of humor? You don’t find high explosives funny?
[Jim and Karen have a face-down in Karen’s office, after Michael and Dwight have been apprehended. Jim still wears his “disguise”, that of a Dunder Mifflin warehouse worker.]
Karen: So, you’re still doing this kinda stuff, huh?
Jim: Yeah, trying to quit, though.
Karen: If you wanted to see me, you could just have called me like an adult.
Jim: Oh, no, I didn’t want to see you. Not that I’m not happy to be seeing you, right now. I’m just saying that, ultimately, I was just here for the copier. Equal. I’d say it was equal. So. Good to see you. . . . [Karen is unimpressed.] . . . I mean, it’s just that, you know, Pam and I are still dating, so . . . And — I just mean that things are going really well, so I didn’t want to see . . . you.
Karen: Oh, things are going really well? Are they? They are. That’s great. That’s so great. I wanna hear more about how happy you are with Pam. Can you tell me more about that? Thank you so much for coming to Utica, and breaking my copier, and telling me how well things are going in your relationship! Really, thank you.
Jim [stands to leave]: All right. You are welcome. I’m going to go. Because of, um, traffic.
Karen: Traffic, yeah. Go because of traffic. Definitely, beat the traffic.
Jim: So. I will — [He walks off.]
Jim’s deer-in-the-headlights routine here was superbly acted by John Krasinski. You could see him dying every second of the conversation. Unfortunately, this whole situation could and probably would have been easily defused by a couple of simple words from Jim. Like, say, “Those idiots kidnapped me!” But it wasn’t to be.
I think one possible explanation is that Jim feels he deserves whatever he gets from Karen. If that’s the case, he’s right. He treated her shabbily last year, and as much as one has antipathy towards her because she’s not Pam, I think it’s completely fair that she’s still mad. Frankly, this could have been a lot worse, and I think Jim probably sees that. I mean, it’s not as though he walked out of that office skipping, but she also didn’t give him a laundry list of every way in which he did her wrong, which wouldn’t have been completely unwarranted.
It’s great that Pam is finding new ways to enjoy her life, but she needs to get some friends outside of the office. Because Toby is starting to give me a wiggins with extra wig, the way he follows her around.
[Pam, Toby, and Oscar have gathered in the break room for a meeting of their Finer Things Club, at which they dress up in silly clothes, eat pretentious food, and generally make like freshman English majors. Meanwhile, Kevin does noisy battle with the vending machine.]
Pam: . . . and Lucy’s torn between those two things, between passion and convention.
Pam: It just –
[Kevin begins to pound on the vending machine with progressively more violence.]
Pam: To be making a case for [unintelligible] . . . I thought was, at times, uh –
Kevin: [his candy having finally come unlodged] Yes! [He is unable to reach the candy, which causes a bit more racket.] Dammit.
Pam: I mean he was sort of ahead of his time as a writer.
Oscar: Very brave. [Phyllis enters and punches a frankly incredible number of buttons on the microwave, eliciting a series of beeps.]
Pam: Very brave choice, I thought, also.
Oscar: And George [beep beep], his youthfulness [beep], his freedom [beep] evokes, um [beep beep beep beep] feelings, um… WHAT ARE YOU MICROWAVING?
Pam: Why don’t you use the microwave in the kitchen, Phyllis?
Phyllis: Someone needs to clean it, it smells like popcorn.
Pam is a Pharisee among Philistines. (That’s a little Biblical humor for ya. Hope you liked it. Alliterative, too.) It’s not as though she bought a ticket to the blockhead convention, but somehow she ended up there anyway.
For this week, the Dwangela S&P is on hiatus, because, sadly, Angela hardly made an appearance. That probably means that she and Andy haven’t got much beyond the “Oh, D!” phase of their relationship. There’s still a glimmer of hope — but it’s the same glimmer as last week.
As for Jim and Pam, well, there might have been a small amount of angst last week, but this week was really nothing but good for these two. Jim faced down one of his demons, and came home to find a woman who knew exactly how to make him feel better:
[Jim, Dwight, and Michael have just returned from their disastrous trip to Utica; Jim stops at Pam’s desk.]
Pam: I’m so sorry. Rolando told me everything. How humiliating. Would it help you to return to another age? A time of refinement and civility?
[She reveals a plate of finger sandwiches.]
Jim: Are you inviting me to the Finer Things Club?
Andy [from across the room]: Oh, come on!
Every relationship, if not exactly a perfect sine wave, has peaks and valleys — and it usually starts on a high. Jim and Pam rode that high for a good long while, but here we see them settling into a steadier pattern of two people who truly belong together. It was a long day apart, and Jim’s was especially unpleasant. One of the reasons we humans seek love is for the comfort we glean from being understood by another human. And we make sacrifices for each other to that end. Pam has it nailed down in this instance: She knows exactly what will make him feel better. Ultimately, she knows it will be a bit of a sacrifice on her part, too . . .
[A meeting of the Finer Things Club. Jim is in attendance. The men wear driving caps, and Pam a scarf around her head.]
Jim: Angela’s Ashes. Top o’ the mornin’ to it. Frankie’s prose is finer than a pot o’ gold. Say I.
Oscar: Okay. Did you get it out of your system?
Jim: Yep. No, I mean, I really liked it. I thought it was a fun read.
Toby: Fun? Really?
Toby: What was fun about it for you? Was it the death of the twins?
Jim: Mmm — no, that wasn’t fun.
Toby: Did you even read it?
Jim: Course I read it.
Oscar: How does it end?
Toby: Who was the main character?
Jim: Angela. Nope. The ashes.
Pam [mouthing to Oscar]: I’m sorry.
You know what? Shut up, Toby. I’ve always felt sorry for Toby, but when his Pam-crush manifests as hostility toward Jim, that’s below the belt.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s see. Seems to me that Branch Wars has earned some hot chocolate, and maybe a pat on the head when it comes to the JPI.
I wanted to give it to Oscar, who had the single funniest line of the night, and to Stanley, who was the shiny bauble over which Michael and Karen fought, but instead it must go to Andy, whose picture just got a little clearer:
[Talking head with Andy.]
Andy: The Finer Things Club is the most exclusive club in this office. Naturally, it’s where I need to be. The Party Planning Committee is my backup, and Kevin’s band is my safety.
Somehow, Scrantonicity II wound up the least lame thing on this list.
By the time our heroes had arrived in Utica, Jim was practically chewing on his own heart. You have to give him credit for that.
Michael: This is perfect!
Dwight: He looks like your twin.
Michael: This is a dummy, a la Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. We have tied a string to the wrist that goes to the door. When somebody opens the door, the hand goes down, hits the remote, turns on the tape recorder, which is me, snoring. [Snoring noises from Michael’s tape recorder.] Now, nobody knows whether I am here or whether I am am gone.
Dwight: I will know.
Michael: But you will not tell anyone.
Dwight: I won’t need to, cos we’ll be together, playing hooky!
Michael: Well, sometimes. Most of the time I will be with Ryan. Or Darryl. [a knock on the door] Yes? [enter Stanley] Oh, good, good, Stanley — first victim. This is what I want you to do: go out, come back in, we’re gonna hide, I want you to tell me if this looks like me, okay?
Stanley: I don’t understand why sleeping at your desk is better than you not being here.
This is why Michael is Regional Manager and you are but a salesman, Stanley. Lack of vision.
Michael: You cannot take the hilarious black guy from the office. Stanley is part of what makes this branch so extraordinary — the bluesy wisdom, the sassy remarks, the crossword puzzles, the smile, those big watery red eyes. I don’t know how George Bush did it when Colin Powell left. And if Utica thinks that they are going to poach Stanley, they got another thing coming.
I don’t usually talk politics, but I think the answer to this one is easy and uncontroversial: George Bush isn’t a crazy person. One of the signal differences between Michael Scott and George Bush, I’d say.
Michael: How can I get you to stay?
Michael: Yeah. We all want money, but there is none in the budget, so tell me why you’re really leaving,.
Michael: Mo’ money, mo’ problems, Stanley, you of all people should know that. Let me ask you this: If I were –
Is anybody else a little disappointed that Michael didn’t do his Cuba Gooding, Jr. impersonation? (Side note: Remember when René Zellweger was still cute?)
Oscar: Besides having sex with men, I would say the Finer Things Club is the gayest thing about me.
And there it is: the funniest thing Oscar has ever said.
Michael: You, me, Dwight are going to jump in my PT Cruiser and we are going to crush this sale. We are going to prove — what the hell is that music?
Pam: Vivaldi. For Finer Things.
Michael: That’s the problem. That’s the problem. We need rock n roll, Pam, we need rock n roll, all right? [Michael turns to find Toby entering the room wearing a bow tie and carrying an armload of teacups.] Oh . . . my . . . God. That’s why people are leaving. I . . . I have no words.
One shouldn’t need to join a club to find an excuse to wear a bow tie.
Michael: So, why did you and Karen break up? Was it the sex?
Michael: I can’t imagine the sex being bad, I mean, her body is awesome –
Jim: You know what? Why don’t we play that alphabet game that you were talking about?
Here’s the question: How could you tell? Karen dressed in formless clothes that occasionally made it look as though she was wearing a fatsuit underneath. We’ve already seen through Pam why it might be wise for a beautiful woman to dress down a little bit in this office, so I don’t blame her. I guess this is just another example of Michael’s hyperactive imagination.
Michael: What is that? That sound? Is the air conditioning leaking or something?
Jim: That doesn’t make sense. Couldn’t be.
Michael: What is that?
[We see Dwight doing . . . something . . . in the back seat.]
Michael: Dwight? Are you peeing?
Dwight: I’m peeing in this empty can.
I was just going to present this for your, well . . . for you, without comment, or maybe with something brief but snide, but I’m sorry, I just can’t keep my mouth shut. This was awful. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no prude, and I’m not above the occasional joke involving the ejection of bodily fluids of one kind or another. But this was bad. The Office is at its best as satire, and at its worst when it becomes too much like any other show on which wacky people do wacky things, wakka-wakka-wakka. This is probably the worst example of that yet. When it happened, I think I said out loud, “Come on, seriously?” Leave this kind of dumbass stunt to a lesser show, all right?
Andy: So, Stanley, are you really out of here?
Stanley: Yep, looks that way.
Andy: Mmm. I’m gonna miss you, man. You’ve been like an uncle to me. Like a kind, old Uncle Remus. I wanna stay in touch.
It’s a good thing for the employees at Dunder Mifflin-Scranton that Stanley is not litigious by nature or inclination.
Karen: I cried for weeks over that guy, so yeah. Seeing him climb out of a PT Cruiser in a ladies’ warehouse uniform felt pretty good.
Patch is probably wondering who the hell broke into her locker, and why.
Michael: Hum. Wanted: Middle-aged black man with sass. Big butt, bigger heart. I can’t do this.
Michael’s preternatural ability to be insulting while simultaneously showing that he cares way more about you than seems quite right shines through yet again.
Stanley: I wasn’t really planning on leaving. All I wanted was a raise. How on Earth did Michael call my bluff? Is he some sort of secret genius? [laughs] Sometimes I say crazy things.
Crazy . . . like a fox. I think Michael really is “some sort of secret genius”, though it’s not really a kind of genius that does him much good as regional manager of a paper company. His ability to throw the entirety of his emotional being into even the most ridiculous project, if it concerns his employees, is amazing to behold. I, personally, would be exhausted by living the life of Michael Scott. I think almost anybody would. And there it is, that’s Michael’s genius: His desperate need to be liked drives him like a furnace stoked high.
Linus is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. His naked ambition is matched only by his monumental sloth. He can be reached at email@example.com.